Private Pause

We talk to graphite master Von ahead of his latest exhibition Elsewhere, the culmination of a year-long collaboration with photographer Dan Sully to capture moments of unconscious contemplation.

What initially drew you to Dan Sully’s work?
I've known Dan for a few years now and have always admired his work, but it was on seeing a particular photographic series of his last year of people on night buses that it really struck a chord. There was something in there that echoed with where I was beginning to take my work – a mutual, if not slightly voyeuristic, fascination with people when they are totally zoned out. 

At what point did you think it would make sense to reimagine his photographs?
It's not really so much reimagining Dan's own work but more collaborating with him based on my research and direction to create completely original references to take forward into drawings. Setting up a shoot to create references from scratch, where I have complete control over which models are used, their poses, and so on has been something I've wanted to do for ages now and without doubt has proved a key turning point in my fine art work. It’s certainly a process I'm keen to repeat in the future.

How did the collaboration work in practice? 
I approached Dan with my concept for the show and a DropBox folder full of research I'd been collecting over the past year or so. We went through everything - the practicalities involved in the shoot, lighting set ups, why that ruled out certain options, and so on. After that, I went away to refine the research, concept and what exactly it was that I needed out of the shoot to best help create the artwork I had been picturing in my head. Then everything was arranged with make-up, studio and models and we did a two-day shoot up in Seven Sisters. 

Tell us a little bit about the concept behind Elsewhere.
It all stems from walks into central London over the past year or two and increasingly catching sight of someone in a cafe or office window totally enveloped in their own world. Not only did they appear in such stark contrast to the city noise around them, but it also seemed such a rare, momentary and, on some level, personal thing to witness. Moments to ourselves seem to be becoming rarer, particularly living in a city, as we are advertised at practically everywhere. We seem to reach for our smart phones whenever there's a few seconds to kill as a natural reaction now and sharing our day-to-day events online is almost a pressure. All this made catching those people's lost moments such a fantastic and fragile thing. 

Large  elsewhere von drawing 01

Von at work, Von, © Von,, 2014

How does this show mark a departure from your previous projects?
I suppose it is a development of my Semblance series which also focused on abstract portraiture. But the show is a culmination of about a year’s worth of experiments, mulling over, research and figuring out ways to push what I had established with Semblance both technically and conceptually. The twenty-two originals created for the exhibition explore visually that involuntary process of slipping away from our surroundings, appearing to others to be completely elsewhere. It's also the first time I'll have ever exhibited small studies alongside the larger, more considered pieces.

How do you feel that technology is changing our ability to witness, and how does that impact upon the role of the designer?
In many ways it's a great help – an obvious one being the ability to whip out a phone and take fairly decent resolution photos of anything I come across I can later use as reference or inspiration, something I do all the time. In fact there is an American artist who shows with Lazarides here called Brett Armory who paints solely from photos of day-to-day life he's taken on his phone. I'm not against technology as in so many ways it's brilliant. The show’s more of an observation of just how far technology is reaching into our daily lives and as a consequence how stark a contrast those moments seem when the noise of the world is totally ignored whilst being entirely surrounded by it. 

Tell us a little bit about how you’ve formed the images.
All the work is created using only graphite and pencil. Figuring out new ways to find the limits of such a simple medium is something from which I derive a lot of pleasure and in preparation for the show there was a great deal of experimentation. A lot of which has made it through in varying degrees into the final pieces. When the idea of doing a new show was confirmed, it was really important to me that that side of things had to develop, otherwise, what's the point?

You’ve worked with Hort, Non-Format, David Pearson and Darren Firth to create four posters for the exhibition…
When I had my first solo show in NY back in 2008, I collaborated with Non-Format to create a screen printed show poster, which, as well as selling out before the show opened, to this day is still one of my favourite folio pieces. So when this opportunity came along with KK Outlet I really wanted to do something similar but up the game. This led me to invite four of my favourite designers, not just one. The only stipulations were that certain basic information and the lead image needed to appear on the design, how and where was entirely up to them. They could crop the artwork, mess with it or totally leave it alone. Whatever suited them. I'm really pleased with the outcome, not to mention totally honoured to have people of that calibre involved. 

Elsewhere KK Outlet,
London NI
2 – 31 May 2014