What benefits are there to working in lockdown, and how will creativity emerge out the other side?
April’s Nicer Tuesdays may have been remote, but the wise words of our speakers carried further than they ever have before with our most global event to date.
This month’s Nicer Tuesdays was our first time hosting the event online, rather than at our dearest Oval Space. Although we miss the beer and the smiling faces, hosting the talks on Zoom gave us the opportunity to open our doors to a global audience – with people tuning in from Peru to Malaysia – as well as reaching over 1000 people in the audience. It also allowed us to take audience questions for the first time in between the talks, giving us a candid and personal insight into the minds of the creatives we admire.
The creatives in question were nowhere short of outstanding this month. From illustration to photography, to art and design, we were continually inspired throughout the show and were left feeling optimistic and positive for what lies ahead. No matter what is thrown our way, it seems, you can’t halt the insatiable creativity of our four speakers.
Catch up with what illustrator Jean Jullien, photographer Liz Johnson Artur, artist and illustrator Ruohan Wang and designer Richard Turley had to say below, and keep an eye out for the full talks in the coming weeks.
We are living in a strange new world
Perhaps the most recognisable name in the illustration world, Jean Jullien addressed the virtual Nicer Tuesdays crowd in his signature humble and kind manner. Dialling in from his living room, he began by talking about the “strange new reality” that first appeared when lockdown was instituted, which happened to be on Jean’s birthday. Within this weird bubble came odd new Zoom-based rituals, reminding him of Inspector Gadget, as well as fresh creative challenges. First, he tackled his time in quarantine through “graphic musings” of the life within this bubble, but Jean also was able to be more creative with the time he had on his hands, telling us he has been “doing a lot of arts and crafts with my kids.” In his presentation, Jean primarily discussed the work he has been producing during quarantine, expressing astounded he’s been by the social efforts he has witnessed, commenting that “in the worst of times, some good things have appeared.”
It seems that Jean can’t help but try and assist wherever he can, raising money for health services in New York City, France and the UK through charitable T-shirts, colouring books, online art exhibitions and holding a live life drawing on his Instagram to raise money for the British Red Cross. “My wife has been a nurse for nine years,” he added, “the NHS and its workers are quite dear to my heart.”
Jean also shared an upcoming project called Homeslice, an online exhibition to raise money for French medical workers, telling us “if there’s one good thing to come out of this bad situation, it's that we can bring creativity into peoples’ homes.” Being the tour de force of optimism and charm, Jean lastly spoke about having more time for his paintings. Explaining the distinction between the two sides of his practice he tells us “drawings have allowed me to be quite focussed on humorous situations whereas a painting is much more poetic.” Now in the current isolated context, he’s been focusing more images of “landscapes and the time passing.”
On finding the poetic side of masculinity
From illustration to photography, our second talk of the evening was by the legendary Liz Johnson Artur, who opened by talking about when she first came to the UK. “Not knowing much about London,” she added that she “wasn’t aware of the diversity in the city, I was quite naive I guess…” Having arrived with just a camera, it became her “entrance into meeting people,” finding that it “gives you a certain access.” Fuelled simply by the “desire to meet people,” Liz began photographing the things she felt weren’t represented, documenting the black communities she found all across the world, although adding “I’m trying to avoid the word representation because it’s overused.” Over the years, Liz has built up quite an archive, acting somewhat as a manifesto for her deeply analogue practice: “My archive became very important to me, if people are not seen, I see them, it’s important to preserve these moments.”
It became evident that physicality and tactility are crucial to Liz’s practice, from working exclusively with film to printing onto fabrics and working within sketchbooks. “When I look at pictures, my hands start itching, I want to touch things,” Liz remarked. Finding physicality brings an existence to what she produces, she noted that “my work is about people, my work is about human experiences.”
Liz was approached by the Barbican to contribute to an exhibition on masculinity. She explained that “I wanted to approach the idea of masculinity in a poetic way,” telling us how abstract she felt the nature of the word was: “I don’t really use these words in everyday life, I break it down to a level where I feel like I can feel it or touch it.” Liz soon began a process of taking pictures and interpreting masculinity by trying to unlearn masculine movements and gestures. This led her to AQEM to provide the backdrop to build her piece on to. With reference to her mother's embroidery alongside her images and photograms, Liz produced an intimate and fragile piece, where the journey of her process was as important as the work itself. The result being abstract rather than documentary was also vitally important to Liz, who told us that “abstraction is part of how you can liberate yourself,” making a final comment during the audience question, that whatever changes that are soon to happen will, artistically, be for the good.
Stretch your legs
Equally as conceptual, but an ultimate comparison in style, was our third speaker Ruohan Wang. Giving us a memorable opening slide of herself Photoshopped into Netflix’s Tiger King, Ruohan discussed the concept of “stretch,” telling us “we understand stretch as body language but it’s also related to my artwork.” Almost like a mantra, Rouhan uses stretch to develop her practice into different mediums and scales, beginning her stretching journey with moving to Berlin after graduating to become an artist full-time. Embracing her “nocturnal tendencies,” Rouhan works constantly, remarking that “on my street, there are two spots with the lights always on – the prison and my studio.” With her dog (Henri Wang) by her side at all times, Rouhan remarked that “as I was drawing, my puppy was thinking about life… I think.”
Ruohan spent a lot of time talking about her legs, her massive, massive legs. Showing how sometimes they were naughty and fell off the shelf, sometimes they stretched themselves and came to the park, and sometimes they would cover plug sockets in her exhibitions. Wherever they were, they were a constant reminder to stretch. “When stretching, we embrace the things we already have,” Rouhan explains, giving the example of how she creatively pushed herself, agreeing to design and paint a gigantic wall mural in Jerusalem. During its production where she would paint at night, she added, she felt like “a NASA worker” painting in the dark and at such heights.
Working at this scale in a public place also gave her a great sense of satisfaction: “It’s nice to see local people going to the public art and interacting with it.” She also told us about the process of designing the room of her solo show without actually being there – creating a miniature of the space in her studio and using the scaled-up crudeness of that design for the final event. In a hilarious, unapologetic talk, Rouhan taught us how we should push ourselves creatively and really own what we do, allowing ourselves to be weird and eccentric if we want to be, and to keep using our legs to move forward and stretch.
A return to tactility and paper
Our final talk of the night was from Richard Turley, who transmitted from his living room in New York City. Enjoying spending time with his immediate family, but missing his family back home, his main objective recently has been getting through each day as it comes – “every day being its own universe of sorts.” Giving us a very brief history lesson on how he got to where he is now, in his archetypal blasé fashion, he swiftly came into his own whilst telling us about Civilization – a broadsheet newspaper for and about NYC that he co-founded with Lucas Mascetello. The origin of the project came from Richard missing “paper and tactility,” explaining that “I wanted something to touch and hold in my hands… that made me feel something real and wasn't just a digital interface.”
A mess of beautifully organised chaos, Civilization navigates living in New York and the “dissonance of living in a city that shouts at you all the time.” The monthly paper is deliberately overwhelming and designed without images, with Richard telling us that “we’re almost entirely image-based” as a society, becoming addicted to the continuous stream of contrary images. In removing images from the article “the voices are lost; ages, sexes, races, you’re never sure who’s saying what.” With the design getting more and more complicated, and with an overall effect “about containment and being swamped by messages,” the publication has gone from being about the exterior of New York to the interior, about the feeling of being there littered with “little messages” and one issue where “there’s a lot of commentary around how you make nachos.”
The latest two issues, and the upcoming one, will all have been released during the lockdown. Toying with and rejecting the idea of a digital version, Civilization has taken on a new form as more of a newsletter, inspired by Mail Art due to how the postal service is perhaps the only means left of hand to hand communication. With each copy being personalised in some form, the meaning and value come from the production, then the sending and receiving of the newsletter. Richard has enjoyed taking the means of production into his own hands, making “beautiful accidents” as he goes along, quipping that “I’m a highfalutin advertising exec now but here’s me stuffing things into envelopes.” What he’s found, however, is that as the words and messages within the paper blend together, so too do the days. In a reflective moment, Richard concluded his talk discussing the benefit lockdown has had; embracing the opportunity to pause and ask “what the fuck am I doing?”
Thread of Inspiration is a series in partnership with Pinterest which explores how inspiration can come from unexpected places. Throughout the year we’ll be inviting a host of creatives to create amazing artworks, and sharing the intriguing stories on how they come up with new ideas. In the first project of the series, illustrator Maaike Canne investigates a wide range of subjects, resulting in seven paintings of imagined buildings – inspired by Ricardo Bessa’s Nicer Tuesdays talk.
Pinterest is all about bringing creative inspiration to people’s lives. Graphic design. Photography. Boozy vegan breakfast... Whether you’re wooing a tricky client or feeding your friends, Pinterest has ideas to spark you into action.