Tag Race

1997: Giving A.R.M a helping hand

As MP’s go, Bernie Grant was about as right (morally, not politically) and honorable as they get.

A leonine politician who fought tirelessly for his constituents, and who represented people from the African diaspora with pride.

I remember hearing that his organisation, ARM (African Reparations Movement) were looking to protest to the British Museum for the return of precious artefacts and treasures that were stolen from Benin and held in their possession.

I was working as an Art Director in mainstream advertising at that time at an agency called Ammirati Puris Lintas and felt I could make a positive creative contribution to their cause.

So I contacted their offices and proposed an idea that I believed would help to provide the necessary visual dramatisation of their protest and in turn help draw attention and pr interest.

The resulting concept was an enlarged print of a classic ‘Repossession Order’, as usually sent by bailiffs, but in this case delivered by Bernie and other ARM representatives to the Director of the British Museum on 15th March 1997.

 

I know Bernie was extremely pleased with the result and as a ‘thank you’, invited me to take tea with him at the House of Commons. An invitation, I never got round to taking up and that I sincerely regret to this day.

Advertisements

4 Corners: An Interview with Lewis Williams

As we approach the close of the US Black History Month celebrations,
am extremely proud to celebrate our 2nd anniversary as a regular monthly column with you.

This month we pay tribute to both occasions with a profile interview with the Chief Creative Officer of one America’s oldest Black advertising agencies and one of the largest multi-cultural marketing firms in the world.

Founded in 1971 by Tom Burrell and then Partner, Emmett McBain, with the principle of forging an authentic and respectful relationship with the African American consumer; tapping into how the Black Aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer; and recognizing that there were inherent cultural differences that drove patterns of consumption, provided the launchpad for all Burrell’s communications. Principles, most succinctly phrased at the time by its founder Tom Burrell who stated, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”

Now, as part of the Publicis Groupe with over 100 employees, the company’s is steered by two dynamic women of colour, Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse. And it’s creative legacy remains resolutely intact and as relevant as ever (as its current Black = Human campaign in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter will testify) under the watchful creative direction of Lewis Williams, whose work and life story I have the great pleasure of introducing you to today.

Williams_Lewis_02

Lewis Williams, Executive Vice President / Chief Creative Officer, Burrell Communications

What’s your background?

I’m a southern boy to the core. Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, the home of such musical greats like Little Richard, Otis Redding, Lena Horne and the Allman Brothers Band.

As a kid I always loved to draw and got a lot of encouragement from my community and schools. My first dream was to become an architect, but quickly abandoned that idea for math was not my favorite subject. So I concentrated on the fine art side of things. I had no idea there was an industry called advertising.

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I graduated from Kent State University with a BFA degree in Graphic Design. Since most design shops were small without many positions open my break came when hired by a San Diego, CA ad agency as a production designer. Which later turned into an art director’s role and my ad career was born.

You can see more at by website and my profile on LinkedIn.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/93108785″>Late Nite Final</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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

There’s a few. The first was being born black. The second access and just lacking or knowing anyone or anything about it. This was amplified even more since I am a minority. African Americans were hardly represented in any roles in agencies especially in the creative department. So there was this need to go hard 24/7.

But with a strong work ethic, mentors, faith I’ve made a pretty good go

at it so far. But make no mistake the challenges are still there and always will be.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/92098050″>ToyotaAvalonOnlyTheName3.m4v</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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

Being black and proud has always been my inspiration. But the primary foundation will always be my parents. My father, a welder helper and my mom a domestic worker. They gave me great values and support that gave me the ability to believe in myself.

One winter day my father once came home, cold and dirty from a hard days work. He looked at me and said…”Son, do good in school so you can get a job working inside.” I never forgot that.

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

We’ll hopefully I haven’t done it yet. But a pro-bono work I did for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio some years ago rises to the top. Its mission is to abolish modern day slavery and oppression around the world.

Underground Railroad

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream project would be to open an ad school/agency for kids who lack access through the “normal” channels and kick butt.

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

I have to start at the beginning; my parents and family; my church family; my grade and high school teachers. Upward Bound. Bob Kwait was my first boss to see I had a knack for doing ads. Tom Burrell, gave me a shot when others wouldn’t.

Cheryl Berman who gave me the break into the big time at Leo Burnett and mentored me throughout my career there.

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

Love what you do. Work hard. Find mentors and listen to them. And never let up. Never.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I just know I’m not done.

For more information visit:
http://www.lewforhire.com and http://www.burrell.com

Network:

 

EUROPE:

V&A ART & EXISTENCE | Lecture Series:

The Seamstress, Designer and the Model explore the role of the seamstress in black cultural life in the Caribbean, the results of emigration and displacement, and compare patterns of production in the Caribbean and Britain. Thursday 5 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

The Rise and Development of Black Print Culture uses the work of Joel Augustus Rogers (1880- 1966) as a case study, examine the role of the journalist, political activist, artist, and publisher in countering racist stereotypes, by creating a black led perspective on print media, collected on people from the African Diaspora within books, newspapers, hand bills and pamphlets. Thursday 12 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

Calypso and the Black British Experience. The lyrics of Calypso were highly political as they were contentious, and dealt with a variety of topics such as poor housing; gaining Independence and the Commonwealth; African, Caribbean and British affairs; the wars and economic status. Consider the changes that have occurred since these decades, and revisit “London is the Place for Me” through Alexander’s “Windrush” song, that contrasts with Kitchener’s rather rose tinted view of Britain in 1948. Talk led by Alexander D. Great, Musician and Educator. Thursday 19 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here


THE CARIBBEAN:

The New Waves! Institute was established in 2011 and has since gathered 200 dance artists, teachers, and scholars in the Caribbean. Each year, participants, staff and a renowned faculty of international artists form a supportive and inspiring community that has created a unique space for dialogue, networking, experimentation and collaboration. The program has been made possible through a major partnership with and held at the University of Trinidad & Tobago / Academy for Performing Arts, within the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port of Spain in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the New Waves! Institute was held in Jacmel & Port au Prince, Haiti. New Waves! returns to UTT/APA for its 5th Anniversary, from 22 July to 1 August 2015. Applications due from April 3rd click here for details

 

THE U.S:

TITUS KAPHAR: THE JEROME PROJECT is composed of small-scale works that engage with contemporary social issues, particularly the criminal justice system. In 2011, Kaphar began searching for his father’s prison records. When he visited a website containing photographs of people who have recently been arrested, he found dozens of men who shared his father’s first name, Jerome, and last name. The artist was influenced by the writings of Michelle Alexander and William Julius Wilson on the prison-industrial complex and the use of policing and imprisonment by the US government as a means to address economic, social and political problems. The panels are based on police portraits of the men named Jerome that Kaphar found online, which represent only a portion of each man’s identity yet are preserved in the public record. Although each work depicts an individual, this series represents a community of people, particularly African American men, who are overrepresented in the prison population. Runs until 8 March 2015 at the Studio Museum of Harlem

 

AFRICA:

DESIGN INDABA has become a respected institution on the global creative landscape, based on the foundation of our annual Festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995. The annual Design Indaba Festival in Cape Town now also includes the highly popular Design Indaba ExpoFilmFestMusic Circuit, multiple Simulcast versions of the Conference in cities around South Africa, and other special events. Go to our Festival page for the latest programme or download our Festival App for updates. Festival runs until 1 March 2015.

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.

 

Salaam Malcolm: 50th Anniversary 1965-2015

1990. ‘Malcolm X Fever’ is at fever pitch.

There is a plethora of Malcolm X iconography inspired primarily through the music of legendary, afrocentric and conscious rap/hip hop groups such as, Public Enemy and the X-Clan who had just dropped their debut album, ‘To the East Blackwards’; the films and merchandising of Spike Lee through his newly opened store in Brooklyn, Spike’s Joint; and the bold, fresh and funky fashion of Cross Colours.

These were ‘X-citing’ times. But as with any popular cultural movement, it can reach its point of overload and for many people, like myself who were into Malcolm-X for more historical and political reasons, the seeming reduction of him to that of purely a fashion icon was a bridge too far.

That point of overload was to literally hit home to me, in my locale of East Sheen in south-west London, when suddenly I’d see all these white middle and upper class kids in the local high street, rocking their Malcolm X and Public Enemy t-shirts.

In hindsight, I wish I could maybe have viewed it less cynically and accepted it for what it was, which whatever the reasons, was a mainstream, multi-cultural adoption of Malcolm X, which would have been utterly inconceivable in his lifetime.

Instead, to be honest, I was more consumed with mixed feelings of cultural appropriation and a desire to push a more meaningful adoption of Malcolm X, his teachings, his politics and his philosophies.

However, these feelings inspired me to design one of my first ever t-shirt designs, which I created to recognise the 25th anniversary of Malcolm’s death in 1965.

Malcolm RIP XXV © Jon Daniel

I deliberately took a less populist approach, using his muslim name of ‘El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’. And a typographic rather than image-led visual treatment, using an excerpt from the eulogy read at Malcolm’s funeral by the Black actor and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis.

The design, which I initially sold on the street at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1990, and then afterwards at a few select stores around London, also proved to be a powerful creative catalyst.

It forged within me a new mindset to use design and creativity as a tool to promote the rich historical legacy of Black heroes and heroines from the African diaspora, and to take a progressive and pro-active stance to issues that affected the Black community.

As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

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 Gareth Jenkins

This month we find ourselves back in the Caribbean on the region’s fifth largest island, Trinidad or “The Rainbow Island” as it sometimes known due to its wide range of ethnicity, religion and culture. I’m proud to say that I have close family living here, most notably the relations of Karl Hudson-Phillips ORTT, QC, who was one of the island’s most celebrated figures, serving as a Queen’s Counsel, former Attorney-General and Judge of the International Criminal Court in a career spanning over 55 years. Our profiled designer, although still relatively young, is carving out an extremely distinguished career already, which has seen him, his business partners and their company, Abovegroup establish an enviable reputation for creative excellence, innovation and entrepreneurship in the business of branding, design and communications. A beacon for the emerging creativity that is coming out of the Caribbean, it is my absolute pleasure to be able to shine a light today on Gareth Jenkins.

Gareth Jenkins

Gareth Jenkins, designer and managing partner Abovegroup

What’s your background?

I am an Anglo-Trinidadian with a quintessentially Welsh name. My mother was born in Trinidad & Tobago, my father in England – both coming from diverse backgrounds themselves. They met at university in Wales before moving back to Trinidad – I think they thought it would be a bit more welcoming to mixed race children than the UK was in the 70s and 80s! So I spent most of my childhood in Trinidad, though I don’t particularly identify with any one culture or place to be honest – I feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Education-wise, I was a science and maths student at school in Trinidad (I was academically inclined, and as such wasn’t allowed to do subjects like art or design, which were considered the domain of those who weren’t going to amount to much) and then went on to study politics in the UK.  That was followed by a decade of living and working in London, mainly in the financial sector, until one day I woke up.

Fernandes

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I was working at JP Morgan at the time (1998) and was fairly settled into a self-satisfied, vacuous kind of existence. One lunch break, I decided to take a rest from the usual fare, walked across the bridge and randomly into the Hayward Gallery. Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima happened to be exhibiting at the time. I stood there, absolutely transfixed. Here were these familiar, functional objects – alarm clock-type red LCDs, attached to small motorised cars, zooming around the floor. It was enchanting. Now this may seem pedestrian to someone with a background in the arts, but to me at the time it was explosive – the notion that an object so utterly mundane could be transformed into something so beautiful, so layered, by adding nothing more than an idea. After that nothing ever looked quite the same. Within a month I had quit my job and moved first to Los Angeles and then to Barbados where I began to experiment with graphic design. A good friend convinced me to move back to London where I began working in magazines in the late ’90s, before finally returning to Trinidad and starting my own design studio in 2001. In 2006 I joined forces with photographer Alex Smailes as the practice became more and more focused on what was now my core area of interest: the world of identity.

Beacon

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

Trinidad is blessed with a bounty of natural resources, which makes it quite wealthy by Caribbean standards. It’s a very entrepreneurial environment – at times it seems like everyone is on some hustle or another! It’s also one of those rare places where if you have an idea, and you know how to execute it, you’ve got a better chance of succeeding than not. That makes it a very creative place, certainly in what people do, but perhaps less so in the way they go about doing it. So we have some brilliant examples of creatives who have done well globally – writers, designers, musicians, artists, architects, film-makers and so on; but no real structure or systems in place which allow these successes to be built upon. It’s exciting, chaotic, and ultimately frustrating. It feels as if each generation has to start from scratch, tearing down the half-finished edifices of the previous one, only to eventually get bogged down in the Technicolor mess themselves. As you might imagine, our consultancy isn’t really a part of that culture. Our main challenge was, and still remains, educating clients. Often I first have to sell the importance of design, then the idea of branding and identity, before finally getting around to suggesting that working with me might be a good idea. When I first moved back, there weren’t many people around who were interested in design as a stand-alone profession, other than how it could be used in advertising. That’s not to say that there aren’t good designers in Trinidad & Tobago – far from it. You see, we have this carnival that is amazing – and all absorbing. It’s the tree that hides the forest. So it felt like most of the really talented people were being sucked either into advertising booze, or designing costumes in which to drink said booze. Unfortunately with it came a pallor of mediocrity. This created a paradox – if you knew what you were doing it was easy enough to get started and win new work, but once the business grew beyond a particular point, it was impossible to find anyone to hire. We couldn’t pay what the advertising agencies were offering.  And the agencies, flush on decades of huge accounts and sharing clients among the old boys’ network, weren’t letting us in. We turned to our culture instead.  We created this beautiful studio in a warehouse in East Port of Spain within what was then CCA, an international artists’ residency programme. Within a few months we had doubled in size, and then again a year later. I started a series of talks called Show & Tell (of course!) – as a way to get our team exposed to new ideas. When 100 people turned up to the first one I figured we were on to something. We would pack up our studio, deck out the warehouse, invite a mix of seemingly unrelated speakers, give them 15 minutes each, and then throw a huge afterparty.  Watching diverse audiences interact – young artists mixing – and getting on with – beekeepers , cocoa farmers and curious onlookers was really special. We blended local and international – people like photographer Martin Parr and DJ Diplo gave talks along with a growing crew of talented locals, including Keshav “Jus Now” Singh (musician), Laura Ferriera (photographer), Robert Young (fashion designer) and Wendel McShine (artist).  It was fun, fulfilling and ultimately successful in carving out our own space. I think the greatest challenge was our two-and-a-half year partnership with the regional Ogilvy office, from 2011-2013 (Abovegroup Ogilvy). Their challenge was creativity and culture; ours was access to the big multinational clients and steady cashflow (branding is a fickle beast, especially in the Caribbean). So we merged – a design studio with an advertising agency. People said it couldn’t be done, but why not? At first we were so enthusiastic – anything was possible, and indeed it was. But slowly but surely people returned to their old ways. I learnt the hard way that saying that you want change is easy (who doesn’t like new! shiny!); but actually changing the way people see themselves and their business proved impossible. Until then, I don’t think I had ever truly failed at something. Our best people began to drift away, disenchanted. Eventually we too had to give up – we picked up our stuff and walked out, taking our company and reputation with us. We are back on track now and I think our greatest challenge at the moment is staying small. The pressure to grow is always there, but for now, our plan is to keep focused on working with only a few clients at a time, trying to make things that make a difference.

Miquel

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

I’m largely self-taught, so knowledge of the greats came late in life to me. From a distance – Otl Aicher, Piet Mondrian, Michael Bierut, Peter Zumthor. I’ve always been inspired by the blend of strategy and design that Wolff Olins have mastered. Or the peculiar model of Pentagram. Closer to home, Jamaican magazine First was brilliant; locally Steve Ouditt, Eddie Bowen and Illya Furlong-Walker brought their own brand of genius to the generation before me. Architect Mark Raymond was a great guide and mentor at the beginning. Last but not least my business partners Alex Smailes and Marlon Darbeau and my family have been an endless source of ideas and strength. 

Atlantic

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

I don’t think there’s any one project, but I’m proud of a few for different reasons. Rebranding Atlantic LNG (the biggest company in the region by revenue) was a real milestone in that it was the first time that a local agency was selected to work on something of that scale. Convincing a sceptical board – the heads of BP Trinidad and Tobago, British Gas and so on – that our solution was the right one – was the hardest, and most satisfying part for me. The Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival was a big success, done quickly, and has so far stood the test of time. Beacon Insurance was interesting in that in working with them on their branding, we began to unearth other aspects of their business that needed to change as well. It stalled the project for ages, but in the end something really meaningful emerged. To be honest though, I think the thing that I’m most proud of is how successful the people who have passed through Abovegroup have become. I’m not trying to steal the credit for that – they were well on their way before we met – but it’s rewarding to think that, in some way, we have helped shape the way they see the world by providing a kind of sanctuary for people with big ideas.

Film Festival

What would be your dream job or project?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s to set up a Department of Design in Trinidad & Tobago, working across ministries to bring clarity in communications to what government does and how it goes about doing it. That would include all aspects of internal and external interfaces, workflows and digital; to things like signage, passports, currency and so on. Pie in the sky, right? Maybe not. You see I have this belief that us up-and-coming nations don’t need to wait until we have “arrived” to begin to focus on expressing ourselves clearly. We don’t need the GDP of Norway to appreciate how much better a beautifully designed passport is, or an easy interface to renewing a drivers’ permit. We don’t need a long history of type design to benefit from a unified system of road signage or an intuitive website. We can appreciate what we have without dampening our ambitions – our significant places and monuments aren’t properly identified, their stories buried or misunderstood. It’s no wonder that they are routinely torn down or paved over. I think sophistication in design doesn’t have to be merely an indicator of a nation’s success; it can be a driver towards that success as well. It works for emerging products, brands and corporations – why not nations?

Film fest

Who in your field do you think deserves credit or recognition?

Ossie Glean Chase is an absolute gem of a man who has had a phenomenal career. He’s a fantastic designer, artist, architect and social thinker. He’s quite well known in certain circles, but barely known in Trinidad, certainly among the younger design community. I have been lucky to meet with him on a few occasions and I always leave feeling that I’ve been speaking with someone much younger than me (he’s in his 80s).

Show Tell

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

The other day the head of one of our associate companies remarked that the problem with us was that we were dreamers, and that Trinidad didn’t like dreamers. If you hear that, you know that you are on the right track. Emerging nations need dreamers. Our problems can’t be solely solved by parroting what has happened in Singapore or in Switzerland. We need to have the self-belief to find appropriate solutions ourselves. As designers we have a responsibility to participate in this development. Design is not a natural priority – we have to push ourselves to the front, and insist that our way of thinking should be included in the process.

Casa

What’s next for you?

We recently launched HOME, the region’s first multi-purpose co-working space, in partnership with fashion designer Anya Ayoung-Chee in this beautiful house in Port of Spain. We’re looking to begin replicating this model in other regional cities later on in 2015. I’ve got a personal photography project that I’ve just started, recording the massive cultural shift that Trinidad and Tobago has seen by retaking a series of photographs my father took of beautiful colonial-era buildings in the 1980s. On top of that I’m shifting my centre of gravity back towards the UK at the end of 2015 to be closer to my family and explore new avenues. It’s an exciting time…

For more information visit http://abovegroup.com 

Network

EUROPE:

THE V&A PRESENTS ART AND EXISTENCE: AFRICAN AND ASIAN DIASPORA EXPLORED. An informal series of talks led by external practitioners and specialists in their field, who through art, design, media and technology, unpack the cultural and social landscape, exploring race and representation, often provocative, sometime challenging assumptions and perceptions of Africans and Asians and their Diaspora. All six talks are free, booking essential. The first two talks in January are as follows:

Recent Developments in Contemporary Art in Barbados Thursday 8 January, 14.00 – 15.30pm. By Dr Allison Thompson, Lecturer in Art History at Barbados Community College 

4 CORNERS: Designers from the African Diaspora (Africa, Caribbean, Europe & USA) Thursday 22 January, 14.30 – 16.00pm Jon Daniel, Independent Creative Director 

For booking information visit the V&A website

THE CARIBBEAN:

TVE (TRANSOCEANIC VISUAL EXCHANGE) is making an open call in search of recent artists’ films and videos to be included in an exchange between Fresh Milk (Barbados), RM, (Auckland) and VAN Lagos (Nigeria). Submitted works must have been completed in the last five years and must be made by artists practicing in the Caribbean, Africa or Polynesia. Subission deadline 16 February 2015. For more information visit the Arc magazinewebsite

THE US:

BEYOND THE SUPERSQUARE explores the indelible influence of Latin American and Caribbean Modernist architecture on contemporary art. The exhibition features more than 30 artists and more than 60 artworks, including photography, video, sculpture, installation, and drawing, that respond to major Modernist architectural projects constructed in Latin America and the Caribbean from the 1920s through the 1960s. Runs until 11 January 2015 at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10456 T: 718-681-6000. For more information visit the Bronx Museum website. 

AFRICA:

UNCERTAIN TERMS is a group exhibition showcasing the work of 14 artists from across four continents. The exhibition brings together a group of artists who engage with changing dynamics, either in response to formal issues of materiality within their practice, or as a reaction to broader socio-political themes. In all cases the work is a reaction to dominant hegemonic structures. Whether it be through the direct questioning of western depictions of history, colonialism –and its attendant capitalist enterprises, as in the work of artist Frowhawk Two Feathers, or as in Nico Krijno’s work: which destabilizes the primacy of certain modes of production and the objects through which they manifest. Runs until 24 January 2015. For more information visit the What If The World 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 Lowell Thompson

Advertising or Adland’, used to be a home to a plethora of interesting and dynamic characters. I’m not talking about the smooth, elegant types that grace our TV screens in shows such as Mad Men;but the weird, wonderful and downright eccentric ones that featured at the heart of many a tale and legend told in industry pubs, clubs and awards ceremonies. I guess it was a symptom of the (less politically correct) times of the ‘50s and ‘60s and the nature of the job and the people it attracted. But as the civil rights era kicked in, what about the black creatives working in the industry? Tales of black art directors and copywriters tend to be few and far between. This may be again symptomatic of the times. But also possibly I suspect due to a desire to blend in and get their head down and do the job, rather than be loud, extrovert and stand out in the crowd. Our featured creative this month is no such wallflower and is a genuine character. He has successfully managed to navigate a career in the turbulent waters of American advertising, creating some uncompromising work in his inimitable style, winning awards along the way and lived to tell the tale. So here it is in his own words. Over to you Lowell Thompson…

Lowell

Lowell Thompson, advertising executive, author and artist

What’s your background?

Background? What background? I got into the ad game the old- fashioned way: luck, pure luck. Just like most of the “white” folks. But seriously, the only thing I had that, in hindsight, made me a future ad man was a little talent for drawing and painting and even smaller one for writing. I’m from a poor family of 11 kids, but luckily, two parents, and spent most of my young years just barely making it in school, although I was told I had an above average IQ and read well for my age. I also liked to draw. Having 10 brothers and sisters gave me lots of folks to practice my portrait drawing on. It took me forever to finally get out of Wendell Phillips High School (on Chicago’s Southside) and only then because a few art teachers took pity on me and literally put me in a class by myself so that I could gain enough credits to graduate. I had won a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But I dropped out after six months because I needed to make money to help the family (and I didn’t feel particularly at home in the fine art world). After about a dozen jobs, I lucked into the ad game at age 20 (in 1968).

King

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I happened to be in the right place, at the right time with a little talent. If I remember right, I got into the big-time ad biz almost exactly three months after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968. And after the nationwide riots that followed. Corporate America suddenly got interested in colored folks in anything but menial positions. I would have been lucky to have gotten a job in the mail room before that. Just a decade or so before, these giant ad agencies were still getting used to the idea of hiring Italians and Jews. I was actually working at the Chicago Tribune newspaper at the time, as an office boy in the creative services department. I’d been promised a promotion to be a keyline/pasteup artist.  They had already let me draw black and white fashion drawings for their Muriel Mundy account. (I’m amazed I still remember the name. I haven’t thought about this stuff in over 45 years). Anyway, when I got knocked out of the promotion because of a merger with Chicago’s American, another Trib-owned paper, I went looking for a new job during my vacation. On the very last day, I went to the Urban League, a social service agency focusing on civil rights and helping “Negroes” get into corporate America, The guy there told me about a summer intern position at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising agency. I didn’t really know what an ad agency did, but I went to the interview. Luckily their offices were in a sleek, Mies Van Der Rohe knockoff skyscraper right next to the classic, gothic Tribune building, so I could sneak out to an interview during my lunch break. The personnel man at FCB was a guy who made Don Draper and his boss on Mad Men look like plumbers. Slicked back silvery white hair and even whiter teeth. He was so smooth, he could sell fins to sharks. He welcomed me into his big, wood paneled corner office overlooking the Chicago River as if I was his long lost runaway slave son. After I found out exactly what FCB did, I knew I’d found a career. 

Sears

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

Funny thing, I don’t remember ever having any blatant, racist incidents. But by that time in the USA, “whites” up north had learned to keep their racist training in check, only bringing it out around friends and family. For about eight years in the US, being a card-carrying racist wasn’t cool. Of course, I’m sure there was talk behind the scenes, in the meetings, bars and clubs where I wasn’t invited, where they decided just how high they wanted me to go… and how close to any client they wanted me to get. I never really realised the extent of this until I was way beyond the business and started reading and thinking about the sea-change that happened in America between 1960 and 1970. But now I remember one seemingly harmless, even personally positive, incident. A very respected, award-winning veteran art director at Needham, Harper & Steers told me when we were working on a creative gang-bang, “you know Lowell, you think like a white guy” (or words to that effect). I took it as the compliment I think he meant. But looking back, it shows just how conditioned “whites” were to think of er…ummm… “colored” folks as lacking in… er… uh… cognitive skills. I was probably one of the first and few “blacks” he’d ever been in a room with who wasn’t sweeping the floor or freshening his drink.

Sears

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

1. My uncle Raymond, whom my mother always said was where I most likely got my artistic talent, although I don’t remember seeing anything he did. She told the often told African American story of him sending his drawings to apply for a job and being enthusiastically hired until he was stopped at the receptionist’s desk when he showed up in “black” skin.
2. My mother would also mention the only African American artist she’d heard of, E. Simms Campbell, a cartoonist extraordinaire who went to school in Chicago and whose work was appearing in Esquire, a leading men’s mag.
3. Henry Ossawa Tanner, the great African American artist.
4. Vince Cullers and Emmett McBain. They were the first two African American admen who were doing ground-breaking work in the late ‘60s, when I first got into the biz. Vince Cullers had started his agency in the mid-‘50s and by the time I heard of him, he claimed to have the oldest continuously operating African American ad agency in the USA. Emmett was an amazing art director and creative character. Together they did the first “conceptually black” ads I’d seen. They also did a poster promoting the agency that ranks with the boldest, most elegant pieces of communication art ever executed by man – in my humble opinion.
5. Georg Olden, as an example of great talent, the pitfalls of believing your own press releases and of becoming a pseudo-EurAm.
6. Harry Belafonte, the singer/actor/activist who put his money and his life where his mouth is. He shows that just because you’re personally successful, you don’t have to abandon your people or your principles.

Sing

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

At the risk of sounding like a big-headed, pompous, self-promoting egomaniac, I think my best piece of work is me. Looking back to where I came from, I see gradually creating this character I’ve become at 67. The project of staying (relatively) sane, positive and optimistic in this insane, negative and pessimistic nation and world ain’t easy. It’s not for wimps. Although I’ve done work that has won the Clio (the “Oscar” of advertising in the USA), Cebas (the “Oscar” of “black” advertising), been featured in Print and Communications Arts and that I was pretty happy with at the time, little of my ad work for the big agencies lived up to my loftiest expectations. In fact, the stuff I like the best was almost all done for freelance, personal or not-for-profit projects where I made little or no money.  The work I did for Partnership Against Racism (PAR) is an example. I created this not-for-profit in the mid 1990s to be a communications agency creating ads and commercials designed to counteract the effect of 400 years of white supremacy. Later, I was joined by Father Derek Simons, a “white”, British-born Catholic priest and we created the “Diversity is Beautiful” poster and we co-hosted a radio show titled, “The Race Question” where we argued about the issue and hosted guests. It was fun.  But even more fun was when I wrote my first book, ‘“WHITE FOLKS”: Seeing America Through Black Eyes’. The title was tailor-made for advertising and controversy. My “I Love White Folks*” poster here is one of my favorite pieces. The radio spot I wrote was so hot, they refused to run it on WVON, the legendary African American-owned  station. It began with a brotha shouting “White Folks for sale! White Folks for sale!”. I still don’t fully understand why they were afraid to run it it…

WF

What would be your dream job or project?

I’m actually working my dream job right now. I’m retired from the day-to-day business, so I can spend my time, energy, talent and experience to save the world – starting right here in the USA in Chicago.  In fact, I just completed one example of what I want to do on a bigger stage. I call it my AllMericans Portrait Project. I’ve attached an example of the portrait, which I began in a “pop-up” studio on a corner in Buena Park, the southern portion of the neighborhood I live in, Uptown, Chicago. My purpose is to document a neighborhood in Chicago (still considered by many to be the most segregated big city in the USA) where people of many different “races”, ethnicities, incomes, gender choices, mental and physical abilities, etc. live in relative harmony.  This is just one small example of my dream job. I plan to create a communications company I’ve named Humane Communications that promotes humane ideals and values. My theme line is the kicker, “It’s like an ad agency… for the human race”. It basically takes my old Partnership Against Racism idea and expands and twists it to be a positive force for the future instead of just a corrective of the USA’s heinous racial history.

Kemper

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

Vince Cullers, who started one of the first successful African American ad agencies, which was based in Chicago for about 40 years, until his death. Emmett McBain, who was one of the first art directors at a major ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, in the early 60s. By the time I got into the business, he was the head art director at Vince Cullers Advertising and helped create some of the classic ads of the day. He later co-founded Burrell-McBain (now Burrell Communications), which was for decades the largest African American-owned agency in the USA. Joey Randall, who worked in New York and Chicago and was the creator of “Street Song” the TV commercial Burrell advertising did for Coca Cola that put the agency on the creative map. Harry Webber, an art director/copywriter, and a legend in his own mind, but deservingly so. Many of his claims of creative stardom would be unbelievable if they weren’t largely backed up by fact. He worked mostly in New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He won many creative awards and gets credit for co-creating the “I’m Stuckon BandAids” and the “Thanks, I Needed That” campaign for Mennen in the 80s.  I met him when I took his office at Leo Burnett in Chicago in 1978. Alma Hopkins was a copywriter who started in the business about the same time as I did. She worked at a few EurAm agencies before I convinced her to come to Burrell in 1979. Although I left by January 1980, she stayed, becoming senior VP and creative chief. James Glover is a copywriter who wrote and helped produce so great commercials for McDonald’s, United Airlines and other big clients. He’s still working at a creative director. Phil Gant was a copywriter who became one of the few AfrAmerican top creative executives at a major ad agency. He ran the creative department of BBDO Chicago for years.

Miller

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

1. Find out what you’re good at.
2. Decide if you want to do it for a living.
3. Develop your skill, whether you see immediate job prospects or not.
4. Find out as much as you can about the realities of the business.
5. Keep your fingers crossed. Luck is real.

Top Dog

What’s next for you?

My next book, “Mad Invisible Men”, then world creative domination. I have so many “save the world” projects I can’t even list them all. But one that I hope will incorporate many of them is my Humane Communications project. I bought the domain about a year ago, Humanecom.com and I think the theme line explains what I want to do pretty well, “It’s like an ad agency…for the human race”. Please stay tuned.

For more information visit madinvisiblemen.com

Network:

EUROPE:

GLENN LIGON ‘CALL AND RESPONSE’ Camden Arts Centre until 11 January 2015. For his exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, the first in a UK public gallery for the celebrated American artist, Ligon presents a new series of large paintings based on the 1966 seminal taped-speech work, Come Out, by Minimalist composer Steve Reich. Come Out is drawn from the testimony of six black youths arrested for committing a murder during the Harlem Race Riot of 1964. Known as the ‘Harlem Six’, the case galvanised civil rights activists for a generation, bringing to attention police brutality against black citizens. Echoing Reich’s overlapping repetition of words and phrases, Ligon’s silkscreen paintings overlay the words to create slowly shifting and rhythmic effects. For more info visit the website

WANGECHI MUTU is on a formidable tear. After presentations in Durham, N.C., Brooklyn, N.Y., Miami and currently Evanston, Ill., her first U.S. survey remains underway as her second solo exhibition at Victoria Miro opens in London. Based in Brooklyn, educated in Britain and born Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu’s international pedigree is reflected in her otherworldly collage works, drawing on African mythology, colonialism, feminism and contemporary perceptions of black women and their bodies. ‘Nguva na Nyoka’ is at Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 19 December 2014. For more information visit the website

THE U.S:

Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art explores the ways contemporary artists use Ebony and Jet as a resource and as inspiration in their practices. Published by Johnson Publishing Company for over sixty years, both magazines are cultural touchstones for many African Americans and often represent a commonality between people of diverse backgrounds. Exhibition runs til Mar 8, 2015 at Studio Museum of Harlem.

For more information visit the website

THE CARIBBEAN:

The Martinique Jazz Festival 2014, now in it’s 20th year, features an array of jazz and world music artists from the Caribbean and around the world. For more information 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 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 Carolyne Hill

I first encountered the work of Carolyne Hill, this month’s profiled designer, at the Black Cultural Archives, the UK’s first and foremost Black heritage institution, which was recently rebranded and relaunched this July into a £7 million refurbished historical building in the heart of Brixton. Her family and most notably her mother Dawn, who is chair of the BCA, have been staunch supporters of this organisation for many years. Carolyne, specifically has lent her considerable talents in design and branding. However, as I would later come to find out, this is but one small facet of Carolyne’s many achievements thus far. Her background as a graphic designer, previously specialising in retail and ‘destination branding’ has seen her working for many of the high streets most recognised brands. Now working as Associate Director and branding specialist for Harrison:Fraser, I have no doubt that she is carving her own place in history as one of the few women of colour to ascend to such a position. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for Carolyne Hill.

Carolyne Hill

Carolyne Hill. Graphic designer/branding specialist

What’s your background?

I’ve always seen myself as an ‘Original Londoner’ born and bred, but equally proud of both my British and Jamaican heritage. My father is English and my mother is Jamaican. My grandmother on my father’s side was very creative and was always painting; this was a big inspiration from an early age. I would say ‘when I grow up I’m going to be an artist!’

Branding for Rhythm Kitchen, designed at The Yard Creative

Branding for Rhythm Kitchen, designed at The Yard Creative

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I have worked for a range of design consultancies in London for various clients over the last 15 years. I studied retail interior design and business management at the London College of Printing. Having graduated and finding it hard to get a job in interior design, I managed to get a graphic design job from Design Week listings. From then on I was a graphic designer doing something I’d always loved and been passionate about.

Poster for African Street Festival Street Style

Poster for African Street Festival Street Style

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

I still think the biggest challenge for me was just getting that first job. Upon graduating you come into the industry with all these hopes and dreams and then you can’t even get an interview! I worked at The Conran Shop weekends and was an office intern doing filing work during the week. It took more than a year until I got my first design internship at Elemental Studio in Loughbrough Junction, which then led to me getting my first actual full-time paid design job at Astound, working for clients such as Tesco, B&Q and 3M. Once ‘in’ I’ve worked hard at achieving my goals at every stage and those first contacts I made working at Astound have stayed with me throughout my career and have helped in finding the right kind of work with the right people. 

Identity for Kaleidoscope Cinema – a pop-up cinema run by Jewel Hardy

Identity for Kaleidoscope Cinema – a pop-up cinema run by Jewel Hardy

Who or what are your greatest inspirations?

At school I was fascinated by the Pop Art era. I was a big Andy Warhol fan as a teenager and when studying GCSEs I discovered Bridget Riley, who as well as sharing my birthday, was a great inspiration as a fellow south Londoner from Norwood where I was at school doing my best at creating my own ‘Pop Art masterpieces’ for my coursework! I was impressed with her artwork and career as a strong female artist – I loved her bright colours, geometric forms and stripes. My parents were also a big influence as they always instilled in me that I could achieve anything and supported me along the way in my decisions to study and work in design. Today I find my biggest inspirations come from those around me such as my friends and my peers. I enjoy seeing people being successful with whatever they are doing and this spurs me on to find the next challenge.

Handpainted sign for Lola's Casino

Handpainted sign for Lola’s Casino

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

At the moment I’m most proud of the Lola’s Casino identity work for The Hippodrome Casino at Harrison:Fraser, where I am associate director. Last year I took a typography course at Central Saint Martins, and to see a direct link from new learnings to a finished logo up in Leicester Square makes me very proud. I like to think that I’m proud of whatever I work on and I hope my ‘best piece’ is still to come.

Work for South African-inspired Rooibos tea brand Cape Cape Tea

Work for South African-inspired Rooibos tea brand Cape & Cape Tea

What would be your dream project?

My dream project right now would be to design and build a pop-up restaurant – mainly because I’m a foodie and really enjoy going to these ‘blink and you miss it’ installations! In 2009, I was made redundant and decided to set up my own company, sharing a design studio with Arthur Irving and his company Skylark, which was an exciting and fun experience, hard work but very rewarding. Financial pressures and great job offers have led to me moving on from my own company, but I like to think that in the future I might work for myself again! I also have the dream to be ‘more of an artist’ – still working on that one!

Who in your field do you believe deserves credit and recognition?

There are so many people who could deserve some recognition. But in my daily design job, the printers and shopfitters who produce amazing results, often with the shortest turnaround times and last-minute changes, to bring our work to life – they are amazing and deserve credit.

Flyer designs for Manifesto

Flyer designs for Manifesto

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

Love what you do, work hard and don’t give up! Alongside anything I’ve ever worked at, I’ve always had a side gig. Whether it be designing flyers for friends’ club nights, creating events or taking pictures, these things add to your personal portfolio and whether starting up or working in the corporate design world you need this output to keep your creative spark alive.

What’s next for you?

As associate director at Harrison:Fraser I’ve got big challenges everyday and enjoy being part of a team in which is fast paced. Personally I’m enjoying learning how to use my new camera and building upon the personal design work I’m doing with Kaleidoscope Cinema and Street Style.

For more information visit www.harrisonfraser.com.

Network:

EUROPE:

RE-IMAGINE: Black Women in Britain. The BCA’s inaugural exhibition delves into the remarkable history of Black women in this country and spotlights some of their inspirational lives and contributions to British society since the Roman era. Listen to a tapestry of voices and reimagine the historical accounts of an 18th-century freedom fighter, social and political activists, talented musicians, writers and a woman serving in the Royal Navy. Until 30 November 2014. FREE admission. For more info visit www.bcaheritage.org.uk

THE LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL 2014. First staged in 2003, the London Design Festival is one of the world’s most important annual design events. The Festival programme is made up of over 300 events and exhibitions staged by hundreds of partner organisations across the design spectrum and from around the world. Design Week is proud to be a part of this event and on Saturday 13 September at 10.30-11.30am at the V&A Lecture Theatre will be hosting a special talk, ‘4 Corners: Design from the African diaspora’. Here, Design Week columnist, Jon Daniel will introduce the thinking behind the column and select work from the USA, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. For more information visit londondesignfestival.com.

THE US:

HERE AND ELSEWHERE. A major exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab World, New York’s New Museum’s exhibition brings together more than 45 artists from over 15 countries, many of whom live and work internationally. Exhibition runs until 28 September at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002, USA. For more info visitwww.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/here-and-elsewhere

FUNKY TURNS 40: Black Character Revolution Animation Art from classic cartoons of the ’70s. This special exhibition commemorates the 40th anniversaries of 1970s Saturday Morning cartoons that featured positive Black characters for the first time in television history. The exhibition includes original production pieces and drawings used to produce these cartoons. Also included are images from the animated opening to Soul Train and two of the few Black cast/Black-focused animated features that have been produced since the 1970s: BeBe’s Kids (1992) and Our Friend Martin (1999). Now on the second leg of a national tour showing until 20 October 2014 at DuSable Museum of African American History. For more info visit the DuSable Museum website for details.

AFRICA:

TriContinental Human Rights Film Festival 2014. Every year since its inception in 2002, the TriContinental Human Rights Film Festival has screened powerful films from South Africa and across the globe, exploring some of the most urgent local and global issues of our time.With a passion to support the fight for human rights and democracy through media, the TCFF offers stories from the bleeding edge of current social and political waves – stories that are not only relevant to our time, but skillfully told through beautiful cinema.TCFF is the only festival primarily dedicated to issues of Social, Political and Human Rights on the African continent. Taking place in Johannesburg, Capetown and Pretoria, 13-29 September 2014. For more information and submission details visit www.3continentsfestival.co.za

THE CARIBBEAN:

INTERNATIONAL REGGAE POSTER CONTEST 2014 Call for Entries is now open until until November,1st, 2014. The best posters will be selected by a jury of design professionals and will be published in a catalogue/book and exhibited around the world. The objective is to continue to build awareness for Reggae music and to celebrate the global achievements of Reggae and its impact on the world. The term Reggae encompasses all the popular Jamaican musical genres; Ska, Rocksteady, Roots Reggae, Dub, Dancehall and the unique Jamaican Soundsystem. They are looking for your talent and vision and we are very excited to see what designers can come up with in their original poster designs that will capture the energy and vibe of Reggae Music. The contest is open to all graphic designers and artists internationally. Artists/Designers are allowed to submit any number of original poster Entries. Posters should not have been published in internet, social

medias etc. For more information visit www.reggaepostercontest.com 

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 Emory Douglas

As a black teenager growing up in East Sheen, I was inspired by the historical contribution of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement in the US, and influenced by leading black political figures and community activists such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale – and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in particular. The Black Panthers’ base in Oakland, California was a universe away from the genteel, suburban niceties of south west London, but as an aspiring artist and designer I could not help but be captivated by the powerful and evocative imagery they projected and the striking graphic designs they created. Both the medium and the message had a profound influence on my development as a creative professional and certainly instilled a desire to use design as a tool to promote and tackle social issues and human rights issues that continues to this day. The Black Panthers’ pioneering political visual communications were the handiwork of a truly gifted and visionary man, who served the party as Minister for Culture from 1967 to 1980. A man who in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined that I would one day have the honour of interviewing and the pleasure of introducing you to today. Brothers and Sisters please pump your black, gloved fists up for Mr Emory Douglas.

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas, Revolutionary Artist, Designer and Minister of Culture of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1967-80).

What’s your background?

My art background is basically as a self-taught artist with a minimum of professional training. I attended City College in San Francisco off and on from around 1964 to 1966 and majored in Commercial Art.
That educational practice introduced me to the basic graphic designing elements such as figure drawing, sketching, illustration drawing, lettering, layout and design, pre-press production, the offset printing process, the basic animation process and how to critique and evaluate one’s work. This was my only academic graphic design training prior to my actual on-the-job training.Free+All+Political+PrisonersSource: Emory Douglas

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

As a youth I was in and out of detention centers, I will say for illegal activity not sanctioned by the state. While there I would do mostly landscape art – nothing with any social meaning. A year or so after I got out I decided to attend City College of San Francisco. The councillor at the detention center heard of my decision to attend college and suggested I take up art. When I went to enroll I mentioned to the college councillor
I would like to major in Art and he suggested I major in the Commercial Arts, which I did. Thereafter the whole idea of my going to school was to try and break into commercial art by becoming a designer, art director or illustrator. I heard of people who were making good money in those fields so I wanted to join them. However,  after a while I began to see and realise that there was really only an elite few that made it and became successful and they were mostly the white students, particularly the ones who had relatives or close family friends with ties to the commercial art field. While at college I developed my graphic art skills to a professional level, where they would send me out on job assignments. I worked at a silk-screen factory where I learned the silk-screen printing process. I also worked at a downtown store in San Francisco where they sold fine wine goblets and silverware doing layout, cutting and pasting of advertisements and preparing display signs for their store window displays. Also there were paying jobs that came in from various departments at the College for graphic design work such as sign lettering and technical illustrations where I along with other art students who had developed our skills to a basic professional level were offered these jobs.Malcolm+X+SpearsSource: Emory Douglas

What challenges did you face in achieving your ambitions to break into the industry?

Certainly there were challenges, because this was at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Firms weren’t hiring blacks, so it was particularly difficult for African- Americans and there were many racial biases and obstacles to overcome. But at the same time that’s how I got involved in political artwork. For example, the whole time I attended City College there was only me and sometimes one other black person who were enrolled in the Commercial Art classes of about 20 students per class. Also there were graphic styles that I created which one of the instructors expressed to me wasn’t commercial enough, so for a while I had to go along with that whole framework of how they programme you to produce artwork for your portfolio with a certain commercial style that was considered acceptable when it came time to looking for a job or going for job interviews. The graphic styles I personally used I had to just put that to the side until later on. I remember one time as a class assignment to create a magazine layout I created one similar to EBONY magazine (the most prominent African-American magazine of the time) and the teacher pulled me aside and said how much he appreciated what I had done. But he added that to be honest with me, it would be another 10 years or so before ideas like mine would be accepted. Eventually it was the Civil Rights, and human rights pressures and campaigning against discrimination that began the process for black people getting into the commercial arts industry during that period.Paper+BoySource: Emory Douglas

Who and what are your greatest inspirations?

As a youngster growing up it was my mother – she was legally blind and worked hard as a single parent.
 There was an artist I knew named Charles Bible, he lived downstairs from where I lived and he would mass-produce multiple paintings of the same image of Malcolm X every year for the anniversary celebrations of Malcolm’s life. I would talk to him about his assembly-line production process and his painting technique and he would explain both of them to me. The information he shared became very helpful when I began doing some portrait paintings over the years. There was also the Black Arts Movement (BAM), which I made artistic contributions to during and prior to my joining The Black Panther Party in late January 1967. Then there was this calendar I would see as a child at my aunt’s house. Every year it featured artwork by a black artist named Charles White, which had a real impact on me. Politically, I was inspired by the politics and artwork that was being created at the time – particularly the work of the Cuban poster artists of OSPAAL (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America), and from China, Vietnam, the Anti-War movement and Palestine. The Cuban artists used to remix some of my artwork they saw in the Black Panther Newspaper and created some amazing solidarity posters that they would share around the world – that was very exciting and inspiring.End+to+RobberySource: Emory Douglas

What is the project you are most proud of?

I would say the best piece of work would have to be a volume of work that maybe tells a story – and therefore it would be my body of work for The Black Panther Party. But there are also volumes of work that I’m doing today that I feel strongly about and that I am pleased and satisfied to be able to make a statement on current issues and in a more contemporary way than what I did back then.Free+LandSource: Emory Douglas

What would be your dream project?

If I were younger, my dream job would probably as the head of a company, art department or organisation dealing with basic human rights and enlightening and educating people and using art as a language to communicate with people.Black+PantherSource: Emory Douglas

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

There are many, therefore I prefer not to drop names because I’m sure to remember later that I forgot to mention many others I should have, who are also amazing artists and great communicators through their art.ObamaSource: Emory Douglas

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

Whatever you do stay focused and practise your craft. And if you’re doing political artwork or social commentary art make sure you know the basic politics of whatever social issues that may concern you. Have fun! Don’t do it because it’s a fad, do it because you believe in it and understand that the creative process will be an ongoing life long journey.Endangered+SpeciesSource: Emory Douglas

What’s next for you?

To continue doing what I’m doing, creating artwork that deals with quality of life issues, basic human rights violations and concern for the struggles and challenges of oppressed peoples in this world.

For more information visit www.emorydouglasart.com.

Big thanks to Maurice Cherry of Revision Path for his help in facilitating this interview.

Network:

EUROPE:

‘RETURN OF THE RUDEBOY’ is an original exhibition created and curated by prolific photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, which showcases a sartorial subculture through a series of portraits, installations and set pieces. Runs until 25 August 2014 at Somerset House, Terrace Rooms, Strand London WC2R 1LA. Admission FREE. For more information visit www.somersethouse.org.uk.

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: PAINTING AND OTHER STUFF is an exhibition of the work of the American artist across venues in Madrid and Barcelona. The exhibition is divided between two venues. At the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid there is a focus on historical works and paintings, while the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona includes more recent works, not only in painting but also in other media such as drawing, photography, video and installation. Exhbitions run until 26 October 2014. For more information visit www.fundaciotapies.org.

THE CARIBBEAN:

40 VOICES is an exhibition encompassing film, photography and an art installation in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Culturama event in Nevis Culturama (Nevis ). Through open, emotive and unguarded interviews of forty Nevis residents, 40 Voices aims to create an empowering film that will capture a snapshot of the feelings, opinions and attitudes of Culturama into one seamless loop. The exhibition runs from Sunday 27 July – Sunday 10 August 2014. For more information visit www.culturamanevis.com or chantimedia.com.

THE US:

DESIGN FOR SOCIAL IMPACT, an exhibition offering a look at how designers, engineers, students, professors, architects and social entrepreneurs use design to solve the problems of the 21st century. The exhibition features projects that address a variety of challenges in the areas of Shelter, Community, Education, Healthcare, Energy and Food & Water. Each category highlights solutions taking place locally, as well as ways in which these challenges are being addressed around the world. The exhibition is on view at Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) through to 3 August 2014. For more information visit www.museumofdesign.org. 

AFRICA:

21 ICONS: PORTRAIT OF A NATION, a poignant and inspiring multi-media exhibition by 21 Icons and Mercedes-Benz South Africa, opened on Youth Day, 16 June 2014 at the Museum of African Design in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg. In celebration of 20 Years of democracy, the two-month long exhibition features portraits and short films of 21 of South Africa’s greatest social masters including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Sophia Williams De Bruyn, Ahmed Kathrada, Nadine Gordimer and George Bizos. 21 Icons: Portrait of a Nation: Presented by Mercedes-Benz South Africa will be on exhibition at MOAD for the first time, through to 17 August 2014. For more information, please visit www.moadjhb.com/21icons.

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