The creative gin brand has launched CANVAS, a living work of art.
Fifteen artists transforming a single blank room at the same time. Sounds like a logistical nightmare, right? But in reality, Bombay Sapphire’s new event, CANVAS, sees a brilliant fusion of different artists coming together for one cause: to stir creativity. Sweeping glossy murals sit beside retro gilded signs, perfectly coalescing with complex mini-sculptures and floristry.
The creative gin brand invited 15 international artists to input their own individual take on the Shoreditch venue, evolving their pieces over the four-day immersive event. Guests are invited to observe the live artwork, and at the same time, #stircreativity and put their own twists on Bombay Sapphire gin cocktails at the pop-up CANVAS bar (complete with a delish tonic wall with different flavour taps).
We chatted to three of the artists about creativity: photographer Paloma Rincón, sign-painter Alex May Hughes and illustrator Josh McKenna.
Read their interviews below…
Alex May Hughes, sign-painter and glass gilder
Certain images do the rounds on Instagram relentlessly. Dogs, memes, food. One localised example? The gorge exteriors of Hackney’s very own brunch maestros, Palm Vaults. The instant draw being the standout glossy sign domineering the doorway, hand-painted by West London-based Alex May Hughes. Complete with a Wes Anderson pink background, wispy palm leafs, retro-style typography, gold leaf and pearled shell detailing, it’s an actual dream. Hughes specialises in glass gilding and sign painting, the result being huge functional pieces, created traditionally but characterised with a jazzy colour palette – and more often than not, characters from The Simpsons…
How did you start out?
I studied Graphic Space at the London College of Communications, which had an element of typography in it. When I was there I did a project about sign-painting in the Victorian times, and really enjoyed it. After graduating I got a summer apprenticeship painting signs and we did a little shop window that featured gold leaf in it. I remember thinking, I love this – this is the absolute cream of sign-painting. I started working exclusively with just glass and gold leaf, and now here I am.
How long does a sign usually take to make?
It really depends on how complex it is and also how many people are working on it. Something like Palm Vaults – which I worked on with another artist – was probably about 2 or 3 days work if you added it all together. There are things like drying times which you have to factor in too.
Who were your inspirations when you were starting out?
I remember being at school and I really loved Rob Ryan – the paper cuts artist. Anything that was done by hand and looked like it was done by hand was something I really connected with. I think people connect with it in a more human way.
So the Simpsons feature quite a lot in your work…
I’d sit with my family and watch it and it’s also something that my age group connects with it. It’s well-written, looks great and has stood the test of time. I actually have a really nineties Homer tattooed on me! I love the sloppy old animation.
How did you decide what you were going to do for CANVAS?
They took us on a kind of school trip to Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Laverstoke. And when we were there I noticed lots of old adverts and old packaging, and they had a timeline of all the original bottles. For CANVAS, the mural I ended up doing on the wall with “Long Live The Queen” was actually from an advert from the sixties. It was a picture of a bottle of gin and said, “The King Is Dead. Long Live The Queen”. The relationships between advertising and drinking in this country are so interesting.
Josh McKenna, illustrator
Certain images become so ingrained in your consciousness that you can’t always place when or where you first saw it. One such an image is a cutesy cartoon illustration: a man, arched back, one hand on hip, the other triumphantly punching the air, rocking a white vest, lightwash jeans and sassy little red heels – all against a salmon-pink background. Very Beyoncé “Single Ladies”. Cheeky is definitely the word to best describe East London based illustrator Josh McKenna’s work. Sixties pastel colour palettes, David Hockney-esque elements and very unapologetically sassy subjects (a booty-shaking woman, two men gripped in an embrace, and in all shapes and sizes)…
How did you start out?
I grew up drawing. Cars, people, my own comic book series. It was always something I used to express myself when I was a kid. Then I studied illustration at university and networked my ass off when I finished. I started getting commissions, and every year my work got better, my commissions got better and my clients were getting better. And now I’m working with Bombay Sapphire on this amazing project.
Who were your inspirations?
I’ve been inspired by David Hockney since I was really young. Simple, happy, a bit camp. Just like how I illustrate. Also the pop art era. And I really like Keith Haring, so that 80s pop vibe. Grace Jones getting painted by Keith Haring has definitely spurred me on.
Your images have a lot of humour – is that important to your work?
I think because this is my job, I have to make it fun otherwise I’d get bored. I always want to have an element of fun – like a sassy woman or something subtle – that makes you look at it and go, oh that’s a bit cheeky. A bit naughty.
I’ve read you sketch your ideas on an iPad – is art and technology something that you champion?
It’s changed my life completely. I have a sketchbook, but for client-based work where you have to do lots of changes and composition edits, to be able to draw on an iPad or a tablet and to be able to move that around completely speeds up the process. Maybe it’ll take me 3 or 4 days to sketch it in a book, whereas it would take me one day to do a sketch on an iPad.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Everyone recognises the guy in the heels; he hasn’t got a name, it’s just “sassy guy in heels”. I guess that’s been the highest point of my career. Instagram commissioned stickers from LGBTQ+ artists for One Love during Pride, and because mine was so popular, it’s now a permanent sticker in the collection.
Your work manages to be cute, yet very impactful at the same time – what are you trying to say when you create a piece?
I think in illustration, it’s really easy to go down the cartoony, soft route, but I like to represent people. A lot of my work lately has been trying to put a voice out there of diversity. There’s so many different people and they should be illustrated and represented. It’s important to show support for different communities.
How did you decide what you were going to do for CANVAS?
The inspiration came from our trip to the Bombay distillery, and there was one botanical that no one else really liked: Grains of Paradise. It was earthy, but after 5 minutes you got this fiery burst. I was really into that and it came from Africa, so I wanted to do something that was quite harvesty and quite celebratory.
What was the biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge was moving from a computer to a large-scale piece. And because my work’s really clean and has minimal lines, it’s quite difficult to make sure you’re still keeping your style. I’m very pedantic. It has to be perfect.
Paloma Rincón, photographer
Half a watermelon embellished with tiny disco tiles. An ice-cream cone with a green scoop of cactus (ouch!) deftly balancing on its side. A red hot chilli pepper jutting out of anatomy teeth. The zany work of Madrid-based Paloma Rincón is sometimes a balancing act, other times a double-take illusion (like the ice-cream cone – definitely not pistachio). Eccentric graphic compositions in front of ice-cream coloured backgrounds are all in a days work for the photographer. But for her images for CANVAS, she tackled deconstructing cocktails in mini-sculpture form, with a moving waterfall element…
If you were to describe your art in three words what would they be?
Graphic, colourful, crafty.
What are the main elements of your work?
I focus on still-life photography, with lots of colour. I initially studied photography, but I loved the technical part of still-life which plays a lot with the formal elements of photography.
Anyone you were inspired by?
I love watching art installations where they play with space, textures and materials. Also classic photographers that play with colour, a lot of contemporary artists, and I’ve gotten inspiration from the internet too.
How was it interpreting your work for CANVAS?
I do a lot of work in advertising, so I’m used to client briefs. But for CANVAS, they gave me complete freedom, which sometimes makes me a little more nervous! I wanted to do something where I could connect my style to the brand and the event, so I thought I’d deconstruct cocktails, working with fake ice. I also wanted to incorporate some action, so when we poured the water onto the sculpture, I wanted the images to show the detail of the movement, so we captured it at 1/8000 of a second.
What would you do if you weren’t an artist?
I would be an architect. You’re playing with structures and it’s got a creative and technical part and somehow you can blend them together.