The arty interview: Lay Hoon/Arty Guava

After stumbling across the works of graphic designer Lay Hoon on the web, I decided to find out some more about the creative process of an engineer-turned-graphic designer.

You can see more on her website (click here) and Facebook page (here).  

Your illustrations are truly beautiful - how long have you been practicing?
Thank you! I've been drawing since I was six. My mother enrolled me for art classes at 10 and I stuck to it for 5 years. After that, school work became too demanding and I stopped drawing all together. It was not until I finished university that I decided to draw and paint again. I've been focusing on my illustration for about three years now. 

Did you ever experiment with another medium, or has illustration always been the one for you? 
Illustration, or should I say Art, has always been my first love. But being born and raised in a very practical and pragmatic family, my parents did not encourage me to pursue it as a career. So I studied bioengineering at university and worked in the healthcare industry for about a year before I decided to make a MAJOR career change to graphic design. Only then did I start illustrating again. 

What is your artistic process? 
I do things quite haphazardly, to be honest. For my Spring 2 works, I was just experimenting with how watercolour bleeds, blends and form random patterns on wet paper. The resulting patterns reminded me of flowers, which I then accentuate. As an afterthought I wanted the flowers to have a face/expression, so I painted in female portraits.

Where do you find inspiration?
I know it sounds clichéd, but it comes from anywhere and everywhere: fashion magazines, cartoons, window displays at shopping malls, nature and of course the internet. I'm usually drawn to thematic fashion photography that is surreal, emotional, and highly dramatic. I also find the play of lights and shadows to be very fascinating - like how foliage can cast interesting shadows on the subject or how water distorts lights etc. I keep an active Pinterest account (which you can see by clicking here) to archive all the interesting finds from the internet and often refer back to them for inspiration.

You are clearly drawn to beautiful, bright images, but have you ever tried creating some darker materials?
I've been playing with the concept of 'pretty ugly' in my head for quite some time. It’s basically taking what we normally consider dark/ugly and making it ...'pretty', for a lack of a better word. Like making images of skulls, creepy insects, wounds, decay and transforming it into a pretty picture. Nothing concrete yet. 

Name three illustrators we should watch in 2014 (other than yourself!).
Ohgushi, Kareem Iliya and David Downton have been a real inspiration to me lately.

Joseph Wright of Derby: portraitist?

One of my favourite artists to study at uni was Joseph Wright of Derby. While the British art scene was filled with Gainsborough's portraits and Turner's sublime seascapes, JWoD was busy painting his way towards Enlightenment with scenes of a scientific nature.

In his lifetime, his fame was Europe-wide, which was much to do with paintings like An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, and A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery. He was able to master the depiction of light in darkness in a way that makes him comparable to Canaletto (personally, I'm on Team Wright, but I understand many would be waving a Canaletto flag).

JWoD, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump 

JWoD, A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery

As a man of the Enlightenment, traditional spirituality wasn't JWoD's thing. In one painting, The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone Discovers Phosphorous (below), he undermines Christian iconography by having his scientist fall to his knees in what looks like a religious praise of science (this was back when religion and science were considered opposites).

JWoD, The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone Discovers Phosphorous

It seems his talents were best exercised when he had some sort of intellectual connection to his subject, which might be why his portraits are generally regarded as slightly rubbish. But a new exhibition at The Holburne Museum in Bath aims to challenge the idea of portraiture as the artist's inferior genre. He spent an interesting eighteen-month stint in Bath, seeking a lucrative salary as a portraitist, presumably inspired by the success of Gainsborough before him. It wasn't a wildly successful venture (the painting below is one of the better works, but it's a bit... blegh). Evidently, he couldn't muster up the same inspiration for society subjects, and he soon returned to Derby.

JWoD, The Rev. Dr. Thomas Wilson and his adopted Daughter Miss Catherine Sophia Macaulay

I haven't been to the show (comment below if you fancy donating a train ticket to Bath for me!), but it seems like one of the most amusing things to come out of it is his dislike for those who sat for his portraits. I have a sneaking suspicion I would still prefer his epic searches for Enlightenment, but I definitely need to find a way to this exhibition.

Give Tracey Emin a break

I'm not one of these people who thought Tracey Emin was the mutt's nuts in the early noughties, before dropping off a little later on in the decade. I found her overbearing and attention seeking as a teenager (there's hypocrisy if ever I heard it). Perhaps I've become more open minded or perhaps her art is calmer now, but I'm definitely growing to understand her more.

Coffin-dodging at fifty, TE was interviewed in yesterday's copy of Time Out (click here to read the full interview). The whole thing pivoted on the fact that she's grown up, and has more of a responsibility for the arts in the public eye (hence why she is one of the faces of M & S nowadays). She made a point about Louise Bourgeois being the costliest female artist at auction - which still means she's worth about a gazillionth of her male counterparts. In the interview, she seemed more mature, and therefore provided less of a barrier between me and her art. Before, I guess I just found it difficult to see the art when the artist seemed so much bigger.

Anywho, this interview didn't go down too well at The Guardian HQ (click here to read the full article). Jonathan Jones said she was dull, an artist with nothing left to say. He even went so far as to say her comment on Louise Bourgeois was a self-serving notion: "It's a glib reduction of feminist art to just see it in these obviously self-interested terms of price," he wrote.

Low blow, JJ. I don't think it was fair for him to pick on TE for bringing up the subject of money. Earlier in the interview, when asked if her work is about sex or love, she said: "I've always made work about love. It's only because sex sells and love doesn't, so the media pick up on what they can write about and sell". Money sells, too. There were endless ways TE could have demonstrated the gulf between male and female success in the art world, but bringing it down to the pennies is one way to make the issue relatable for the average reader.

As an idealistic art aficionado in my twenties, I have a fair amount to say about the representation of laydeez in the art world. And I don't think anyone, not even you, JJ, can say that TE is doing anything but boosting their profile.

The dust may have settled on Young British Art, but that's no bad thing. The dust has also settled on Dada, Impressionism, and every other movement not currently active. I never thought I'd be the one saying this, but give Tracey Emin a break.

Paul Klee, what are you?

First off, sincerest apols for my tardiness. It's been quite a week.

But hey, the art world rolls on, and it's emerged that the V&A - the wonderful, wonderful V&A - is going to publish the Nazi's 'degenerate art' inventory online. 16,558 artworks, many Expressionist, are going to be readily available at your fingertips. Pretty cool, huh?

Entartete Kunst has been fresh in my mind lately, with the Munich art hoard (click here to read more) and the Paul Klee blockbuster retrospective currently going on at Tate Mod. I'm terrible at getting to exhibitions, movies, etc. on time. This weekend, I really need to haul ass down to the Tate Modern. I'm looking forward to it, because I reckon it'll challenge the way I conceive him. At the moment, he sits too awkwardly between 'something' and 'nothing' for me to be totally bowled over by him. I know that sounds artsy fartsy and lame, but take a look:

Paul Klee, Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms

Artists like Rothko, Malevich and the others are clearly depicting nothing aesthetic. Their art is all about an idea and theirs are among my favourite artworks because of that. Similarly you have amazing artists like George Bellows (click here for more about than'un) and the Impressionists, who soak up the world around them and pop it on a canvas. 

Mark Rothko, No. 14

But there's something that makes me feel uneasy about Klee. Is he doing one or the other? Why/why not? I guess I'll find out this weekend. If you've been to the Tate Modern show, holla at me in the comments, I'd love to know what you thought.

Got the sniffles? These prints and paintings will cheer you up

Last week I berated London's lack of snow. Well, I've changed my tune.

I now have a cold, and hate all things wintry.

Having been bound to my sofa, I don't have the energy to write too much. Sorry guys.

As I'm such a miserable sod, I thought I would list a couple of the pieces that have the ability to cheer me up, even when I'm drowning in satsumas and Kleenex. Hope they put a smile on your face too!

Auguste Renoir's Onions

Katsushika Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

Edward Burra's The Snack Bar

Kurt Jackson's Falling Dusk

The arty interview: Snow artist, Simon Beck

I'm feeling a bit cheated. Where is my snow, goddamnit? I spent part of December in Cornwall. Nothing. I spent Christmas in Northern Ireland. Not a drop. And of course, the streets of London are grey and wet, but certainly not snowy.

There's one artist who doesn't wait for snow to come to him. In fact, for Simon Beck, snow is his medium. Check these out:

You can see these images, and a whole lot more, on his Facebook page. I managed to track him down to answer a quick couple of questions about them.

Your snow art is beautiful. Tell me a little more about it, and what it means to you.

I just try to get it right. I wanted to build up a collection of photos and create an outstanding contribution to the internet. Every so often, one finds something outstanding on the web and I wanted to make something really good.

Where did you get the idea? 

Making the drawings seemed like a natural thing for me to do. There is a small lake where I stay in winter, and it was just too tempting to draw something on it!

How long does it take to create a typical piece?

It takes three hours for an area the size of a soccer field. The Lac Marlou, which is my favourite site, is three soccer fields in area.

Which examples are you particularly proud of?

The Qubert snowflake and the really complicated one on the reservoir, reservoir05 I think it's called, based on the Mandelbrot set.

What artists inspire you?

Van Gogh, for his sheer raw talent and originality. So ahead of his time. Such a pity it all ended in tragedy.

Make sure you check out the rest of Simon Beck's work!

Four arty ladybros who rocked 2013

Happy new year!

2013 managed to be a heck of a year for both feminism and misogyny in the art world. In the same year that saw the first lady artist exhibited on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth, we also the Gagosian gallery in London put on an exhibition about the end of painting, with only one female artist out of 35. I love looking at the end of painting, but come on guys, that’s a total sausage fest.

Just to hold on to this point for a sec, the show was seriously diverse. They sat de Kooning alongside Andy Warhol, and they couldn’t think of a way to get some lady painters in there? Do they really think female artists don’t know about nihilism? Pah, what a load of tripe.

Although we have come a LONG way since Johann Zoffany’s group portrait of the first Royal Academicians (that’s ‘artists of the Royal Academy’ for arty newbies), which showed all male members fully present and the two female members represented by portraits on the wall, the girls are still vastly underrepresented in art. In my swansong to 2013, I’m going to give you the creds on four arty ladybros who rocked 2013.

Wreath painting, Northampton, by Kim Gordon

Who? Kim Gordon
What? Kim makes painfully cool contemporary art, keeping one foot in the traditional. And by that I mean she's not a film maker or installation artist. She does things like paints her famous friends' tweets.
Why? Partially she held her own in the aforementioned Gagosian sausage fest, partially because she's just plain awesome every year.
Where? She is constantly buzzing around the arty scene (as musician, actor, artist and all round creative force), but I'm having trouble finding out if she's in any pulbic permanent collections. 

Edge of Day, Bridget Riley

Who? Bridget Riley
What? Bridget's paintings have been turned into prints and replicated the world over. You might even have a cushion of hers. Take a look at this slideshow of her pieces.
Why? Ok, so she's had a pretty quiet year; but he contributions to interiors, at least, need to be applauded. On a serious note, I love how her paintings are far simpler than their titles. Edge of Day just makes me think she's looked at a dawn scene and picked out a few of her favourite colours and arranged them in a modern-art-friendly composition. 
Where? Head on over to Tate Britain. She's in the 1960s room in the BP Walk Through British Art.

Cock, Katharina Fritsch

Who? Katharina Fritsch
Why? Just click on the link above... She's freaking great.
Where? Trafalgar Square!

Picasso Baby, Jay Z ft. Marina Abramović

Who? Marina Abramović
What? Marina is one of the biggest performance artists in the world right now. Her 2010 piece, The Artist is Present (below), got tears flowing all over the place as her ex boyfriend (whom she hadn't seen in decades) paid her a surprise visit. 
Why? This year, Marina got infinite cool points by playing a part in Jay Z's performance piece, Picasso Baby. He rapped for six hours in a New York gallery space, she danced around. Read more here.
Where? Marina's art is wherever she is. Holla if you know where that is, cause I'm not stalky enough to know.

The Artist is Present excerpt, Marina Abramović

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