Thursday 5 February 2009

We're having a bit of an artistic love-in here at BUG this week it seems, and so what better way to wrap up this winter week with a chat to one of Bristol's most prominent and inspirational artists Andy Council.

Andy's work has a very direct synergy with the city itself; his artwork can incorporate the minute detail of Bristolian life in the guise of fantastic creatures that draw you into the intricacies of their creation. With such a unique and innovative style his work and time is always in demand, and
BUG always looks forward to seeing what he'll create next.

B: For the obvious starter - Where does the name Andy Council originate?

A: Haha! That's quite funny as the origin of my name is.....that it is my real name! I have had people ask me before if it is a pseudonym, kind of like a graff name or a punk name like Sid Vicious or something. I always got called Andy Council house at school. This sort of suits my work in a way as I draw lots of little houses in my pieces quite a lot. The best piss take on my name recently was when someone called me 'Andy Council Estate Of Mind' after the Skinny Man album.

B: What drew you into illustration originally? Where did it all begin?

A: Since I was little I have always enjoyed drawing and ended up helping other kids out at school with drawings for their projects in exchange for sweets and to be in their gangs and stuff, so guess it started there really. Art was the main thing I put my effort into studying at school and I always knew that I wanted to do something creative as my job.

I went to art college and then on to study Animation at Bournemouth as the course was based around lots of drawing work. I thought I would be able to find lots of work in that industry when I graduated, but I didn't find many places hiring at that time. Perhaps it was something to do with the shift over to computer animation at that time (this was way back in 97 - I'm a bit old). I spent quite a bit of time then being on the dole or doing crap jobs. I was desperate to get out of that situation and keep on doing drawing work so started volunteering illustration work to local charity organisations. I started to get a few quid here and there for this and very slowly things started to build up. I then realised that illustrating stuff for people could work out as being the thing for me to do.

B: You bring an incredibly intricate flair to your work, how has that evolved over the years into the style it is today?

A: I've always been a fan of detailed drawings in kids books by people like Richard Scary to graphic novel art by artists such as Geoff Darrow. Taking influence from these sources and others my drawings have long had a high level of intricacy to them.

Some of my first illustration opportunities in Bristol came from The Recycling Consortium and required me to draw lots of tiny rubbish and recyclable items. The project that I was given by them that really helped shape my style was when I was asked to draw a monster made out of rubbish called 'Scrapzilla'. From there I started drawing more dinosaurs and beasties made out of other elements

B: You feature elements of Bristol in your work as well as dinosaurs, robots and animals? Where do you draw influence and inspiration from for your art?

A: I like to take everyday things that surround me such as the contents of my living room and the landscape and landmarks of Bristol and twist them into the shape of something fantastic. It's about making the mundane and the ordinary fantastic. Sitting waiting for a train at Temple Meads and counteracting the boredom by thinking some crazy shit like how if all the things around you could combine into a giant chicken with trains for feet! It's pretty wild shit and goes back to my childhood with collecting Transformers and Zoids and stuff.

I like to make creatures up out of things that interest me giving those items or pass times a personality of sorts. I think people can relate to a lot of these things - drinking, painting graff pieces, carnival soundsystems and watching Neighbours(!)

I like the concept of living, breathing cities and our relationships with where we live. This is another reason for the use of animal and dinosaur forms. I am genuinely interested in Paleontology too.

My work has been described before as 'a sideways examination of urban life' which sums it up quite nicely.

B: What's been your proudest achievement so far with your art?

A: I'm not sure really, there have been a few things that I have achieved that stand out. I was really pleased to do an illustration for the front cover of the Guardian Money section a while back. It was interesting to see it lying around in cafes and have friends tell me they saw it left on trains and buses around the country. I was happy when I made it into the Bath Evening Chronicle with my art as my mum and dad always read it.

The Bristol Dinosaur has been my biggest success I think. I created it a few years ago and it continues to be very popular. It has appeared in numerous magazines, an animation and it does well as a print and greetings card image. What interests me is that not only is it popular with Bristolians but people from all round the world who have often never visited the city.

B: Some of your finest work can be found in Totterdown, Easton and throughout Bristol. If you could be commissioned to paint any part of Bristol, where or what would it be?

A: I don't paint all that often in Bristol compared to a lot of the Graff/Street Artists here, so anywhere I can get my artwork up and about is a bonus. I guess ideally it would be in a central area and really big, maybe of a new hyper detailed Bristol beastie. Perhaps on the side of Trenchard Street Car Park or somewhere around Temple Meads. I quite like the idea of having a piece around the Temple Meads/Bath Road area as it was the route I would always come into Bristol from when I lived in Bath.

Actually, Southdown - the area of Bath I grew up in, would be where I would most like to paint a large dino mural. It's a working class area right on the edge of the city with very little going on there. I found it pretty dull and a bit of a creative dead end as a teenager and think that a ruddy big dino made out of loads of things in mad colours might be a bit of inspiration to the kids living there.

B: You've ventured into animation, is that something you'd like to explore more?

A: As mentioned earlier, I studied animation at college a while ago. I like it, but find it can do my head in, especially with all the detail I like to put in my drawings. I think I would like to do more of it again in the future, maybe having a city come together and form a beastie or something like that. It would be the sort of thing I would like to work on with the help of other people really.

B: Do you feel presently Bristol supports its artists well? Do you think the art community here is in rude health or slow decline?

A: I think that the visual arts scene in Bristol is really healthy with lots more going on than in many other cities in the UK. The amount of Street Art going on here is amazing and one of the main reasons I came here from Bath a while ago. It was, and still is, one of the main things that has influenced my work and I constantly buzz off the work produced by the great Graff/Street Artists that live here. I hope that there remain to be people working in Bristol City Council that are sympathetic towards it and continue to let it flourish here. It is a worry sometimes that the powers that be may become bored of it and really clamp down on the areas that it is painted.

Along with the Street Art scene in Bristol there are lots of really good Illustrators that live and work here. I sometimes think that perhaps Bristol is lacking a decent gallery space for local talent, particularly artists whose work doesn't fit in to the whole Graff/Street Art thing.

B: What's next for you?

A: I have lots of things I would like to do with my artwork in the next few years. I would like to develop a more painterly style with my work. This is partly so that I can speed things up a bit. It would help with street work and enable me to produce paintings faster. I have a little baby boy now and sometimes the last thing I want to do after looking after him is produce an ultra detailed illustration! Saying that, I can't see the detail totally disappearing from my work.

I also want to do more street pieces and I might make a return to doing the window drawing pieces. Making 3D models of the dinos is another plan along with producing comics, fanzines and books. One day I would like to go and search for the Beast of Bodmin and his mates.

B: Give us a top 5 (of anything).

A: My top 5 is of Cryptozoological beasts or Cryptids (animals that may or may not exist)

1.The Beast Of Bodmin - My favourite as I love the idea that there are big cats roaming around the UK. Bodmin and his mate the Beast of Exmoor were real heroes of mine when I was a kid. All that shit where they sent the army out to hunt it down and stuff was amazing! I would love to see one of these big feline beasties one day, but expect I would shit myself if I did!

2.Ninke Nanke - I like the name of this dragon like creature that supposedly lives in the West African country of the Gambia. A 2006 expedition by West Country based organisation Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) didn't find it unfortunately.

3.Mokèlé-mbèmbé - Could be a Sauropod type Dinosaur living in central Africa.

4.Mylodon - Extinct Giant Ground Sloth that could still be living in Patagonia.

5.Orang Pendek - A short ground-dwelling, bipedal primate with a rad name that reportedly inhabits remote, mountainous forests on the island of Sumatra.

Andy Council's Website