Hanging Out With John Booth
Artist, ceramicist, illustrator and thoroughly good egg, JOHN BOOTH, invited the Browns team round to his Dalston-based studio for a tour and talks us through us his career and the creation of his colour-clashing works.
On his background…
I think you’re born predisposed to like certain things and for me it was drawing and making stuff. Growing up in Cumbria in quite a creative area, it was cool to be good at art in secondary school - the lads respected you even if you didn’t do rugby. You were encouraged to create whatever you wanted and this approach is reflected in what I do to this day. I originally studied fashion print at Central Saint Martins where I ended up spending loads of time sketching instead, even directly onto clothes themselves. Internships at Zandra Rhodes and John Galliano led me to my first design job at Ashish after graduating. I realised that I wanted to work in the design industry in a different way than through a fashion house and ultimately to work for myself, which is a luxury! As a child, I remember trying to make Blue Peter’s Thunderbirds Tracy Island and this Labrador puppy out of a Lenor bottle covered in fake fur, mine were absolutely terrible, of course! When I was young, if you weren’t from the city, telly and TV adverts seemed quite glamorous - they were a window to the outside world. I still watch the early V05 Hot Oil and Chanel Egoiste perfume ads even now and revisit old episodes of Jeff Bank’s The Clothes Show on YouTube, watching people making things is inspiring.
On his work...
I wouldn’t know how to define what I’m doing at the moment, it’s such a mix of stuff. I’m not strict with the mediums I use and go where I’m inspired, but my work is usually based on colour and pattern applied by hand. People always say it looks like kid’s stuff! A few years ago, I did some evening classes in ceramics with the intention of turning my drawings into 3D objects, designing pieces lifted flat paper. My first ceramic face plate was made there and I’ve always kept it; in my eyes, it’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever done because it was completely unaffected. The figure in the head vases aren’t taken from observation of anybody in particular, I just enjoy their neutrality and the idealised nature of the handsome face that they depict.
On his creative process...
It all depends on the project but my work is increasingly led by material, form and since I’ve started using ceramics, function too. Thinking about the relationship between all of those elements and seeing which one takes the lead really interests me. Maybe because of my background in fashion, I want to make art as a commodity, products that can be bought and used - I struggle to make something that is untouchable. I often put myself in stressful positions where I’m working a lot and someone did once advise me to say ‘no’ to some projects but I find that hard to do. Advice is a funny one anyway, I’m dubious of people that want to dish it out! I teach part time at Central Saint Martins and Westminster and whilst doing that I try to be careful of advising people because everybody’s cases are so different. Either way, in a creative job, you have to acknowledge your mood and accept that sometimes you’re just not in the right headspace to make work.
I often work with my studio partner, the ceramicist Ian McIntyre. Together we’ve created heavily decorated ceramic tables, abstract cups and we’re currently finishing off a project for the upcoming Salone del Mobile in Milan next month. I love the process of collaborating and have worked on everything from prints for the Scottish woolen mill Begg & Co. to Globetrotter and Fendi. My mate Julian [Ganio], pointed me in the direction of Fendi a few years back and I worked on two seasons with their menswear Creative Director, Silvia Venturini Fendi. I’d make a collage or sketch and it would be rendered into the clothing in such an exquisite way, my favourite thing I ever did for them was this light brown backpack with a multi-coloured face on it.
It sounds really cheesy but I have an emotional response to colour - I don’t know if that’s even scientifically possible but it’s true for me! I really like yellow especially next to pink and blue, they all make me very happy. In contrast to that, I’m not anti-green, but it’s one colour that doesn’t feature very heavily in my work, I just don’t seem to have an attachment to it. Some people think I just use any colour and throw it on and it’s not like I use some magical intellectual approach when handling it but to me it’s very personal. Some colours, I might only like in a particular material! Purple for example, there is one shade that I like but it has to be from a certain pen: a Pentel N50 permanent marker, which smells amazing too.
How do you waste time when your schedule is clear?
I’m quite good at wasting time! It sounds annoyingly wholesome, but I just like walking and doing nothing.
Is there anything that you collect and why?
Key rings - I’ve got a thing for them. I didn’t set out to collect them but I think the functional aspects of them and the toggles, clips and hardware just call to me.
What’s your cure for procrastination?
I have never mastered that one!
Favourite piece of public art?
Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics at London’s Tottenham Court Road station, I always think of the man depicted in the central rotunda with blue jeans and a pink belt! I love art on the Underground, there is another piece at Seven Sisters station by Matthew Raw and the Assemble collective where they clad an entire kiosk in beautiful handmade tiles.
What does your dream office chair and desk look like?
The Memphis Milano ‘Violetta’ table and chair by George Sowden from the 90’s, it’s blue and yellow metal with red rubber feet.
Who do you most admire and why?
I go through phases, but like I mentioned, I love Paolozzi. I have a 1971 print of his on my desk at the moment that I sit and stare at.
One thing you’d change about the world?
Where do you even begin with that? It’s hard to say something and not be hypocritical! Mobile phones perhaps, it’s crazy when you think about how much has changed so quickly due to them.
Top tip for breaking into the arts today?
I’m still battling myself but I’d say perseverance and be ready to put the work in to match your expectations.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
What’s your most used app and how do you stop yourself from scrolling?
It’s definitely Instagram and I stop myself from looking at it by doing the opposite of it: create something. If I’m using my hands to make something too then I can’t hold my phone.
What’s the most treasured item in your home?
A chair by Enzo Mari.
What building would be your dream studio?
The original Ghostbusters headquarters, I went to visit it in Manhattan last year but it had been knocked down.
What’s been your biggest fashion faux pas?
Too many to think of.
Is there something that you’ve created, loved and now regret selling?
Not holding onto the work too tightly is really important, I endeavour to do the opposite of that and to just get the work out there and not be too self-congratulatory. Sometimes I’ll finish a piece and realise how much I loved making it but know that I should let it go because how else does someone move on from it.
What’re the pros and cons of social media as an artist?
It’s an incredible tool to promote your work but it’s extremely distracting. Also, maybe I’m a fuddy-duddy, but you should never make work for Instagram, I find it so depressing when people do that purely to upload something. Hopefully, I make stuff that is even better when seen in person.
Creepiest thing that’s ever happened to you?
My last ex.
London best kept secret thing to do?
I don’t have one! It’s a noisy and expensive place, but for me, I love it and the opportunities here are endless.
Interview by Ross Aston
Styling by Sally Bottomley