Category Illustration

Introducing ‘AfroNOWism’: Five Funky Philosophies

I was that kid at school who was always restless.

‘Distracted’. ‘Boisterous’. ‘Excitable’. Just a few of the adjectives that were used to describe me in my school reports.

All this much is true, as I have always had a relentless energy and over-active mind and imagination.

I was, and still am a dreamer, and I know that I am not alone in these feelings.

I also have an abiding passion for ideas (both my own and others). And it is this passion that has driven me, to pursue a life as a creative professional in design and advertising, a collector and curator of Afro-pop culture, a columnist and more recently as an independent creative director and artist.

It has also led me on an internal quest to challenge myself and find an expression to encapsulate my creative approach.

A definition, that could underpin my ethics and help characterize some of my personality traits.

Traits, such as my insatiable appetite for thinking up ideas and putting them into action; my general impatience and high degree of self-gratification in wanting things done immediately; my refusal to wait for ‘opportunity’ and impulsiveness to just go out there and try to make things happen; my constant desire to challenge injustice, inequality, convention and the status quo.

I am what I am.

So in a humble bid to inspire and share with my fellow creatives, what I feel has been useful to me over the years, I offer you five principles that I try to live and design by, and which constitute my newly formed ‘AfroNOWism’ idea-ology:

AFRONOWISM_SQ

AfroNOWism © Jon Daniel

 

1. Seize The Time!

These words became one of the mantras of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as coined by co-founder Bobby Seale. Together with Huey P. Newton, they created a grass-roots movement that inspired generations of people all over the world to take action and fight for their human rights. Someone once told me, you’re more likely to regret the things in life that you don’t do, rather than the things that you do. So what’s stopping you? I’m not saying don’t look before you leap, just be intelligent about your actions. The key to selling a concept, dream, idea or ideal is all in the ARTiculation.

 2. If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home.

This P-Funk lyrical phrase, was coined by one of my greatest Afro Supa heroes and sources of inspiration. P-Funk is a complete and entire culture that manages to philosophically and aesthetically bind together a giant funk gumbo of; music and musicians; art and artists; and a plethora of super-cool funkativity masterminded by the most magnificent godfather of Funk, George Clinton. Fusing the greatest musicianship with black social commentary, psychedelia, sharp, satirical lyricism and general Afrofuturistic, cosmic creativity, it has informed my ‘through the line’ thinking and approach to branding and campaign communications on many an occasion and inspires me to bring my best game to all I do.

 3. Under-promise. Over-deliver.

When working with clients, one of the key virtues I’ve found is always to be attentive. As in life and friendships, listening is key. Be intuitive, and above all be honest. If you are confident and skilled at what you do, then you shouldn’t need to over-sell yourself. It’s far better to create a relationship based on honesty and mutuality, rather than one based purely on expectation and exploitation. Prepare both yourself and your client for whatever can happen and you’ll come back with ideas and designs that are resonant, robust and therefore deserving of reward and recognition.

4. Form Follows Funk.

In design, there is an old adage that ‘Form Follows Function’. It’s a principle that I also believe in and adhere to often. But in freeing myself more and more of the constraints of working primarily with commercial and corporate clients and now adopting a more personal artistic approach I’ve also found the joy in creating things fuelled much more by instinct than instruction. Designers tend to be quite anal. Well “free your ass and your mind will follow”. Now I trust myself that the wealth of experience that I’ve gained, will translate instinctively in anything I do. I question myself less and just let things flow. If it looks right, and it feels right (to me), it can’t be wrong.

5. Box outside the think.

Be Brave. Be Bold. Believe in yourself and fight for your ideas. Keep your eyes on the prize by constantly moving, bobbing, weaving and learning how to create and build momentum by exploiting the gaps between the question and the answer. You’ll triumph in the end.

 

 

 

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4 Corners: An Interview with Gabrielle Smith

Happy New Year! Or “Nu-Year”, as is often said between people across the African diaspora.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this terminology and referencing of the “Nu”, it has found its way into the cultural vernacular primarily through Afrocentric movements in the 80s and 90s and draws its inspiration from the ancient African civilizations such as the Nubian kingdoms, which were located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.

Certainly, our profiled designer for this month is extremely fluent in the language and culture of the African diaspora. Her website, Thenublk.com is a highly regarded digital arts and cultural platform that is an invaluable resource to many people out there, including this very column.

And professionally, working for ITV, one of the world’s leading news and multimedia broadcasters, she has excelled in her chosen field of motion graphics and new media  (or is that nu-media?). Let’s read all about it from this talented young woman herself. Over to you Gabrielle Smith.Gabrielle Smith

Gabrielle Smith, motion graphics designer/founder Thenublk

What’s your background?

I was born in West London to Grenadian parents. They did as much as they could to expose to me to art and culture from a young age. I also attended a Montessori school which focuses on allowing a child to learn through play and discovery – something I feel also had an impact on my interest in exploring the creative world.  For the past six years I’ve been working as a motion graphic designer for ITV News, one of the world’s leading news and multimedia broadcasters. I’m responsible for creating the on-screen graphics broadcasted duringboth the 6:30pm bulletin and the award-winning flagship News At Ten programme. I’m also the founder of Thenublk, a digital arts and culture platform which celebrates the work of creatives from Africa and the diaspora. In recent years we’ve expanded into the offline space and have produced a number of events including film screenings, talks, and exhibitions both in the UK and abroad. 

America+Decides

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I studied Graphic Design: New Media at the University of Creative Arts, a course which had only recently been introduced. The degree programme allowed me to explore the mediums of illustration, print design, 3D and photography. It wasn’t until two years after graduating from UCA that I joined ITV News as a trainee. Broadcast news is incredibly fast-paced and the majority of the work gets completed on the day so that took some getting used to. While there’s a set structure to a daily news programme, anything can happen, which at times can call for graphics to be created in a short turnaround time – it can get pretty manic! It’s always funny hearing different people’s reactions when I tell them what I do and actually speaks to how seamlessly a news programme looks when you watch it at home. I started Thenublk as it was important for me to create a space where the creative efforts of people from my generation could be seen. It also serves as a space for people to connect and discuss new ways in which we’re able to make the connection between our identity as creatives and children of African and Caribbean heritage, something which I know has been a challenge especially as choosing a role as a creative is seen as a big risk by parents from those backgrounds. 

Nublk

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions? 

One of the challenges I faced and I know many recent graduates face is that even though you’re applying for entry-level positions, you’re constantly told you don’t have enough experience. It can become frustrating but it’s something you initially have to go through when starting out. It definitely helps in building the tough skin you’ll need when you do eventually start working in the industry.

More than XY

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences? 

The people who’ve I had the opportunity to connect with through Thenublkare a constant inspiration to me. I’ve had the chance to not just be able to feature the work of some of my favourite established creatives, but also follow the progression of a number of emerging creatives who’ve gone on to do great things. Outside of this, the works of the following visual storytellers are an inspiration to me: production and lighting designer Leroy Bennett. Pop artist Nicholas Krushenick. Filmmakers: Wes Anderson, Melina Matsoukas, Ollan Collardy, and Terrence Nance. Photographers: Rog Walker and Agelica Dass. Illustrators: Le Quartier Général, Coralie Bickford-Smith and Brianna McCarthy. 

Liberated People

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I’m a huge Spike Lee fan, so being able to put on a 25th anniversary celebration in London for Do The Right Thing was definitely a proud moment. The film has so many striking visual elements, so having the opportunity to replicate that visually and create an experience which took people back to that time was really fun for me to work on. In 2012 I worked on a project called More Than XY: A visual tribute to Black fathers and positive male role models. It was a collaborative project with forFATHERS and our aim was to tell an alternative narrative about the relationships black men have with their children which often focuses on how many are absent. We held the exhibition opening on Father’s Day and displayed the work of a number of artists as well as having invited guests and a message wall where people were able to share their thoughts on the project. It was, and still is, one of the projects I’m most proud of because we executed it exactly how we’d originally imagined and the impact it had on those who saw it was extremely positive. 

Spike+Lee

What would be your dream job or project?

I’d love to work on a project looking at the connection between folklore and traditional customs between the Caribbean and Africa. There seems to be so much that could be represented in a visually exciting way that could make for an interesting project. 

Grenada

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Having seen the way, in which an increasing number of creatives from Africa are redefining the image of the continent through their work has been incredibly refreshing, especially in light of the clichéd images we’re constantly shown. In the same way I believe that Caribbean creatives who have been and still are producing work which widens the parameters of what “Caribbean art” looks like deserve more recognition. I definitely think with platforms such as the Jamaica Biennale, Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival as well as online platforms such as ARC Magazine and Fresh Milk Barbados – creativity from the Caribbean is being showcased on a global scale.

Viv and Clair

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

1. Be prepared to take an unconventional route to get to your destination. You’ll come across situations in your journey as a creative that, on first look, seem as though they bear no correlation to what your dream job looks like – but it all adds to your experience as an aspiring creative.

2. Whether it’s a sketchbook, phone or a Post-it note, document what inspires you.

3. Create your own projects. If you’re just starting out you’ll need to have something to show to potential clients/employers. There are many more platforms around to help you display your work than before so use them to your advantage.

Nublk

What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to working on some exciting creative projects in my personal work and also building on what Thenublkhas become thus far. We celebrated our sixth anniversary in October so I’m looking forward to producing more experiences and connecting with amazing creative talent.

For more information visit heygabi.com and www.thenublk.com.

Network:

EUROPE:

VIRGINIA CHIHOTA: A THORN IN MY FLESH Until 7 February 2015. Tiwani Contemporary presents Virginia Chihota’s first solo exhibition in Europe, A Thorn in my FleshChihota represented Zimbabwe at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 and was awarded the Prix Canson in the same year, which recognises an international emerging artist working with paper. For more information visit the Tiwani Contemporary Art website

THE CARIBBEAN:

BEQUIA MOUNT GAY MUSIC FEST 2015 is a yearly event happening in January on the small Grenadine island of Bequia, part of the island state of St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Caribbean and international musicians join the stage for a four-day event on the “Big Little Island” in the Caribbean. Highlights of the event include a one-night-only show of the world-famous Mustique Blues Festival on Friday Night @ De Reef, led by Dana Gillespie and the London Blues Band; a multi-genre Saturday Night Show @ De Reef with local and regional artistes; and a laid back Saturday Afternoon Jazz’ N’ Blues Jam by the beach @ Bequia Beach Hotel in Friendship. Festival runs from 22 – 25 January 2015. For more information visit the festival website.

THE US:

CHRIS OFILI: NIGHT & DAY. The New Museum presents the first major solo museum exhibition in the United States of the work of artist Chris Ofili. Occupying the Museum’s three main galleries, “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” spans the artist’s influential career, encompassing his paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Over the past two decades, Ofili’s practice has become identified with vibrant and meticulously executed artworks that meld figuration, abstraction, and decoration. The artist’s diverse oeuvre has taken imagery and inspiration from such disparate, history-spanning sources as the Bible, hip-hop music, Zimbabwean cave paintings, Blaxploitation films, and the works of William Blake. As the title of the exhibition suggests, Ofili’s practice has undergone constant changes, moving from boldly expressive to deeply introspective across an experimental and prodigious body of work. The exhibition features over thirty of Ofili’s major paintings, a vast quantity of drawings, and a selection of sculptures from over the course of his career. Runs until 25 January at The New Museum.

AFRICA:

THE ZIMBABWE ANNUAL EXHIBITION 2014 is an annual celebration of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s pursuit of the excellence of visual arts of Zimbabwe and the encouragement of artistic talents inherent in the people of Zimbabwe. The National Annual exhibition was founded by 1958 and contributed indirectly to the creation of the Zimbabwean Sculpture movement in the 1960s. It survived until 1973 growing in stature and number of submissions with each year. When the Zimbabwe Heritage was launched in 1986 to coincide with the non-aligned movement meeting in September 1986, it was to celebrate the pinnacles of Zimbabwean achievements in the visual arts taking off where the National Annual exhibition had left off. The mandate was to collect contemporary masterpieces of Zimbabwean artwork, which reflect the enthusiasm, history, identity and soul of the people. Exhibition runs  until 20 January. For more info visit the NGZ website.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Bro Ben

As October and another British Black History Month draws to a close, it gives me cause to reflect on the years since its inception in 1987. Culturally and technologically the changes in our society in that time have been immense. However, politically we seem to be going backwards rather than forwards as our basic freedoms and human rights come under constant attack and outrageous acts of prejudice, racism and violence become increasingly flagrant and frequent. Back then in the ’80s, our profiled creative for this month was making his mark as a graffiti artist and rapper as part of London’s burgeoning hip-hop scene. Creative roots which fed and nurtured him into one of the most talented, diverse and respected artists and designers of his generation. His integrity to his craft and commitment to his community, especially in encouraging young people, is awe-inspiring. As is his vast body of work encompassing art, design, illustration, photography, film, sculpture and music. But let’s be clear, this is no “Jack of all trades”. His work in each and every discipline he turns his heart and his hand to, is accomplished and features many landmark projects, which continue to influence to this day. So without further ado, let’s pass the mic to Mr Benjamin Wachenje aka Bro Ben.

Bro BenSource: Azita Firoozyar

Benjamin Wachenje aka Bro Ben. Artist, designer and filmmaker

What’s your background?

I grew up in Harlow on the outskirts of London. Being born in the mid-70s meant that I was just about old enough to be considered a first-generation hip-hop child. From the first time I set eyes on Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Girls video as a young boy I became submerged in hip-hop cultural expression. Although I enjoyed all of the various disciplines of the emerging hip-hop movement I found the spray can art element particularly fascinating and exciting to do. Spray cans only represent a medium but the art form is essentially typography fused with figurative and landscape painting on unconventional canvases. As a result of this early introduction into the combined arts I have continually resisted the notion that you have to specialise in one discipline. During the mid-90s I was fortunate enough to have been the first generation to be offered the opportunity to study for a ‘joint’ honours degree at The University of The Arts’ Camberwell site. So I chose to simultaneously study Fine Art and Graphic Design, where I furthered my understanding of layout, composition, photography, typography, painting and printmaking.

Breakin'+Convention+designBreakin’ Convention design

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Prior to studying for a degree I had already satisfied many illustration and design briefs in the late-80s and early-90s. Before having computer access I had learned how to cut and paste using Pritt Stick and a scalpel, delete and tidy work with Typex and do laborious-hand rendered typography with Gouache paint or Letraset transfers. With regards to my illustration style, prior to owning a computer I would collage sheets of coloured paper together to make Illustrations. I got my first Mac in 1997 after volunteering at Alarm magazine. As a reward for my hard work and sleepless nights meeting press deadlines the publisher kindly gifted me an Apple Macintosh Performer 5600 Power PC. I quickly developed a technique to create my collaged paper illustrations in Photoshop. I had my first illustration published in VOX magazine in 1997 and this was followed by regular appearances in Echoes Music Weekly and Touch Magazine. In 1999 my illustration helped to enrich the branding of the DarkerThanBlue digital platform. After two years at DarkerThanBlue I returned to Touch Magazine as art director and also worked as art editor for THE FLY magazine.

Darker+than+Blue+designsDarkerThanBlue designs

 What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I had hundreds of rejected job applications after leaving university. While being unemployed I would occupy myself with imaginary briefs. I started to take the job application process less seriously and began to take risks with my covering letters which accompanied my CVs. On several occasions I just wrote raps/poems and I was surprised to find that this strategy appealed to some of the recruiting art directors who found this interesting and funny. As a result I became a frequent freelance designer at both Emap and IPC publishing houses. I also underestimated the power of referral. At least 50 per cent of my early work leads came from one friend, Russell Moorcroft. He was comfortable in putting me forward for a number of jobs because I had been at college with his wife Linda, who was able to give a confident character reference about my work ethic. But now the greatest challenge I face is to work as hard towards my own goals as I have in the past towards the visions and goals of my paymasters.

Breaker+illustrationBreaker illustration

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Most definitely hip-hop culture has been a great inspiration and has interfaced me with enriching experiences. But professionally my early mentor Everton Wrightshifted my paradigm as to what is possible. I had never come across a black man with dreadlocks who drove a nice car and owned a consultancy and design studio (Creative Hands) in the heart of the City. The walls of the studio were adorned with examples of high-profile work that overlooked the minimalist furniture, wooden floorboards and first generation G3s and iMacs that were dotted all over the loft-styled workspace. What’s more he had staff and was able to pay me. It was a mind-stretcher to say the least. I had never met a black man in Britain who had carved out a living for himself like that and being of black British descent this really resonated with me. Aside from that type of up close and personal inspiration I also take a holistic approach to the arts as a whole, so I might do a painting inspired by the music of Donald Byrd. I might do drawing inspired by Spike Lee’s films. I might make a short film inspired by a poem I have written. I might design a palette for a corporate brand based on a Monet pastel drawing. I also find inspiration in failure, depression and tragedy. I know that I am at my happiest when I am productive. I know that if I am not productive I will be depressed. I know that if I don’t find a lesson in a tragedy then the sorrow may envelop me. I know that if I don’t analyse my failures I will be destined to repeat them, so I stay positive and draw inspiration from life’s beauties and hardships.

FourFourTwo+cover+illustrationFourFourTwo cover illustration

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I am not a proud person. Sometimes I like my work momentarily on completion but as time passes I can only see how it could have been better. I get very uncomfortable when people praise my work.

PaintingPainting work

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream job would be to direct and produce a feature length film. As an artist without boundaries what better medium exists than film, to harmonise the spectrum of artistic disciplines? Within film you can fuse, literature, poetry, music, sound design, dramatics, theatre, dance, sculpture, photography, typography and graphics… I think the great filmmakers of this period will be remembered and revered in the same way we idolise the renaissance painters of the 15th and 16th Century.

Design+for+Jonzi-DDesign for Jonzi-D

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

As previously mentioned Everton Wright. Steve McQueen. His work asks questions in a subtle way. Also he feeds into the growing audience that want to see an unconventional artistic approach to film making. Kjell Ekhorn and Jon Forss (Non-Format). They don’t follow design trends and they have enough confidence in their vision to establish trends. Graham Rounthwaite. Editorial illustrations were seemingly becoming stagnant before he re-energised the discipline with his fresh fashion-led stylised characters that he placed in familiar urban contexts. Taki 183 and PHASE 2. Fathers of graffiti who were some of the first Street artists to break the cycle of incestuous, elitist art and bring it back to the everyday people. Blek Le Rat. The relatively unknown Parisian stencil artist, whose work inspired and pre-dates Banksy. Following a period of abstract impressionism art was losing its ability to communicate with the masses and could no longer effectively critique power or voice decent. With the emergence of Culture Jamming and Street Art once again artists like Blek Le Rat were able to comment on the social and political climate in a dissident and subversive visual language.

Touch+magazine+coverTouch magazine cover

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow in my footsteps – create your own pathway. If you try to get to where I am you will be disappointed when you arrive. Never limit your goals to what someone else has achieved, look beyond, focus on personal excellence. Try to be excellent at what is in front of you right now and then move on when the time is right.

Sleeve+art+for+TySleeve art for Ty

What’s next for you?

A workout. I have been sitting in front of my computer all day. Not good. You have to paint up close but then view from a distance to find out if your strokes are making sense. When I work out I can reflect on my creative goals from a distance. But for sure I will continue to illustrate, art direct and make space in my schedule to make films.

Network:

EUROPE:

STEVE MCQUEEN ‘ASHES’ is the Thomas Dane Gallery’s third solo exhibition of the acclaimed British artist and filmmaker’s works. For this exhibition, McQueen will present two new works. The first, entitled Ashes, 2014, is installed as an immersive projection with sound.  It was shot on Super8 film with a haunting verbal soundtrack, recently recorded in Grenada. Much of the footage dates from 2002 and was taken by the legendary cinematographer, Robbie Muller. The deceptively simple film was commissioned by Espace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo and shown there earlier this year. At No. 11, we will be showing an entirely sculptural installation ‘Broken Column’, which acts as a pendant to ‘Ashes’. Gallery hours: Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 12pm-6pm.  Admission Free. Tel: +44 (0)20 7925 2505. Nearest Tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information visit www.thomasdanegallery.com

HOW GREAT THOU ART – 50 YEARS OF AFRICAN CARIBBEAN FUNERALS IN LONDON by photographer Charlie Phillips presents a sensitive photographic documentary of the social and emotional traditions that surround death in London’s African Caribbean community. Runs from 7 November – 5 December at Photofusion 17A Electric Lane
London
Brixton
SW9 8LA. Visit the website for more information

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL ‘LOOK SEE’ – an exhibition of new paintings oncurrent with the traveling exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, currently on view at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. Runs until 22 November at David Zwirner Gallery, 24 Grafton Street London W1S 4EZ. Visitthe website for more information.

THE U.S:

A THEATRE OF COLOR: COSTUME DESIGN FOR THE BLACK THEATRE BY MYRNA COLLEY-LEE consists of more than 100 original costume designs, and over 80 production photographs, including full scale production images from several productions portraying the black experience from before World War II through the Pulitzer Prize-winning works of August Wilson. Exhibition runs until 4 January 2015 at Charles H. Wright Museum of African History.Visit the museum’s website for more information

AFRICA:

TEMPORARY BUT PERMANENT: PROJECTS The act of being present, and following the construction of a permanent work of art within a public space, is for Hobbs/Neustetter a complex and political condition where one is literally exposed to myriad forces and opinions. A temporary action on the other hand– while no less complex or political, unfolds with a different sense of time in relation to development and production, and often displays more social dexterity regarding audience and site. The works presented inTemporary but Permanent, through their exploration of xenophobia, forced migration and urban degeneration, stand as a particular instances of these symbolic translations. Developed in countries as varied as Martinique, Norway and Mali, Hobbs/Neustetter employed photography, video, mapping and participatory processes in order to present and record such interventions and ultimately effect radical changes in society. Accompanying this selection of works is Hobbs/Neustetter’s post performance video installation of their Tate Modern Commission for the December 2013 Sud Trienniel in Douala, Cameroon.Visit the Museum of African Design for more information

THE CARIBBEAN:

LAST SUNDAYS @ NATIONAL GALLERY of Jamaica features special exhibitions from 11.00am to 4.00pm, with free admission for all free tours and gallery-based children’s activities. There are often special films or special performances and the gift and coffee shops are also open. Contributions to the donation box are welcomed. For more information call 876.922.1561, or visit the website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Barrington Braithwaite

This month we head to a very unique part of the Caribbean, Guyana. It is unique in the fact that it is not an island, but a sovereign state situated on the northern coast of South America. Historically known as the ‘Land of Many Waters’, its heritage can be found flowing through the veins of many notable people, including Baroness Valerie Amos, Lord Herman Ouseley, the late Bernie Grant MP, David Lammy MP, Trevor Philips and pioneering US activist Shirley Chisholm. Many artists and entertainers have roots in Guyana, such as the distinguished playwright, poet and author John Agard; British-based actors Norman Beaton, Carmen Munroe, Ram John Holder and Cy Grant; and musicians such as Phil Lynott,, global superstar Rihanna and Eddy Grant, the platinum-selling musician and entrepreneur. It was Eddy who first mentioned the name of this month’s profiled creative to me, speaking with pride and reverence about the work of his fellow countryman. And who similarly I am proud to bring to your attention now. Introducing the graphic artist and illustrator, Barrington Braithwaite.

What’s your background?

I’m from roots that have produced folk in the arts and media. It’s kind of infra dig though, to talk about folks when the discourse is about self. I spent the formative years of my life with my godparents at Mahaica, rural Guyana, after my Adam and Eve went separate ways. There I was given the opportunity as an only child in their care to explore my imagination. My godparents encouraged my interests and only after their deaths did I realise that I had a privileged initiation to life – I actually have five sisters and four brothers. I was lucky that the Forbes Burnham post-independence Government of the 70s was developing youth-training organisations and bringing experts from overseas in different fields to train the youth of that period. I was interested in art or, I should say, I was compelled by this passion. However I became part of a young settlers co-op group after school in 1974 and there did courses in co-op management and field practices. The Cold War temperature was impacting on Guyana, I left the co-op and worked on the waterfront to survive, until I was encouraged in around 1981 by my friend ‘Fat Boy’ Herbert Archer, a poet, to take my portfolio – which wasn’t much – to Dr Denis Williams at the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology to negotiate a way out of the dog-eat-dog waterfront world. He engaged me and placed me through the training of a scientific illustrator, but I couldn’t help who I was and while on one particular archaeological site in the Northwest of Guyana’s Rain Forests, I wrote my first two stories to be illustrated. I was supposed to go to Scotland to complete my training but it was decided that if I went I wouldn’t return, so disgruntled I left the museum, and worked freelance as a commercial artist at the Guyana Chronicle. With the support of editors I developed and published several comic strips and serials. With a young family I started an advertising service to keep the pot boiling, and have maintained that while developing and self publishing my graphic magazines.

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

As far back as I could remember I was enthralled by comic books and most of all telling stories using that medium. While in school I became the class artist. This fame extended even to higher forms, from helping with class art assignments to doing rip-offs of commando comic books in four-page exercise-book middle-page pull outs. These were sold for a penny. I had to wait until 1981, when I was employed by Denis Williams. I presented him with an illustrated story I had done named The Shrouded Legacy. He took me and my story down to the national newspapers who I think he bullied to accept it, and I was guided through my first contract and received my first cheque. When it hit the Sunday pages I received in the weeks that followed great harassment from friends who then pointed out my errors which were many. I had used the only drawing pen I had, didn’t understand the concept of lettering or word balloons and was not a good artist qualified for publishing by the standards of the day. Eerie, Creepy and the Warren Publishing line had enveloped our horizons. I prayed for my series to finish and the torment to stop. I did not fold up and it took years with my wife as the female model and some old muscle magazines for the males to develop my skill, this was a weird mix and with the critical help of my buddy Andy Anderson I emerged with the Elder comic strip, that through negotiations the newspapers carried. As I said before, the policy of the Government back then was to encourage the local arts, but there were standards to be met. I had decided by 1983 to develop a medium for the talents that were directing my thoughts. I had no idea at the time of the necessary independent support systems that were needed to make this happen, I concentrated on making my artwork meet the acceptable standards. In 1988 I published the trilogy of The Shadow of the Jaguar. In the ‘90s I wrote and illustrated The Legend of the Silk Cotton Tree – this went from graphic magazine to stage play in 2010. I work under the Company Name Spectrum Creative Productions and administrate a small advertising service, and have done work for UNICEF, the West Indian Cricket Board and other agencies. The goal of a pure graphic magazine publishing outfit continues to propel the production of several new projects that are yet to be published.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

There is no publishing industry in the CARICOM belt and the comic book industry is even further away from this reality. The most unexpected and vicious opposition to my work as a self-publisher did not come from competition, but from those who had appointed themselves the custodians of proper culture in Guyana. These were characters that were more British than the English who had ruled British Guiana. The idea of an Afro Guyanese hero was offensive I think to both the caricature class and the PPP government. The Shadow of the Jaguar strip in the National Chronicle Newspaper was dropped after the PPP Government was elected in 1992. I had long concluded that Guyana was not the world and since I had always trained my art along the guidelines of a holistic illustrator’s universe, I proceeded now as artist activist resident in my country. The challenges also lay in understanding the rules of protecting one’s work on the international market place, and having a working understanding of contract law. With the rise of new technologies to apply that to production, also charting a network for collaborations wherever the veins progressively lead. Venture capital has always been the unpredictable Cerberus, from a working-class hemisphere talent as me. Cultivating and honing one’s talents and creative skills were the first of the labours, next lay the support forces, space for work, raising a family and no external finances, rising above this is a task of pure will. Only the perseverance, the muse that from its inception was the driving force, delivers the irrational incentive to face these factors towards the realisation of the real fulfillment that is having the complete means present to publish as I see fit the full studio of works that encompasses the last 35 years.

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I was enthralled by the Sunday cartoons and comic books and I had inherited artistic and the scribe’s talent. Then my greatest influences came from the debates in my father’s workshop about local legends, aspects of Caribbean history, Biblical accuracy against movie stuff and other subjects that preoccupied my serious conversations into early manhood. Some of these subjects required research, like when I thought [at about ten years old] that the Ten Commandmentsmovie reflected things that had happened in Spain – it isn’t funny bro. Reading brought me new ideas and information and in discussion with my peers they rebuked me that I should do comic strips about our topics – a herculean task, but an inspiration. Realising that my talents can fill a vacuum with edutainment tales and characters was the greatest inspiration that propelled me into this career.

What is the project you are most proud of?

I would like to think that I’m currently working on my most valued project. I first attempted the current project, which in its concept presents WWII and then links it to other historical epochs in a mystical way, because this project has some moons to go – I can’t get into the details. What I can say was that I started it around 1984 and I had shown Dr Williams the first concept issue. He proposed to purchase it for the Department of Culture’s Library, I was been trained as a scientific illustrator and was finding it difficult to survive on the Government’s stipend. He then asked me where I was taking the story, what were the elements I wanted to explore? I explained to him what I wanted to do, what had gripped my imagination. He shook his head and explained to me that I should give the ideas about 20 years to grow because I didn’t have the information at the time, he asked me some questions, to which I replied, he then answered them for me to illustrate his point then assured me not to bother with Hollywood and to cover both African and European history deciphering the in-between propaganda that is inserted in historical works, by cross reading. Reading that included the metaphors of the mystery systems, and Dr Williams concluded prophetically, that I’ll know when I’m qualified to address the topic. Yes I was pissed, but convinced by his questions and his counter-answers that I didn’t know as much as I thought, to do this work of fiction. I was mentally oriented that I must be conditioned to face the exploration, and exploitation of ideas with an understanding of the subject, whether it’s the geography, architecture or costumes. With the medium of graphics one has to come close to accurate. The origins of conflicts cannot be taking for granted either. For example – the current Ukrainian issue, where did it start, was it in the Middle ages, the Stalinist era, or with the Nazi era? A framework for a fictional work has to be grounded in a mythic or historic reference sphere , from there, the poetic license can be applied. So that attitude towards work compels research for development and if you’re operating outside of a major budget , then the work is on you and it will take time, lots of time. Dr Williams was right; I couldn’t do honest work on the subject matter of the graphic series now in progress without a wealth of historic time travels, and a working knowledge of religious beliefs across migrations into their modern innuendos. Because it’s not yet protected I can’t provide insights, except to say it’s my pet project. I’ve just finished a recent pet project that I’ve been working on for years, a graphic novel on the Haitian Revolution, a whopping 123 pages, hand coloured and compartmented into five sections. From the period of composing the first page, outside of the years of research, it took three years to complete and now it’s the stuff of nerves to work out the deal that will take it to pay-day. This can be considered my current showpiece, because it was never done before. But as time goes the showpiece changes with the season.

What would be your dream project?

The greatest achievement as a job for me is to be able to work on set designs and costumes for one of my graphic works turn into a movie, then with enough money I’ll finance research into a lens that can peer into the stuff dogs howl at.

Who in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition?

That list would begin with my parents, whose genetics gave me a certain persuasion, then my muse, who’s out there and whispers and guides in some uncanny, save the moment coincidences, I’m still searching the science magazines on the data of the human brain to see if they’re any clarifications that suit my muse experiences – none so far. Mr Hunter, the head master of the school I attended on the rural east coast of Demerara in my formative years, was a tremendous influence. My godparents Abel Burke and Elizabeth Cumberbatch, who raised me in my formative years until their demise when I was about 14 years old, had indulged my curiosities for toy soldiers, comic books and had engaged me in conversations about the travels of Odysseus and Aesop’s tales, they can be credited with shaping the foundations of my later creative career development. My buddy Andy Anderson, who was my personal critic on the evolution of my art, the long after-school debates on technique in the Art room of Queens College. My Mother Grace lived outside of Guyana, my father was the resident parent, and Hubert Braithwaite never stood in the way of my boyhood interests, though he guided me towards the illustrated Classics and coerced me to read my first novel which was the Louis L’amour book ‘To Tame a Land ‘, my dad read lots of western novels,. he did subtly guide me towards Architecture and furniture design, he built houses and had a furniture making operation, which I found exciting but was mundane in respect to the creative stuff that was compelling me. My wife Donna and children Michelle, Taharka and Makeda who were all seconded for model services over the years, and as the photographer when I had to be the model for immediate anatomy fixes. They endured my on-the-job hastily applied lessons on the model or photography specifics, they snarled and scratched and I growled, until we got it done. When I started in the media, at the Chronicle there were people there who were interested in the unveiling of local graphic storylines, and there are names I must include: Claudette Earle the Sunday editor, Godfrey Wray another editor, Adam Harris, Frank Pilgrim and Ulric Captain, all managers at Chronicle, the latter who I was working with to expand to the Caribbean to have a general pull out graphic publication When the Government changed. My pal Poloma, now Professor Poloma Mohammed, a playwright and writer herself who was always there, and David Granger [Brig. Rtr] whose publications on local history gave me the opportunity to interpret much of our local history in graphics. These are the pivotal persons who have come to thought in related fields. And finally the late Poet ‘Fat Archer’, and the small businesses with an interest in the arts who always supported my graphic projects.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I would hope that certain systems are in place with the activism of myself and others to make the acceptance of the local graphic storyteller friendlier and with a greater respect for the value of the work produced. The road of the illustrator, painter, poet and writer is not an easy one, the more talented the artist is, will mean the more challenges, and with originality must come the strength to defend the new explored territory. Young aspirants to the graphic arts must understand that they’re embarking into a serious field, especially if they are going to write their own creative or documentary projects. They must, apart from honing their talents, mastering the areas of anatomy, materials and technique, have a historic understanding of the evolution of the field, from the caves to the current top guns, whose work continue to inspire and move us onto our own. For me it was the unknown artists who did the Commando comics, then on the local Guyana scene it was Rudy Seymour who did the first local comics I knew. I later engaged the work of Tom Feelings. Frank Frazzeta , Bernie Wrightson, Will Eisner all came after I had the gift of Treasure Island illustrated by Newell Wyeth. Old magazines led me to the French and Europe, Eugene Delacroix, Dore’ and the guy who in my view jump-started the modern fantasy art trend: William Blake. But this reservoir of knowhows about the field wouldn’t be enough. The practicing artist has to understand the legal world of copyright, to protect from being sued for violating the commanding piece of art or photography you adopted verbatim into your stuff, or if the situation is vice versa, then copyright becomes your best friend. This wouldn’t be complete without a working understanding of contract law. Contract law is a significant crossroad process that will build or break you – from experience I can tell you this. Your talents can work for you or for some other wiseguy, based on what you know when you leave the environs of your muse and enter the entangling vines of the rainforests out there.

What’s next for you?

The next limb on the tree of life I’m reaching for is for the fruit that enables me to launch internationally the pivotal four graphic series I want to place on the market, this would entail the cash-flow to recruit back-up talents and publish the first two unhindered, then the other two series mentioned. This would open the door to introduce, based on the response of license relationships solicited or attracted explorations into comparative mediums, that would allow realising the exploration of other latent ideas for different audiences. Without further whimsical elaborations, the above capture what lies ahead.

A very special thanks to Patrice Hinds for his help in facilitating this interview.

Network

THE U.S:

Serigrafía surveys the powerful tradition of information design in California’s Latino culture, featuring thirty influential silkscreens from the 1970s to the present. Beginning in the late 1960s, graphic art created at and distributed by artist-led collectives, or centros, contributed significantly to the public discourse. Emerging in concert with the civil rights movement and demanding political and social justice for marginalized groups, these prints confront political, economic, social, and cultural issues on both a personal and a global level. Runs until April 20, 2014 at Pasadena Museum of California Art. For more information visit http://www.pmcaonline.org/

THE CARIBBEAN:

Rincón International Film Festival. On a mission to support and promote culture and the arts in Puerto Rico through the medium of film, the festival seeks to inspire student, future and current filmmakers in the art of filmmaking.From7-13 April 2014. For more information visit http://www.rinconfilm.com

EUROPE:

Japanese Poster Art : Cherry Blossom & Asceticism. Intended as a cultural contribution to the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Switzerland, the exhibition presents the history of the poster in Japan, where this medium is primarily known as an artistic statement and image advertising. Works by three old masters, Shigeo Fukuda, Kazumasa Nagai and Ikko Tanaka – from a generous donation to the museum – are to be seen alongside posters from 1950 to the present day. Here the special aesthetic of Japanese graphic designs reflects the dialogue between Eastern and Western visual culture. Runs until 25 May 2014 at Museum für Gestaltung Zürich.

3rd Curacao International Film Festival 2014. 2 – 6 April 2014 at The Cinemas Curaçao‎
1 Baden Powellweg
 Willemstad, Rotterdam. For more information visit thecinemascuracao.com

AFRICA:

Fashioning Africa is set to bring some of the continent’s most exciting contemporary designers to Johannesburg. The multidisciplinary exhibition explores the history of African fashion and surveys the current landscape of fashion in Africa. The exhibition runs until 27 April at the Museum of African Design. Admission: R 30
 Museum opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00am – 5.00pm. For more info visit http://www.moadjhb.com