The arty interview: Guy Armitage, photographer and founder of artists' platform, Zealous

I caught up with Guy Armitage, founder of multi-arts platform Zealous and part-time photographer, to discuss art, art and art. Well, this is Artwork Wednesdays.

What is Zealous, and what does it aim to do for the artistic community?

Zealous aims to bring together artists from across all fields to help them promote themselves, collaborate on future projects, generate opportunities and support them with best practice, both online and offline. As an artist, it's really important to have a tool like Zealous so you can meet other creatives and start new projects together. Ultimately Zealous enables artists to connect and collaborate with creatives from all over the world.

Zealous X is coming to London’s Bargehouse from 29th November – December 1st - what exhibiting artists stand out to you and why?

It’s hard for me to favour anyone at this point, but if you were to twist my arm, a very small selection would be:

Photography-wise, I like Catherine Théry’s saturated photos in “Second Life” giving value to the mundane waste of society, also a fan of Manos Chatzikonstantis black and white urban photos and Samuel Bland’s “The Long Walk” which grabs me by the hand and takes me on a journey.

I’m also deeply attracted to the whimsical at the moment; Dominique Hoffer’s work and Agata’s “Institute Of Cloud Colouring” both satisfy my current hunger to tickle my imagination, which would best be followed by “Bee”, a delightful short 3D animation by Vladimir Loginov.

I could go on forever, with that much content on the platform it’s getting harder and harder to pick!

You're a photographer as well - what is your main subject matter?

I’ve always used photography as a medium to chronicle the experiences in my life, not thinking too hard about the subject matter, more about how places and people make me feel. This has led me to take a lot of street portraits and scenes, especially whilst I was based in Cairo. Everywhere I turned was worthy of a photograph.

Guy Armitage, Faces of Cairo

I’m also attracted by the dark and derelict, and how a minimal amount of light can focus your eye on the mundane and make it extraordinary. The best example I could find was of this solitary traffic cone in Tokyo taken one day before the earthquake shook the capital. A link can also be made naturally with light, like associating the café with the rubbish in the back in “Consumerism”.

Faces of Cairo, Consumerism

Recently, I’ve moved to still photography for film. There’s something magical about filmmaking which presents you with constant moments which deserve to be shared, most people love films but so few know the gruelling journeys the filmmakers go through in order to weave the products that entertain/challenge and inspire you. Unfortunately I can’t show you any at this point since the films are just being released now, (Soulmate by Axelle Carolyn).

With your own photography work, where do you draw your inspiration from?

People, places and light. I’ve been told I mumble to myself when the lighting is perfect, or I find an interesting portrait and my camera is at home (yes, it happens unfortunately).

It’s all about people telling stories, often through their appearance or surroundings, the beauty of older people who’ve embraced their age and share their journey through every wrinkle on their faces, the unbound delight on children’s faces before society teaches them to contain themselves, the contrast of our perception of good and bad, and how often it’s misconstrued.

Favourite artwork of all time?

My favourite piece has not been created yet, not because I don’t like the near infinite pieces to date, but because I love the opportunity the future provides us with.

To you, what is an artistic outlook on life?

Look around you right now. Does anything inspire you (however big or small, abstract or real…)? If you answered ‘yes’, then as far as I am concerned you have an artistic outlook.  It’s seeing the opportunity where others don’t, and acting on bringing it to their attention.

Guy Armitage, Bird Ballet

Guy Armitage, Tokyo Cone

Rob Ryan 2.0: darker and more quizzical

"There is no such thing as free time. There is no such thing as spare time. There is no such thing as play time. There is no such thing as work time. There is no such thing as quality time. There is no such thing as down time. There is no such thing as wrong time. There is no such thing as right time. There is only time."

I've spoken of my love for Rob Ryan quite a lot on Artwork Wednesdays, so you can imagine how excited I was to be invited to take a little look at his new collection at Sims Reed, just off Piccadilly in London. 'Happy chappy' just about covers it.

As totally rammed as the gallery was at the opening reception, I managed to take a close look at quite a few of his new pieces.

As tender as ever, his paper cut artworks still bore sweet sentences such as "The invisible power that held the entire universe together was your love". His aesthetic is consistent - he has carved out a brand reputation for himself with his stylised designs featured on mugs, vases and all sorts of homewares. But at this show, the sentiment was different. There was a darkness to the wording that I hadn't seen before.

You know how the voice of a poem belongs to the elusive speaker, and not (necessarily) the poet? Rob Ryan works in a similar way (or at least that's the impression I get). His voice is childlike, and the fairytale subjects compliment this. In the flagship work of this new exhibition (yours for a cute £20,000), he even writes "I am Theresa and Tom Ryan's son and I don't feel a need to belong. I'm lost in this universe for a brief speck of time. Too short for saluting flags or bowing to kings, I draw and write and dream and then "puff!" - I'm gone." This isn't the voice of a starry-eyed youngster. This is the voice of a maturing child.

Previous shows have been called "The Stars Shine All Day Too" and "Our Adventure Is About To Begin" - both were, as their names suggest, unarguably positive and charmingly idealistic.

Back in March, I wondered whether his sweetness was becoming a little saccharine for most. He certainly grabbed the world's attention with this adorable warmth, but he's retaining our interest with the more quizzical and ambiguous "There Is Only Time". This new collection represents a step in another direction for Rob Ryan. The artist who was once a child is developing a darker, more philosophical outlook. In other words, he's turning into a teenager.

Rob will be signing copies of his new book, The Invisible Power, at 1pm on Saturday 26th October at Sims Reed.

Renoir, Chagall and Monet: Larger than life in a cave in the mountains

Bonjour, art fans. This week I'm blogging at you from the sunny south of France through a very shaky WiFi signal. It's been a lush week, here in the European Capital of Culture 2013. There's been a bit of this:

A lot of this:

And even more of this (i.e. looking at old shit. Or as the more refined among you might call it, 'basking in the remnants of antiquity'):

But yesterday was spectacular. Through windy roads, we made our way into the mountains and arrived at the Carrieres de Lumieres, an indoor quarry venue. Until January, they will be showing 'Monet, Renoir & Chagall: Journeys around the Mediterranean'.

In the second half of the 19th Century, many artists began to migrate south towards the light and away from the hustle bustle of gay Paree. They set up their easels between the Spanish border and the Italian Riviera, and began to paint. The sea became a versatile vehicle for many artistic styles to explore and grow. Calling this an exhibition doesn't feel right, as no artworks are physically present. It's more of a show, and I don't mean that in the American sense.

Let's set the scene. You walk into a massive cave, with unnaturally flattened walls that you later realise act as 14 metre-high projector screens. You try and avoid the incessantly babbling school children. The lights turn off, and it all gets very epic - think of a late 90s planetarium. Euro-dance music blares out and images of science and nature evolving together fill this vast, vast space. You walk around a bit, trying to avoid the school children. Then the music gets more calming (Clair de Lune makes an appearance) and familiar images of the Mediterranean fill the 7,000m squared wall space. In 35 minutes and 3,000 images, you are immersed in the warmth and seas of the artists we all know and love.

I can't import the pictures on this WiFi but take a look at this website to see what it looks like. C'est magnifique!

After some paintings of the surrounding area are exhibited, the Impressionists move into the cave. In this sequence of images, Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir are the focal points of the show. Renoir left Paris in favour of walks along the banks of the River Seine, and beckoned Monet to follow him. Between 1883 and 1888, their visits to the Riviera were a source of inspiration for them both.

What follows is an epic stroll through the nineteenth and twentieth century artistic impressions of the Mediterranean, told through contemporary techniques. To see 14 metre tall Renoirs is a hell of an experience. If you happen to find yourself in the south of France this winter, go, go, go.

Sam Irons at Tim Sheward Projects

Following on from the success of previous exhibitions at A.Elfe's in London, and Capricious Space, New York, Sam Irons' photography will be exhibited at Tim Sheward Projects in London's Bankside.

The show, curated by Julien Dobbs-Higginson, presents a selection of work that continues to engage with the possibilities, complications and pitfalls of visual communication. He explains: "What originally drew me to Sam's work, beyond the obvious beauty of the photos, is the way he plays with scale, framing and the dramatic juxtaposition of images, especially in his diptychs, which are incredibly powerful."

Looking at the photographs together, I can't quite figure out what ties one to another. They could quite easily have been taken by a bunch of different photographers. Admittedly, I really like it when a photographer sticks to their style, but I guess Sam Irons is demonstrating real flexibility. You like?

Big Data as an artistic medium

When all we had was basic powder, water and caves, we painted on cave walls. When we discovered and invented the means to create oil paints and canvases, we made what is considered today to be traditional fine art. Now, there are artists working in all kinds of media, from latex paintings to seaweed sculptures. We have a tendency to whip up artworks from whatever we have around us.

I work in tech by day. I'll admit that I used to think tech was a little dry, but I've discovered it's an outstandingly creative space. Just as technology is becoming more artistic, art is becoming more technological. Artists are using technology as the basis for new or enhanced media, as has been seen in lots of exhibitions lately.

Big Data has been the buzz word of the tech world in 2013. It refers to the mapping of all kinds of data - from hospital records, to online transactions, to the journeys we make via public transport every day - and it's inspiring artists all over the globe.

The interest in Big Data has inspired British art talent Stanza to create what he calls 'Syncronicity'. The piece takes real-time data from bus and tube users in London, and manipulates it to show the city as an organic pattern-based system. The Syncronicity map builds up in 3D over time, and changes colour to highlight different abstractions based on the data.

On an aesthetic level, it doesn't look worlds away from Kerry Brewer's paintings.

I'm trying to figure out what the medium is here. Is it the mapping technology? Is it the data? Or is it London, in some distant sense? Whatever it is, Stanza is an artist immersed in the modern metropolis and creating accordingly. It does make you think where we go from here, though. If something as seemingly technical as Big Data can inspire and host creativity, what can't?

The arty interview: Billy Zane

Widely known for his acting career, Billy Zane began painting during his seven months of filming Titanic, using only locally sourced materials to explore abstract painting. Now, he sets up an art studio in each location he films. He is having his first UK solo exhibition at the Rook and Raven Gallery, London, from 11th October to 7th November. 

What do you paint?
I paint things that need it.

Why do you paint? 
This question reminds me of The Seminole film about Ballet, The Red Shoes, and the scene in particular where the prima Ballerina is asked "Why do you dance?". She responds, without hesitation, "Why do you live?" "Because I must," her inquisitor and mentor replies. The Ballerina's knowing smile says the rest.

Well... That's not why I paint. I wish it was. 

I just like it.

How do you work?
Outdoors. Fast. Decisively.

Why is being an artist important to you? It's sexy. It's a lifestyle and aesthetic that always measured up in my book. This drew me to the visual arts. Upon discovering that my work met my own high self critical standards, I was very relieved. My paint-plastered boots and unfinished canvases by the bed suddenly had purpose beyond romantic art direction.

What is your greatest inspiration?

Who is your favourite artist? 
Although I know very little about his life, process and point of view, and we have completely dissimilar styles, I must say it's Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Just now, Upon Googling him to see if there was in fact an 'e' in Auguste, I discovered we nearly share a birthday in February by mere hours. 

The reason I selected him is that Luncheon Of The Boating Party is my favorite reminder of the quality of life to which I most aspire. My favourite artist achieved a rendering of what I consider to be the highest art of living.

What kinds art do you best identify with? 
Abstract expressionism. Action painting.

What is an artistic outlook on life? 
I could define it as a unique way of seeing, literally. A "look" as an outlook. From there, patterns will emerge, a theory can take root, based on the evidence of life one gathers within shadow, reflection, silhouette, oft times lost on most folks. Curiously I find an artistic outlook somewhat resembles a scientific one

What artists have you been compared to? 
Alberto Burri.

What is your goal? 
To leverage this dubious and fleeting currency called 'celebrity' more effectively by enabling meaningful efforts to end hunger, and enhance clean water initiatives, so I may continue to engage in the privileged graces that are painting, cooking and playing with my children, with a yet even greater sense of satisfaction.
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