Oliver Cartwright makes the most out of the simplest materials. He creates his abstract designs using mostly ballpoint pens, finely drawing with them but also snapping them open for more energetic, organised chaos. We really like the idea and think its a testament to his skill with a pen that he can seemingly effortlessly use them to make something soft and subtle one moment, then something bold and explosive the next.
Now based in South Korea, Oliver has had an interesting route into the work he does now. We sat down to ask him a few questions and he went into some depth about the materials he uses as well as how relocation has affected his career.
What kind of pathway did you take to find yourself working as a visual artist now?
From an early age I would always draw from my imagination and observing the life around me in close detail. My pathway into the visual arts was defiantly an unconventional one.
I have attempted art education twice, had various jobs from landscape gardening to pretending to be a chef and designing kitchens. After being told I had high blood pressure, I ended up having to quit my kitchen design job and in a way was forced into freelancing. With just 200 pounds in my bank and no idea how to approach the industry I had to have something to back me so I decided to sacrifice everything I owned that didn’t contribute to creating art.
I sold my whole vinyl collection and audio system. I love music so much and giving this up was a difficult decision to make but I knew it was the only way as I had no other options. My family was also against my decision to go into art full time so I had to make do with the little I had.
Doing art full time was always my ambition, but I didn’t expect I was going to get into it the way I did. All I know is, the more you experience positively and negatively, helps refine where you want to go in life.
Now, looking back, I know if I had committed 4 years of my life to an art degree it would have deteriorated my career financially and creatively. Being an artist isn’t easy especially if you are someone who likes to continually push your work forward. I think having a student debt would have restricted me from doing all the things I’ve achieved over the last 3 and a half years.
Everything we do in life is compromised and art is the only platform which you can achieve honesty and pureness.
The use of BIC pens is a strong part of your visual language. How did you develop your work using them and what advantages has doing so provided?
I use BIC pens as I have been travelling over the last 3 years and this simple combination of paper and pen is versatile and throws out the anxiety of dealing with lots of materials. Simplicity allows me more time to spend focusing on the content of my creations.
I loosely work in styles influenced by my interest in Italian futurism, Japanese minimalism and car design. My intricate works involve lots of patience and technical ability and sometimes take between 20 to 130 hours to finish. My ‘sketchy’ style is based on an unfinished mechanical drawing aesthetic. Another style involves drawing a single line and manipulating and repeating it in the computer.
Lastly, designs created (after getting angry and snapping the pen in half) realising the ink spilled was a pleasing form. I sometimes paint using tissue or the ink cartridge itself. One of the most important things to me is that I make work that is compelling in its process.
BIC pens have always adapted well to my aesthetic and allow me to create art I like to look at. In terms of illustration and animation I am completely self taught because the short time I spent studying product design I approach my drawings like design as opposed to art. For instance if I draw a horse, I am ‘designing’ a horse and building some sort of visual DNA that makes it appear ‘other worldly’.
Can you go into a little more detail about the hand-made and digital processes you use?
The digital process is fairly straightforward and I like to use the computer act as little as possible. I still use Photoshop 7 and the only tools I use are layers, invert and gradients for colouring. That is probably the reason I’ve never had to update my software. The computer is great for coming up with compositions as well and is always there for trialling ideas.
For my drawing process, it is simply me drawing straight onto paper in BIC pen. If I need to reference something for a drawing I will photograph stuff and research from other sources.
How did you find yourself based in South Korea and how are you finding working there as an artist?
I was originally living with my wife, who is Korean, in Tokyo. However, after the earthquake I decided it was time to leave. I remember going back to my place and my scanner and drawings were scattered all over the room. It was an experience I will never forget and my heart goes out to all the families that lost their loved ones. My time in Japan was an incredible time and gave me a better understanding of who I am.
Living in Korea is whole new experience and very different to living in Japan. I started out living in Yangsan, but moved to Seoul in 2012 to work on a long term freelance project rebranding, art directing and designing a shirt range for a snowboarding company.
I actually left after 5 months because I didn’t like the politics in the design room and disagreed with the way they were operating. I completed all of the projects I was set out to do, but it wasn’t right for me.
Since then, I have learnt so much is needed to bring Korea up to speed artistically. I think they need better art programs and need to give people more chances to think freely because to me, I think that is where the country is going stale. Korean society is about group thinking and doesn’t welcome individualism, so being an artist here is like being an alien.
Unless you are doing something that resonates closely with their cultural values or generic illustration work you fit in, but anything in the concept realm is not understood at all. It’s a real shame because there is so much potential here. Most of the design companies and fashion brands want to reach a global audience but they are doing it using western design trends.
I have explained to designers and art directors “why would an American buy something with Los Angeles on it from Korea”? I mean they should embrace their cultural roots and mix that with a contemporary visual language— not ignore one or the other. Western people embrace Asian art, it’s so popular, so why not use it to reach a western audience?
It’s the same with the music industry; they are just doing things western pop stars did back in the ’90s and saying it’s their culture?
All the things that influence and inspire me most about Korea are being removed to make way for Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s a real shame the fact people will jump on any trend if it proves to make profit.
The whole idea of responsibility for the future is lost in the get rich quick times we live in.
Do you have any plans for your work going into the next year?
Yes, I have many plans as I am pushing forward all the time. I’m currently collaborating with projection mapping specialists, The Media Merchants, based in Canada. The company has worked with Lamborghini projecting visuals over their cars. We are currently running tests with my drawings and animations and projecting them over various objects. We will be presenting some of this material soon.
Secondly, I’m planning to learn a programming language so I can start integrating my traditional drawing work with more interactive elements. The technology industry is something I want to embrace more as it’s constantly evolving and guiding the way of our future.
Finally I want to continue developing my animation work whilst experimenting with new ways of drawing. Hopefully with BIC pens!
© Oliver Cartwright, 2012