An evening with Brighton’s Freakiest Illustrators…
On Friday night I made my way to St Peter’s Church in central Brighton for a freakshow. The Brighton Freakshow, to give it its proper name. This illustration exhibition, celebrating some of Brighton’s most up and coming image-makers, is running as part of the 2010 Open House Festival. The organisers having assured me that they are only ‘mildly freakish’, I was a little uncertain as to what I would find. I arrived at about 7pm, when there was already a pretty impressive gathering of onlookers in the small room to one side of the main church hall. Thinking (mistakenly) that this was about as busy as it would get, I strolled around to have a quick look at the artwork.
I was immediately struck by the variety of work on show. Although similar motifs cropped up, all of the illustrators had come up with extremely different concepts, and presented ideas in very different ways. Different methods included pencil drawing, collage, and painting with acrylic and watercolours.
Yuko Michishita, “Le Cadavre Exquis”, Pencil on paper
I chatted to the curators, Ollie and Johnny, who were both exhibiting work of their own (Ollie’s under the name ‘Mega Munden’ and Johnny’s under ‘Johnny McCulloch’). Ollie works for the McFaul studio and Johnny works for Crush Design. They had agreed to answer some interview questions after the event, and it was clear that as they had orchestrated the whole evening, they had also been responsible for bringing together the eclectic range of people present and hand-picking the images on show themselves.
A touch of freakshow humour: top picture entitled ‘Big Brain Billy’.
The pictures are well organised, with an average of two pieces of work by each illustrator placed next to, and complementing, each other. Stand-alone images are emphasised by being surrounded by themed sets, or placed to emphasise their independence, such as the conjoined clowns, on the very end of the wall immediately in front of the large stained glass window which dominates one end of the room.
At around 7 o’clock on a fine April day, the light was streaming in (as you can see from my photos…) but as it got later spotlights illuminated each piece. This, combined with a high vaulted ceiling, makes it a great venue for an exhibition.
After a few minutes of wandering and admiring, I unexpectedly bumped into an old friend who happened to know one of the illustrators and her boyfriend, another illustrator, and managed to get him to introduce us. I say managed because by this point the room was absolutely packed. It was difficult to move and there was a certain amount of jostling as people fought their way to inspect their favourite pieces/congratulate Ollie and Johnny/get out of the way of the video camera which was doing the rounds. This is how I met Matt Taylor, whose impressive array of work and clients is available on his website.
He also had some rather nice cards on display which had already caught my eye.
He told me that the whole show was down to Ollie and Johnny, and that it was a great opportunity for this type of art, which doesn’t get shown enough. He gave me a few tips about local artists not represented at the Freakshow, favourites who were, and local events:
- The Boxbird Gallery in Hove is holding its own ‘A to B’ exhibition in May, with a whole host of different illustrators (one of the cross-over artists is Hello Marine, whose two pieces at the Freakshow I liked, and which are a good example of just how distinctive and innovative one artist’s style can be).
- The Brighton-based Red Design have designed a diverse collection of CD sleeves, Carla Bruni’s website and much more. Visit their website to see some examples of their work and interesting case studies which show how their final designs match their original design briefs.
- Adrian Johnson, the man responsible for the cute Robinsons ads from a few years ago has some great ads under the ‘animation’ section of his site.
- Luke Choice, whose work appears under the name ‘Velvet Spectrum’ has a great website and has designed a lot of artwork for the music industry – including names such as Ministry of Sound and Deadmau5.
After this, I pushed my way towards his girlfriend, whose name is Harriet Seed. Her work appears under the name ‘Harry Draws Pictures’ and I had in fact particularly noticed her piece on ‘Mother Nature’s Marvels’, which was a slightly more innocent take on a relatively dark theme.
I had, I told her, noticed a lot of skulls. “Well, I suppose it’s just morbid curiosity” she said. “We’re all fascinated by the morbid, and this is what happens when you give a load of artists a one-word brief: ‘Freakshow’”.
She told me a bit about her illustration, which she does on the side of a part-time job, and which she only really began to concentrate on in the last year. I asked if this had anything to do with her boyfriend Matt. Her reply went something like this: “Yes and no. I actually have a fashion degree, and drawing was something that I really wanted to concentrate on. But all my images are hand-made, and Matt showed me how to get them onto the computer, how to manipulate them in Photoshop. And for an illustrator, having a web presence is so important – he designed my website for me.” (I love the homepage). She talked about the atmosphere behind the exhibition, again praising Ollie and Johnny and how they had brought everyone together. Calling it a “team effort” she said that many of the exhibitors had helped out in different ways; she had added to the baking effort which comprised a large range of extremely freaky cupcakes and gingerbread men.
“I think Brighton is providing a niche for young and edgy illustrators. There are a lot of artists down here and exhibitions like this really allow Brighton to begin to compete with London.”
After the success of the show I’m sure that more will follow. But nice as the venue is, next time it may have to be bigger.
Many thanks to Ollie and Johnny, Matt and Harriet for taking time to talk to me. Also to Moise for introducing us and my sister for making notes!
The Brighton Freakshow exhibition will continue every Saturday throughout May. See the website for more details. See a video with snippets of the opening night and an interview with Ollie and Johnny here.
Above are some of the cards I picked up at the show. Exhibitors at the show included the following:
Shan Jiang, Megamunden, Luke Insect, Hello Marine, Steve Wilson, Another Example, Imakethings, Chris Ede, Will Scobie, Johnny McCulloch, Matt Taylor, Matt Buchanan, Harry Draws Pictures, Jonas Valtysson, Velvet Spectrum, Yuko Michishita, Neil Davies and Erla Maria.