Monday, 14 April 2008

Them Lot

Birmingham-based art collective Them Lot are anything but ordinary. Born from a meeting of like-minded artists at the New Art Birmingham Fair last February, they have wowed punters with their imaginative style and outlandish characters.

I was Lucky enough to interview Them Lot's founder James Bourne. Here's his thoughts on his work, belonging to a collective and his latest exhibition at
Here Shop and Gallery, Bristol.

LS: How did Them Lot get started?

JB: I was invited to sell some work at the New Art Birmingham Limited Edition Fair at the Bond in Birmingham in February 2007. There were plenty of local artists like myself wanting to exhibit their work. It seemed logical to stay in touch with the ones that were on a similar wavelength. From there, we hooked up for drinks and chats and Them Lot was born. I invited other artists from around the country that I'd worked with before. Artists like Andy Council and David Shillinglaw who I really admire because of their enthusiasm to create. We had a big exhibition in Birmingham in the Summer, and the wheels keep on rolling.

LS: What does being a member of a collective mean in practical terms? Obviously you do shows together but how else do you support each other? Do you give each other constructive criticism? Do members ever collaborate?

JB: We're a very positive group. We try and encourage each other rather than pick away at each others work. The time we spend together is more about having fun than analysing each others work. It's important that the collective is an enjoyable experience for each member involved. It's not about makng money, or trying to prove ourselves, it's about coming together and creating a visual experience for everyone to enjoy, including ourselves.

LS: Would you say that you all share concerns/themes in your work?

JB: Yes. We all come from different backgrounds and have differing outlooks on life but we all try and convey these thoughts visually. The majority of our work has humour to it, but it's not comical. It's about relating to everyday life and using our imagination to feed our drawings.
LS: Although your members are mainly based in Birmingham, a few of the artists are based elsewhere such as here in Bristol and even as far away as Norway. How often do you all meet up? What topics do you discuss? Is there a long term 'vision' for Them Lot?

JB: Some of us meet up every week. Others we won't see for months. Having the internet is an important tool for us. We can write to each other as well as see what we are up to. The conversations we have are generally about the future. What we can do to make peoples eyes turn to us...books, exhibitions, animations, markets...we try and get involved with all of them.

LS: Do you think that the desire to be part of a collective is a response to an occupation that is primarily solitary?

JB: Being an artist is hard work. Promoting yourself, expenses, staying confident about what you do etc With a team of like minded artists around you, it's much easier. Costs are smaller, ideas are more varied and you generally feel more confident about being an artist. Were all in the same boat. The little Them Lot boat with the funny flag.

LS: Your work seems to be a mix of the everyday with the magical and extraordinary (I'm thinking of the men falling from the sky into Spar lined streets and pencil-headed boys with rainbow eyelashes). Where do you get your inspiration from?

JB: My work is generally a respone to a narrative. Pencil Head Fred is a character from I story I wrote a few years back. He went on a school trip to a stationary factory and got his head caught in a giant pencil sharpener. Me, Daniel and Paul are currently developing this into a horror exhibition. We want it to be the scariest thing people have seen. Lots of puppets and dark corridors. I think having a narrative to work with offers you constraints that you don't have with expressive art. It stops you from going off the rails. Saying that, going off the rails can be good sometimes, it just seems to mess my work up.

LS: As well as working as an artist and illustrator I notice that you are also a teacher. What do your students think about your work?

JB: Ha! They laugh, which is good. The kids I teach have an amazing enthusiasm for art. They love Andy Councils work. David recently invited them to exhibit their interpretation of the Sun at his gallery Nowhere North in High Barnet. They loved it. They don't understand why I draw penis's on my characters though. I don't think I do though?

LS: The artists that make up Them Lot have very different styles and work in various media, with some members creating installations and sculptural objects rather than two dimensional pieces. Do you feel that your work has developed differently as a member of Them Lot than it would have done working as a lone artist?

JB: Yes. Only yesterday Dan was saying that our work is merging into each others. This is a very strange feeling. We all want to be individual and create things that are very much personal to ourselves. It's tricky though. The sub-conscious is a powerful thing. I find myself drawing some of David's symbols without realising. I think it's healthy though. We're making each others work stronger. I like the idea of Them Lot being one person. It'd be interesting to see what he/she/it created.

LS: One of Them Lot’s current projects is based on the theme of confessions. Did you decide to develop a theme to create more cohesive work from the group? Or is it more of an exercise in individuality, as it showcases the different direction that each artist has taken the theme?

JB: The theme of confessions was something we tackled on a smaller scale in Birmingham last year. It was to try and open up to each other. Although we were all on the same wavelength regarding art, we didn't all know each other very well. It was good to hear some of the confessions each of us had. We then decided to get them from other people for the show at the Here Gallery. Some of the text we've obtained is pretty nasty. Other bits are more civil. There is a mixed bag in there, so be prepared. Perhaps best not to bring your Grandma!

LS: What does the future have in store for Them Lot?

JB: Fun and drawings. The horror exhibition. We all have projects lined up. David is holding a bicycle exhibition - KING OF BIKE at his gallery Nowhere North, Andy is always drawing or painting something for someone in Bristol, I'm off to Amsterdam to draw on some shoes for the launch of CUSTOM KICKS, Gareth has his own night of Art in Birmingham called CAMEL TOE...lots ands lots going on...were always updating the news on the site -

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