In The Studio - David Callow
A bottle-green shirt and pair of up-cycled wooden carry cases under-arm, David enters the studio and heads straight for the giant Peace Lily in the corner. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where his love for plants comes from but it’s clearly a theme firmly grounded in his work that he keeps visiting - “it’s therapy”.
Since launching his studio in 2007 David has worked for a diverse array of clients such as Ralph Lauren, Warner/Parlophone and Dorling Kindersley. I had the pleasure of interviewing the London based Graphic Artist, talk ‘being creative’ and finding out what’s behind his incredible body of work.
Tell me a little about yourself, how did you get involved with art?
It's always been something I've done you know, but actually being involved in art? I think my early teens, that's when I started to identify with it. Drawing is something you can really pour yourself in to and get a sense of improvement from, this registered with me during those uncertain teenage years.
I went on to study Illustration at the Arts University in Bournemouth - where I've returned as a visiting lecturer. After graduating I moved straight to London, that was ten years ago and I’ve been in the loop ever since. I’ve worked all kinds of jobs on the side for all different kinds of companies, my life has sure seen some changes but drawing and creating has always been my number one.
How would you describe your artwork?
Oh like technically speaking? You could call it selective…selective abstraction? I love the romantic school of art but there’s modernist instincts embedded pretty deep in what I do, there's something playful to my method. It's like I'm playing around with the thing I draw, just for the sake of it. Kind of like I'm playing with the reveal, how you experience it. I wouldn't say my work is overly academic; it's more about creating something authentic.
What influences your work and themes?
There’s a sense of the world, a feeling that I’m after with each piece. I like the idea of images holding secrets, or there being a story behind the works. I love drawing plants because they have such universally recognisable forms that can easily be interpreted even if you haven’t observed that particular specie of plant before. It gives me the freedom to explore representation and form without the need to elaborate or explain it. That freedom is almost therapeutic in contrast to the more demanding realist works I do.
What helps you maintain your level of energy/focus when you’re drawing for long periods of time?
Coffee! Coffee helps a great deal, cardio keeps the machinery in check, intermittent chats with friends so I don't go totally crazy and I guess most importantly: a clear idea of exactly what I'm after. Without it, it's easy to find yourself distracted by things that feel urgent but really have no affect on things over time.
Do your pieces turn out how you expect?
Well, the portion of my portfolio that is highly realistic I’d say for the most part, yes but that’s only because I’ve been doing it continuously now for a good number of years. I had a creative block around four years ago, coming back from that, I had to be careful about how ambitious I was with the effects I was looking to create. But now it’s pretty tight. In contrast I feel like the line drawings have a life of their own. What I love about them is the need for confidence in a single action, having no second chances. You just have to trust yourself and go for it.
Can you think of a seminal experience?
I have a memory that comes to mind…its a moment I watched my dad paint, I must have been seven at the time, maybe younger. Nothing much of a situation, it’s just a moment that’s stuck with me visually.
Place of most inspiration?
So I run, I’ve been running for about 5 years, it’s a great companion to drawing because it helps keep my brain vibrant. It’s a great reset. As a runner I’d say my most inspirational place is the city of London, all of it, all the winding streets, the unexpected woodland, the niche boutiques you pass, the bohemian coffee shop neighbourhoods that develop- I’m grateful to have that on my doorstep. If I was to name a place…currently Kenwood House & woodland, great spot to think things through undisturbed.
How has your practice changed or developed over time?
I think my younger self was quite gung-ho, relentless, you know? A lot of what I made was impulsive but lacked confidence. As I’ve matured my work seems to have calmed down with confidence. I guess you could say when I started I made pop music, colourful, playful content that served to catch peoples attention. It was rough and whimsical but had a melody to it. Then I went through a phase of nothing but love songs, I got lost in ‘Prog’ for a while, and now we’re in the Berlin years, a sort of self-discovery is happening.
What’s your favourite thing you’ve ever created?
I’d say the erased portrait of a friend. At the time I was trying to push myself into more technically demanding works but I also wanted drama. I guess a part of me wanted to see how unforgiving I could be on the viewer and because I wanted impact I had to keep the image aesthetically understated. So the result is easily the most iconic piece of work I’ve made.
What moves you?
What is your greatest weakness?
Gosh, now we’re getting to it. Okay um…I guess my weakness is how I allow those with a strong charismatic presence or will take the lead on projects...even if I know their ideas suck and will fail or even if I have an alternative idea that I know will be a success. I’ve gotten quite used to being Mr Unpopular to keep projects on track. But I have to really push myself to make sure I’m not taking that back seat.
Any advice to young artists and creatives?
For me, the biggest professional anxiety I’ve had is not really fitting in commercially. I've spent far too much time worrying about the practicality of deadlines; the categories people place you in and the kinds of work you are expected to produce. All of that is just noise, throw it out and stop chasing work that’s not meant for you. Instead, play the long-game, let yourself develop organically, build your own standards and give people a reason to come to you.
What are you currently working on?
Having just finished a drawing recently, an A1 sized composite of extracts, I’m gearing up for something that’s going to really push things further. I haven’t decided just yet, lets just say I want to be challenged and I want to see how I can build a greater sense of drama and emotion into my work. Every time a drawing pushes me to breaking point I feel like things move forward, that’s what I’m looking for, in a new way.
WORDS + PHOTOS: WILL FINLASON