Artist of the month: Grant Marshall
He is a graphic artist, book illustrator and Creative Director of a leading design consultancy in the UK.
Working predominantly in pen and ink, he aims to capture the uniqueness in the ‘every day’ and integrating imagery and typography to enhance the narrative.
He enjoys collaborating with musicians, has created illustrations for both album cover artwork and for band merchandise and work in line and watercolour for book illustration. Whilst the majority of his work is self-initiated he also accepts commissions.
I found Grant on Instagram and loved his art style, he is insanely good at drawing portraits of people in a lot of detail. One of my favourite pieces by him is a girl staring at a blank canvas. It reminds me that anything you can think can materialize on that canvas. I messaged him about his artwork and we have kept in touch ever since and he was definitely an artist I wanted to get to know more.
1. What does art mean to you?
Art means everything to me. It’s my way of chronicling what it means to be human, and of revealing our unique qualities as well as the commonalities we all share. Every face and every character has a story to tell (whether real or imagined) and it’s why I have always been fascinated with sketching people and often capturing them in what I refer to as the ‘between times’. These are the moments when we often switch to auto-pilot, the times between doing what is often thought of as the ‘important’ things, those we spend time preparing for and focus on, things such as meeting up with friends, catching a train or going to a meeting. The ‘between times’ are the moments when people drop their guard, and it’s easier to see the ‘real’ person beneath the social mask.
Brian Eno says, “Art is everything that you don’t have to do”. In other words, art adds layers of depth to our everyday experience through the creativity that we simply can’t but help apply as a response to the world around us; for instance, we need to wear clothes to keep warm and dry, but we don’t need to have hundreds of styles to choose from, and we have to move, but we don’t have to do the tango or twerk. Art acts as a catalyst to let our imaginations wander and encourages us to play with concepts, and as psychologists attest to it, when we’re playing and having fun we tend to be much more creative.
Art is a way of chronicling the world around us, whether as an abstract or realistic visualisation, helping us see the world through other peoples’ eyes. It helps us jump out of ingrained mindsets and ways of thinking, elevating us out of the mundanity of routine and helping us live in a newly imagined moment that can open up a whole new realm of possibilities for our own life experiences.
Making marks is tangible proof that we exist.
Art is what gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning — to grasp every opportunity to create and also to absorb the work of others. Art acts as a catalyst for conversation and for constantly challenging my thinking. Making marks is instinctive to everyone, and I can recall where I was, what the weather was like and what time of day — or night — it was when I put pen or brush to paper or canvas with every illustration I make. In a slightly melancholic way, making marks is tangible proof that we exist.
2. What is the biggest challenge you face as an artist?
Time. We all lead busy lifestyles, and being able to devote as much time as I would like to my illustration work and the many projects I have planned is perhaps the biggest challenge. I’m at my most creative in the morning, and as a result, I can often be found sitting at my desk at 6 am scribbling away. Of course, it’s not just about the time putting pen to paper, but also about making time to clear my head and create the mental space to think freely and clearly in the search for inspiration. Finding time to get away from the desk and out and about with my sketchbook is also important. Capturing sketches on the go is a totally different discipline — and one which I was able to enjoy much more before the lockdowns of the last 14 months. It leads to the use of a much more minimal illustrative technique than the one I employ when sitting at my desk. Every line has to count as inevitably there is very little time to capture those fleeting moments such as someone stepping off a subway train for instance or — in the days before Covid — stage diving at a gig.
3. Who or what inspired you to start doing art?
I guess my earliest inspiration was my father.
I can recall looking over my dad’s shoulder when I was ten or eleven years old and watching with fascination the techniques that he applied to the monotone pen and ink book illustrations he was working on at the time and realise that in recent years I’ve been applying similar techniques to my own work. My interest in the power of black and white illustration probably began there. Seeing the design projects with which my parents were involved also encouraged my appreciation of typography, which I’ve been incorporating into my more recent work. I’m fascinated with combining words and pictures as it allows me to add additional layers of narrative depth to the stories behind my illustrations.
My father, his three brothers, and my mother were designers and artists, as is my wife. My son is a fine artist, curator and musician, and my daughter is an interior architect, so I guess creativity, and a wish to express ourselves artistically, runs in our genes. I find the work that my wife, son and daughter create constantly inspiring and mind-opening.
I was brought up in a family of artists so I’ve lived and breathed art from an early age. Having a pencil and a piece of paper to capture the world around me, and the world of my imagination, always seemed totally natural and I never gave it a second thought. At the age of twelve, I was writing and illustrating cartoon strips for the Sunday papers and the discipline of creating characters and understanding the human form that I developed during this period was the starting point for the development of my later practice.
4. You have done collaborations with various different people, which would you say is the most impactful to you/or your favourite and why?
I think that collaboration lies at the heart of most creative communities. Sharing ideas and seeing how other people interpret the world around them is incredibly stimulating and inspiring. From a personal perspective, I find collaborations very valuable as they stimulate me to consider my subject matter in different ways and push me into areas that I may not otherwise have explored.
These collaborations take a variety of forms and are rewarding in different ways. One of the longest-standing recent collaborations has been with the Improbable Stage theatre company based in New York. They’re a group of like-minded artists who are committed to finding different ways of telling stories theatrically through the medium of dance, examining our humanity and exploring the universal questions of society today — a theme many artists aim to interpret through their own specialist mediums.
When lockdown first kicked in in March of last year, the group wanted to find new ways of collaborating virtually. One of their solutions to the challenge of keeping themselves connected and creatively stimulated was to set a ‘Wednesday Word’ theme sending out an open invite for anyone to share a creative response to each week’s theme. At the beginning of 2020, I had set myself the objective of creating a new illustration each day to upload to Instagram, little realising what the year ahead would hold in store. As the pandemic gripped the world, I was overwhelmed with subject matter for these daily illustrations which became a record of the world on pause in lockdown. It would have been all too easy to slip into a negative view of what was happening globally, but I started to realise that this negative situation actually brought out the best in many people and I set myself the challenge of viewing and chronicling the lockdown world through a positive lens wherever possible. However there were days when inspiration did not necessarily come easily, and I found myself looking forward eagerly to Improbable Stage-setting the next Wednesday Word as a means of freeing my train of thought creatively.
The connection that was formed helped free me from the claustrophobic shackles of Covid lockdown
Although the majority of responses from other contributors were video-led, I started sharing my illustrations with Improbable Stage and found their positive responses really heart-warming. The connection that was formed helped free me from the claustrophobic shackles of Covid lockdown — and the same four walls of my workspace — by making me feel connected with this group of creative people on the other side of the Atlantic. In June of this year they opened out the theme setting of Wednesday Words beyond the group itself, inviting me to set one of the words, and I was thrilled to subsequently see these talented performers recreating, and bringing to life, some of my illustrations as video or photographic pieces as part of the collaborative process. It was surreal to see one of the illustrations I created on the theme of ‘space’ — a woman trapped in a cardboard box and pushing against its four walls to communicate the sense of claustrophobia many people were feeling at the thought of extended lockdowns — reenacted by performers from Improbable Stage in Central Park and outside City Hall.
There are two other recent loose ‘collaborations’ I feel are worth mentioning as they each deliver a different emotional reward. The first of these was supporting the Iconic French House bar in Soho, London, back in May of this year. The pub has been the watering hole for an eclectic mix of artists, writers, actors and Soho locals for nearly a hundred years attracting a diverse variety of patrons such as Dylan Thomas, Orson Welles, Francis Bacon, Lisa Stansfield and ‘Suggs’ (from the band Madness). It’s been my favourite haunt whenever I was in London over the last twenty-five years or so. It had, like many other bars and establishments around the country, been locked down during the pandemic and was suffering financially as a result.
Lesley Lewis, the owner, had supported artists for many years by featuring exhibitions of their work in the bar, and now it was time for the artistic community to return the favour. Over two hundred artists, including myself, donated artworks for a fundraising auction to support this small bar. I created a limited edition print based on an Instagram series — ‘Faces of The French’ — in which I had been chronicling the pub’s regulars (both current and historically). The auction was expected to run for two and a half hours, but ended up lasting seven hours due to the sheer volume of work donated, and succeeded in raising an impressive £65,000 to help support The French. These small venues are a key part of the communities they serve, and being able to help offer support with one’s art is a very rewarding feeling.
The final collaboration I’d like to mention is with Charlie Sharman-Cox from The Thames Group of Artists based in the South East of England. We’re both big fans of the late singer, songwriter and actor, Ian Dury. As a result of this, Charlie had spent the last year or so creating and curating a travelling exhibition to celebrate the life and work of Ian with work from the group inspired by lyrics from one of Ian’s unrecorded songs called ‘All Kinds of Naughty’. The show also features artworks from guest artists Peter Blake, Kosmo Vinyl, Humphrey Ocean, Han Lee de Boer, Rod Melvin and Ian’s widow, sculptor Sophy Dury. As a fan, I was inspired to create another Instagram series of illustrations based around the guest artists. Charlie, who I’d never met, contacted me upon seeing these and invited me to compile them into a larger composition as a limited edition print run which is now travelling with the show to the various galleries in London and the South East. Being able to be a part, even in a small way, of this tribute to a performer who I really admire, has again been very emotionally rewarding.
I feel that creative collaboration delivers on a number of levels; it creates a sense of connection (even in the current world of isolation), it’s creatively stimulating and it can enable me to apply my art to help local communities.
5. What TV show/movie or book do you recommend?
This is a challenging question as there is so much inspiring, educational and entertaining content out there across all channels and so to pick just one is very difficult. But as an avid reader, I guess in this instance I’ll choose the book option. I tend to have a number of books on the go at any one time so thought I’d share the books I’m currently reading…
‘Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton (published by Granta) is an entertaining, behind the scenes account, of the world of contemporary art. Although written in 2008, much of the content is still relevant today. The ‘seven-days’ structure of the book is unique in that it presents seven narratives set in six cities in five countries with each chapter being a day-in-the-life account delving into the distinct institutions integral to the art world; from auction, crit and art fair to the Turner Art Prize, art magazine, studio visit and the Venice Biennale. The book effectively highlights the complexities of the art world, but I think a quote from one of the people interviewed for the book, Artforum magazine publisher Charles Guarino, sums everything up nicely:
“(the art world is) the place where I found the most kindred spirits — enough oddball, overeducated, anachronistic, anarchic people to make me happy.”
Also on my bedside table is ‘The Village’ by John Strausbaugh. This is an entertaining and informative celebration of “400 years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues” in New York’s Greenwich Village (which just so happens to be one of my favourite places). The book describes how the Village came to play such a large and distinct role in Western culture and has always been apart from mainstream America — not so much a place as a state of mind — attracting what is often perceived by wider society as outcasts; from Marcel Duchamp and Eugene O’Neill to Kerouac and Ginsberg, from Pollock and de Kooning to John Cage and Bob Dylan. This is a really informative book about art and politics and about how society has altered radically over the last four centuries, but I must admit I personally enjoyed it most for the anecdotes and stories of everyday life which help one see behind the scenes of many of the creatives and ‘Village natives’ from the last hundred years or so who have inspired me either by their writing, music or artworks.
And last but not least, a book I initially read when it was first published back in 1996 and which I found, and still find, incredibly inspiring and the ideal catalyst for encouraging one to make creative ideas become a reality. ‘A Year with Swollen Appendices’ is Brian Eno’s diary chronicling a “mishmash of ideas, observations, admiration, speculations and grumbles” he experienced through 1995. I’ve been inspired to re-read this after seeing that Eno was recently exhibiting his ‘The Surrenderer’ works at the Paul Stolper Gallery in London.
For any creative, it’s a no-holds-barred call to action to make stuff happen. It details the success and occasional frustrations of the creative life but demonstrates the importance of never giving up on an idea. The diary covers the period of time in which Eno worked with the band James, David Bowie and U2. It’s a must-read for any creatively-driven person and effectively demonstrates how art is an integral part of every creative’s life and not something that can be switched on and off.
It’s the air that we breathe.