June 3, 2011

A Long Way From That Shy and Anxious Kid

An Interview With Artist Lianne Booton

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any picture to zoomify

I find myself empathising a great deal with
Lianne Booton. True, we both live a rather long ways away from where we ‘grew up’ (ha!). And yes, we both can share rousing tales of the joys of being ‘legal aliens’ in countries that claim to have First World policies about same (do it by the book, huh? Please...). Plus, I also have to admit that I take an equally nuclear bomb throwing attitude about insect infestations in my home! But alas, I must stay calm and remember my spiritual upbringing! Yes, that latter odd saying will have meaning if you keep reading...

A lot of why I feel a bond with Lianne has to do with the fact that she – in her own words – sees her ‘artwork as a romp down a country lane; on one side are fields filled with horses, badgers, and small animals getting along fabulously. On the other side are disembodied heads and a palette comprised of colours that look suspiciously like bodily fluids.’ In her case, this is an apt metaphorical description of her artwork and imaginative expression (in mine, it is a good literal description... well, the bits with the bits that is). Lianne also confesses that her ‘favourite things in life are music, soft animals, and the look of terror on someone's face when (she) shows them a piece of artwork’ she’s just finished. Granted not your every day target in the world of freelance; but again, I recognise the screaming if not the resulting eventual satisfaction of a job very well done!

And finally, it is with a sincere giggle and a respectful guffaw to read about how one art ‘community’ bulletin described her work as being ‘the kind of things that if they were on a school folder they would land (her) in counselling.’ And they did, too. So, dear readers, if you are ANYTHING like me, you’re thinking now: wow, this is somehow I’d like to get to know better, maybe even let her baby-sit the kids!! With that in mind then, join me in another enjoyable journey down New Zealand way to meet this unique and talented artist:


Hello Lianne, welcome! What are you working on these days?
Greetings, and thank you for the invitation! I have my coffee and sandwich, I'm most definitely prepared...

Let's see, currently I'm working my little freelance gig of producing magazine covers for Craccum, which is Auckland University's student magazine. I'm also working on a comic for a collaboration with a buddy in Canada. The comic revolves around the adventures of a pickled onion that escapes a jar at a supermarket and has an existential crisis, it's a pretty deep plot for something I came up with at 4 a.m. over a gaming session and not sleeping for 36 hours.

Other than that, I have a lot of friend's birthdays coming up, which may or may not be related to some really awesome paintings I'm working on!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background please and what inspired you to become an artist?
I'm originally from Birmingham, UK, but I consider myself a New Zealander. I moved when I was 19 in a rather undignified rebellion that left me disowned from my family for a while, but then I overcame my disease of being a teenager and it's all better now.

In terms of my art ‘career’, I've considered myself as a freelance artist for around 8 or so years now but I had always kept myself to working for a small circle of people. It's only now that I've decided to put myself out to the world, so you've caught me on the start of my real journey as an artist, and it's been pretty exciting so far.

As far as I know I was always an aspiring artist, I had books I had drawn in at age 2, just little doodles of helicopters and robots and things, but the desire has always been there. Being a creative sort doesn't run in my family, but both me and my brother ended up with that spark; he's a musician though. Other than that, I'm a computer geek who loves gaming, 8-bit music, and t-shirts with witty slogans.

Some people would say I have qualities similar to a dog, but they're not really on about my loyalty and devotion, they're on about the amount of hair I shed everywhere.

You mention that you are a ‘self-taught artist’. I love to ask the artists that say this what that means for them personally as everyone seems to have their own unique ‘flavour’ for this description!
Ah, well this will probably be a depressing answer, but here goes: I grew up in a very poor area of the UK, so wanting to be an artist is not something people generally did. For a lot of kids they were lucky if they actually got as far as college; most just left school at 16 and went to work in the first terrible job they could get.

I never wanted that for myself but I thought it went against everything my parents wanted for me. So I just kept my head down at school and did my work, and kept art as a very personal thing. Back then I never really thought about being a professional artist because I had absolutely zero confidence in my ability. I felt somehow that I would be a disappointment, so I never showed anyone my drawings and I never fully participated in art classes because I was too anxious.

When I was 14 my family got their first dial-up modem and I was introduced to the Internet, which was still a very nerdy thing to use back then. I spent a lot of time in IRC (ZN: = ‘Internet relay chat’... I had to look it up [yes, because I’m too old]!) and over time began showing people my crude but detailed MS Paint drawings. Then my dad picked up a copy of Photoshop 4 and an entirely new world opened up to me. I used the Internet to find tutorials (which were difficult to come by back then) and taught myself how to digitally paint.

From there I realised I had a huge amount of knowledge at my fingertips and just started teaching myself new skills. By age 16 I had taught myself HTML, CSS, 3D modelling, Flash animation, digital painting, how to compose music, and some basic programming skills. I still envy the motivation and drive I had back then where I would happily shut myself away and be constantly working on little projects like games or animations. But I recognise I was a kid and all those projects were probably terrible. Still, luckily my desire to learn has remained: I like the sense of achievement it brings! For example, I'm currently teaching myself
Python, and have been learning about 3D sculpting.

And while we’re on the subject of teachin’ and learnin’ and ‘stuff’, how in the name of the Great Gatsby did you manage to fail art?
Well, I'm sure this will resonate with a lot of younger artists out there, but I went through an anime phase. Unfortunately, it was whilst I was in college and I did the whole silly rant about how it should be perfectly acceptable to draw half cyborg catgirls for art presentations! It's deeply embarrassing now and I am glad I eventually dug myself out of that hole.

Another part of my lack of success in art is owing to the fact that when I wasn't drawing half-cyborg catgirls, I was making really disturbing things for my projects. I remember studying Francis Bacon and making a pop-up book of grotesque animal torture for an end-of-year presentation. I think I actually got sent to a counselling session for that. Despite all that nonsense I don't really regret failing art or not going to art school or getting a degree.

I did actually apply for art school and was offered a position, but when I went to the interview I was asked whether I enjoyed
lino printing... HOWEVER, I hated lino printing with a passion! I told the interviewer that, to which he responded I would have to "pretend to like it or get out". To me that spoke volumes about what I was in for if I ended up going there... so I walked out.

Once I finished college, I didn't know what I wanted to do and hastily applied for a position in a 'film technology & script writing' degree. I was there for about six months but wasn't eligible for a student loan or help with fees, so I had to drop out. That's when I decided to travel and came to New Zealand for a few months where I absolutely fell in love with the country. I eventually returned back to the UK but knew I wasn't going to stay there much longer.

Looking back, I do think that the kind of artist someone is at a school age and the kind of artist they become in adulthood is vastly different: you kind of need all these assorted little life experiences to shape you. I would consider going back to school in the future, but not because I feel a degree is going to help me in any way. It'd be more to fill in little gaps in my art knowledge.

Lianne, you seem to be a well-journeyed person (gosh, I hope that isn’t an insult in any of the English ‘dialects’ you’ve learned over the years). How do you think your sojourns through a good deal of the English (+/-) speaking nations of the Earth have affected you most, including as a person and as an artist?
My travels have pretty much shaped who I am entirely, even more than going to art school or getting a degree could ever have.

I grew up in a Buddhist household – which is always something that makes people laugh if their perception of me is my on-line persona only! I view my travels as a decade-long journey of growth. I've uprooted so many times that I don't really have any material possessions to my name; in fact, right now all I have is the contents of a small suitcase, a hard drive with all my art on it, and some art supplies that I've had for years. It's a pretty liberating feeling to just go wherever you feel you need to go and kind of stay off the grid and observe the world.

My reasons for moving were always depression, since unlike a lot of artists I simply can't produce anything when I'm depressed. My art has never been a reflection of who I am as a person, so depression just muddies the whole process. So I'd run away and try and find my inspiration again, and there would always be a hard lesson to learn along the way. When I moved to New Zealand it taught me about making dreams a reality. Moving to Australia taught me about independence and trust, and moving to Canada taught me about confidence and acceptance.

I came back to New Zealand feeling like I was whole, and ready to settle down and focus on my artwork and make a career out of it. As an artist the experience has allowed me to break down a lot of mental filters that can shape your pieces. I try not to worry too much about what's socially acceptable and I don't neuter my ideas as much anymore. It no longer really bothers me too much if people look at my artwork and think I'm a bit mental. I'm not going to waste my time censoring myself online to the point that I sound like background noise.

You’ve lived in Auckland, New Zealand since 2002. What is the art scene like there?
I'm starting to learn the art scene is not as small as I initially thought. It does feel like a very hidden world though, but there are a lot of things in New Zealand that feel like well-kept secrets. The reason I actually left NZ before was because I just felt there was no opportunity here for me, but I've adjusted my position on that now. I do think Auckland needs more galleries catering to emerging artists and people who don't really fit the traditional mould of landscape/nature artists, which this area is big on.

In comparison, I never really experienced the art scene over in the UK; however, when I was over in Vancouver, I was blown away at the art community there. One of the most amazing moments for me was sitting in a high rise with a collective of artists, graphic designers, architects, and advertisers, and having a 'drawing club'. We'd have a theme for the evening and pull a random subject out of a hat and we all had to draw whatever we got. And in that particular moment, it wasn't about how well people could draw, it was just that air of creativity permeating the room. It was inspirational.

I'd actually love to see some similar get-togethers in Auckland, where people can just leave their egos and anxieties at the door and have some childlike fun creating silly things.

After you returned to New Zealand late last year that you apparently realised that you wanted to pursue being an artist seriously, rather than, quote, ‘just drawing silly pictures for my friends’. What happened then? Did some sort of epiphany occur or perhaps even a mystical light appear?
Ha ha, that's pretty accurate actually! I was in Canada for two years and there were times where my mental strength was really tested. I had to think about what sort of person I was compared to how others saw me.

I went there very stupidly at the start of the recession and watched people's careers falling apart. Vancouver has a huge artist community but it was very difficult meeting students who were just realising their design degrees were not going to be helping them anytime soon. As I said before, when I was in Vancouver, I met some amazing folks, from advertisers, to professional artists, and so many more. I then realised I couldn't live my life stuck in my own head with my insecurities any more.

Soon, I couldn't afford living in Vancouver anymore and moved out to a tiny little town called Osoyoos, which is out in what is known as 'Canada's only desert' (ZN: why not visit the nearby ‘Anarchist Protected Area’ today?
I kid you not...). When I was out there I didn't have access to the Internet for a few months, and when you're living out in the middle of a desert you have a lot of time to reassess what's going on in your life. You stand out in the middle of fields and mountains and you realise that creativity is the essence of life. It's something that we should be sharing with the world, not hiding away in closely guarded sketchbooks.

Continued in
Part 2

1 comment:

cartoongoddess said...

Diana Bryan told me to check out your stuff years ago. It took me till now. Looking through your posts here, I fully understand her recommendation.

Great stuff!