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#FCCreators: In conversation with artist, Dan Howard-Birt

Author Editor - 7 minute read

In 2020, we launched our Community Connection campaign – a global initiative where we swapped French for ‘Community’, supporting, and celebrating our local and wider communities.  

As a branch of our Community Connection campaign, for spring summer we’re celebrating and putting the spotlight on creative talents, artists and inspiring individuals, forming our community of #FCCreators. 

 

Created for you. Designed by our creators.

This season, we've teamed up with our #FCCreators to create exclusive one-of-a-kind pieces, designed in collaboration with our creator and artist community.

Our first #FCCreator collaboration comes from Hastings based artist Dan Howard-Birt, a painter generating new possibilities with his expressive, abstract and poetic artwork. We caught up with Dan to discuss his journey, artist style and his creative processes behind his slogans that are adorned on some of our SS22 t-shirts.

As part of this collaboration, Dan has created a selection of exclusive pieces for our collection. Scroll to discover...

 

 

Dan, tell us a little bit about yourself...

 

I live between St Just in Cornwall, St Leonards in Sussex and London – that sounds excessive, it's just that I don’t really have a sense of home, so I just move around a lot. I call myself a painter but I do other things too like arranging exhibitions of other artists’ works and I teach in art schools. I like cats but I don’t have one, if I had a settled home I’d definitely have a cat.

 

 

What was your first experience with art?

I got involved in art at school and out of school from a young age, we weren’t a particularly art-world family, but my mum was really interested and encouraged my enthusiasms. Important early experiences were shows like David Hockney and Paul Klee at the Tate when I was around 14 - I was mesmerised by how the paintings exploded into all kinds of possibilities and yet they all also knitted together into a sense of a single painter’s life and their way of thinking about the world. At the same time, I was really into record sleeves. I loved all the 4AD stuff where Chris Bigg’s typography played off against Vaughan Oliver’s images.

 

 

How would you describe your style of artwork & painting?

When asked by people who are just being polite, I always say ‘I make still life paintings’. It’s true, I paint still life arrangements all the time, but those paintings really only become a part of a growing collection of painted elements which are then collaged into bigger paintings which might also include abstract or stained sections, interpretations of historic paintings or short texts like the ones that are on the T-shirts.

 

 

More and more I think about my paintings and my studio as a kind of compost heap where stuff gets mixed together in order to generate new things. When paintings come back to the studio after exhibitions, I often break them down into their component parts and use certain of those bits to begin to build new paintings. Everything just continues to generate new possibilities without becoming fixed into static objects.

 

 

Your use of slogans & typography has become a method of expression – what is your creative process behind this style?

I like short poetic texts that often come from very specific sources – records or novels, but when they are read out of context they begin to become quite vague about what they might mean. They seem able to conjure memories or associations or a feeling for a particular state of mind without actually describing it.

 

 

I think about these texts as a bit like book titles – in the same way that 3 or 4 words that are written on a book jacket might in some way be able to contain, or suggest, the whole universe of a novel – characters, place, weather, time, drama etc. – but when you consider the words themselves, they are overly simple and seem useless at containing anything so complicated… like ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ or ‘Dusty Answer’ or ‘Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant’.

 

 

Each of those novels are gloriously brilliant and completely specific, the titles related to those stories, but only in a very poetic way. The title-like texts that I collect are that kind of contradiction, they are both not quite enough and amazingly expansive. I collect hundreds of these texts in notebooks, and in order to work out whether they will be interesting as an element within the bigger collage-type paintings I test them by making a simple watercolour painting – text in one colour, background in another colour.

 

 

The time it takes to make these is enough time to think about whether the text will work for me. I have boxes and boxes of these text watercolours in the studio and they become a kind of library of possible texts that I can draw upon when making the bigger, more complex paintings.

 

 

Have you got a favourite slogan you’ve used in your artwork, and why?

‘Hope is Important’ is a favourite. I like the collision of something insubstantial and unquantifiable, like hope, with something matter-of-fact and orderly, like trying to suggest a hierarchy of importance. Also, it hovers a bit too close to ‘Hope is Impotent’, which of course is also true.

 

 

The hope-ness of it needs the twin possibilities of importance and impotence. ‘Monkey on Goat’ is another favourite. It’s actually the name of a Victorian taxidermy display by Walter Potter, but in my mind, I think of it as a dream sculpture, or the kind of note a sculptor might write in a sketchbook.

 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind your ‘Love isn’t simple’ slogan for our French Connection t-shirt?

 

 

Being in love does my head in. One of my first exhibitions was called ‘Love Will Ruin Your Mind’ (named after a Lungfish record). That’s about the size of it. Love doesn’t just mess with your emotions, it stops you thinking in the way that you think you should think. So, ‘Love isn’t simple’ has something of that about it. But I also wanted to write something really straightforward about the fact that the world is full of people loving other people and none of those loves is the same.

 

 

Love Isn’t Simple Organic T-Shirt // Love Isn’t Simple Sunday Sweatshirt 

 

It’s not like you can compare notes with friends to work out if what you feel or what you do is normal. It isn’t. The minute you think that love is a particular way of being, or thinking, or feeling, you’re definitely deluding yourself. Love is hectic and urgent and life-long and slow, it is chemical and it is habitual. And we can’t even really help who it is that we love. It’s not simple at all, but that’s the magic of it.

 

 

Who/what is your biggest influence/inspiration and why?

I’m fascinated by American painter David Salle. He has spent a lifetime making one image co-exist awkwardly with another either by juxtaposition, over-painting, or by cutting holes and inserting another painting. The total image is always both a consistent, whole thing, and a polyglot, multitudinous thing, all at the same time. That’s what the world is – a live compound of contradictions through which order and meaning can temporarily be glimpsed.

 

 

Where is your favourite place to get creative?

St Leonards-on-Sea is the best place on earth.

 

 

 

What advice do you have for any aspiring artists?

95% of an artist’s life happens in a studio and only 5% in a gallery, so make sure you enjoy the studio bit.

 

 

What’s next for you? Any future plans?

I made an exhibition with Trafalgar Avenue in Margate at the end of last year. We are making a book about that show due out in February. To make the book more interesting I asked the writer (and baker) Neil Annett to write something about doubt and uncertainty to accompany the pictures. There’ll be a small show at Project78 in St Leonards in March too.

 

 

Quick fire round

Describe your art style in 3 words... Soups, Compost, Choruses.

 

Something you’re proud of... I get to work with loads of amazing artists in the exhibitions I make at Kingsgate Project Space in North London.

 

Your favourite tools to create with... Right now, I like to stain huge sheets of calico in vats of coloured inks. I choose bits of these sheets to paint onto and to cut holes in to sink other bits of painting into. You never know what you are going to get from the random process of staining, so it’s always an interesting place to start.

 

What's the one thing you can't live without? Museums. There’s so much joy to be had from seeing the same paintings again and again over many years, getting to know them, but watching them as they bloom and change as they become familiar.

 

When I’m not drawing, I’m...Inviting myself to other painters’ studios. To be honest I prefer studios to galleries, everything is in flux and there’s always fresh and breath-taking paintings rubbing shoulders with turgid horrors. There’s more at stake here and the conversations are always fun and challenging and vital.

 

Find out more about Dan Howard-Birt here