How did your illustration for Xbox Call of Duty come about?
It sort of just came out of the blue, which a lot of the bigger jobs do. You don’t know how people find you or what discussions go on in meetings. Are you on a mood board somewhere? You don’t really know. The Call of Duty team had seen the sort of clothing stuff I had done, and I think they suggested to Xbox to pick me to be their artist. It’s fitting really as its rough, it’s raw. They did give me references to work from, so there was an element of freedom but it was a great project to do. It had to be pretty tough though; there’s nothing subtle about a girl with a shot gun, holding a zombie's severed head.
Out of all your international exhibits, including the Barbican in London to the Art Basel in Miami, is there one that holds sentimental value?
Miami was an absolute beauty; the art itself was just insane; the amount of work, the amount of galleries, the amount of artists. But I sort of regret that I had too much fun there to capitalize on it. I was enjoying myself so much that I missed out on some things, there was an interview that I didn’t do because it was just really early in the morning. Miami stands out because the artists I was showing with were kind of heroes of mine in a way; established people like Doze Green, Rostarr and Swoon, so it was nice to meet them. But I wish I had got up and done that interview. That said, I was too young, too excited. Art shows are not all of my business. With pure artists, when they do an art show, they have to sell the art because it’s their livelihood. But I’m earning commercially so having an art show is less pressure for me. Thankfully I do get the work sold, but I’m not sure I could really handle that pressure if I didn’t.
Tell us about the collaboration with Marvel Comics and Addict Clothing.
If you had a time machine and visited my 14, 15 year old self and said ‘when you’re older, you’re going to be paying your rent by drawing Star Wars and Marvel characters’ I would have told you to go away and stop lying, so it was a total dream. I’m a massive comic fan, to work with Marvel and Lucasfilm makes me think ‘how can I top this?’ I mean I could just do more but it’s so exciting, it’s kind of a reward, rather than a job. Thinking ‘someone likes this, I must be quite good at it’, I think it’s one of those things that is there forever. I’d love to do villains because we’ve done the heroes, let’s do the baddies now.
An impressive tangent of your work is your artwork for musicians, including artwork for a project with HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. What is the developmental process like for a design?
The music cover stuff is a pleasure. With some projects there’s an element of love, chance, accident. With others there's a strict brief. There are some clients I’ve worked with for maybe, 7-10 years. I think the best stuff is when they just send me the music and the title and that’s it; it’s the best way to make a picture out of music. I’m a trained musician so having recorded music and knowing the creative process makes it easier.
Do you think graphic illustration has developed as a medium of art in the past few years, given its current popularity?
I think it’s as valuable as fine art, if not more. Perhaps art has lost its purpose of late. It’s not tangible whilst design is. I think that is the only difference. Design exists for a purpose whilst art has lost its purpose. Fine art is possibly the most indulgent past time. We need it for sure, I’m not devaluing it but that’s the joy of it as well. It exists because it does and its one of those things, humans just do it, it’s as valuable as life itself. But I would find it very difficult to refer to myself as an artist. To say ‘I am an artist, I create art’ that's a very bold statement. If people think its art then it is. That’s the Marcel Duchamp moment isn’t it? That’s the landmark, put that urinal in that gallery and say its art. That’s where technicality, aesthetic and skill, all the goes out the window and you know, I guess that is a good thing.
Are there any specific artists you would like to collaborate on a larger scale?
Its sounds crazy but I would absolutely love to work with someone huge, like Lady Gaga. I just think it would be fun. It appears to me that the people she collaborates with, whether they be artists or producers or directors or video makers, the visual art she creates and the fashion, in every medium, is great. I’m not a huge fan of her music but that doesn’t matter. I don’t own any of her records but I’m glad she’s there; she’s a lot of fun, it would be a brutal collaboration. Just to create something gargantuan. It's one thing to create music covers but I would like to do something on a really monumental scale. It’s a scale thing I suppose as lot of my stuff is small. Put it on the side of a huge building and it becomes something else.
Your work covers a whole range of mediums including graphic design, illustration, branding and prints; do you have a particular preference?
It’s all about time, irrespective of the type of project. Mostly you have to create on demand and under pressure. If you’ve got the blank-page syndrome, you can’t afford to get that, you have to find the mechanism to break through. For a logo project, its great to spend the whole day coming up with as many variations as possible. That’s almost like meditation as you get into a special zone, and it’s a nice place to be. The projects where you have time and freedom are the best. But some pressure is good. For example, the music on a particular project might not be exactly to your taste, but you’ve still got to attract people to the gig. It gives you a break from your own identity, stops you being formulaic.
IDOL focuses on those who are ‘Go-Getters’, pursuing their ambitions relentlessly; would you say your passion motivated you to ignore social limitation and pursue a career as an artist?
I think there is a switch that happens in people. For me, there was a switch that turned on, a little bit before I went to college. I did an applied biology course. We did stats all day, every Friday and it was mind-numbingly dull so I would just be drawing everyone in the lecture. There was a moment when I saw a reflection in my sunglasses and I started drawing what was behind me in my glasses; I think at that point I realised I was in the wrong place. I saw things differently; a rusty old door becomes something beautiful. You can see the texture and the colour fade from green to orange, what other people may consider to be totally banal, becomes a thing of beauty that you can use. It can be a curse but nobody else knows, the consumer may not know but it doesn’t matter.
Drawing on your previous experiences, what would you say the most important quality is for a graphic artist to maintain?
There’s a sort of selflessness you need. If you’re a frustrated artist, there’s no way you could be a designer. Clients have very specific ideas and, because you're working for someone, you need to have an understanding of a lot of different things. Every client requires you to be an expert in that particular field. So say it’s like the, the sports stuff I did with Nike Jordan, I was required to have a cultural and historical understanding of what goes with it. With the music stuff also, I’ve done drum and bass and dubstep and then I’ve done Balkan music which is so far away from anything familiar, like disco or reggae, but at the same time, you need to be able to quickly reference cultural influences from each genre or you’ll just get it wrong. Designers need to have that.
What’s been the most challenging thing in your career so far?
Getting new ideas out there can be challenging. Say you’ve developed a new aesthetic; you want people to see it as quick as you can. The delay can be frustrating with some projects. What I’ve completed and finished today won’t be seen for months and by then, I’m generally on to something else. Especially clothing, with the seasons being prepared well in advance, it’s often hard to keep a lid on stuff. Say with the Marvel collaboration for example; I had to keep that quiet for well over a year which was painful as I wanted to share it. You’ve got make sure that in between that time, don’t do anything that is too similar so it won’t devalue the work when its eventually released.
Who are your IDOLs?
My idols have pretty much remained the same since I was a kid; Boba Fett, The Silver Surfer, Thanos the mad Titan..........& back on Earth - Prince, Yusef Lateef, Vic & Bob and Katsuhiro Otomo (the creator of Akira - which I think may have been sent back to us from the future!)
Interview by Rosie Feenstra