Putting thought and energy into personal projects that you love is never a waste of time
Here, we outline some key learnings from July’s Nicer Tuesdays – the first on our new online events platform.
We’ve been running Nicer Tuesdays online for a few months now but this week’s event was a particularly special one for us, as we launched our new online events platform custom built to host Nicer Tuesdays (and many more exciting things in the future). So a big thanks to illustrator Lilian Martinez, photographer Siân Davey, stylist and creative director KK Obi not to mention graphic designers Actual Source who helped us launch it into the world with four fascinating and wide-ranging talks.
The theme of the evening seemed to revolved around ethos, specifically, what drives creative work and how overarching themes can emerge from years of practice in one discipline. That being said, it often came down to personal connection. Below are some of our key learnings from the evening and, as usual, we’ll be uploading all of the talks in full over the coming weeks so keep an eye out for those!
Never compare yourself to others – make the work that makes you feel good
Dialling in from the desert of California, from her studio in the Yucca Valley was Lilian Martinez, an artist well known and loved for her paintings, sculptures and online shop, BFGF. She began by telling us how she calls herself a visual artist as she works across so many mediums but it’s a term she enjoys as its both broad and specific enough to encompass her work. Interestingly, for someone so established in her field, Lilian only started painting and drawing “seriously” five years ago – though she was quick to explain that by seriously she means the effort and time she put into getting her work out there, not the subjects she tackles. In turn, she describes herself as a “late bloomer” in the art world.
In terms of those subjects, Lilian went onto to explain how making work for herself has always been healing as it “allows me to communicate without using words,” and to create a visual language using colour and form. Often this sees her working with motifs from mythology, the desert, sport – you name it but, importantly, she told us, “I don’t conceptualise or rationalise the work I make.” Instead, she works instinctively and a major facet of this form of exploration sees her drawing brown bodies, largely women. “So, why do I choose to draw brown bodies?” she posited. Because she’s a brown woman making work about brown women and while she wants anyone and everyone to connect with her work, “my work is a remix of experiences from my perspective,” she explained. Through drawing these brown bodies, she is able to trace back her personal histories as a person of Mexican descent and offer a representation of that history within her work. “If my work rings true to me, I hope it will ring true for someone else,” she added.
Finally, when answering a question from our editor Matt, Lilian dished out some valuable advice for anyone else who also feels like they came to their practice later in life than usual, urging people to find the work they are happy with, that makes you feel good. Find ways to share that with people; don’t be afraid to experiment because what works for you may not work for other people and vice versa. She concluded by saying: “Don’t compare yourself to others as you don’t know what advantages or disadvantages people have.”
A photograph says more about who took it than its subject
Next up was photographer Siân Davey who detailed her journey to where she is now, echoing Lilian’s sentiments about how personal histories impact on creative work. Siân is also someone who came to her profession later in life, following a meandering journey through several other careers. She was brought up in Brighton, the middle child (considered the problem child, she told us) and both of her parents experienced chronic long term mental illnesses. It was a difficult upbringing and when she left home at the age of 18, she walked out the door and just kept on walking, she recalled.
The first step to her creative career began with a fine art painting degree during the 80s, set against the backdrop of political unrest and turmoil in the UK – it was the era of Thatcher which meant poll tax, strikes and criminal justice riots which Siân was wholly immersed in it. It was a strong movement that led her to pursue a second degree in social policy. “I wanted to understand my place in the world as a woman,” she explained, but at the end of this degree, she “hit a wall,” and “her past collided with her.” This lapse saw Siân pivot to working as a psychotherapist, work she describes as “hard work but liberating, very gritty.”
The event which eventually saw Siân pick up a camera and start producing the work she is renowned for now, took place when she was in her early 40s after she visited the Tate Modern’s Louise Bourgeois exhibition. “When I came out, I wept… the unconscious material of the show collided with my past,” and she realised she needed to do something creative, deciding on an MA in photography.
All this helps, in some way, to understand the thinking that goes into Siân’s practice – it is deeply personal and through photography that she learns to read the world – understanding herself and others better. It’s something she summarised perfectly when describing the feeling of seeing the first photos from her series Looking For Alice: “I could see my whole history, could see and feel my whole DNA in those pictures.”
If the industry isn’t what you want it to be, you can do something about it
Talking us through the beautifully produced first issue of his magazine Boy.Brother.Friend (or BBF as we got to know it) was KK Obi. A stylist, KK has been working specifically in the world of menswear for six or seven years now. After moving to the UK from Nigeria at the age of 17, he studied at Sheffield University and admits, at the time, he didn’t know much about the fashion industry. After graduating, he landed an internship at Conde Nast and it is here “where it started,” he told us.
BBF though, he explained, started because his journey through the fashion industry had led him to meet so many talented, “really accomplished people” and he wanted to celebrate them somewhere, as well as creating a space to fill with imagery and stories that reflect his taste in styling and fashion photography. Initially, he had been working full time at an independent men’s magazine but it was last year that he decided BBF would be a full-time gig and so reached out to two friends to make it happen.
The result is an incredible first issue with an even more incredible contributor list – there’s Mohamed Bourouissa who contributed one of three covers, for example, a cinematic shot showing a group of men gathered in a circle. “This idea of people coming together, talking and converging is such a great message and spirit,” KK added on that particular image. Another cover was shot by Henrik Schneider and shows a Black man biting a bullet, an image once again laced in meaning which helps to understand KK’s intentions with the publication. “Diversity in the industry doesn’t exist at the level we would like it to,” and so, in turn, BBF is the team’s attempt to “bite the bullet” and make it happen. This is why its content focusses on communities in the diaspora. It’s an admirable decision – to see a problem and so actively pursue remedying it.
KK himself styled many of the shoots within the publication, talking us through one in detail which sees a man wearing ornate clothing and lots of jewellery. “I like to play with jewellery and accessories to dissect what masculinity and femininity are,” he explained, also saying “I like to investigate predetermined notions of masculinity.” All in all, what BBF provides KK, therefore, is a space to explore themes and ideas that he is personally interested in, without anyone else’s agenda. He alluded to this early on his talk when he told the audience, “the way I work is quite personal, I have to feel very connected to something to engage with it.”
Time invested in work you love is never time wasted
Closing the show on Tuesday was Actual Source, a graphic design duo comprising of Davis Ngarupe and JP Haynie which requires little introduction, largely thanks to its wide-ranging work and incredibly successful shop. The duo designs across the spectrum of visual communication, a topic discussed during a Q&A with Matt. The pair went to different universities but kept in touch, conversing design over the phone and email. It was their interest in books that solidified their decision to work together as an official studio, they recalled. Then, in 2015, they hosted an exhibition which proved to be somewhat of a turning point, going on to define JP and Davis’ multifaceted approach to design – creating work for exhibitions is not the norm for most graphic designers after all. “It was the first big project we’d done together and we still draw on that show from time to time now,” they told us.
An interesting anecdote told to us in the audience was the reasoning behind the name Actual Source, a name which stems from that 2015 show. The work being shown was centred around the idea of a particular book as a sculpture and so “each move we made was a distortion from the original idea or the contents of the book” – but what the contents of that book was, they never revealed. So Actual Source as a name came about from these layers of distortion, alluding to the fact that the source material of this body of work was unknown. Also, the domain was available, they joked.
With such a unique start in the design world, Matt asked if the pair had always planned on having such a wide-ranging practice, or was it something that just happened along the way? “It certainly wasn’t our plan, but we’ve always had a lot of interests,” they told us, “it was something that came naturally for us… if it’s of interest to us, we will pursue it.” In turn, Actual Source has worked on everything from books to identities to basketball and trainers. This is largely a result of the fact that JP and Davis have always run self-initiated projects and it’s these, not their client briefs, which have led their practice and gained them recognition. But it’s not easy to make time for self-initiated work, so we asked the pair what is the secret to running this kind of practice is. “There’s definitely that investment,” they explained, “we have to really set aside time to work on these projects.” They added that they see it differently to a lot of other places who don’t value personal projects when hiring, for example, and instead look for the client briefs. “But it takes a lot of discipline to create your own projects,” they remarked, “it’s definitely how you learn and establishing your own practice, finding your interests and putting your time and energy into something you love is never wasted.”
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