Friday, 25 February 2011

Art: Joe Simpson: Your New Best Friend…

… well, that's according to his Twitter bio, anyway. Ebunola Adenipekun talked to the 26-year-old portrait artist who’s managed to merge his (and many others') two loves: music and art

Joe doin' what he does best - paintin' masterpieces

How much art do you do in a day? Today, for example. Are you an night owl, early lark… or both?
I try and keep normal-ish working hours – generally I go into my studio about 9am to 6pm on weekdays and have weekends off. I do this so that I’m in line with other people and it’s easier to make social arrangements. I spend a long time on my own in my studio so I need to interact with people in the evenings to stay sane! Sometimes, when I want to accelerate progress I’ll do long stints and stay late (and become less sane), I very rarely do anything before 9am though. 

Joe at Brighton

There’s always been that cliché of artists starving for their craft. Have you always worked as an artist and/or had other jobs in addition?
I have had to work various bar jobs and things, but not long after graduating I started to work full time as an artist. I was quite lucky and managed to get commissions that have supported me, and also allowed me to work on projects for myself.

How have you funded your exhibitions?
My first exhibition ‘Almost There’ was funded by the Arts Council and received corporate sponsorship from Audio Technica. It was a real learning curve to secure both of these elements, it took a few attempts for my application to be successful and something that I had to figure out how to do by trying.

I was keen for the show to be in a non-commercial gallery, be on for a long time and seen by a large number of people – the funding made this possible. This all happened in 2008, I’m not sure with today’s budget cuts that I would have got it – so I consider myself lucky. 

What are your favourite mediums to work with? I suppose that can include the computer – if need be!
I work pretty much exclusively with oil paints on canvas at the moment, I used to paint with acrylics but once I tried oils I didn’t turn back. I also like to draw and sketch with pencils, but that’s more a process than a finished product.

You went to Leeds University and got a ‘first’ in Fine Arts – “Well bloomin’ done!” – what feedback did you get from your tutors that you found particularly useful in contributing to that grade and what advice would you give to someone who wants the same grade?
My tutors were actually very supportive and didn’t discourage me from what is quite a traditional way of painting. I know other friends on other art courses that were pushed into more conceptual-based work. They were also quite candid about the reality of what it takes to make a living as an artist, that you had to be prepared to self-promote, put your work into the public realm as much as possible and not be afraid to do commercial work, especially if it funds your own personal artistic practice.

In terms of how to get a good grade, I think putting the time and effort in was a major factor. With art it seems that you get more accomplished through practice and experimentation – I believe my coursework and attendance reflected a lot of effort and enthusiasm that helped me achieve a First.

My experience of studying art at university was that you got as much out as you put in. It was an extremely self-motivated course. It’s also a good time to start entering art competitions, work with other students and define your own voice as an artist. I’d recommend getting in the studio as much as possible and pursuing extra-curriculum artistic pursuits that will no doubt impress your tutors. An art degree isn’t necessarily the safest degree to lead you into a job – so you might as well come out of it with some interesting things on your CV.

Which artists inspire you?
Some of my favourite painters are: Edward Hopper, Jenny Saville, Francis Bacon, Damien Loeb. Other artists: Gregory Crewdson, Damien Hirst, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Chris Ware, Frank Warren. I’ve been reading Damien Hirst’s biography and how he was a telesales person and in that time he learned persuasive techniques, like getting delivery men to bring a shark to his home. I also like his use of cinematic light while he paints. With other artists like Jenny Saville I admire her colour use in paints.

I think you can get inspiration from everywhere. Music videos, films, they all influence in different ways.

How the heck did you come up with the concept of collaborating with twelve bands and solo artists to create a series of paintings with an accompanying original soundtrack? Was it a spark of inspiration or a process?
Throughout university I started trying to make my work look and feel ‘cinematic’, I started to paint ‘widescreen’ canvases that depicted frozen scenes as though they were from a wider story. As an intro page to my website I created a montage of my paintings set to music as a snazzy animation to launch the site. I was really pleased with how it turned out, I liked the combination of the visuals and the audio - they complemented each other and created something new. This led to the idea of creating a number of paintings based on one narrative that had a soundtrack to it – I eventually thought that if the music was original to the project it would add another dimension, so I started to approach unsigned bands to see if they were interested and got a really positive response.

And from there, P&O snapped you up?
During the period towards completing the ‘Almost There’ paintings I began to promote the exhibition and the work quite heavily, via the internet and print media etc. A London agent called Tempest Radford who were managing the art for a new P&O Cruise Liner came across my work and asked if I’d be interested in being commissioned by them to create original artwork for the new ship. It seemed a great opportunity to have my work seen by a huge amount of people, visit New York and fund future art projects.

Future art projects like musician portraits where you’ve painted people like Mark Ronson, Jamie Callum and Paloma Faith. Tell me more about these brilliant portraits
After a year of painting really large New York city scenes for P&O, I wanted to start a project that would involve a lot of smaller paintings. I’d been thinking about doing a series of portraits for a while and came up with the idea of doing well-known subjects. I toyed with the idea of authors, comedians or actors, but settled on the musicians – mainly because I’m a huge music fan and musicians seemed to offer the most potential for interesting portraits. I’m aiming to do around 20 to 30 and put it on a big exhibition by the end of this year. 

How did you get in contact with all of these celebs?
This is purely through the art of googling and a polite email. I included examples of my past work and just ask for a short amount of time to meet up and take photographs to work from. Asking them to sit for the whole painting just isn’t realistic – getting half an hour for photographs can be difficult enough. Getting in touch with the musicians and convincing them to be involved is half the battle and is a big part of this project.

I read an excellent quote on Twitter recently that said: “Art without a message is just decoration”. So what do you think the message is you’re conveying with your art?
Hopefully it means different things to different people. Before the musician portraits, my paintings were all deliberately ambiguous, and implied that something had happened before or after the moment shown – inviting the viewer to imagine a narrative.

What is the unique feature of a Joe Simpson painting?
I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask! I just try and paint things that I find fascinating in a way that I think looks appealing and draw influence from the things I’m interested in. Obviously that comes out in a certain style, I’m not sure it’s unique – but I hope it is.

What advice would you give to a budding portrait or figurative artist?
I think just keep at it, learn by painting and don’t be afraid to self promote and put your work out there as much as possible.

What beckons for the rest of the year?
I still have a lot of work left to do on the Musician Portraits, about another 10 paintings. Then I’ll be concentrating on trying to launch it, which will mean finding a venue, promoting it etc. This will probably take me to the end of the year, and I haven’t planned any further than that!

For more information on Joe’s work, visit
Twitter: @JoeSimpsonArt

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Music: Marlena Shaw - Woman of the Ghetto (1969)

Besides the addictive 'Ging, gi-gi-gi-gi-ging', the song wraps up messages of civil rights, equality, the poverty trap, freedom and hope...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Style: Tanesha from Styling Says – a fashion force!

BOOM! blog writer Ebunola Adenipekun speaks to Tanesha Westcarr, stylist extraordinaire (below) about hip-hop girls, fashion and loving your own skin…

BOOM!: Hi Tanesha, let’s go. There was a story that was mentioned in all the papers, online and TV recently, about 20-year-old Claudia Aderotimi, who died after a cosmetic silicone injection went wrong. What are your thoughts, Tanesha?

Tan: It’s so sad that women still feel the need to look a particular way, when there is so much us women can give beyond external features. There are so many girls who think their body isn’t good enough.

Certain TV programmes and music videos give the impression that rubbing up against a rapper is a great achievement, but a woman has more to offer than that.

It’s so sad that Claudia felt she had to change her body in such an extreme way, although I’m not saying whether women should get cosmetic surgery or not. But I hope that this story helps to shed some light on the media, that it’s not all glitz and glamour. 

You need a thick skin to be in the industry and believe in what you have to offer.

Women feel such pressure to get fame, but there are different ways to get results in the media that involve more than looks, like using your personality and intellect.

B: You say that, but there are millions of women who feel insecure about their looks: too think, too fat, too flat-chested, too large-chested. What about them? 

Women! You need to realise what you’ve got IS ENOUGH! So many people look up to what is actually notoriety and they have a skewed self-image. What they think looks good on others may actually be fake! 

But if someone is adamant about making a positive change, I would advise them to speak to a professional who can understand who they are aiming to be.

Get a stylist or personal trainer who will be able to help you get in shape and regain confidence. A new outfit can do wonders!

Beauty is an inside job too; I can help to find the best way to address insecurities. I always say if you’re the smartest in your group of friends, you’re in the wrong group! Surround yourself with people who are more positive. It’s all about changing mindsets. 

How did you get into styling – it’s certainly been made more popular by Gok Wan and Rachel Zoe!

I’m happy for the Gok Wans and Rachel Zoes. I fell into styling by accident. I had been modelling and had done some fashion PR. While out and about, people would come up to ask where I got my outfits. I realised that something I was doing so effortlessly was something people could benefit from – and it became my business – Styling Says!

What’s so special about Styling Says?                                         

Our unique feature is that we deal with the internal as well as the external. By that I mean we have a team of people to deal with the holistic you. It entails life coaching, nutrition and fitness, as well as styling.

And, oh yes! I’ll be detailing styling tips for different body shapes and sizes, as well as why styling is for everybody in my book Styling Stripped Bare – coming soon!

What about people who think styling is a luxury?

Brilliant! I wouldn’t change that perception anyway! They should continue to feel that way!

Why shouldn’t you treat yourself to a luxury? Styling is not just for celebrities, it’s for everyday people too. And it’s a better rate than you think it would cost. It’s not as expensive as people think it is. Styling is for everyone… for women and men!

I was at a workshop recently and the men were as interested as the women. They are grooming themselves more. The fact is… everyone wants to look good – and so they should!


For more information about Styling Says, visit
Twitter: @TaneshaWestcarr and @StylingSays