Andrew Rae has come a long way from his days of producing flyers for a Shoreditch club night. He has published numerous books, released a short film and been involved in over ten major exhibitions while his BBC3 show, Monkey Dust, perhaps his most famous work, a macabre look at modern British society. Following his ‘Of Beasts and Machines’ exhibition at Glasgow’s Recoat Gallery earlier this year, the London-based artist Andrew Rae talks to GUM about art, illustrations, music and plug creatures.
During the last year, what have you been working on?
Well at the moment I’ve just been designing some stuff for GreenThing which is a website that’s trying to raise awareness about green issues. I’ve designed this little character called a Greenthing for the various different things they’re trying to get across, like ‘don’t use so much electricity’ – so there’s a Greenthing and he’s got plugs for a head, stuff like that.
Did you have any qualms in taking on the animation work you’ve done for MTV?
No I didn’t really have any qualms to be honest, how do you mean?
Just that a lot of people would argue that the stuff that’s on MTV isn’t the best, the whole American Hip-Hop thing that’s going on…
No that’s true, I wouldn’t disagree with that entirely, but the stuff I did was actually with MTV Asia so it was a quite different setup really. I went out to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as a kind of build up to it, it’s interesting when you go out there and see how they’re building all these new buildings, like in Singapore they just ripped the heart out of the town. So for the animation we tried to get that in a little bit, like there’s an animation of this old guy sat in an old hut with old music then suddenly this big building comes in and drops on him. So you can look at it either way, maybe you think that the new building is a good thing, or maybe you don’t, it makes it two-pointed I suppose.
With your animation work, after the success of Monkey Dust, are you planning any more projects in a similar vein or do you want to go in a new direction?
To be honest I’ve been concentrating on illustration more since then really. The trouble with animation is that it becomes quite a beast and it can get out of hand. It’s an awful lot of work as well. But I’m working on this Greenthing at the moment for instance and doing some animation work on that. In the studio were I work in we have animators, I’m not strictly an animator. I kind of design the characters and stuff, so although I do a bit of animation I think I’m really an illustrator.
Can you tell us a little about your setup with the Peepshow Collective?
Yeh, we’re a group of nine people, and we share a studio. We set it up just as a website to keep costs down for ourselves really, and for a little network of people that we could all lean on, you know, helping to go and see clients together or…
…so it just helps everyone to be involved?
Yeh but gradually it’s become a bit more of a… well now we’re a Ltd company and we have a studio where we all work etc… but we still work on individual projects and then on group projects. So as an illustrator it’s quite nice, you can work on a group project and step outside of yourself, because as an illustrator you have to have a fairly defined style that people can recognise so it’s nice to be able to step away from that.
You do have an instantly recognisable drawing style, what was it specifically that allowed you to find your own direction?
I guess it just kind of came around that way really. There’s a distinctive line quality that I’ve stuck to, that was something that quite early on I definately thought people responded to. So I developed that side I guess, but to me it’s more about getting ideas across.
So it’s more about the content for you?
Kind of, yeh I would say that. I like using text things as well within things but I think there’s something really nice about getting ideas across purely visually if you can. Although people always respond well to text, it draws you in, once you can read it, it’s like you’re reading an image, so people see more in it I think that way every now and then.
Do you have a show up at the moment?
Uh, no. I did a show up in Berlin a little while ago with Jon Burgerman and Ian Stevenson
Cool, how do you feel about working in a gallery based way?
It feels quite alien to me, although it’s something that I’d like to do more of because it allows you to create original artwork which is quite a nice thing to do.
It must be quite a high-pressure situation to put your own show on, to say ‘this is me, come and look’…
Yeh it is, and it’s a lot of work as well, it takes quite a while to get everything together for something like that, especially when you’ve got other commercial jobs on in the meantime, it can be hard to find the time. But these days I’ve started working in a much more… like in the old days I used to do really rough sketches on whatever piece of paper was around but these days I’m trying to make it have a nicer finish, so with all the jobs I’m doing I’m actually building up a collection of work that I can exhibit in the future and see how my work has developed.
Ok, so you incorporate what you’ve been doing into your shows?
Yeh I work that way because otherwise you sit down and think ‘what am I going to do for this show’ and you’ve got this blank page, but if it’s more of an ongoing thing it works better.
What kind of music are you listening to right now?
I’m quite interested in that new Metronomy album that’s coming out (ed: ‘Nights Out’ was released 8th September), just by listening to a bit of that on MySpace. I think they’re Brighton-based, they’re a kind of dance act.
What is your lasting impression of Glasgow from the show you did at Recoat?
Haha, my lasting impression? It was very cold and… no, it was really fun. It’s weird because my family is from there so just round the corner from were the gallery was (Recoat Gallery, 323 North Woodside Road) is where my Nan used to live so I have these childhood memories of hanging around there. When I first got there I thought ‘that bridge looks really familiar, but I’m sure all the bridges look like that in Glasgow, no wait I do know that bridge.’
That is strange, so I suppose you’ve come full circle.
Yeh I guess.
Have you felt the need for any more Buckfast since being here?
No, I haven’t actually. Maybe if I need to power some sort of engine or something I might… but drinking it? I’m not sure about that.
Haha, fair enough. So tell us about the more interesting things happening in your area of London just now?
What’s interesting, that’s a really good question… There’s all sorts of interesting things happening in our studio, but I don’t get that much further out, haha.
So you are pretty trapped in there?
Yeh, once you close the door it’s like London’s gone…
Much of your work is arguably quite political, how do you view the current political climate here in the UK?
I am not sure I want to get into politics too much, but it seems like a but of a mess doesn’t it?
If you would like to know more about the beautifully surreal world of Mr. Andrew Rae then visit www.andrewrae.org.uk