In conversation with Brighton based illustrator Paul Burgess.
What was your journey into the arts?
On one hand I enjoyed a conventional journey into the arts. Foundation course, BA at Camberwell School of Art, followed by an MA at the Royal College of Art. My parents were artists, my father a ceramicist and my mother an artist, working in sculpture. On the other hand, I also enjoyed a less conventional journey into the arts through music. Growing up as a teenager, I discovered Dada / situationism / collage / cut-up’s / screen-print, etc. mainly through DIY culture, Bowie led to Warhol and Burroughs, punk, reggae, soul, funk, rap, hip-hop, sampling (sound and visual). Music is very important to me. I consider it to be the highest art.
Can you talk about how you work, is it commissioned, self-motivated etc?
Both, I worked as a freelance illustrator for 20 years or so before moving over gradually to teaching full time. Much of the work I do now is self-motivated, however I occasionally take on commissions. For example, over the last few years I have been working on album artwork with Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) for various projects including Wrangler, Creep Show and his own solo material. These are the sort of projects I really enjoy, friendly, collaborative and open ended.
Can you talk about the aims of your collage work and how you approach this. Is it instinctual or more planned than that?
It always starts with a plan, then goes through a process of instinct. I like to let accidents happen, try things out, and then return to the plan at the end of the process. I work with both hand-made analogue collage and also digital collage in Photoshop. I am also very interested in mood or atmosphere with a collage or a photograph. How does it make you feel? I am starting to mess with making my own sound / music / collage. Keeping it very basic, very DIY. It will be interesting to see how this works out.
Your work often uses found items and ephemera from contemporary culture (including a large collection of music related items), can you talk about where this interest comes from?
I am passionate about music of all types. Life and work are obviously intertwined. Like many illustrators, I discovered much of the artwork I love today through record sleeves and music culture. I am fascinated by the link between art school and music. As an example, I am working on a book project / interactive exhibition at the moment about the band Pulp. I was lucky enough to photograph Pulp extensively in the 1990’s, and now twenty something years later it feels right to do something interesting with the collection of photographs and video footage. It will involve collage.
Photography is also very important to me as I often use the images in my collage work. When I was a student, I worked as an assistant to NME photographer Peter Anderson. It was hugely inspiring watching Peter work, and his attitude and approach has always stuck with me.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? If so, can you talk about how you use this. Is it or your sketches a record of what you do or does it inform your approach and thinking?
I have sketchbooks, however I prefer loose plastic folders. I have around 20-30 folders in which I store any ephemera that catches my eye. This way I can mix and match, take items out to scan and enjoy the serendipity as one image accidentally places itself next to another unexpectedly. Collage is a little like cooking, you have all the ingredients but how do you then cook the meal? I also have digital journals on my hard drive, many folders of text / images / films / music to draw upon for inspiration.
Your collection is vast, how to you order it, know what is in it? Can you talk a bit about some of the more unusual items within it?
My collection is quite extensive. I am in the process of going through it all at the moment and trying to scan / photograph a good selection so I can archive the majority of it and downsize. Ha! I’ll let you know how that goes. Most of my collection is ephemera (photographs / paperwork / books / objects). I have always just collected things that excite me in some way. I am not a completist. Here are some of the more unusual items: A collection of ‘shell dogs’ / Sex Pistols related posters and flyers / badly drawn fan-art of David Bowie / Ladybird books / Acid House related items / found photographs and self-publishing / record sleeves that have been drawn on / or collaged by the owner. Many years ago, I had a large collection of kid’s pasta shape tins from supermarkets, but that is long gone now. I once appeared on the ‘Big Breakfast’ TV programme with over 200 different themed tins (Batman / Star Wars, etc.) I think they thought I was mad, but there you go, I was young!
In the future I will just concentrate on a few collections I really enjoy. I plan to publish a series of books based on the collection. Watch this space.