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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with artist Jessica Albarn

You don’t want to mess with faeries. Well, at least not the ones in Jessica Albarn’s beautifully illustrated storybook, The Boy in the Oak anyway…

Written by Kat Phan

Like most girly girls growing up, viagra 60mg my bedroom was decorated with various shades of baby pink and faerie-inspired memorabilia (I say most, stuff but the latter could have just been me). I had faerie bedspreads, sickness faerie lampshades, faerie candles, faerie wind chimes (no, really) – I had no idea of the concept of taking things too far. If there was an image of one of those illuminated delicate, dainty little figures slapped onto anything (including mugs and toilet rolls), it had to be mine.

Although I have since grown out of my faerie-loving phase (and into other crazy obsessions my good friends will tell you!), the child in me still gravitates towards stories about magical otherworldly beings, the innocence of youth, and pretty much anything that takes me back to my childhood. It is for this reason that when I was asked to do a feature on Jessica Albarn’s storybook, The Boy in the Oak, it was with a resounding ‘yes’ that I answered. However, it turns out that the faeries I would be writing about aren’t the good ones that I used to wrap around me to protect me as I slept.

Written and illustrated by Jessica, the artist tells the fantastical story of a young lonely boy who amuses himself by trampling on flowers, tearing the limbs off trees, and traumatising the creatures in the garden of his family home. As his play grows more cruel day by day, the faeries that inhabit a giant oak tree, which is also the passageway to the Kingdom of Faerie, at the bottom of his garden become increasingly unsettled until eventually, they cast a spell on him, trapping the boy in the magical oak.

The narrative is accompanied by fine, detailed sketches of spindly creatures, faeries and emotive facial expressions (the faces of the two protagonists in her story are based on her son Rudy and daughter Lola). Insects are introduced throughout the text and appear on most pages of the book, which Jessica weaves into the fabric of her story, somehow managing to make them appear more beautiful than creepy, through her gentle artistic strokes. The result is a dreamy, melancholic and rather sinister yet magical tale for adults and children alike.

On the eve of the launch of her first storybook ever, Amelia’s Magazine finds a quiet moment to talk to the very talented artist (who also happens to be Damon Albarn’s sister) about her artistic influences, her rural upbringing, her alter ego faerie tale character and her biggest career challenge to date…

When did you first decide that you wanted to become an artist?
I have always loved drawing but I guess I decided that I wanted to be an artist when I was about 15 yrs old.

How has your style evolved since you first started?
When I began my degree I was part of the sculpture department but I found I was happiest when I was drawing (although that could have been down to the fact that my sculptures had a tendency to fall over whenever my tutor drew near!). By the end of college, I had started drawing from nature and studying its relationship with geometry. It has developed a lot since then but I guess the seeds of that thought were sown then.

What/who has influenced your style?
Probably the most influential thing for me was the ‘Butterfly Ball’ by Alan Alderidge. It was a book I had as a child and of which I have revisited hundreds of times. I was fascinated by the detail, the personalities that Alderidge gave his characters and the dark sinister undertones.

What inspired The Boy in the Oak?
A good friend of mine has a tree in her garden that has a ghostly face in the bark. Her garden backs onto a wood and it reminded me of a place I used to visit as young child. A perfect setting for a faerie tale!

Is there a metaphor that older readers should relate to in The Boy in the Oak?
It’s about tuning into the magic in our daydreams, seeing through the veil of reality and escaping the prison of our minds.

How long did it take you to produce the illustrations and story for this book?
There were gaps along the way but it’s taken about four years from the birth of the idea to fruition.

Most of your work has a childhood theme – what was your childhood like and what were you like as a child?
I was born in London, but my parents moved out to North Essex when I was about 6. My parents are both artistic: my Dad ran the Colchester Arts school and my Mum had a studio at home. She also had a shop where she sold arts and crafts. We lived in a very old tudor house in a close-knit village. Most of my childhood was spent running around the countryside, making dens in woods and playing down by the river with my friends. I had lots and lots of guinea pigs, a rabbit and a cat. Also my Mum had a friend who had some ponies. It was all very ramshackle, but my Mum taught me and a lot of the village kids to ride. It was far away from pony club, hairnets and horse boxes, which was a good thing. I was a very happy child. My brother and I had a lot of freedom.

What is your favourite children’s fairy tale and why?
I loved all fairy tales like The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the illustrations and stories in Russian Fairytales and folklore. But my favourite today still is the ‘The Happy Prince’ – by Oscar Wilde for its beautiful portrayal of love and kindness.

If you could be any fairy tale character, who would you be and why?
I would be the little girl in Baba Yaga, beating the witch and escaping adversity.

What has been the biggest career challenge you have faced to date?
Doing a three day live drawing performance for Helmut Lang in Tokyo. It was just a big deal for someone like me who is very private in their practice to be watched drawing!

What has been your proudest achievement to date?
Succeeding in getting my book published.

What three pieces of advice would you offer someone who is starting out as an illustrator/artist?
I don’t really see myself as an illustrator and haven’t worked as one apart from illustrating my book but as an artist I would say do what pleases you and don’t worry about what other people may think, work very, very hard and don’t give up if it makes you happy!

Jessica Albarn’s book ‘The Boy in the Oak’ is now available in bookstores worldwide.

(All images courtesy of Jessica Albarn)

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