Will Sweeney Interview
Captain Minds Eye
Vivid colors and bold graphics has put Will Sweeney in a field of his own as an illustrator depicting some of the most graphic topics when it comes to art. No matter what Will Sweeney is working on it will always make for a great topic of conversation, from the Englishman's notable comic Tales From Greenfuzz, to his upcoming exhibition in Madrid entitled Captain Minds Eye. I caught up with Will to find out more about the artist who does more than capture the attention of his audience and it doesn't matter what medium he works on. We talk about inspiration, evolution, progression and the concept of Captain Minds Eye, making this an encompassing read.
James Oliver: Can you talk a bit about your aesthetic and how you forged together your style of illustrating?
Will Sweeney: I guess my work has evolved since I began working professionally as an illustrator, but I still feel like I'm trying to visualise something that's always just out of reach, I'm rarely 100% happy with a piece of work…For me there's a kind of alchemy in the thought process of thinking up an image and actually making it real on paper or on screen. When I was at art school I was emulating other artists, both classical and contemporary, but over the last 10 years or so my influences have come from the wider universe. It's taken me a while to build a visual vocabulary in my work, but I feel it's starting to shape up now.
JO: What effect did your childhood have on you to become an illustrator and what first inspired you to begin drawing?
WS: I think it was a really important period, I read a lot as a kid, particularly comics. I was first inspired to draw by my parents, who are both creative. My dad is an artist and I used to spend a lot of time in his studio with access to large amounts of paper and materials, so I would draw a lot and create scenes and stories to entertain myself. 2000AD comic and Star Wars were probably the two biggest direct influences on my drawing at the time.
JO: How has your work progressed and evolved over the years?
WS: Technically it's improved a bit, but thematically, I'm still more or less in the same headspace I was when I was 8.
JO: What is it about sci-fi that interests and excites you?
WS: It works across a broad spectrum of ideas and themes..I enjoy whimsical, fairytale - like sci fi, such as Star Wars or Dr Who, as well as the more cerebral stories of JG Ballard and Philip K Dick. I guess a lot of the best science fiction deals with very real human philosophical themes, it just dresses them up in much more interesting costumes!
JO: Where do you source inspiration from on a daily basis to come up with the characters you create?
WS: I think music is probably the biggest source of inspiration, it allows me to access ideas and imaginary spaces that suggest themes or stories.
Also I have a large collection of books in my studio, all sorts of different things that I obsess over, put away and rediscover later on. I also read quite a bit; crime novels, science fiction etc. and I absorb a lot of stories and documentaries on the radio whilst I'm working. Internet radio is the best thing that's happened to illustrators for quite some time.
JO: You have worked with some fascinating names in fashion from Stussy to Undercover and of course your own label Alakazam!, how do you approach the fashion aspect to create a different perspective to your solo work?
WS: I suppose it's more of a graphic approach - less narrative, sometimes it's difficult to distill an idea into a T-shirt or a pattern. I do like to be inspired by pop culture, record sleeves, textiles and graphic design. Often it's about simplifying images and ideas and getting the feeling across, rather than the whole story…
JO: How does your approach differ from each medium?
WS: My working method is actually pretty similar for most of what I do, I tend to brainstorm in my sketchbook and try to loosen up as much as possible, then refine certain ideas or drawings until I have something that might fit the brief - even if it's an open brief or a personal piece of work, I will always begin by trying to spill my subconscious onto the page.
JO: You are really into making film, correct me if I am wrong, what is it about film that interests you? Is there anything in the works that we can look forward to?
WS: I've been lucky enough to work on some animated music videos and some short animations for Yo Gabba Gabba (the US kids TV show) and I really enjoy working in animation. Unfortunately, it's tricky to get the budget to do what I want to do in terms of making my work move and give it the amount of detail and rendering that I want, I need to work with other animators and technical people. Right now I have some ideas, I'm trying to formulate a web based project with a friend of mine that would be more lo fi, and involve more poppy graphics, rather than highly detailed alien landscapes, but with good writing and strong characters…nothing is yet concrete on that though.
JO: You have a new body of print works coming out within days entitled Captain Minds Eye. Can you tell us a bout how it came about and what the concept of the exhibition is?
WS: I'm making a box set, which comprises 6 silkscreens, a 24 page zine and a T-shirt - for my show in Madrid. I was thinking of doing a deluxe silkscreened book, but this was going to be hard to work technically and expensive to produce, I ended up deciding to do a set of prints. The prints form a loose narrative, based around this character, Captain Minds Eye, a surreal superhero who lives underneath The Jaipur observatory. The prints are kind of like record covers for imaginary dub LP's or film posters for weird obscure bollywood horror films - in fact one of the images is from an actual movie, by Cecil B Demille, called Madame Satan (1930). I've never seen it, but stills of the costumes and the title alone inspired me to create a poster based on it.
So the show in Madrid is named Captain Minds Eye, which is sort of a self reference, a lot of the work was made quickly and instinctively, more connected with the haphazard stuff in my sketchbook. It's unified by the colour pallette and the print technique, but it's all from my minds eye, a set of images and characters that end up forming a story.
JO: Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from the show and how is it a platform for the future for Will Sweeney?
WS: The whole show is print based, it's also really connected to music, both in the images and for the fact that my band HOUSE are also coming out to Madrid and we'll play a show on Thursday. They guys that have organised both the exhibition and the show are Montaña Sagrada, who have been putting on psychedelic club nights in Madrid for the last few years, so I'm excited about that. It's really nice to make a connection between my artwork and my musical efforts. I'm planning to do a show in London sometime soon with the other members of the band, who are both artists, and have the group play at the opening too.
JO: Is this your first time to show in Madrid? What is it about the city that attracts you to show there?
WS: It is, I've only been there once, when I was 17 and I had a really intense experience in the Prado, looking at Goya's black paintings of devil worship and witchcraft whilst very hungover. I'm older and wiser now… I'm really looking forward to going to the art galleries, old and new, as well as sampling local delicacies like squid sandwiches and tiny glasses of sherry, I'm a big fan of Spanish food and culture. I'm also interested to see how it differs from Barcelona, which although a beautiful city, I found pretty unfriendly and a bit up itself…perhaps I'm wrong but Madrid seems to have a more down to earth feel.
JO: Finally, words to live by?
WS: 'Soon the UFO's will land and mankind will meet much stronger brains and habits. Lets get ready for that.'
Captain Minds Eye opens June 20th at Galeria Liebre