Creative Transformations: At August’s Nicer Tuesdays, we hear about the power of embracing change
For this month’s Nicer Tuesdays, Henry J. Kamara, Anna Mills, Joseph Melhuish and Joy Yamusangie took to the stage.
Just 24 hours after what felt like the whole city had finished celebrating the long-awaited return of Notting Hill Carnival, attendees began flooding into Oval Space in London for August’s Nicer Tuesdays. Despite probable hangovers, the crowd made their way to the event space to hear talks from some of their favourite creatives, and to find some artistic inspiration that would bring them back to life. Joining them were photographer Henry J. Kamara, graphic designer Anna Mills, illustrator and animator Joseph Melhuish, and multidisciplinary artist Joy Yamusangie. Together, they covered a broad spectrum of creative fields, and each brought with them plenty of juicy stories and experiences to share with the audience. From using “giant women” as visual references while sculpting in VR, to the experience of creating a fictional jazz club, the crowd were treated to a diverse mix of projects and processes.
Henry J. Kamara reminisces on discovering the guiding force behind his photography
First up was Henry J. Kamara. The London-based photographer has shot some of the biggest names in British pop culture over the years, including footballer Ian Wright and director Steve McQueen, but it was his Sierra Leonean heritage that was to become the focal point of his practice. “From a very young age I was aware of my diaspora – I grew up in a culture that was defined by Sierra Leone,” he says. “When I was at home, I ate Sierra Leonean food and listened to Sierra Leonean music.” Henry explained that listening to stories about growing up in Sierra Leone inspired him to experience them firsthand.
With his camera, he realised he could capture and support the culture that he had for so long been a part of, and he quickly began working on various projects with this aim in mind. One such recent project, titled Keep the Drums, Lose the Knife, takes as its premise the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Henry reveals that he was drawn to this issue because he “saw the ripple effect FGM can have on women’s lives”. Working with Sarian Karim-Kamara, activist and founder of an organisation that was set up with the aim of abandoning the practice of “cutting”, he trained his lens on the communities that it affects, exploring the history of the tradition, its place in modern society, and the women who are rebelling against it. As with many of Henry’s series, Keep the Drums, Lose the Knife is both educational and evocative, giving its subject the type of platform that only powerful photography can provide.
Copyright © Henry J. Kamara, 2022
Copyright © Henry J. Kamara, 2022
Anna Mills reveals how she developed her trademark style of type design
The second speaker was Bristol-based graphic designer Anna Mills, who began by reflecting on her early work and the ways in which the pandemic has affected her type design practice. For Anna, lockdown brought with it both challenges and triumphs, and one such challenge, she recalls, was finding something to do with all of the extra time she had on her hands. She found herself digging around for an activity that she could get lost in and eventually the answer came to her, surprisingly, in the form of grids. “I started drawing grids and letters over and over, as a way of slowing down my approach to type,” she says. Though seemingly simple, the task of constantly reworking letter forms brought Anna much joy, and she found it to be totally absorbing.
She spent so much time doing this in fact, that she remembers beginning to see the letters and symbols she was drawing as “characters”. They were taking on personalities of their own, speaking to her through their shapes and forms. One in particular, an ampersand, looked like it was challenging her to a fight, with the two intersecting lines appearing as arms sporting boxing gloves. She recalls being struck by an impulse to create this imagined motion, and she quickly drew a short, rudimentary animation. Before long, this type of impulsive creation had become a mainstay in her practice and Anna told the audience how she began to see the “potential for movement” everywhere. As a result, these days, static letters and words are not things we associate with Anna’s style of type design, which never fails to keep us guessing with its dynamic displays.
Joseph Melhuish on his journey from traditional illustration to VR sculpting
“I studied illustration at Kingston University many years ago and my first love was sketching,” recalls Joseph Melhuish, who was the third speaker of the night. “I’ve always kept lots of sketchbooks, because for me that's the most organic way of creating work.” Retracing his creative journey to the present however, Joseph revealed to the audience that his love for 2D sketching would eventually be superseded by his passion for the three dimensional: “When I discovered I could create 3D models in the same way that you can make a sketch, I started pumping out illustrations using VR.” After much trial and error, this approach is now his biggest selling point. “Recently, animated club posters are what I’ve become known for.”
Displayed on the big screen, it was quickly apparent why. Joseph’s capacity for thinking outside of the box has allowed him to animate posters that are not just bright, bold and eye-catching, but also incredibly thoughtful, featuring text that finds its place within the design in unexpected ways. Among the many posters that he has created for club nights around Europe, it was the final one in particular that Joseph says has garnered a lot of attention: a poster for a night by London-based creative collective Bone Soda. In Joseph’s signature style, it lists the DJs’ names in a truly creative way – tattooed onto an animated tongue that is sticking out of a character’s mouth. This poster, he explains, is emblematic of why VR has become the defining aspect of his practice; it offers ultimate creative freedom, but more importantly, it’s the style of working that he finds “most enjoyable”.
Joy Yamusangie discusses why they nearly quit art to create a jazz club
Joy Yamusangie, the closing speaker at this instalment of Nicer Tuesdays, began by explaining that their practice is not tied to any single pursuit: “Essentially, I’m an illustrator, but I pretty much do anything that I want to.” During lockdown, their creative impulses drew them to art of a totally different kind – jazz music. As a long-time fan of Lisa Simpson’s saxophone skills, Joy decided they would finally pick up a saxophone of their own and, before long, bigger ambitions had taken hold. “I started to create a fictional band through my drawings, and then I began drawing the people who would come to see the band… And then, suddenly, I wanted to quit art and open up a jazz club,” they recall. “I think I was just missing the feeling of going out, but I thought maybe I should ease into this jazz club idea.”
In truly fortuitous timing, Joy told the audience how shortly after these dreams were born, Now Gallery reached out to them about exhibiting their work. They immediately saw the opportunity to create a jazz club, without the pressure of having to do it for real. Instead, it would become the theme of their exhibition Feeling Good, which opened at the gallery in March of this year. Joy took the audience through the process of creating a fictional jazz club within the space, including making the artwork for the walls, sourcing the furniture to go inside it, and hiring an actual jazz band to play on the opening night. They finished by saying that, though they really enjoyed the process, the project made them realise that running such a club wouldn’t be as easy as they initially envisioned, and by the end, they had resolved to “stick to art”.
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