The other week, I popped along to Christopher Brown‘s pop-up shop, which is running until the end of November and is next to the fabulous Pentreath and Hall. I’ve long been an admirer of Christopher’s distinctive artwork, and his book, An Alphabet of London, is a must for any fan of the city.
If you’re in need of some Christmas shopping inspiration, I definitely recommend visiting the pop-up. I picked up an adorable tea-towel (the one with the tipsy robins), and there were plenty of prints, ceramics, scarves, lamp shades, books, cushions and tote bags that would make excellent gifts as well. Afterwards, you could always drop by Persephone Books (just around the corner) for a few presents for any bibliophiles in your life too. And if you fancy a pick-me-up after all that shopping, I’d suggest a glass of wine at Noble Rot or the newly opened branch of La Fromagerie.
I was so pleased that Christopher kindly agreed to answer some questions about the inspiration behind the pop-up shop and his career. It was so fascinating to learn more about his friendship with Edward Bawden, as well as his creative inspiration and favourite London haunts.
MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself and your background? Did you always want to be an artist?
CB: I would encourage people to read about my childhood in An Alphabet of London.
Every child loves to draw to make pictures, and I was no exception. My father would sit me on his knee with a large sheet of paper on the table and draw the most intricate scenes. I would suggest a subject – usually a medieval battle scene!
My real ambition as a child was to be a History don at Oxford. Then I wanted to be an archeologist, and then a marine biologist. At school, my two best subjects were Art and History. I applied to both art school and university and was accepted to read History but went for Art – a choice I have never regretted. At art school, boys did graphics and girls did fashion and textiles. I spent time in the fashion and textile department, and, unknown to me, was offered a transfer, but was never told about it! Again, I don’t regret it; as a designer/illustrator, I can still apply myself to other forms of design.
MN: I know that you were an assistant to Edward Bawden. How much did he influence you as an artist?
CB: Greatly – from my first meeting with him in 1979 we got on well. He opened my eyes to not only working methods but books, art and drawing en plein air. We also shared a similar sense of humour, which, for me, is vital in friendship.
MN: What do you find particularly appealing about creating linocuts?
CB: The process – the planning, the cutting and because you’re working in reverse the end result is always a surprise. I’ve been doing it for a long time now, but it is still pleasurable, even if I moan sometimes. The sense of craft is also important. Though I would never describe myself as a great printmaker, the inking up and rolling under the press is still as enjoyable as when I first started.
MN: Who are some of your favourite artists?
CB: So many and many anonymous – Egyptian Art, Medieval illuminations and vernacular and folk art. Mr. Hockney has always been a favourite as has Jean Cocteau. Others include Morandi, Ben Shahn, Matisse, Fra Angelico, Herge, Giotto, Chardin, David Jones, Edward Burra, Edward Gorey…really the list is endless. Mr. Bawden is in there to of course!
There are also so many of my fellow illustrators I admire: Chris Corr, Jeff Fisher, Angela Barrett, Jonny Hannah, Paul Slater, Mick Brownfield, Pierre le Tan, Ian Beck….
MN: I love your pop-up shop in Bloomsbury. Would you tell be a bit about the concept behind it?
CB: It was Diana Parkin who had the idea. After over thirty years of chipping away on bits of lino I have so much work! The idea was to apply it to other materials to reimagine it. Working as an illustrator, too often one produces work that is so ephemeral
(apart from books), in that it’s been for magazines or periodicals that people generally don’t keep.
MN: Which are some of your favourite pieces in the shop?
CB: I suppose “Shadow Bunny” which was a little print I did for myself. My partner David Ivie copied it on a plate for one of my Christmas presents. So really the little chap started the whole idea of my work on ceramics. My wallpaper “Albion” for St Jude’s has to have a mention as it was Simon and Angie Lewin who encouraged me to think big again.
MN: I love your book, An Alphabet of London. Which are some of your favourite London haunts?
CB: Anywhere by the river and my place of birth – Putney – rate highly. I love the Petrie Collection, the V&A and Ham House. Walking around my home city still inspires and surprises me.
MN: Would you tell me a little about the menswear course you teach at Central Saint Martins?
CB: I teach all years, and it is so inspiring. I have the greatest respect for fashion students and designers – gosh do they work hard! It is not illustration or drawing I teach – it’s about research, presentation, colour and proportion. Hopefully I can inspire then to think beyond the obvious.
MN: What advice would you give to young creatives starting out today?
CB: Don’t give up. Don’t force a style. Draw everyday. Read as much as possible. Look up when walking along a street. Be brave – try something new. Be passionate about your work. Take advice; sometimes you won’t like what people say, but if you respect them, listen.
MN: Finally, what’s next for you? Are there any future projects or events coming up that you’re able to share?
CB: I am just about to start on designs for a scarf for a wonderful shop on Capri – Laboratorio. My book on England is still something I want to complete, and I have an idea for a book about my travels and friendship with Edward Bawden. It was good to see my Christmas packaging for Gail’s Bakery in their shops. Sometime soon my work will be seen in the Museum of London Docklands, which is exciting! All I hope is that I keep getting asked to do nice projects, make work for myself and have fun doing both.
Visit Christopher Brown’s pop-up shop at:
17a Rugby Street, WC1N 3QT
Open for the whole of November, Monday-Saturday 11am-6pm.