Articulating the gap between theory and technique: Four creatives on the art of visual communication
Geoff McFetridge, Deem Journal, Mayan Toledano and Clarice Tudor take to the Nicer Tuesdays online stage in the last hurrah of the year.
As 2020 saw Nicer Tuesdays leave our regular spot in east London and go online, we’ve seen a huge range of talent from all over the world grace the virtual stage. From industry giants such as David Shrigley, Paula Scher and Eric Hu, to today’s rising stars like Wednesday Holmes, Azeema and Haein Kim, it’s been a monumental (if challenging at times) year for the monthly creative talks. On Tuesday evening earlier this week, the last Nicer Tuesdays of the year rolled out across many a screen worldwide. For one final episode, we logged onto our new online events platform and tuned into yet another hour and a half of inspirational goodness.
Rounding off a year that has been “interesting” to say the least, we welcomed the wonderful Geoff McFetridge, Deem Journal, Mayan Toledano and Clarice Tudor to speak. And boy did it leave an impression on us. Kicking things off in Liverpool with a hilarious introduction by illustrator Clarice (when we say hilarious, this is not an understatement), we then crossed the Atlantic to New York where photographer and filmmaker Mayan Toledano showed us a sneak peak of her new film featuring an unexpected fashion icon. Over on the west coast, we went on to meet Deem Journal’s co-founder Nu Goteh who walked us through its debut issue and founding concept before finally, tucking in with Geoff McFedtridge (also in LA) who poetically discussed one meaningful drawing which went on to inform the artist and designer’s latest exhibition in Copenhagen.
“Many a true word hath been said in jest”: Never underestimate the power of humour
Clarice Tudor is a strong believer that “humour can be used to make heavy topics more comfortable”. This is the underpinning of her funny work, which usually takes the form of illustrations or comics. “You may remember me,” she opened with, wearing heart shaped glasses and backlit by colourful fairy lights, “from sad dog gets rejected,” – a recurring storyline in her internet-inspired comics featuring many a cute dog with human accessories. There is also a Christmas addition of said comic. Declaring that she is in fact “a two trick pony” for her other comic that also crops up regularly “cool dog saves the day,” from the moment she opened her lips, the Nicer Tuesdays audience was hooked, hanging on to every word of the uproarious illustrator who then proved, if anything, she is a many-trick-pony.
Clarice went on to explain that her work is as serious as the next person’s, just presented like a joke, including the way she approached her talk. As she presented her work, the audience was littered with quotation gold dust from a clarification on “How to roast boys that hurt you and call it art,” to top tips such as “Draw your enemies as a flower, no one will ever know you’re not talking about them”. Besides the fun and games of Clarice’s work however, she also underpins the logic of her illustrative comedy with a concept that clearly works. “Never underestimate the power of humour,” she told us, and with that, she touched on some other themes that also feature in her work. For one, whether internet culture is good or bad, the democratisation of social media and the power of nostalgia in art.
With barrels of laughs along the way, including an anecdote which led Clarice’s gran to ask her “What’s a savage flex wig?” and “Who is Stan?”, this opening Nicer Tuesdays talk is jam-packed with colourful illustrative content on top of some very sound advice. We don’t want to give too many quotes away as it’s a talk you should definitely catch in the new year when all of December’s Nicer Tuesdays antics go online.
How to connect with the people being portrayed
Dialling in from New York City, next to the stage was Mayan Toledano, a photographer and filmmaker known for her striking portraits and revealing films. Focusing on gender, gay culture, the female body and relationships in her blended work, we sat back with Mayan to hear about what she’s been up to recently. She started off by telling us how she first got into photography, picking up the camera as a fashion student eager to make the photos that she wanted to see. “I wanted to be inspired by stories rather than beauty,” she explained.
For Mayan, photography is a way to make something last longer. Presenting a whistle-stop tour of creative highlights to date – a flurry of beautifully lit portraits full of intimacy and character traits – she went on to discuss her latest photography series which also marks her debut book. Highlighting queer communities living in Mexico, it’s a project dear to Mayan’s heart. Due to be published early next year, the book’s funds will go directly back into the community. A testament to Mayan’s warm relationship with her subjects, the photographer “never wants an image to be transactional or a quick image”. In her talk, she described how she achieves a mutual relationship on a level playing field with her subjects, for example, sometimes handing them an iPhone for them to take selfies as a way to demonstrate how they see themselves.
We were lucky enough to be shown a teaser trailer of Mayan’s new film, too. Titled Smadar, the film is a portrayal of a local celebrity living in north Israel, known for her elaborate outfits. Shot against the clear blue Middle Eastern skies, Mayan captures the vivacity of Smadar’s colourful style through a genre of film which touches on both documentary and fashion genres. The film also delves into Smadar’s complicated past, Mayan's relationships with her family and men, and of course fashion, her means of expression. Ending her talk by answering questions on how to authentically get close to the people Mayan is portraying, like Smadar, she concludes on why she wants to keep going back to people she photographs for years on end.
Mayan Toledano (Copyright © Mayan Toledano)
Mayan Toledano (Copyright © Mayan Toledano)
A magazine dedicated to highlighting (and dismantling) systems of oppression
Over in LA, new publication and platform Deem Journal took us through its first issue centring on design for dignity. Founded by Alice Grandoit and Nu Goteh, the latter joined us on Tuesday to discuss the thinking behind the publication and how the identity visually translates its ethos of design as social practice. Kicking things off by explaining why there was a need for Deem Journal in the first place – a need to engage with community dialogues, highlighting systems of oppression and how to dismantle those systems – Nu spotlighted how these issues are tackled head on by the magazine’s content, thought process and identity.
As creative director of the magazine, Nu is well versed in the creative strategy behind the platform. Fundamentally, the goal was “to create a system of a brand which uplifts the content as opposed to distract form the content”. Creating a rigid, accessible structure with pops of colour to add personality, ultimately, the design holds the viewer's attention. The majority of Nu’s talk however, focused on the theory and intention behind Deem Journal, not just the technical. “We believe that everyone is a designer and everyone has the ability to shape the environment around them,” he went on to say.
Deem Journal is all about highlighting ways in which design can be used as social change, design meant in the broadest of terms. Pinpointing how design in the traditional sense comes down to a privileged experience, Nu and Alice’s vision for Deem was to think about design in a more innovative and challenging way. He ended his talk with a shout out to his favourite designers, his parents – Liberian refugees who had to navigate their surrounding environment in a new country in order to make it work for them. Nu also discussed future hopes for the journal. As he wasn’t able to engage with readers more closely due to the pandemic, one thing we can look out for in issue two is an evident engagement with its audience who, thanks to Deem, see the systems around them in a different way.
Deem Journal (Copyright © Deem Journal)
Deem Journal (Copyright © Deem Journal)
A poetic articulation of artistic abstraction
Last but certainly not least, esteemed artist, illustrator and designer Geoff McFetridge headlined the event, marking the final Nicer Tuesdays talk of 2020. A highly distinguished multi-disciplinarian, Geoff’s talk could have taken many a route. But to the delight of our audience, we got a detailed insight into the Apple Watch collaborator’s highly thoughtful process. He focused on the importance of one image, which started out as a single sketch, a sketch that informed the body of work culminating in Geoff’s latest solo show These Days are Nameless at V1 Gallery in Copenhagen.
In turn, this initial sketch became an important piece of the puzzle in understanding his own practice. Geoff is known for using the design process “to reach into the world of poetic thoughts”. Drawings are a way to record the processes, gathered in large ring-bound sketchbooks which allow the artist to pin-point exactly when an idea came about, where it came from, and how it can develop over time. The specific drawing in question can be traced back to a figure of a man lying on a lawn surrounded by his shadow. The shadow brings the image into this reality, giving it a dimension of light and perspective. It’s a “graphic representation of thoughts coming together or people being together,” he says of the significant context of the drawing.
And as the talk unfolded, Geoff took us through various iterations of the image and how, with time, the image became a visualisation of his creative process. “The final image is simple but it’s really rewarding,” he went on to say of the delicately composed figure which speaks volumes. Delving into the mindset of one of the industry's best known creatives, Geoff’s considered and introspective talk closes the gaps between conceptual thinking and technique. “My belief in images is you can speak to complex poetic truths and you can speak to them in mechanical ways (paint on canvas) and also super divergent thinking,” he said at one point. As one member of the audience discerned, it’s often difficult to articulate artistic abstraction but Geoff seems to do it effortlessly and flawlessly.
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