Kelly Griffin | Monday, April 02, 2012
We sat down with the very talented London-based and self-taught artist Russell Marshall to talk about his work, his exclusive new print Twenty Seven, and how a career as an award winning newspaper designer and journalist has influenced is work.
Hi Russell, how’s your day been?
Pretty good thanks, just sitting here with a coffee wondering what happened to the weekend.
As a child, did you have an epiphany that art was what you wanted to do?
I knew I wanted to work in a creative industry. I wanted to be a graphic artist... But that opportunity went out the window when I failed to get in to art school.
Although you didn't get into art school, you have enjoyed a 25 years + career in the newspaper industry as an award winning designer and journalist. Can you tell us a little about your time here? How did you get into media, what were some of the exciting things you got up to or got to cover?
After a couple of terms at sixth form college it was pretty obvious it wasn’t for me. So I left to get a job. I just went through the sits vac pages in the local paper, and applied for three. Trainee silversmith, office junior with a building society and office junior in the advertising department of the local paper. The paper was the only job I was offered.
But it worked out pretty well. I knew the first day I walked in the place that it was the right industry for me. I reckon there’s ink in my veins. My dad was a compositor and other members of my family were in the trade.
From day one I wanted to layout pages – I would hound the editor begging for job as a trainee in his newsroom. In the end the sports editor said he’d teach me how to mark-up copy for typesetting and to layout pages. So I used to stay late on press night and help him. In the end, I was doing half of them myself. And the editor never offered me a job. Another editor from a different paper saw me correcting a page proof and asked me why an advertising office junior was signing-off sports pages. I told him, he was impressed and offered me that job I was so desperate for. Four years later I was Deputy Editor – and freelancing as a news sub-editor on the nationals.
But I got bored re-writing copy. So I quit and took a job as a design assistant on a different national newspaper. Much more fun.... And five years later they made me Art Director.
You never forget the big stories. They are what working on a national paper is all about. My first was Diana’s death. On a day like that you pretty much just go in – whether you are due in or not. 9/11 was another and the 7/7 London bombings too. Everyone just snaps into auto mode. And to a large degree design goes out the window. You no longer have to sell a story through display, you are simply transferring information through pictures and words.
How has a background in journalism and media informed your work?
Massively so. Everything I’ve learned about design, use of colour, layout, use of pictures and the printing process has been on the job working for the papers. And I think this shows a great deal in my work. Photo Opportunity was a massive nod towards my newspaper experience.
Is art something you’ve always done on the side of a full time job, or is it a passion you’ve recently returned to or recently ignited?
I’m pretty new to the art world – commercially speaking. I’ve collected for years and been a regular customer at the Affordable Art Fair and the London Art fairs. I started to produce my own work when I arrogantly told my girlfriend I could do better after trudging round one particular London fair. She simply said: “Well go on then, don’t talk about it do it.”
So I did. I came up with a design and took it to Jealous Gallery and Print Studio in Crouch End. The idea was to have and edition of 25 screen printed. I’d sign and number them and give them away to friends and family for Christmas and birthdays.
Matthew, master-printer at Jealous, reckoned the print might be of interest to Jealous’s owner Dario. He stuck it on the wall. Sold two the first weekend, three the next weekend and 24 at the first London show he took it to. And that was my way in.
How would you describe your work?
Er, developing!? I’m hoping there’s more work ahead of me than behind me. And I’m keen to try different styles.
I guess it’s pop art! But it’s really difficult to label your own work without sounding like a pretentious idiot.. My intention with Photo Opportunity was to create a cool iconic print that would appeal to people from different generations. I don’t have a meaning or an agenda or message. I simply want to produce work that people think looks good. It really is quite a fantastic feeling to know that somebody has chosen to spend their hard-earned money on your work. Then go to the effort and added expense of framing that piece. And then hang up on a wall in their home because they like it.
Why are you particularly interested in exploring celebrities and the public’s obsession with celebrities in your work?
It’s not just celebrity. The people I’ve featured in my work are legends, icons, cool, beautiful or incredible talented. The word celebrity now covers just about anyone who's been on television or in the papers, but I wouldn’t necessarily use a wag or a soap star or the winner of a reality TV show in one of my prints.
There’s also something magic about the old black and white photos of vintage stars. Everyone with a mobile phone is a photographer now and that’s caused quality of printed news images to plummet. Pictures of celebs nowadays are either snatched or airbrushed beyond any reality.
I’m lucky enough to have access to the incredible photo library of one of Britain’s oldest and successful newspapers. I’ve seen amazing candid images that you just would not see these days. A young Michael Caine with his mum pouring him a cup of tea. The Beatles having pillow fights and reading fan letters in hotel rooms, Oliver Reed doing one armed push ups on a pub bar. These images are fantastic and deserve to be enjoyed again.
You’ve previously sited pop art, punk art, urban art, comic book art, street art and manga as influences. Can you tell us some of the specific artists that have inspired you?
Anybody that has entered this industry in the last 10 years has to give a nod towards Banksy. I’ve always loved Warhol, Lichtenstein and Sir Peter Blake. I own works by Shepard Fairey, Dave Kinsey, Paul Insect and Jamie Hewlett and love the the multi-layered works by Ben Allen, Dan Baldwin and Greg Gossel. Adam Bridgeland’s work is beautifully enchanting and quintessentially English. I have to mention Jamie Reid and Eddie King too. I spent some time at the Charming Baker show last year. His work made me feel like I was a kid again - looking at life with the eyes and unlimited imagination of a child. But I’m pretty much influenced by everything I see and everyone I meet. A lot of the work I have planned is completely different to that I’ve already produced.
Can you tell us about the processes you go through to create your limited edition prints?
Me, a Mac, PhotoShop and a very talented master printer! Oh, and hours of picture research. A lot of work goes into each image. I want them to look vintage and reminiscent of old newspapers. Removing backgrounds, adding highlights and lowlights and trying to get all the images a similar weight and tone. There's a great deal of effort that goes into tweaking images in an attempt to make them look old school and unpolished.
Then I tend to proof my work and decide I don’t like this picture or that picture, so choose different images and start again. With Mouse Arrest I produced a full photo-realistic PhotoShop job of the two coppers nicking a certain mouse. Then deconstructed the image to give it a graphic/retro feel.
I’ve also produced work on stainless steel and aim to do more with this media. I’ve used an old fashioned printing plate-making process to acid-etch a photographic image into stainless steel. It looks really cool. Highlights and lowlights are created by light reflecting differently from the etched and polished surfaces.
You’re releasing a very limited edition exclusive print (image below) through us, which we are very, very excited about. What can you tell us about it?
It’s called Twenty Seven and features eight music legends who tragically died aged just 27. There’s been a lot written about the 27 Club – some people include actors but I’ve stuck to musicians. Google the 27 Club and you’ll be amazed at the number of stars who died at that age. It’s a two colour print – black and gold – on black 410gsm somerset velvet paper, edition of just 10. It’s the first time I’ve released a print on black paper.
Why did you decided to feature the members of ‘Club 27’?
I like themes to my work. Photo Op was nine celeb police mugshots, Cowboys was nine western legends and with Twenty Seven the theme is quite clear.
There’s quite a few Club 27 ‘members’ – Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobin, Amy Winehouse, and many more. Similarly, in relation to your previous Cowboy limited edition print, there’s (probably) quite a few actors who have played cowboys too. Within the themes of say ‘Club 27’ or ‘actors who have played cowboys’, how do you choose which celebrities to include in your work?
First up I choose who I think are the most iconic, and then factor in who I think other people will feel are the most iconic. With Photo Op I wanted celebs from different eras and styles. I also chose some images that were not immediately recognisable – Give people a sort of a guessing game! With Cowboys I had to choose pics that immediately said 'Cowboy'. A head and shoulders picture of an actor might not do this if you can’t see a bit of hat or bandana.
I’ve had the idea of Twenty Seven buzzing round my head for quite a while. The problem was that while all members are famous not all are legendary. My photo research gave me seven and then Amy Winehouse sadly died last year and the connection was made with the 27 club so I thought I’d feature just eight – and leave the last frame blank. Amy’s inclusion in the print makes the piece contemporary and relevant. It links the original 27 club member, Robert Johnson who died 1938, to a modern day artist and brings the whole legend up to date.
In your Mugshot series you used Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key, which are the colours used in the digital mass media printing process. And, in your Photo Opportunity series you used colours with celebrity or criminal references - Oscar Gold, Green Room, Prison Jumpsuit Orange and Red Top. Why is colour such a significant element in your work?
The original colourways for Photo Opportunity were chosen to reflect the method used in colour newspaper printing. Cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) dots are printed in different sizes and patterns and give the illusion of full colour. I simply chose to use these colours as sold colours – although I chose metallic silver to represent key as I thought grey and black might be a bit flat. It was an open nod to my print years.
For the second series I still wanted there to be a reason for the colours. So we had a little think and came up celeb/criminal themed colourways. I said I liked themes!
On the same note, the background on your new Club 27 print is gold. What’s the story here?
Ah, you got me. This was simply aesthetic! I wanted to use heavyweight black cotton paper to distinguish our exclusive print from my other work and as a subtle reference to Hang Up’s logo colours. And the Lascoux Studio metallic inks look brilliant out of black.
Lastly, what have you got coming up? Any exhibitions/projects planned for the rest of 2012?
I'm working on increasing my portfolio first – and hopefully gain a bit more confidence – but obviously a show is what I’m aiming for. No firm details yet but you guys will be among the first to know.
Thanks for your time Russell.
To purchase Russell Marshall's Exclusive Twenty Seven limited edition print, go here.
To view available Russell Marshall limited edition prints, visit here.
To read our previous Meet The Artist interview with Brighton-based artist Ben Allen, click here.