Saturday, 14 April 2012

Up, down ...Gosh!

The other day I ventured to London with Dom McKenzie to check out Pick Me Up, a little craft fair that has drawn just a little attention lately. Some may be familiar with the opinions that Lawrence Zeegen voiced on the crafty goings on, but we weren't going to let that colour our opinions until we'd seen it for ourselves.

I do like passing judgment, but they made it too easy. The first impression I had was that I'd seen that artist/illustrator's work before -but i couldn't tell you their name. That's because I'd never actually heard of the creative mind behind the work before; the vast amount of the images on display were simply snapshots of 2012's illustration trends and, honestly, it was baffling. Don't get me wrong: the were a good number of pieces that stood out for one reason or another, but the show as a whole just felt empty.

My attention was grabbed by some elegantly constructed paper gadgets; a gameboy (the really chunky old version, before 'pocket') and a camera from a similar era ('retro', if you know your lingo). The very luminous colours were striking (but that was before I realised that bright in-your-face palettes are what ALL the cool kids are doing these days). Nonetheless it was a nice object. Meaningless, but nice. I was a bit more curious about the photographic prints the artist was trying to hock for £40 a head: if a high resolution photo of your handiwork reveals all the imperfections and frayed edges, it probably won't make the best image for someone's wall. I don't know the fellow's name to credit them.

There were a few nice surprises in the first room. A couple of illustrators I had seen before in the Guardian and other places; Phil Wrigglesworth's work looked impressive at a larger scale that then 10x10, or so, size it was published at. Another illustrator's work seemed very inspired by Charles Burns. I can respect that, and their handling of a brush and ink was pretty impressive. A large watercolour bear was made -seemingly effortlessly- from a broad watercolour stroke and not-many-more marks. That was about the only image from the £10 postcard set I actually wanted to own; it's a pity that they didn't sell them separately. 

Bear -awesome!

Jon McNaught was the particular silver lining of the room. I'd seen his work before in Nobrow and other places. Here is an example of someone doing things right: his work looks considered, it has a narrative and a viewpoint (or more concisely: a point) it looks like it takes skill to execute (not a requirement of quality, but a bonus) and it looks very different from everything else: it's personal -even when using the lurid colours that appeared all too many times elsewhere. McNaught uses them well. If I had a bit of spare cash I would have picked up a few of his prints.

Not feeling like all hope was lost, it was time to venture upstairs to what looked like a ramshackle print studio/apparel outlet. Walking past a lot of forgettable tat, I was struck by this series of images (my photo was too blurred to retrieve the guy's name). Dom and I contemplated for a few moments about which one we would most like to own. I settled that I would have to have the set since one would look awesome-but -lonely on the wall. the aforementioned budgetary concerns prevented me from doing so.

After trudging the rest -typified by a screen-printed towel declaring: "I have nothing to say, so I'm saying it!" -I stopped for a good while at the Nobrow stall. Finally something with a narrative! I bought one of McNaught's books and two others that really stood out. While Nobrow delivered in the small press department -as one would expect- I was disenchanted by the other independent offerings' elsewhere. Crap -sorry- 'naive' drawing abound. References to 90's cartoons and technology that isn't really that far away in time to have much nostalgia attached to it; the few persons who are possessed of good draughtsmanship making images that are devoid of content or any purpose; and other full of little stylistic bits and bobs lifted from their favourite small press illustrator, who had lifted it from their favourite small press illustrator, who…yeah. To whoever egested that unique zine that hybridised the teenage mutant ninja turtles and porn: I have never before beheld a bigger and more worthless [use of paper] in my life (and I've read The Alchemist).

Overall, there were enough good things to merit the ticket price -and pieces that genuine inspiration could come from. The quality of most prints was high -if only the quality of the content was as consistent. I reckon I would go next year, as I still hold hope that the creative people out there can get out of this vacuous hipster vacuum and actually use their talents to make interesting work… Or maybe it's a field that needs to be better defined: it's not illustration -lacking, as it did, in any communicative qualities and the heavy-handed commercial nature didn't sit comfortably when looked upon as fine art. I don't know, maybe 'nondescript design' would be a better umbrella (I'd like to see universities trying to get funding for that degree).You might tell me I'm being too negative, or that you had a wonderful time there and loved so many pieces, let me clarify that there was a lot of good stuff, but, I ask you: when you tread in dog-crap, do you stand and consider the 95% of your clothes that aren't smeared with doo-doo?

Much of the afternoon was spent trying to unravel the questions Pick Me Up poised -not unlike untangling the Christmas tree lights every year: you don't know how they got so messed up, and then you find four of the bulbs are broken.

Since we were in town, I wanted to track down Gosh! Comics, having never been there before. I was excited before even entering, with an impressive window display featuring many of my favourite books and artists, crowned with a giant rendering of Tom Gauld's Goliath! That provided a stark contrast to the morning. I guess it depends what someone is looking for, and what excited them, but Gosh! blew Pick Me Up away. They weren't fighting for the same spotlight in any way, but the sheer fact that I wanted to buy things in Gosh! went a long way. And buy things I did; many things. I held back on the more mainstream titles and focused my attention on the small press shelves. Here we had all sorts of comics, zines and books made by hand or in very small runs; colour, clack and white, photocopies -all at different levels of finish. What drew me to these (bearing in mind that not all of them had great narratives or lifework) was that they were all genuine; artists making work that is inspired by themselves and their own inspirations: not people hopping on some bandwagon that's already pretty rusty. I picked up a good pile of books and had a good chat with the guy who rang them up. It was also refreshing to see children's picture books in a comic store.

 With my spirits raised, I was in the mood to down a few spirits with Dom and fellow illustrator, Angus Greig, as we caught up in a charming little pub nearby, where we managed to win the pub quiz by a whole half-a-point!

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