Saturday, 18 October 2008

A Gigantic Monster

Apart from being the world's loveliest man, Bristol-dweller Ben Newman also happens to have a remarkable gift for churning out brilliant and intricate illustrations at a stupidly fast rate. He was one of the first people that I knew I wanted to speak to when creating this blog, so I hope you enjoy. Pictured above is 'Shitakiri Susume' - 'The Sparrow Who Was Tongue Was Cut Out' - click on an image to expand it.

-For anyone uninitiated with you and your work, could you describe your background? What first drove you towards illustration, how did you become involved in art?

When I was little I would get treated to a comic once a week either the Beano or the amazing Spider-man. I used to try and copy the pictures and this was one of the only things that I would sit quietly doing for hours, usually I ran around the house with my sister making lots of noise resulting in one of us getting hurt. I realized quite early on in life that I was not very academic.

I studied my illustration degree in Bristol, after graduating I returned home for a period to help save money to go traveling around Asia. On my return I moved back to Bristol and decided to try and make a career out of illustration.
I would describe my work as a pile of multi coloured shapes stacked up to resemble a really anal game of Tetris.

-You've been commissioned to do pieces for several different music magazines, acts and promoters: Plan B, Lovvers, and Sunburned Hand of the Man etc. What governs your selection process for these requests, is there one? Or do you try and produce something regardless of whether or not you enjoy the content?

Content is definitely important to me and I’m very lucky that my work attracts bands; music magazines and gig promoters who are doing things that interest me. I’ve turned a couple of things down because I wasn’t comfortable with my work sitting alongside something that I didn’t feel excited about.

Plan B magazine allows you to have creative freedom over the outcome of your illustration, so you can do whatever you like to fit the brief whilst discovering different bands and albums. I illustrated a review of an album called ‘Wavy Gravy’ where I had to draw a bunch of B-movie monsters, which I don’t really consider to be work as I would be most likely doing this in my spare time anyhow.

-How hard is it for an illustrator to break onto 'the scene'', to get your work out there and be recognised?

Working from home in my little bubble means that I really don’t feel that I’m part of any ‘scene’. I think the Internet has made it easy for work to be viewed by a vast audience but it has also made it easy for everyone to show their work, which means that there is a wealth of illustrators appearing on people’s radars. This is great but means that you can really get lost in the crowd and have to work harder to stand out.

-A city can be an incredibly inspiring place, especially one as culturally prolific as Bristol, how has is it helped you?

Bristol is like a giant fish bowl, it’s impossible go anywhere without somebody knowing someone that you know too and I love that about the city. There is a treasure trove of exciting and creative things happening but you need to dig for it, once you find it though it’s overwhelming. Bristol has an amazing local music scene and places such as the Here gallery, SNAP studios, Soma, Wonky Animation and Compass Film International (to name just a couple) make Bristol such an inspiring place.

'My Dad Vs Your Dad'

-You mention a fondness for pulp fiction on your website, and you work belies a real fascination with classic comic book, Americana and post-war Japan, what attracts to the cultural output of these times? Or do you just like the superheroes, gigantic monsters and robots?

Both really, I think they go hand in hand. Gigantic monsters and robots spawned from the atomic age and most of the really famous super heroes either came from space or were products of radiation, these themes were very popular in America and Japan post world war two.

What I love most about Americana, the pulp sci-fi and silver age comics is the surface naivety. The best example I can think of are the Superman and Batman comics from the 50’s and 60’s, the stories are so insane and ridiculous but are drawn so beautifully. There is a real craftsmanship to them but most of all a sense of innocence and fun, plus after fifty years in a box the faded colours make me giddy with excitement.

-Tim Biskup's work and yours bare a striking similarity to each other: the animals, the bold colours, the absence of outlines, are you aware of his drawings? Is he an influence on you?

Towards the end of my degree I had moved away from black ink line drawings and started painting my characters in gouache using only shapes. I mainly used primary colours until my partner Laura bought Tim Biskup’s ‘100 paintings’. I think Tim’s biggest influences on me have been his brave use on colour and his ability to relentlessly produce a vast quantity of high quality work.

-You're a very productive artist, how long does a piece usually take to come together? How easy do you find it to project what's in your head onto a page?

The idea and composition stage can take as long as a piece of string depending on the client or the complexity of the job. The creation of the final image usually takes about a day or two. I feel it’s best to work with what you doodle because having a clear image in mind makes you try to live up to your imagination rather than play with it.


-Your blog is updated regularly, is this to keep fans/clients involved and interested with what you're doing or simply because you just happen to enjoy keeping things contemporary?

Yes to both. It acts as a diary for myself and if fans/clients are interested in my progress then I’m flattered and pleased that individuals think that my work is worth checking in on.

-You've been exhibiting your work in shows, including several solo ones for a few years now, how important are these to artists such as yourself? Is there a demand for exhibitions in the 21st century?

I think exhibitions are really important and there is a big demand for them in the 21st century. Too much of our everyday life is becoming increasingly digital so physical showcases of work will always be popular. Seeing an image or print beats staring at a screen, I think the aura of a physical object creates a far more exciting feeling in the viewer or audience and always will.

-Would you mind dishing the dirt/slanderously exposing/advertising /bragging about any forthcoming projects or events that you're excited about?

Ah shameless plugging! Well in November I’ll be exhibiting in a group show called ‘RUSSIANS’ in Germany. It’s being organized by Rotopol and will feature around 50 international illustrators.
There is also the Xmas show at the
Here Galleryin Bristol where I’ll be selling a bunch of affordable prints and doing some wall painting with the very talented Stuart Kolakovic.

In December, Beasts Vol 2 published by Fantagraphics should hit the shops and features my illustration of the mythical beast ‘Stiniki’, which I’m super excited about.

Currently I’m working on a comic book called ‘Eyes Eyes Afar’ with my friends Scott Donaldson and Sam Butler. It will be a collection of short stories written by both Scott and Sam and silent comic strips drawn by myself. I want to present the comic like the annuals that I would get for Christmas when I was a child, where you would have both an illustrative narrative and a written story. I’m hoping to have this available online and in a few shops and galleries by next year, fingers crossed.


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