Part 2. Daniel Ibbotson
a series of casual chats about being a professional artist in Cumbria today.
you can find out more about Daniel and his work on his website.
Catriona So we’re Sat in the second exhibition that you've organised this year, So I'm guessing this year you've gone from not just artist but to curator, organiser and all around busy person. Dan That’s right, a stressed person Catriona Big on the stress! And so if you could tell me… we'll start with your education or background in art. How you got into being and making art? Dan Okay. I went to Morecambe High School And just got my O level in Art, which obviously triggered my interest in it. But my main inspiration was football crowds when I was younger and drawing the reactions of the football crowds to goals and to the difference movement within a crowd. And also the colours within the mass groups of people supporting the same team. So obviously there's set colours within those huge areas. Making expanses of human movement which was the first interest for me. After that I started drawing. When I went to London to work, I started drawing my friends and different situations that I was in, even if it was waiting in the dole queue at Brixton Dole office and I’d draw pictures of people and different types of behaviour. So I became more interested in experience, drawing what I experienced in my life. Now after that, I applied for Brixton college, which was Lambeth college today. My foundation back in about 1994 something like that and they give us a chance so I did a year there and then moved on to Middlesex University to do a degree. And when I got to Middlesex, I worked on the building sites during the day and then, because we had 24 hour access to the studios I was in, I went in at night and just worked like crazy. But I ended up picking up things from work and that I used within my pictures. So any buildings that were stripping or you know, we were peeling off history in the buildings, I would collect material, put them into plastic bags and take them up to Middlesex, why I would include the work and into the pieces I was doing. And from there, that developed. I got a first class degree, which is brilliant, you know, for myself after that I applied for the Royal College through a recommendation, but I wasn't organised enough in my application, it was a bloody shambles because I was stoned out of my head when I did it. It was me and my friend, a photographer, made a bit of a pig's ear. So, so that didn't work out. So eventually…. We took a short break to allow someone to come into the gallery and then restart our conversation… Catriona So you were too stoned to get into RCA... Dan To present work that was acceptable, my friends took the pictures but he was the one who was causing the damage, so between the two of us it wasn’t a very good end product. And I got told off by the tutor who had recommended me! Anyway, that was my first introduction to preparing your work for potential buyers or competitions and everything else. A lesson in, you know, preparation and presentation of your work. So ever since then, because I missed out on a fantastic opportunity, going to RCA, simply because the work wasn’t presented well, it was off the scale pathetic. So then I took a break for 15 years. We moved back to Carlisle, because by then My daughter had been born and after that my wife was due with our second child so we decided to move up to Carlisle and I didn’t do anything, well artistically, in a painters sense, for a few years. In the meantime I used to teach dance all over Cumbria and graffiti art. I got approached by Cumbria dance to do it, just because I attended a class, and from there I did a couple of years of that before that all ended. Then I returned to my painting, in 2016. So I’d taken a break of maybe 15, 16 years. But in the meantime I’d still worked on pieces on my own and developed a style I was really happy with and that suited my day to day job obviously being a decorator, just picked up loads of waste materials and used them creatively so that was what sustained me through that period of not exhibiting at galleries, exhibitions or whatever. Catriona So you used those techniques that you picked up during your degree and developed your personal style and even though you weren’t out there, you were still working on it and chipping away at the old block? Dan Yeah, that was the key, that time wasn’t wasted it was, you know, utilising free materials for a start which suited myself and the way I wanted to work. So from there I applied to Carlisle Art Fair, which was in the Sands Centre, it was errr...I think there were four people who came on the first day, it was a boiling hot August day and then the second day it rained luckily so more people came in but it was still rubbish. But it got me going, then I applied for Cumbria Artist Of The Year, with a big painting which I didn’t think would get in, but it got in. It was made of sheets of sand paper, it was an overhead view of the lake district, that then rolled on to exhibiting at Derek Eland’s Gallery, No. 3, he accepted a couple of pieces then I did the Cathedral. Then I started applying to competitions like UpFront’s. Got some work in there, then a bit of success, got short listed for a couple of things, the public vote for the Cumbria Artist Of The Year, I won the UpFront competition which was amazing and really exciting. It was a double sided painting, based on a trip to Italy, and also the barns and architecture within Cumbria, so I based the painting on those two things, so if anyone asks about it I had the experience and all the knowledge to explain it. So the semi abstract, very textured pieces I was doing, were based on layers of experiences that I was having and I would put them all in to a pot, mix them up and see what I would come up with as far as presentation, because each layer could have been presented on its own. So that way, that was they style I was developing, multi layered experiences, multi textures and some of the textures may not have been related to the theme of the painting, they all came together and that’s how I decided how I was going to work. So from there I started picking up things when I was out walking with the dog, simply because that was the experience, and I like using different walks, I’d walk in the country and pick up bits there, but then wed do back alley walks where we’d basically go street combing and pick up dolls arms and bits of old trainers or whatever. And that helped, it was free material and it just added my experience and this existence into the work. And I was much more comfortable with that than trying to achieve something more abstract, and maybe a little out of my range. I wasn’t kidding anyone with what I was doing in so far as the materials I was using and also my views on whatever form of this existence that we’re in. So that combination of things is what sustains us today. I still work in the same way, its all based on experience, collecting, using recyclable materials and if anything, the textures have increased to more sculptural levels rather than flat pieces of work. Royal Academy, went down and applied for their Summer Exhibition, I got through to the last stage in 2017 that was a real eye opener as far as excitement and what is possible, that has given me a lot of confidence even though I failed to get in and that was heart breaking because it took three months before they sent the text. Catriona The waiting game, isn’t it. Its so difficult, also, you can’t plan, you cant move forward, book a holiday, just in case you get selected! Dan And the other side of that is crushing disappointment but I enjoyed the experience. I actually did a series of works based on the period of time between applying and getting the result. Because that period was the best thing that happened during that experience, because it was always a possibility that I’d get in, so I could dream and put myself into that position and having that one off experience. I think it would’ve been absolutely amazing, especially after 10 years of living in London and visiting the RA regularly. To go back down there on the train with a decorators table with a colour chart on it, in the style of the original façade of the building it was a smart idea but the execution was a bit naff so I had to deal with that. But that experience gave me confidence to apply for different things, different competitions and the good thing about that now is that the disappointment will never be beaten. It was so much, I put so much effort into it, I don’t think I’ll ever be so disappointed from failure again. Catriona So you started high, and now you’re just winning at life. Dan It was so exciting, I wouldn’t have changed any of it, what a brilliant experience that was. So that’s us up today, well Covid came, I was just about to do the big art fairs, Manchester, Glasgow, Chester. I’d got accepted to them, I did Manchester last year and that was a really positive experience, 10,000 people. Friends and family came for the weekend and we had a ball, but this year its all been cancelled. So this, was really an idea I came up with, I got offered an old Florist shop on Scotland Road, and instead of dong it for myself, I thought, if you expand it and offer it to other people then more people will visit the shop and it just went from 20 to 30 to 40, then I had to stop, the space was only small so with restrictions on the size and everything else, we managed to sell quite a lot of work and that way. You create something for a lot of artists rather than just for yourself, you know. And that you know did my head a lot of good actually. So after that, I started thinking, right, what about the next one, where are you going to go with this? Are you going to stay in the same place and do the same thing or change venue and the amount of artists? The variety of work too that’s key. I don’t hold with the same type of work constantly, there’s lots of landscape painters that are not included in this exhibition simply because I’ve got the type of landscape painter I want. Now in the future it doesn’t mean they’re not included because the door is always open, this is not a club, membership people are free to come and go. And also retain their own independence, you don’t need to sign up for anything its just if I like your stuff I’ll contact you and you just turn up with your stuff and I’ll do the rest, try and sell your work. If we don’t sell your work you don’t get charged, and that is the key because then if you don’t sell a single thing, at least you’ve had the exposure and experience. Catriona And you know, the whole financial aspect of it, in these times, anything that can support artists, makers, you know. Dan Anything at all and if you give them a nice platform, a well presented gallery. The advertising and graphics, it gives it a proper, professional look. And obviously its not Saville Row, New Bond Street standard but if we could get this to a standard where it could be okay, if we could do this elsewhere. With the range of work, It’s good for Carlisle, It would be nice if people would come from Newcastle to see these things instead of us always going over there for the big galleries. We’ve not really got the big galleries over here, there’s not really anything other than pop up shops at the moment, so my challenge is to try and find a solution to that hole. So this hopefully fills that. So maybe doing it once per season. Its a sacrifice as I can’t work when I’m putting on these shows, but the commission I earn allows me to do it. If I have a good space and present it well I can get well known names as well as new and upcoming artists on board and people will come. I’ve been lucky that people have accepted their invitation and that I’ve sold some work, so everyone benefits. Catriona So everyone’s a winner. So I’ll ask you a little double question, what is your job, what job title would you give to yourself? Dan Painter and Decorator and Artist Catriona So for you, because they feed off each other, they are mutually important? Dan Yes Catriona How would you define what an artist is? Especially within this context where we have so many different levels, levels of experience. How do are you defining artists when you’re selecting? How are you defining it for yourself? Dan I think individualism as far as how you represent your work so I picked a lot of work based on it being different from everything else in the exhibition. I know there is some slightly similar but I look at the styles and the artists. I look at how the back catalogue of work, I do some research and see what I’m attracted to and not attracted. With certain artists I specifically pick the work I want because all of the work I like, but I’ve seen something that I will pinpoint and say these are what I want, the rest I’m not interested in, I have to be blunt its not an insult, its just I really like those and id like to exhibit and sell them for you, you know? Because those two pieces might be totally different from anything else in the exhibition and that excites me. It gives the exhibition more breadth and in the future it might event get broken down into smaller sections because we’re heading towards 100 artists with all different styles, its going to be difficult to find because after 75 you might find overlaps and feeling as though you’re repeating yourself. Going back to the question sorry, individuality and that persons self, I could see them with in the work. Even if its, sorry that’s the wrong thing to say because I don’t know that person, but I can see a style develop from that person, even if I don’t know them I can see a style developing from their personality and its constant, so that’s how I would define the work I’ve picked for the exhibition, its a collection of individual artists with individual styles that represents themselves. Catriona And outside of this exhibition, what is it that you think is the difference between an artist who paints as a hobby, or an amateur I guess. Dan Erm, that's difficult because without dissing amateur painters because in my own way I'm an armature because I don’t do this full time. So... Catriona But then that's saying that when we chatted earlier and we talked about the mutual, its beneficial also but you need that painter and decorator practice to gather materials, inspiration, so you know, does that stop you being a professional? Because you need that. No! Dan No that’s right, its a, based on my own experience, if you can use your day job in a create way, to feed your art. Obviously you could have other jobs that could dictate and affect your work, If I worked in a shoe shop, perhaps my work would be very ordered, its a silly example, but you understand what I’m saying, when I’m at work because I’ve dealing with very textured, rough things all the time, that dictates how I present my work. But I can imagine if I had a very clean job that… Catriona We won’t let you work in hospitals or a dentists then Dan Yeah, I don’t know its a difficult one that one, as far as I’m concern my day job dictates or has ended up dictating how I present my work and I’m sure that is not the case for most people but for me, it is. That’s my opinion, I find it really difficult to judge other peoples creative process because, its probably what interests me because I really like the why and how people have got to that point. Presentation, based on mundane job like myself or not maybe they’ve got an exciting job and do minimalist work. I don’t know, its fascinating to see how people reach their conclusion artistic with different lifestyles, so yeah. I’m probably sitting on the fence with that, its very hard to judge peoples processes as I can only relate to my own. Catriona Thank you for chatting to me about your experiences and yeah and everything you've got To turn on hope the rest of the exhibition as well. Thank you
Date of chat 18th December 2020
Date published 30th December 2020