Chris Booth – The Artist’s Interview

Unique, beautiful and fascinating. Chris Booth’s art and illustrations conjure up feelings of enjoyment and wonder. Richly detailed, varied styles in his Projects, you can see that Chris delights in creating his elegantly crafted work.

His ‘Norfolk’ paintings are beautifully coloured, atmospheric and speak volumes about the care and love Chris put into this project. The detail in the trees, grass, field reminds me of stunningly crafted, 1978 movie, ‘Watership Down’.

In Chris’ ‘Creature Series’, he has created a spellbinding, original and dramatic world. I can get completely lost in the minute details and spectacular ideas.

You can view Chris’ work and contact him on his website: cbooth.co.uk

Chris is also on Instagram

Please talk about where you are from and where you live now…


I was born and brought up in South London, in Upper Norwood which is where the Crystal Palace once stood. Many of my clearest childhood memories are of the laughably incorrect but subtly terrifying Victorian-era dinosaur statues in the park. Home always felt like a liminal place: not quite London, not quite Croydon. Suburban with buildings stretching non-stop twenty miles north and five miles south. I always thought of grey bustling Central London being ‘town’ and almost exotic whereas I felt embedded in my leafy warren of streets as far as I could see. I left London for the first time in my adult life in 2016 and moved with my future wife to Rye, East Sussex, in order to find a period of stability and to re-jig our lives to express our creative impulses. It has been without a doubt the most artistically productive period of my life so far.

How did you discover art?


At some point in my childhood, I exchanged wanting to be a firefighter for ‘artist’. I knew that pieces of art excited me and that I enjoyed creating, but sadly I buried this for a couple of decades, only dabbling every few years. As time passed I began to dissect why I wasn’t creating more often when I knew that it was something important missing from my life. I think there were two major problems which were a fear of putting all my effort into a piece that might not work out, and a deep-rooted dislike of waste – what if I wasted all these expensive art materials on something rubbish? That sounds ludicrous but there you go! As soon as I recognised that I began to trickle work into existence. My mid-2000s copies of Vincent van Gogh oil paintings and Ralph Steadman drawings have certainly provided a thread through my subsequent work.

What does art mean to you?


In some ways, art is like a rationalisation or self-therapy experience with all my thoughts and ideas over the past 35 years being filed or re-examined. I have a lot of strong opinions and half-baked theories about the world, its politics, the environment, and the nature of humans, so each piece distills these into a bite-sized slice of my psyche at a certain point in time. I can’t claim that any piece is the finite expression of a thought process but I believe that my art is helping me to explain myself to myself, to those I love, and to prod everyone else and see if they see things the same way.

Where do your ideas for your illustrations come from?


The concepts come from what might be best described as an optimistically melancholy character, where I often find something bittersweet, poignant, or potentially quite dark, around a facet of human nature or experience. I suppose that Roald Dahl can take some credit for my early years, and George Orwell later on. Oh and also bathing; you’ll see quite a few of my pieces express just how great it is to have a bath. Tub or sea, it doesn’t matter. On the other hand, I am currently working on a larger scale pen and ink piece which ostensibly unravels a trip I took to India last year but has a lot to say about my evolving thoughts on the environment, transience, post-colonialism, and nationalism. The style I employ for pieces like those in The Creatures Series could probably be traced to the many influences of artists like Ralph Steadman, Hayao Miyazaki, Katsushika Hokusai, Stanley Donwood, Stephen Walter, Egon Schiele, Albrecht Durer, William Hogarth, Edward Gorey, Quentin Blake.

What else are you inspired by?


Scientific illustration is something I greatly admire. I digitised the Natural History Museum’s Library and Archive special collections for almost seven years so I was exposed to a huge range of incredible art in my daily work. Everything from Charles Darwin’s notebooks to Alfred Russel Wallace’s correspondence, to cataloguing photographs from 1940s Bhutan. Travel has formed a key part of my adult life and I think I have totted up visits to almost forty countries so that cannot be understated. However, environmental issues often weigh heavily on me so recently I have been far more circumspect about tourism and what I once saw as a right to travel. I will still travel but I need to be far more mindful of how that happens. That said I do love supremely low-impact hiking and have probably covered over a thousand miles of paths in and around London before I moved to Sussex. I have tried hard to explore where I now live and even fairly regularly coppice woodland near Rye. So, nature and more nature please!

What themes/concepts are you interested in expressing in your work?


I have a few pieces in mind and in progress on the creep of nature back into what we see as human areas. Rewilding is the buzzword around parts of that concept but I enjoy the aesthetic of dilapidated machinery and buildings. I have a strand of work called the High Ground Series which attempts to dissect how people relate to hills, mountains or any prominent terrain. I feel I still have a lot more to say on that subject but walking, climbing, and constructs around endurance and sport return to me regularly.

What are the most important tools in your studio?


I have to say that my attic studio space itself has been hugely important since I moved to Rye. In the past I have had areas that I have turned into studio spaces but it has always been either part of a living room and therefore shared space, or it has been in a neatly furnished rented house where I’ve been too poor, conscientious, or cautious, to risk smearing oil paint into a deep pile carpet. In this house the attic space already an atelier for the previous owners so it has really set me free of my hangups. The mental freedom it has given me has been a massive surprise.

Who are your influences and why?


I mentioned a range of artists earlier but at the moment I’m working on this large scale ink on paper piece which in some respects leads on from previous monochrome adventures such as the Creatures Series. I know that watching London artist Olivia Kemp documenting her pieces on Instagram has helped set me free to have a go at something I have wanted to do for a long time but never mustered the courage to try. There is also a thematic kindred spirit there, I think, in her high regard for the dilapidation we find in ‘edgelands’. Particularly in her older work. Walking a thousand miles of paths around London by myself certainly showed me a lot of those edgelands so I have plenty to digest.

How has your art changed over time?


I am less afraid of investing extraordinary amounts of time in a piece. If something deserves the time then it now gets that time. Maybe I was impatient in the past or just enamoured of en plein air artists like the Impressionists but I know there is a time and a place for that. I now set my aching drawing hand free once in a while with a day of oil paint frenzy. I’ll go to bed completely wired and exhausted but it is well worth it.

What has been your experience and successes in marketing your work online?


I haven’t done nearly enough. I have my website (which doesn’t currently allow for sales), Instagram, and a Patreon page but that’s about it. I know I need to do a lot more but when I’m already well over 150 hours into a large drawing I usually feel time is best spent on pushing towards that finale. A more successful online presence is something I need to make more time for, no doubt about that. I think that on the back of this conversation I will be drawing up a strategy of sorts.

How do you get your work seen in the real world? (Successful strategies/marketing)


I am lucky in that I have managed to find a gallery in Rye to publicly show off my art and that has been a watershed for me as I build my confidence (thank you Emma Miller). I am still very early in my career so I’m learning all the time. Just that first step of being vulnerable and saying to people ‘Would you like to take this into your gallery? It is okay if it isn’t right for you.’, and actually meaning it, was so important. To paraphrase Liz Gilbert ‘you have to turn up’ in your studio space, you have to keep responding to your creative instincts and making more because so long as you believe in what you’re doing you will probably find someone else who does as well. When you have something you would hang on your own wall with pride then you should recognise that it is time to try and take it to the public.

Which of your works is your favourite and why?


Transplantation‘ was the first piece in my Creatures Series. It came out of my brain as a fully-formed idea and seeing it finished after a two-day frenzy formed the foundation of my confidence to try and produce more. Perhaps I was lucky that the next few ideas also came out quite smoothly but I have to credit Transplantation as my 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith moment.

What’s next?


I have a long-held ambition to finish off all the half-finished paintings in my studio but recently I have realised that perhaps the moment has passed for many of these. It might be time to let go of the mental baggage and deal with whatever inspires me next. I went to the Jerwood Gallery last week and discovered in Wilhelmina Barns-Graham the drawing style I’ve dreamed of for a long time. I adored her work in that small exhibition so I fully expect that I’ll be translating some Sussex or Cornish landscapes into large drawings quite soon.

Chris Booth


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