Meet The Artists
WE DID OUR BEST: Joel Benjamin and Dean Khalil
In Conversation with Kelly Robb
Hi Joel and Dean, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves, who you are and what you do?
Joel – I’ve been an illustrator for 10 years now, a freelance illustrator, working for various clients, stuff for websites, blogs and I’ve recently got in to making gig posters and I’m getting a lot of work in the music realm actually. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve turned my hand to painting and this show will be a culmination of that really.
Dean – I’m a builder by day and a painter…by night (laughter), by the weekend. I went to art school here in Norwich , I think I graduated 7 years ago, I did fine art painting but didn’t really paint for the majority of the time I was there or for about 4 years after. Then I started painting, I lived in Australia for a year and had a lot free time so I started painting again. The family that we lived with, I painted their kids and then kept on painting peoples faces but not really wanting to do anything with them. But then last year I started showing my work.
Great, so how did you two meet?
D – How did we meet? I think I’ve known of Joel for ages.
J – Yeah we’ve both known about each other, we’re both skateboarders, although me not very much at the moment. I first knew of Dean when he used to do Forty Ounce, he used to do a T-Shirt company.
D- I knew of Joel through his graphics for Milk Skateboards.
J- And I think it’s through Moosey Art Gallery, we’ve both been in shows there in the last few years.
D- Yeah the Alan Partridge show was the first thing I’d shown any work in since art school and we both had a piece in that.
How did this collaboration come together?
D- I like Joel’s paintings haha
J- And I like Dean’s!
D- I don’t know how big the Norwich Arts scene is and I kind of liked Joel’s paintings, and no one else haha.
J- I’ve wanted to do a show for a long time but I actually have a lot of nerves around exhibiting work and I really wanted to show my paintings. Then the opportunity arose when you (NAC) put out the applications to show here. My first thought was ‘Ah! I want to do this! but I can’t do this alone’. Then remembered that I’d already talked to Dean about doing something together.
D- Yeah it sort of halves the panic when there’s two of you and there’s half the space to fill, and I think our paintings are pretty similar.
J- We’ve got similar tastes definitely
By having an exhibition are you hoping to get your work out there to a wider audience?
D- Yeah I suppose so, and it’s been the first time I’ve really been able to paint exactly what I wanted to paint for a certain purpose as oppose to just painting whatever is around. So it’s been a nice learning experience. And obviously to sell all my paintings would be good haha.
J -Yeah yeah, to become rich and famous haha.
Okay so you’ve both chosen to specialise in portraiture, what is is about this particular art form that inspires you?
J – Ummm, well we’re both big into, big fans of Lucian Freud, a renowned portrait and figurative painter and I agree with him when he says that the human subject is the best subject matter, the most fascinating.
D – Every face is different has it’s own qualities and characteristics. You know some have really good aspects to paint and some have really bad aspects (laughter) but they’re all different challenges and very easy to do because you can just take a photo of someone, you can get so many people, and just paint them at home.
J – Yeah as two sort of emerging artists who don’t so it full time, just being able to grab a photo of someone, a friend or even for me something from social media is a lot easier.
D – And you start analysing peoples faces when you meet them and think ‘I’d like to paint you’.
Would you rather paint from a photo or would you prefer to do it from a model.
J – Oh it’d be great to do it from a live model, I just errr??….
D – It’s a lot of pressure
J – It’s a lot of pressure yeah.
Have you done that before?
D – I’ve done live painting but only through art school and things like that, but otherwise I like to take my time.
J – I’ve only done that at life drawing classes but never had a private sitter.
D – I’ve done live painting where I was painting a photographer who was shooting me and would then take a picture of the painting, so it was very meta haha. But as soon as he was gone I threw it in the bin and painted it again!
J – it would be great if you had a sitter for a set amount of time, we did talk about doing that so maybe it will be something to do in the future.
So, you’ve both painted some big characters in Norwich which is kind your focus for this show, who has been your favourite to capture in Oils and why?
D – Mmmm, I painted my friend Jasper who I’ve known since we where like 10, and I’ve painted him before, he’s got quite a good face. I see him all the time so he’s quite enjoyable to paint because I already know his face really well. I don’t know if he’s got the most characterful face, Jasper’s quite characterful but it came out really easily, it all worked. Those are the ones who are most enjoyable to paint.
J – For me it’s been ummm this guy Trev. He comes into the shop I work at everyday just to chat before he goes off to get his free coffee somewhere else. He just does the rounds everyday and he’s a lovely character and he’s got a great face. He’s a bit of an older chap so he has a lot more interesting topography on his face. He had a lot of great stuff to work with and umm needless to say he didn’t seem too impressed with it when I showed him hahaha. He likes it but his first impressions where like ‘Nah thats not me’.
Will he be at the show?
J – Yeah, so we can all compare him to the picture haha
D – It’s always the worst when you paint someone and then you show them it and they’re kind of like ‘ohh…yeh’.
J – Especially girlfriends right?
D – Yeah yeah haha My girlfriend is the worst critic so i don’t paint her anymore (laughter).
Do you have a favourite feature that you like to paint the most?
D – Well eyes are good, they’re sort of, there’s a lot going on. I quite like the chin, between the lower lip and the chin. And hands, I hate painting them but they look good, but they’re the most annoying thing get right.
J – I don’t think I have a favourite feature, my favourite bit of painting a person is like mapping out the structure, almost like the underpainting. I’m really interested in like the design of people, how they all slot together.
D – Yeah you do a full base layer, I can’t do anything like that.
So you have different techniques?
D – Maybe its from you graphic art background that you make a painting that way.
J – Yeah I just have to have a systematic way of doing it otherwise I’m a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand. So if I know how to put stuff down step by step…
Yeah, in components. And you Dean, just go straight in?
D – Yeah I just start and try to fill in as fast as possible. I’ll do like a rough drawing and then its straight to paint. I don’t like the first starting bits and just try to get going as soon as possible.
You both have quite different portraiture styles, I think. What do you think your individual influences are?
J – Well, err as an illustrator I come from a very kind of graphic angle and I have my old high school art tutor coming to the show and she saw some portraits I’d done years ago and she said ‘I’ve never seen such, like, a portrait made so graphic’. It was very bold and I think…..I’ve forgotten the question?! Oh our influences on our styles yeah.
D – It’s more from different artists that I like.
J – We both like Hockney and Freud.
D – Yeah I really like Hockney and quite a few artists and sometimes I’ll see something on Instagram and I think ‘I want to do something the way they’re done it’. Then I’ll try and it wont work haha
J – It’s a horrible thing Instagram these days, you see so many influences you get overwhelmed.
D – It is kind of overwhelming, I know a lot of artists who don’t go to exhibitions or shows, they don’t look at other artists and just focus on their own thing so they can just evolve themselves instead of getting influenced by everything else.
I think it’s hard not to
D – Yeah especially now
Dean you work on very large canvases, what do you like best about working on such a large scale?
D – Ummm I kind of have a size of face that I’ve figured out I can paint so if I want to paint a body, I suppose, if it’s bigger then I can keep that size of face. When I has at Art school one of my art teachers, I was painting a landscape, and he just said do it massive and everyone liked that it was really big, an impact piece. You can fit more on and be a bit looser
Would you say that’s your style then, big, bold?
D – Err Yeah. I prefer to do bigger canvasses than smaller ones definitely. I can only do them so big so I can fit them in my studio at home. They’re the exact size to get up my stairs and into my room. But I’m building my house at the minute and I’m building a large studio so I can do even bigger.
I was going to just get onto that actually, do you have a studio that you rent or a room in your house?
D – I cant wait to build a big studio, it will be in my garden. Right now I’m in what was an office but now its full of my paintings and paint……paint everywhere.
J – I’ve just got a spare room, I used to share it with my girlfriend doing her music in there and since she’s been doing a bit better commercially she’s moved into the living room and left me all of the spare room. And that probably coincides with me getting an easel and standing up and painting properly. I was huddled over a desk in the corner before haha.
Would you look at renting a space or studio?
J – I can’t foresee myself affording one really, there’s so many people who’ve got studios spaces. I hate the idea of being really cold in the winter.
D – I like to paint when I want to and if its at home you can just go and do some painting as opposed to braving the cold and going to the studio. Maybe if you’re doing more installation stuff where you have to make things in a studio it would be more suitable. I’m quite happy at home at the moment.
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline or where would you like to see your work heading?
J – Yeah, well haha. I’m still very much focused on this show so far. Because its my first go at exhibiting paintings umm… I’m very much waiting for the feedback to see how I feel from there. It’s an exploration for me at the moment. I don’t know quite well where you can go as an artist, I know how to be an illustrator and how to get work and thrive doing that, but as a painter I have no idea so I’m waiting for the world to tell me what to do in a way.
D – Im kind of in the same boat I think, be nice to keep getting reasons to paint I suppose. I mean, I’ll paint regardless but depending on how this goes, if this goes really well then I might try and do exhibitions more if it doesn’t then it might be another 6 years before I let anyone see anything (laughter).
J – I think for both of us, we’ll always have that itch to do art its just a matter of which form it takes next. I’ve done so many faces now I would like to dabble in landscape definitely.
What do you like to do when you’re not creating, painting, illustrating?
D – Err what else do I do? I go skateboarding, that’s really it, my life is work and then I get a few days that I can paint and a few evenings when I go skating, that’s generally it (laughter).
J – I just err play with my cats and err?
Support your girlfriend! Watch her playing gigs at NAC haha *
J – yeah I’ve been following her around the country last week. Yeah, umm it’s a big part of my life, the creative side and its hard to cut it off sometimes.
D – I find that painting is more of, sort of my leisure time. This how it seems to be. I really look forward to the day when I can just paint all day…..
J – And then have leisure time haha
So Norwich has quite a big creative scene locally, is there anyone you like and would recommend?
D – I like Joel
J – Haha………I like Dean haha. I don’t know whats coming up, I haven’t been on the radar.
D – I feel like I’m out of the scene, I’m doing this to get into the scene.
J – I really like David Drake, the photographer, he’s got a show after ours on the next day. And umm another photographer Im a big fan of is my friend Jo Millington.
D – I don’t know many other painters, I like Ania Hobson, she’s from Suffolk however, she’s amazing.
J – Im always happy to see what Alice Lee and John Scarratt are up to, they’ve been here before us, good shows and lovely people.
Okay thanks guys, those are my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
J – We hope you like our show, we did our best.
* Joel’s girlfriend Maria is one half of Sink Ya Teeth. They’re brilliant, go check them o
Meet The Artists: Off The Press Collective
Off The Press Collective are made up of artists Anna Bird, James Treadaway, Sam Foley. They are a screen print collective who hold pop up exhibitions and workshops in Suffolk and Norfolk.
To celebrate World Book Day, Off The Press Collective compiled a list of 100 classics that span multiple genres. From this selection 20 artists were approached to produce a brand new artwork inspired by their favourite book from the list to create a new series of art works that promote both literacy and the arts.
The works on show are by a mix of internationally exhibited fine artists, recent graduates, award-winning children’s book illustrators and graphic artists. Hand printed in Off The Press Collective’s rural studio, the art works are all unified in the iconic Penguin book colours of orange and grey.
Hi Anna, James and Sam, can you give us a brief intro to who you are and what you do?
We are a screen print collective who hold pop up exhibitions and workshops in Suffolk and Norfolk. We work with local artists and designers at all stages of their careers to produce exciting limited edition print portfolios. Working alongside local independent businesses we hold exhibitions to show the work and run workshops alongside to engage new audiences. We hope that through our projects we initiate a platform to help build the creative community.
How did you three meet and how did the collaboration come together?
James and Anna met at West Suffolk College where James is the print technician. Then Anna and Sam met later whilst working as art handlers in contemporary galleries and arts spaces.
Together we would visit graphic arts and illustration shows such as ‘Pick Me Up’ at Somerset House which became a major influence on how we wanted to form our Collective. When the gallery in our local area closed down we decided to have a go at putting on our own pop up exhibition.
You specialise in print and traditional processes – did you study graphics / go to art college?
James is a printmaker and studied Fine Art at university. Anna’s background is Surface pattern having studied Textile Design and a self-taught printmaker. Sam swerved uni and is a self-taught graphic designer and artist.
Where did your passion for traditional processes develop from?
We’re all quite practical people and fell for with the handmade process where even your mistakes can create wicked results. The way the three of us work is so different but printmaking is a method which unifies us.
You all have quite different styles – what are your individual influences?
Strangely we all share similar influences but due to our backgrounds we each come at it from a our own perspective.
Tell us a bit about your studio. You’re based in Bury St Edmunds – can people get involved / do you run workshops?
We’re currently based in a barn in the countryside just outside of town which for us is a really idyllic setting but we’re aiming to set up a larger studio space with easier access so we can get more creatives involved in what we do.
What’s the local illustrating / art scene like in Bury? Do you have any local recommendations we should check out?
Bury St Edmunds has incredible music and theatre facilities but almost feels starved of a visual arts scene which is something we’ve tried to react to with Off The Press Collective. Through our links to the college and local businesses we’re seeing so many students return after uni but with no local support for their creativity. So we invite them to make prints with us alongside established artists which will hopefully help build a platform for an arts scene within the next few years.
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline?
This Autumn we’re putting together a second film based print portfolio after the success of The Big Screen last year.
What kind of projects / plans would you like achieve in the future with OTP?
Our biggest goal is to find a larger studio space near the centre of Bury St Edmunds so we can work much easier, invite people into the space and hopefully have a fabrication area for exhibition materials. We also plan to hold more print exhibitions and take them further afield.
Any tips for anyone out there wanting to start a home printing studio?
Our best advice is to persevere and head to YouTube if you get stuck, it has helped us out no end. Screen Printing Registration Hinges are a good start and avoid plastisol inks as they’re nasty for the environment.
The exhibition has been very popular here in Norwich with NAC punters. If people can’t make it to us to see the exhibition where can they find you online / purchase prints?
Head straight to our website – www.offthepresscollective.co.uk where we have all of the work that we have made as a collective. There are also links to our personal work so head on over and buy some stuff!
When you’re not printing / creating what do you like to do?
James has spent the past year off and on canoeing around Britain’s rivers and will be featured in a book due out next year. We’re also the directors of Suffolk Festival of Ideas so we’re always working on something fun. We all share a passion for live music, films and being outside.
Lastly, I hear Bury is a beautiful historic town. Can each of you give us an ‘must see’ recommendation for anyone contemplating a visit?
We reckon you should head off the beaten track and not spend too much time on the historic side of the town as there is so much more that it has to offer. Head over to the fantastic Abbeygate Cinema for some food and a film, or if you fancy a drink head to Guat’s Up! who roast their own coffee so if there’s something you like you can take a bag home. We also have a great new independent record shop called Vinyl Hunter which supports Bury’s active music scene.
Catch Paperback at Norwich Arts Centre until Wednesday 7 June 2017 Open Monday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturdays 10am – 6pm
Meet The Artist: John Scarratt
Over the course of 13 episodes Black Mirror has painted a fascinating, often worryingly believable picture of the future. From points-based relationships to the digital afterlife, the show continues to offer up predictions of where technology is headed, and what the consequences might be. 13 Futures presents 13 original posters inspired by each episode of the hit show.
John Scarratt is a graphic designer and illustrator based locally in Norwich. He works in a variety of mediums from digital painting to lino print and has a passion for pop culture which inspires much of his work. Recent exhibits and projects have been inspired by such material as Breaking Bad and Alan Partridge.
Hi John, can you give us a brief intro to who you are and what you do?
I’m something of a jack-of-all trades creative based in the fine city of Norwich. Whilst I’d say I’m primarily an illustrator I’ve done a fair amount of work in the worlds of graphic design, web design, motion graphics and animation too. Basically it requires a creative ideas-based solution I’m interested.
When did your first real passion for graphic design start and what were your early influences?
I remember drawing a lot of animals and birds when I was maybe 5 or 6. Anything with lots of detail like feathers interested me – I liked the challenge of being able to replicate it. Early teens I was obsessed with drawing celebrity faces. Mainly actors I think (pretty sure there’s badass Dennis Hopper lying around in a crusty old sketchbook somewhere).
I never really knew the names of a lot of my influences as I spent a fair amount of time copying from posters, magazines etc. Anyone with a more graphic leaning appealed to me though like Roy Lichtenstein. I also enjoyed artists who had a depth and handmade texture to their work such as Dave McKean and Alberto Giacometti.
Did you study art / graphics?
Indeed. I studied illustration in Loughborough but returned to the fine city to complete an MA in Communication Design at our very own NUA (or NUCA as it was then).
Pop culture is at the centre of your work and your current show here with us is based on the dystopian tv series Black Mirror written by Charlie Brooker. What inspired you to create a series of work around this particular show?
Partially the fact that there are only 13 episodes so I knew I could finish on time! I think BM is a really rich source material for people like me because each episode is such an individual beast – variety greatly appeals to my short attention span!
Do you have a favourite episode and why?
San Junipero. Aside from being one of the few episodes with a (kind of) positive conclusion, it’s such a beautifully shot, scored and acted piece of work. Also it has Belinda Carlisle music in it – bonus.
Was this your favourite poster to work on? If not which one was and why?
15 Million Merits ultimately became my favourite, but I think this is because it was one that I struggled with for weeks before realising that I was making it more complex than it needed to be. As a bijillion other designers have said before me (probably), good design is not about what you put in but what you can live without.
All the shows have great soundtracks. Do you listen to music while you’re working? If so, what?
Absolutely. Usually movie soundtracks though or other lyric-less work because if I hear anyone talking I get distracted.
When you’re not illustrating / creating what do you like to do?
I’ve recently gotten into bouldering. My fingers are in the process of reorganising themselves so I don’t fall off so much.
If people can’t make it to NAC to see the exhibition where can they find you online / purchase prints?
The prints will be available in my online shop from Saturday 6th June. http://www.johnscarratt.co.uk/new-products/
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline?
Always. A never ending list. I’m currently working on a board for St Stephen’s underpass in Norwich, joining a fine array of other local artists down there.
What’s the local illustrating scene like and do you have any local recommendations?
Norwich has an extraordinary wealth of talent. Joel Benjamin, Jo Stafford. You see the pattern here? All the good ones start with ‘Jo’….
Don’t worry. The future will be fine if…
I can restore the black wall I painted back to its original colour for the next artist to exhibit at the arts centre!
Catch John Scarratt’s exhibition 13 Futures at Norwich Arts Centre until Wednesday 3 May 2017. Open Monday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturdays 10am – 6pm *Black Mirror is available to watch on Netflix.*
Meet The Artist: Alice Lee
Following on from her first solo show III, at Flint last year, II is another exhibition of print work by Alice Lee. Her technical drawings, predominantly of birds and a bit of typography, have evolved into a collection of printed paraphernalia using screen print, digital and riso processes.
Alice is an artist and curator based in Norwich, who develops a variety of independent, nationwide projects under the name of Parallel Point. In 2015, she was short-listed in both The Visual Art and EDP People’s Choice categories for the Norfolk Art Awards.
Hi Alice, can you give us a brief intro to who you are and what you do?
Hello! At the moment I’m an artist mainly illustrating birds in a geometric-style, using circular shapes and monochrome textures. I also dabble in a bit of typography and curating.
When did your first real passion for illustrating start and what kind of art influenced your early work?
I was obsessed with Garfield when I was younger and wanted to be a cartoonist so I guess that kick-started the passion. I was also always encouraged to draw by family, friends and teachers. My work was quite different in the beginning, still technical drawing and painting but more traditional and not with any distinctive style. The way I work now, with the circles and textures, I developed fairly recently (only about 4 or 5 years ago) and has much more character. I try not to allow much other art to influence me but of course the artists I like have probably had an impact in some way! For example, I’ve always loved artists like Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Agnes Martin, although I wouldn’t say any of them are particularly obvious in what I do, more in terms of their philosophies and outlook.
Where and what did you study?
I did both my BA in Graphic Design/Animation and MA in Curation at Norwich University of the Arts.
How did your studies influence your style?
Well I reckon the Animation helped me to become more patient, especially with repetitive drawing and editing line work, whereas the Curation has definitely influenced the way I think about displaying my work.
Birds are a running theme through your work, what is it about the image of the bird that catches your imagination?
The sheer scale of birds as a subject matter is what gets my imagination going wild. There are so many different types of birds, shapes to study etc. Contrary to what people might assume, I’m not a crazy bird lover! I grew up in a grey, built-up London suburb and the only birds you see there are pigeons, crows and magpies so I really enjoy exploring the bird image as I was never exposed to many until I moved to Norfolk. There is so much to learn about even if it’s just starting with how they look!
Do you listen to music while you’re working? If so, what?
Actually I work with the TV on if I’m at home as I find the sound and light really meditative. I get too distracted by music because if I’ve chosen to listen to something it will be something I like and then it’s too difficult to concentrate fully on anything else. The only music I’ve been able to listen to whilst making work is the soundtrack to a musical and that was back when I was doing my art GCSE!
What are you doing when you’re not creating?
Mostly hanging out with my cat and working in my day job to fund my creating habits…
What is your greatest achievement?
So far, my greatest achievement is getting to a point where I feel like I can exhibit my work. It’s such a nerve-wracking thing to do but it’s hard to develop your practice without putting it out to the public. Much of the work in this exhibition has been made by taking onboard feedback from my show at Flint last year which has been so valuable. I don’t have an extrovert personality so for me any public output is totally petrifying! So exhibiting is a massive achievement especially when it’s a solo venture.
What’s the local illustrating / art scene like and do you have any local recommendations?
I think the local scene in the city is brilliant, the parts I’m aware of anyway. What you are doing here at the Arts Centre, opening the lobby space up to local artists and illustrators, is an amazing way to showcase them, particularly as the organisation is well-loved and has a great profile. There are a few shows coming up that I’m really looking forward to seeing here like Joel Benjamin and Dean Khalil’s portrait show and Ruth Knapp, whose work is always evolving. Henry Boon is also exhibiting this month at 42 King Street which I would recommend. I’ve worked with all these guys whilst curating the art space at The Birdcage and they are total professionals!
Lastly what are your tips or inspiring words for other illustrators / artists out there?
Have patience and keep practicing.
Catch Alice Lee’s exhibition II at Norwich Arts Centre until Wednesday 5 April 2017
Open Monday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturdays 10am – 6pm