SHOWCASE: Wil Stewart, Artist

Discussing Modern Art can be difficult; with work constantly being lumped into various amalgamations of styles in some attempt to classify, things can get overblown and pretentious pretty quickly. I met artist Wil Stewart in Castle Arcade’s Coffee Barker to discuss his work; it was refreshing to hear someone describing their output, inspiration and method in a simple and honest way.

Wil’s work falls between the two worlds of conceptual art and street art; his early graffiti background working with an education in graphic design to present something wholly original and visually captivating. Talking to the Cardiffian, currently living in London, we discussed his work, Cardiff’s artistic culture and working between the conceptual and street art.

FQ: What’s your background in art?

Wil: I’ve been into art since I was a young kid; my mum was always getting me to do art. She is quite artistic. I got into graffiti with a few friends when I was about fourteen and that was pretty much our main hobby at that stage (after Skateboarding). We’d just travel around Cardiff taking pictures of all the different graffiti ‘halls of fame’. At that age, we didn’t really have a reason to go to many different parts of Cardiff, so graffiti took us there.
We were doing a lot of painting, a mixture of legal and illegal stuff; we were quite young, we couldn’t stay out that late, so most of the stuff, we were doing before 10pm. A few of us got caught one time in a scrap train yard in Cathays, and those of us that did get caught had our confidence knocked in terms of the illegal side and mainly focused on the legal walls. There’s a really good graffiti paint shop in town called Oner Signs on Church Street. Ron and Dave own that; they’re O.G.s of the scene and have been running it for about 18 years. They organise graffiti jams and there were a lot of hip hop festivals here when I was younger, one called Compass Point which stands strong in the memory! 
After that, I did a foundation in Art and Design, then went on to study Graphic Design at Camberwell. Once I finished uni I mainly did video editing and then over the last few years, I’ve started making art work in my spare time alongside a bit of graphic design.

FQ: Do you ever see any of your stuff up around Cardiff?

Wil: I see a few tags, and I’ve got photos of it all, but not that often anymore.

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FQ: Looking at your tumblr, a lot of your work seems slightly abstract, with that core use of bold colours and graphic style. As you’ve said, your background is in graffiti; where would you say that slightly abstract style has come from?

Wil: Good question man… I guess when we were into graffiti, we weren’t necessarily into that kind of “wild style”, which is the traditional, really crisp, inter-complex letters; we were more influenced by a writer called Ceres, who was from Cardiff, and a crew called STN, who were painting a lot back then. They were more into the kind of, ‘off-key’ styles, and we used to find that so inspiring, just trying to create something a bit more…ugly, but also a bit more playful. Just the freshness basically!

FQ: Yeah, you can see that vibe in your work.

Wil: Yeah, I guess I always aim for that kind of playfulness at the moment. That makes me have a looser, squiggly free hand, which can makes things a bit more abstract sometimes.

FQ: Knowing now that you come from a graffiti background, it is really visible in your work. A lot of your work seems to completely fill the canvas, is there a specific reason behind that?

Wil: I guess it’s a reflection of the fact that, when I’m creating art, I have a lot of energy to get out and I work quite fast; I tend to move onto the next one straight away, (although I often re-visit things at a later stage). I sometimes think it’s actually a bit of a flaw that I don’t leave more space in my work.

FQ: But I think, you look at your pen and paper work, and you can definitely see a refined graphic style; focusing on specific subject or form. That must come from studying graphic design?

Wil: Yeah, definitely.

FQ: Your ‘Figures’ work features a lot of portraits and the use of people, which is a subject that seems to come up a lot in your work. Do you use people as a way to express certain ideas or is it not really something conscious?

Wil: Yeah, I’m always drawn back to the human figure, or the human experience I guess. As much as I’d like to do something more cosmic or like, out in space, I can’t break away from these humans! It’s always on my mind; I’m obviously a human haha, so it is obviously a reflection of my own emotions I think.

FQ: So it’s an abstraction of the human form?

Wil: Yeah, the human experience; the human struggle, as I see it.

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FQ: I think Graffiti has that obvious association with vandalism, purely because of the sometimes illegal elements of it and it can be just disregarded as having no real artistic merit, so it’s interesting to see someone working with ideas and concepts. Would you say you put thought into things like that, or is it just going with that emotion? I know it’s probably hard to generalise like that.

Wil: I’m not sure… I definitely try and put some feeling into it but I think that I also have an idea of how I want it to look, which I know sounds a bit shallow and aesthetically driven, but I do believe in the power of the aesthetic too, ultimately.

FQ: With a Graffiti background, that is a very visual thing.

Wil: Yeah definitely.

FQ: You mentioned the ‘wild style’, and I think for people who aren’t into graffiti, that is almost like another language; how do you think the worlds of maybe more ‘conceptualised’ art and street art compare?

Wil: I think street artists are often more direct with what they are trying to say, where as with conceptual artists, you have to work more to try and figure it out sometimes. I wouldn’t say I’d want to brand myself as a street artist; I don’t really know where I am in that sense, but I think sometimes conceptual artists can go too in the far in the direction of being dreamlike and overly-meaningful, where as street artists can sometimes be too literal. So I think there is a separation at the moment and those that find that middle ground from the street art world are usually the successful ones; people that can find that balance between a deeper meaning and communicating it well.

FQ: Yeah, definitely. So, you moved from Cardiff to London for uni, how did the two compare for you?

Wil: After my three years there, all i wanted to do was get back to Cardiff to be honest man. So I stayed in Cardiff for a while, but eventually, other commitments took me back to London, and I’ve ended up being back there on and off since. I do like it, last summer was great, but there’s always a part of me which questions what it would be like to live back in Cardiff; I do love this city man.

FQ: How did it compare culturally?

Wil: Well, I mean just in terms of the sheer size of the city; it’s one of the worlds largest cities, there are millions in comparison to hundreds of thousands. That doesn’t mean Cardiff is any lesser than London, in fact I think it’s got a lot of things going for it London hasn’t. Obviously, a lot of the things that happen in London do filter down to Cardiff and Cardiff is an innovative city which always creates it’s own new things. There’s such a rich history here because of the Docks and the export of coal too.

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FQ: That definitely brought a multi-culturalism.

Wil - A big multi-culturalism. But also architecturally you can see there are a lot of grand buildings in Cardiff, because of the amount of money that was pumped into the city because of the docks. I think it was the biggest exporter of coal in the world at one point? There’s definitely the underlying vibe here of a real city, despite it being, on the world scale, relatively small.

FQ: Definitely. I think it’s hard for students who come here to pick up on that culture straight away.

Wil: Haha, I do feel for some of the students here; I wonder if they’ll ever learn what Cardiff truly has to offer! I’m sure they have their own unique experiences though, that I didn’t have here. So each to their own I suppose. It’s got something different for everyone - there are so many varying experiences being had by people in Cardiff, it’s very diverse. As are most cities..

FQ: I do think there’s obviously that element in London and most cities; there just seems to be a greater amount of alternative opportunities for experiencing culture. Once you scratch away the surface in Cardiff though, I think you find that too?

Wil: Yeah, there’s always been counter cultures here. It’d be cool to bring them together, like what you’re trying to do. There’s a lot of disparate groups that probably won’t meet, or that might happen to meet, but something else will then pop up that they won’t know about.

FQ: As an artists who’s work is centred maybe more in the art world more than the graphic design world, how would you say the two cities have compared in opportunities for outputting that work?

Wil: I think there are a few galleries in Cardiff that are trying to push new, up and coming artists, but the only way i’ve really contact these places is through email and they weren’t necessarily interested; but, I also get that in London. It’s kind of been a hard nut to crack to be honest, because it wasn’t that I necessarily decided I was going to be an artist, I was doing it along side other work the last few years in my spare time. Now, I felt I had a body of work that I could show somewhere, so I decided to try and contact places, but as I said, it has been hard to get a response; you need someone to advocate your work, be like, “I really like your work, let’s do something with it”, and I haven’t really met that person yet. That could happen in Cardiff, and if it did, I think it would be a good platform because Welsh art is kind of a genre of its own; it’s funny, there are galleries in North Wales which act on almost a world stage.

FQ: I lived in North Wales - 

At this point, we broke into a slightly flustered, on my side at least, conversation in Welsh.

Wil: One really cool thing they have in Cardiff is the Artes Mundi prize, which has become a global visual art competition. There was some amazing stuff there last year. That must be good for Wales, artistically.

FQ: How’s 2014 looking for you?

Wil: I’ve got an exhibition on at the moment in Brick Lane, which is finishing soon; it’s been good to exhibit work. After that, the aim is starting up a company called ‘Youniverse Clothing’ with Alex Sullivan, which should be cool; we’re just working on designs for that now.

FQ: I’d noticed you designed one of the Cardifferent tees?

Wil: Yeah, I did a few designs for that; I’ve actually got the first ever Cardifferent tee; Tron [Alex Sullivan] printed it for himself and it didn’t fit him, so he gave it to me. I’ve still got it somewhere, it’s got a wine stain on it unfortunately… I put a picture of that on like, Myspace back in the days and Alex Priestley (who later worked as part of Cardifferent) saw it, and spoke to Tron about starting up a company behind the name.
Other than that, I’ve been doing a bit of music, but I’m not really sure about putting that out…

FQ: Obviously, we mentioned the connection between music, art and fashion; graffiti and hip hop are an obvious example of that. Do you find that music is a big influence on your art?

Wil: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of my artwork is about trying to gain a balance between complexity and simplicity, and I rate that in music as well; when I’m listening to music that nails that balance, I always feel so inspired.

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We’re really proud to say Wil’s work will be featured within the pop-up shop when it’s open; until then, check out the rest of his work here.

SHOWCASE: YCO, Record Label

A healthy measure of respect can be offered to the boys who run CityBass. The promoter has maintained a portfolio of quality worldwide acts, a testament of what can be achieved when a group of innovative individuals work ceaselessly towards the common goal of showcasing pioneering music. 

Having enjoyed a near-half decade building a steady reputation of headlining Cardiff’s vying night-scene, the group took natural steps to expand the family further with CityBass’ sister project: YCO Records, founded in 2013.

Since then, YCO have seen resounding success in the endeavour, with the white label vinyls hastily selling out. Fifth Quarter met up with one YCO affiliate, Ben Hunter, shortly before CityBass’ fourth birthday event, to talk over how YCO came about, the response it has experienced thus far, and where it is headed for the future.

YCO Records

FQ: Who are YCO, am I right in saying you’re made up of 4 people?

Ben: YCO is four of us mainly. City Bass and the whole YCO thing, it’s quite a collective thing you know, there’s quite a few of us that run CityBass, about 8 of us now. YCO is four of us, mainly. Myself, Joey Pearson and Chris Thomas run the label and then Alex Sullivan who’s in charge of all the art and design. 

FQ: So does it gravitate around City Bass? 

Ben: It’s all born out of CityBass, for sure. CityBass is the foundation definitely. 

FQ: You had CityBass established, what made you decide to start YCO, what was your thinking behind “right a record label is our next move”?

Ben: It was pretty organic, and something we talked about for quite a long time. We wanted to put out some music, particularly vinyl as well. A big tune was made by our mate Brad, aka Blured, our first record – It’s Quite. It was something we were all into and it used to get played a lot at the parties.


FQ: That had a really great response didn’t it.

Ben: Yeah definitely had a great reaction. When we had Luv*Jam in Undertone, I think Cayne - The Organ Grinder played it that night and Luv*Jam was absolutely vibe-ing off it. He was really into the tune, and was really up for remixing it. So that seemed like a really good starting point to launch the label. Get that tune out with a Luv*Jam remix. 

FQ: Was it born from putting on those CityBass nights, having all these acts and thinking, “Why are these not represented well enough?”

Ben: Absolutely yeah. It was a want to put out music that we ourselves were really really into, music that might not have got out there otherwise. 

FQ: So it was literally a case of “Right, we know all these producers and DJs; lets do something from it”?

Ben: Yeah definitely. The thing with CityBass is that it gave us a lot of links in terms of you know, people that come down to play for us. We end up being quite good friends with some of them, we stay in contact and get to know some really good, talented people.

For example, with the Deep Space Orchestra boys, we were just like, “Here’s the label, here’s one of our releases, wanna send us some tunes?” And they just said “Yeah” and sent us a couple of amazing tunes that were exactly what we were looking for. The DSO lads - Si and Chris as well as Coley, Luv*Jam and Brad Blured have all been really supportive of the label and what we’re trying to do.

FQ: You make it sound so easy.

Ben: It really was! It all just fell into place at the time. 

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FQ: Had you, or in fact anyone from YCO, any previous experience in labels - or is this your first ever dip in the pool for that?

Ben: Yeah absolutely. This is our first time doing this. It’s exciting, especially as we’ve all been involved in it from the other side as vinyl-buyers. We all spend a lot of money on vinyl, and have done for a long time. So you see it from that side and then to work from the other side has been really interesting. 

FQ: I guess that response you had from your first pressing has been really reassuring then?

Ben: It was amazing. I mean it sold out in about 2 weeks. That was incredible, especially as we didn’t really do a massive amount of promotion. You’ve got other bigger labels who might do stuff with magazines, they’ll build up a huge mailing list – but it was all word of mouth for the first record really. Which is for us as vinyl buyers, is often how we find out about tunes. It could just be a mate plays it at a party or says “check this tune out”. That’s how I think it sort of grew.  It’s gotta be a good tune to get that word out of mouth. 

FQ: It must have helped having that CityBass association, being able to play a potential release straight to your audience?

Ben: Absolutely - you’ve got room to really try things out. You can play it in the club, see how it goes down.  You get a direct response from people. Does it make people dance? That’s what we’ll want to put out, something that makes people dance - whatever form that may take. 

FQ: What are you planning to be your sort of long-term objective then - what do you hope to achieve with YCO?

Ben: We’ve never sat down and been like, “Right, what’s our five year plan”. At the moment it’s very much from release to release. We’ve got another two in the pipeline that are definite. So it’s about getting that stuff out and allowing it to grow - just following it a bit and seeing where it goes. 

FQ: What does YCO  actually stand for? Both the acronym and in business sense terms?

Ben: ’YCO’ literally comes from that HMS Jawside video. A few years ago when Chris and I were really into dubstep, I used to go on dubstep forum a lot, and that video was doing the rounds with the guy’s jaw swinging about all over the place with him saying every few second’s “Yes, come on!” and it just became this saying amongst people. I sort of just forgot about it, until years later my mate in Bristol just started shouting it all night. It’s just one of those things that became this sort of shout of appreciation.

FQ: So that translates over to the music side then.

Ben: Yes exactly. People would shout it at CityBass, and in the current social media world, it got abbreviated to YCO. I suppose, in terms of business sense - it’s become our ethos. We want to put out tunes that make us feel like that, that make us want to say ‘Yes, come on’. But it’s all about fun really. 
 
FQ: You’re putting out these white-label, limited run vinyls at the moment - 

Ben: Yeah we’re all really strong believers in that vinyl format. Choosing to have YCO to just put out vinyl to begin with, was our first option. We were like “We’re definitely putting out vinyl, how much does that cost, how many can we afford to do?”. As for the digital side, we asked ourselves that later. It’s not wanting to limit people having the music, if people want the music - give them the music. 

FQ: Would it be something you’d think of moving to in the future?

Ben: It’s something we might do in the future yeah, a sort of compilation of our favourites would be good - with some extra remixes.

FQ: Is that a 2014 in the pipe-line plan?

Ben: I think 2014 is going to be concentrating on getting more releases out, primarily on vinyl. We want at least four solid releases out of this year. So heaps to look forward to for sure. 

YCO will be proudly showcased in the Cardiff pop-up come late Spring. In the meantime, head over to the Fifth Quarter interview with Alex Sullivan, graphic designer and creator of the CityBass artwork.

SHOWCASE: LUXE, Musicans

Jessy Allen and Andrew Hill make up LUXE, a vocal-led House duo that despite having only performed a handful of shows in Cardiff,  are regularly recognised as being one of the city’s swiftly rising acts.

Since their formation back in 2012, LUXE have been teasing the alternative scene with two-minute samples on their Soundcloud spotlight page. Fifth Quarter thought it was high time for a sit down over a hot drink and a chat about their plans for the coming months. 

Jessy was the first to arrive at Roath’s Juno Lounge - with her unmissable platinum-blonde hair and leopard print coat. After a brief conversation about vintage markets and sweet-smelling perfume, Andrew joined us with a recently charity-shop bought vinyl of White Town’s ‘Your Woman’ and Carl Craig’s Orb remix of ‘Oxbow Lakes’  secured firmly underneath his shoulder. With that, discussion quickly took to 90’s-pop guilty pleasures, somewhat choice selections for DJ sets and the experiences an outfit such as LUXE might have when breaking into Cardiff. 

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FQ: What’s become really apparent over the past 6-months when establishing this pop-up shop idea, is that Cardiff is full of these creatives but no where for them to go and showcase their work. What’s your personal take on that?

Andrew: I just think with Cardiff, we’ve got a city which is relatively large sized, the idea of having a hub where everything and everyone can be…it’s a really a good idea. 

Jessy: In Cardiff, it’s so hard to put on nights as well. It’s so weird, I’ve never known a city where there’s so many people making music but…like we played a night back in November, it was getting pretty busy but it wasn’t busy enough. A lot of nights are like that. They’re busy - but they’re not busy enough. 

Andrew: Other cities have their own little communities within the larger one - everyone is a lot more dispersed here.  London, Bristol…they both have places people can go and purely hang out. Cardiff doesn’t have somewhere at the moment where all the people can go.

FQ: As for Luxe, what’s your musical background? I know Andrew, you dabble in House production, and Jessy are you from an operatic background?

Jessy: Yeah, that’s right.

Andrew: Up until recently, I worked in Catapult Records for like… three years? 

Jessy:  Yeah that must have had a massive influence. 

Andrew: I DJ’d for eight years too. I consider Luxe and DJing my main two things, everything else is just for the enjoyment.

FQ: Are you both originally from Cardiff then?

Andrew: I’m from Carmarthen originally, a small town that’s hard to get out of. I moved to Cardiff in 2007 to study Fine Art, I suppose that in a way was very sound based anyway, audio was a big section of my artwork.

FQ: What sort of work would that be?

Andrew: You’ve got installations which you use as like a tool to create atmosphere or feeling you’re trying to get across. I’d go to uni and spend 6 hours of my day in a four meter by four meter room which I built myself to combine visual and audio elements for a room you could experience, like something more immersive.

FQ: So that work you did, it was sort of abstract in some ways - did that gem how you would later go on to creatively approach musical projects? 

Andrew: You go in with a bit more of an open mind when creating, not just music but sounds itself. It doesn’t have to have rhythmic qualities to be sound, it doesn’t have to have rhythmic qualities to be music or melody, but sound can do more to you than music can, sometimes. If it’s done in the right way. 

FQ: Would you say then that you would maybe listen to a lot of music concrete?

Andrew: Well not necessarily, but it does mean I have two sections in my record collection. I’ve got my house and techno records, and the other side is more experimental, whether it’s electronica or whether it’s someone just making music on a guitar and it’s very simple. If I can see something a bit different, if I can hear something a bit more different in it.

FQ: It’s more of a discovery process you go through then?

Andrew: Yeah exactly. 

FQ: But as Luxe, what’s your set-up when pulling those influences together? 

Jessy: Some times we do things separately, Andrew might create a beat, just something really simple. Or I’ll just create a series of vocal lines. I’ll be in the bath or something like that and I can just hear something, and it’ll just pop into my head. In the interest of just getting it down, i’ll quickly record it on my iPhone. We’re quite simple with the way we make things. That’s how we like to keep it.

Andrew: Yeah, not only that but we almost have to work separately because the availability to work together is so few that we would never make anything.

Jessy: But that’s sometimes a good thing because it means you’re sort of acting independently as well. Before I met Andrew, i’d come up with a little things, little songs you know, stuff i’d do from the age of 12.  I’ve always found it hard to translate what I’m trying to get across - but that’s where Andrew came in.

FQ: It’s both an independent and collaborative process?

Jessy: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. We’re both artists in our right, the way we do work means that both our influences come together.

Andrew: Yeah there’s a point of cross over, especially in House and Techno - there’s a very large cross over. But on the same level, there’s a mass of stuff Jessy would listen to but…i’d probably prefer to put something else on, and vice-versa. The thing that glues the two together is that cross-over. It’s that middle-cross over that is Luxe.

FQ: How much do those influences directly inform your production and musical style?

Jessy: Well you’ve got be selective. 

Andrew: I’ve got so many things I like, if I put everything into it, it’d be a mess. If I like things with a big wide frequency noise in it, there’s no EQ range for Jessy to sing. You’ve got to leave a gap for the vocal to sit. It took me a good while to stop filling that gap.

Jessy: That was one of the first challenges we were up against. Getting used to each other. I’m a performer through and through, so I found it hard to get into that recording atmosphere. From my background, i’m used to singing with no microphone in big expansive spaces. It was quite hard to rein that in when you’re in your house.

Andrew: Jessy prefers to be performing to a crowd on stage. I’d prefer to be in the bedroom with a drum machine.

FQ: Is that how it translates when you perform live?

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. I’m the one in the background with my head down in the corner. But that’s how it should be. The music alone, wouldn’t work - you need that performer to maintain the interaction with the audience that’s needed. 

FQ: You’ve thrown a couple of sample-tracks on Soundcloud,  and you’ve performed a number of times in the past year or so but what can we expect from Luxe in 2014?

Jessy: Well today is a music-making day and in a week’s time we’re doing the same. We’re just going to get our head’s down really, I’m really looking forward to it. We’ll definitely be doing more shows too. But it’s important to have a completely clear mind to make music. Things can just come up organically that way.

FQ: Does that explain the two piles of records you have at home then?

Andrew:  I’ll be put a record on from like Spectrum Spools and they’ll be a guy playing a modular synth - no beat, nothing - and it’ll clear that solid kick drum that you might have been listening to for hours. I get influenced by what I get influenced by, but if you listen to that too much then you’ll just try and imitate. 

Jessy: Yeah for years you could try and like impersonate someone but you’ve just got to try and be comfortable with your self and your own style.

Andrew: I think you need to imitate at the beginning. Say if you listen to a Burial track and try and make something similar, by the end you could be like, well it sounds nothing like Burial so what is he doing that i’m not doing? You can learn a lot like that. You can then use that little reference point, years later. 

Jessy: We’re a very DIY outfit. We are all about DIY. We’re quite honest about what we do. I remember the first microphone I bought, it was not the best microphone in the world and I huffed and puffed about it but it’s about making the best of what you have. 

FQ: If we go back towards Cardiff just briefly, how have you found it, an act like yourself trying to break into the city?

Andrew: Something that Jessy was saying earlier about gigs not being busy enough. Well, I don’t necessarily think that’s the full extent of it. We’re lacking venues to accommodate the right amount of people.There were a few that would accommodate that 200 capacity, great for a new or underground act on the scene. It’s also hard to get people out, full stop. People have got to have a good reason to come out. But if that reason is to chat, and hang out with like-minded people - they will.

We’ll be featuring LUXE when Fifth Quarter’s pop-up opens. Until then, run over to their Soundcloud, or go ahead and listen to their full-length version of Silhouette above.

SHOWCASE: Alex Sullivan, Graphic Designer

City Bass stands head and shoulders above most nights in Cardiff’s competitive night-life scene. This is partly down to the distinctive graphic design behind the promotion; original, identifiable and dependably on-trend, Alex Sullivan is its creator.

From his background in graffiti, Alex has developed a distinctive graphical style. Designing the entirety of City Bass’ promotion with maintained creativity, he has gone on to work for a variety of clients in both Music and Fashion.

After hearing about his up and coming work for a new brand, we met up in Chapter Arts Centre’s cafe. Amidst the Stanley Donwood exhibition, we spoke on design, fashion and Cardiff.

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What is your background in Graphic Design and art in general?

I started with graffiti when I was sixteen and got really into that. I did a foundation course in Glamorgan in graphic design and that’s when I realised it was something that I wanted to do.

So you’ve always been Cardiff based?

Yeah, but from there I went to London to study a degree in Chelsea College of Arts and did three years there.

How did you find that?

Although I didn’t complete the degree, I learnt a lot of skills which have been a good base to build on and made some great friends. After leaving I decided to continue with Cardifferent.

So you actually set that up?

Yeah, I started that my first year at uni with Alex Priestley. When I left uni, I didn’t really know what to do. It was a great way to experiment and getting my ideas out there. From there, it went on to City Bass, which a few friends of mine started, and they asked me to do the flyers. I started getting a lot of interest from the artists and dj’s they brought down, like Midland. I started designing for his record label, and from there it’s all developed through word of mouth.

And now you’re here. Let’s go back to City Bass. When I first came to Cardiff, as a student, I was obviously bombarded with so much promotion for freshers/middle-of the road club nights/x-amount of generic student nights, all with uninteresting, badly designed posters/flyers. Amongst all the noise of promotion, your work for City Bass always completely stood out in terms of clarity of design and seemed to be so on-trend. You mentioned you knew the guys who ran it, how exactly did that come about?

Yeah, I knew the guys through Joey P who asked me to design a poster for the Altered Natives night and it just basically went from there.

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So you’ve designed for every single event since then?

Every single one, yeah and collaborated with Snow Skull (Matthew Evans) on the Marquis Hawkes poster. I also ask City Bass for their opinions etc.

There’s definitely a consistent aesthetic to them, but you’ve worked with different styles within that, like playful abstraction, work with type, etc. I remember seeing an A1 of the Theo Parrish design and loving the type work on that.

Cheers.

What dictates the style?

For me, it’s a place to experiment. I get a lot of briefs that are very strict, want a continuous theme and don’t want to stem away from that; where as City Bass were always just like, do whatever you want, which is great. It’s the only project where I get to really experiment with type and imagery. That’s kind of the deal; because they are friends they kind of give me free reign. It’s a none profit organisation, all the money goes straight back into developing the night, getting acts etc.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you get design annuals, etc?

Yeah, I like to keep up to date with what’s going on, but then I have my favourite designers, artists, pieces of architecture; I try to look at different forms.

How much does the act/dj influence the work?

A lot. I’ve always been into this kind of music, so it’s great to be able to do artwork for amazing dj’s. I tend to listen to a track by the artist as I’m working on it. For the Theo Parish design, I was listening to ‘Solitary Flight’?

Yes!

Great tune. I like made the background, took a picture of the clouds, played with the colours…

So that’s all you, no stock images?

Yeah, all me.

There’s definitely a natural relationship between the two; art and music, and especially current art and music.

Yeah definitely. Look at designers like Trevor Jackson, big in the music scene and an amazing graphic designer; it fits so well. Even more now, with audio visual stuff.

City Bass have created this “relevant” night, with reliably good acts…

…like what they want to listen to.

Yeah, and the design work reflects that, it all seems to work well as a package. Do you have a favourite?

It’s always changing… I guess the John Heckle one? With the ‘maze’.

That’s another of our favourites. So many posters cram in so much information, but yours never seem to be fighting for space.

Keeping things simple is key.

In terms of Cardifferent, we only became aware of it when you had Funkineven down and I saw the pictures of him wearing your tee.

Yeah that was for our fifth birthday.

And then shortly after, you brought that to an end. What was the timeline for Cardifferent?

Well, we went for five years, which was pretty good going, but it was quite a niche thing; with Cardiff being such a small city and having its name in the brand, it reached a point where it couldn’t really expand any further. It was a lot of work! One of our final ventures was launching a pop-up shop for nine days around christmas time on St.Johns street, which went really well. So much time and effort went into the whole thing.

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You had quite a large catalogue of stuff, was it mostly screen prints?

Yeah, that was all done locally, by Visible Art. It was pretty difficult determining how much stock to get printed; we’d end up with boxes of stuff, but it always sold! We’re thinking about maybe re-printing a few of the classics, we’ve had a lot of people asking about it.

We noticed there were similarities between some of the Cardifferent designs and early City Bass posters; was that to tie the two brands together?

It was really my own designs which I thought would look good on a tee, but also fit with the music for the Wbeeza night, so they both tide in with some tweaking.

It’s impressive how far that went, did you have any background business knowledge?

No, none.

What’s it been like working with Midland?

It’s been great. He just started Graded and I’ve been working on the branding and the sleeves.

Is that a big job?

At the beginning it was. I went through so many different ideas with him and he was very particular about what he wanted, which was really tough actually. But now, he likes to just maintain continuity, with slight variations in colour and shape.

And what about YOB?

That’s with Simon (Catapult founder). That’s pretty recent, he’s had that for a year or so? He’d made a few shirts, like cut and sew pieces and has now decided to go down the print route.

You can definitely see your style there, how does the design work for that?

He came up with some ideas, like the ‘Vos Enfants Se Révoltent’ tee, and I worked on the rest, but we usually talk about different ideas. He had a clothing label called Empty, which was pretty successful and he worked for Fenchurch. We’ve both been pretty busy, but are just going to keep pushing that.

I’ve also got another clothing label which I’m working on with a friend called Will Stewart, who’s an artist and does some amazing paintings. 

What’s the idea behind that?

Just…cosmic! We’re going to try and tie everything into to it, like music and art. We’ve got the designs ready, we just need to get them printed!

So that’s what’s coming up in the foreseeable future?

Yeah, working on that and continuing with my freelance design. I’ve started doing posters for a club night and record label in Munich, called STOCK5, which is really cool. It can be pretty difficult with the language barrier, but it’s great getting my work out there! 

AIso there’s a new club opening called the Qube in London which launches on the 7th of February, which i’ve just finished the branding for today. It was quite a specific brief but a great experience; I’ve enjoyed broadening my skills through catering to a different clientele. 

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Speaking of London, you were there for three years, so you obviously got to immerse yourself in it’s culture and we wondered how you think Cardiff compares as a city on that front? Capital cities like London, Paris, Berlin etc are all synonymous with art, music and culture in general, how does Cardiff compare?

Well, I’m pretty sure we are the youngest capital city in Europe, and I think there’s still a way to go with Cardiff. There’s a large amount of talent in Cardiff, but it seems a lot leave for different cities. The city seems quite strict, there aren’t really that many alternative venues for clubbing.

In size, it is difficult to compare them, especially with the centre being so small.

There are definitely more things going on though. Being a teenager in Cardiff, you just want to get out, move to London; I felt there was literally nothing happening. But coming back, there’s definitely a lot more going on.

Do you think there are enough outlets for creatives?

Maybe. I think there’s a disconnection between different scenes and I think your idea is great, in that it can hopefully draw people together. I don’t think you can really compare them, but who knows what can happen.

We’re hoping to feature Alex’s designs in one of the shop’s exhibitions; until then, check out the rest of his work at his site: alex-sullivan.co.uk/

FQ exploring potential pop-up shop locations. 

SHOWCASE: Bethan Leaver, Printmaker

With the opening of FQ’s pop-up swiftly approaching, we continue our search for Cardiff-based creatives. Through the Cardiff-Blogs network, we discovered Bethan Leaver’s Enso pieces, a rich variety of prints, which prominently stood out at the Cardiff Met Degree Show, 2013.

Having lived in South Wales, London, Dubai and Akron OH; working along side such master printmakers as Andrew Baldwin and Nigel Oxley; becoming a resident print-maker at Howard Gardens, Bethan is no novice to the printing trade. We caught up with her over a mouth-scolding hot coffee in the Cyncoed Campus café, to discuss her work.

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For anyone who doesn’t know, could you briefly tell us your background in art?

I did my first year at Aberystwyth and it was where I completely fell in love with printing. I’m quite an impatient person, but you have to be so patient when print making. Missing one step can screw the whole thing up, so you have to be precise. It actually became quite meditative. But the uni was in the middle of nowhere so it was absolutely dead.

So you moved to London after your first year, how did it compare?

Yeah, I finished at Aberystwyth on the 5th, moved to London by the 6th. It was such a more exciting place to be. I lived with a bunch of musicians, so there was always something going on, especially over in East London where I studied. It was quite a contrast because I was used to people in Aberystwyth being quite…reserved, but when I went to London I was like…everyone is so nuts!

There’s always something going on isn’t there. But how London influence your art from there?

Well I was studying under Nigel Oxley’s wing at this point and I ended up falling in love with the methodology. I used soft wax which can be used to imprint really fine flesh marks, feathers and impressions from just blowing on it. It turned into something quite spontaneous and playful. I could have made a dozen different versions of the same plate but each one would be distinctive because I would add an extra little something  each time.

So it became more experimental, more about the process rather than the end result?

Yeah definitely. Sometimes they were absolutely hideous, but it wasn’t about that, it was more about the fact I’ve played around endlessly with this one plate.

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Was it this playfulness that lead onto your Enso work? 

Yes but it wasn’t until I moved back to Cardiff and worked in Howard Garden’s that I created my Enso pieces. Compared to the solidarity way of working in London, I was thrown in with about 15 other printmakers whom all shared the same studio space. It suddenly became a collaborative and hugely influential process. It was also the fact I started going to the Buddhist centre that helped me.

Cool, how was it there? How did it inform you artistically speaking?

Well I thought I’d be surrounded by hippies with dreadlocks but it’s really just a pick and mix of like the best ethos’ ever. It was the law of causality that I got really interested in and the term ‘the environment of intention’. I remember thinking, how could I talk about this in my art? After having a bit of a dry day, I emptied my bag and found my younger brothers’ bubble blower in there. I just blew some bubbles and suddenly realised…well you know when you’re a kid and you would endlessly blow into a glass of milkshake? I would do the same. I put paper down, and started doing these bubble prints. I loved that I couldn’t really control it.

How did that spontaneous exercise develop into the prints you have today?

Those larger prints were originally the size of a postage stamp. I scanned them in, inverted the image and enlarged it. I screen printed from there. There was no real planning of colours either, so much as as throwing on a bunch of colour and seeing what it looked like.  It’s difficult to cherry pick your way through reasons as to exactly why, It was more holistic than that. But, I think I made 113 altogether, from 3 original prints.

As an artist out of education, do you feel like there is a consistent and strong outlet for creatives and culture in Cardiff?

No, not really. When my degree was finished, I had stacks and stacks of stuff, but nowhere relevant to exhibit it. When my friends come down from London, there’s no really like…cool place I could think to take them. Geographically, Cardiff hasn’t got those cultural pockets like other cities do. You have the arcades which are beautiful but even so. Culture isn’t yet synonymous with Cardiff, even though the people that could make it so, are here.

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If you could get them together in the same place, that would be amazing. So a creative outlet like Fifth Quarter is something people really can feel excited about, because there’s nothing else like it here. 




We’ll be keeping up to date with Bethan’s work and hope to showcase her prints when FQ opens it’s doors. Until then, head along to Bethan’s site here.

FQ’s Gantt chart & logo development. FQ’s Gantt chart & logo development. FQ’s Gantt chart & logo development.

FQ’s Gantt chart & logo development.