ABP Presents: Richard Bull
ART & DESIGN — 28/05/2015 — by Christian H.
I met Richard years ago in London when he was still running his design studio Yacht Associates, which made impressive works for i.e. Jamiroquai. Back then we also talked about not just design and found out that we both were into surfing. Years passed and nowadays Richard moved out of London to the countryside and is working as an artist. A good chance to talk again.
You’ve been well known for your design work as Yacht Associates for many years. Nowadays you mostly do art. Could you please explain how that step into doing art came? Are you still designing or is it all about art nowadays?
I do occasionally design commercially, but the project has to really interest me. Painting is my focus – that said one could argue that though my medium now is acrylic the content is still very much designed. The transition to canvas came with a need to change my path coupled with a return to my own private art school, picking up where I’d left off on leaving Chelsea School of Art, but with the musings and lessons of the past twenty commercial years a catalyst for my focus. I was at Chelsea for five years, which sounds unusual, I was in no hurry to leave, I enjoyed the autonomy of the schools culture and putting my head back in that space was and is easy. Phasing out the ‘commercial’ art has been about creating work that is honest, at the outset I was like an unpaid ambassador for ‘the’ Apple Mac (SE30 my inception), but after 25 years the ‘dark arts’ seemed to have become a little lost from both the analogue and the digital arena’s of design. By this I mean when software was clunky and processes had to be fathomed out or were just fallen upon by accident, there was a wonderful sense of the unknown, coupled with huge chunks of time lost to processing these commands/ideas one had to really commit to exploring what was possible. You could loose days trying to render for print, while I don’t miss the lost time, I have a sense that the filter’s, previews and sliders that inhabit our software now take the culture of design overground to the masses and while ‘creativity’ is not by any means exclusive to the art school graduate, I wonder if those graduates that are committing themselves to three years+ of study are possibly missing out on some of the journey as a result. The day’s of the darkroom, PMT machine, print room and letter press are far behind us and while those chasing the dollar wouldn’t want them back, there’s a creative energy and passion that rises when we use our hands to actually handle the components of our imaginations. Hence my need to hold a paint brush and make honest marks on canvas without the safety net of a delete button in the top right corner.
You moved away from London onto the countryside. Please tell us a bit how life in your new surroundings is like, what a typical day looks like and what was the reason for moving away.
An enormous 360 degree sky sets the mood for the day – rural weather seems to define how the day’s going to go, depending on the time of year and what’s being grown in the fields outside my door the colours of the horizon go from brown to green to gold, in one direction it can turn a lush lilac for a week or so when the licensed morphine poppy fields bloom… The day itself is light years from my hometown/city of London, the nearest traffic light is 6 or 7 miles away, I walk my dog cross country to a farm shop for much of our food, my mobile phone has no signal, which is probably good as I’ve fallen out of love with that too. You have to plan ahead in the country, there’s no shop on the corner to get that milk at midnight, you can of course drive 5 miles to the petrol station (if you’ve remembered to buy petrol). My reasons for moving… It was time, I was born in London, lived in the middle of it all my whole life, had the best of it I think, 80’s as a teenager and art student, 90’s and 00’s living a 7 day weekend and more part of the music business than the design world on reflection. If you’re born there you know you’re going to try and leave, If you’re born outside London, you know you’re going to try and go there. With age came children and that does something to your chemistry, a younger me always wanted them to grow up in London so my offspring got street-smart early, but the London I grew up in doesn’t exist, the 11 year old me taking buses into W1 to stare in the window’s of Tin Pan Alley and wander Soho would be likely put in care today.
Your art is sometimes connected to the sport of surfing, what’s the reason behind that?
Art x Surfing. I started surfing with obsession once I could drive, my brother and I would head out of London to Devon and Cornwall at every sniff of swell, this was the era of BBC weather reports and telephone call’s to Surfline – so you committed and had to wait until you’d driven the 200 miles to the coast to see if you’d got it right. If you hadn’t – you made the best of it. Half glass full. What were you going to do? Drive another 200 miles home? There’s a lot of thinking time driving that distance, art and design was what got thought about. In many ways there’s a correlation to the process of my work, the art takes huge investments of time, as does surfing, the wait for those snatched seconds of wave time against the hours of travel and paddling is insane if you think about it. Same goes with painting, 100 hours of intensity, of soul selling and crisis, to come out of the other side with a hope that you’ve appeased the energy that sparked the first mark of your brush. Surfing and Art feels the same to me, the hues, fades, sines and geometry have organically become my muse.
Do you still have enough time for surfing?
Do I go as much? No. It’s like some kind of cliche, a 4yr old plus a 6yr old mean swells need to coincide with a household with a neutral ph. Rare that the two collide. Time get’s stretched beyond belief – you make time count. Parenthood, If you doing it right, lightens you up and gives you perspective. Once missing swells would have sent me insane. You have to re-calibrate, you have no choice. Wait it out and hope your knees hold up. I’ve been lucky, spent a lot of time in Southern California and Mexico in the ’90’s, I was lamenting those waves and a great friend who I’d shared some of them with reminded me that we’d ‘actually’ had those times and they were locked into our back-brains to enjoy when required. Good to be reminded. I have a theory that if you rode bikes, skated, surfed or whatever when you were a kid then you can re-connect with that kid, skating will always be skating, riding a bike will always feel like it does, same with surfing, none of these acts can fundamentally change – the feeling they give you will always be as it was when you were young, to be able get that same vibe as you get older and life gets heavier is a blessing, imagine if you’d never relished those pursuits as a child and couldn’t reach such an escape-mechanism? So if I can’t get to the sea right now I can get loose using wheels. Glass more than half full.
Please tell us 5 things to do or to visit when in the UK?
Keeping the answer ‘art’ and apart from the first venue, a distance from the 21st century… if you’re in London, the ICA (www.ica.org.uk) has always been a solid favourite, it’s the epitome of what a contemporary art space should be for me, often makes me uncomfortable, which challenges. Lord Leighton’s House in Holland Park, though tucked away is worth the effort, arguably the epicentre of the Victorian artists colony known as the ‘Holland Park Circle’. Leighton’s contemporary G.F.Watt’s built a studio next door (demolished in the 60’s) and his Surrey studio in Compton (40 miles south of London) remains with The Watt’s Gallery (www.wattsgallery.org.uk) residing in it, The Watt’s Chapel, built by G.F’s wife Mary (almost literally) is insanely detailed and far from what you’d expect in the english countryside. Oxfordshire my now adopted county offers The Ashmolean (www.ashmolean.org) and Pitt Rivers (www.prm.ox.ac.uk) in the centre of Oxford. Both combine archeology and art, with Pitt Rivers being a smaller, but by no means lesser, version of London’s Natural History Museum and having a darkly lit room hidden at the back rammed with crazy ethnographic objects, art and shrunken heads. If you like old and dusty, this is your list.
Thanks a lot, Richard.