Rachel Boyd meets the illustrator behind the fantastic artwork for this years Glasgow Open House Festival, Sean Mulvenna.
‘Charming’ and ‘endearing’ are two adjectives which spring to mind when reflecting upon the work of Glasgow-based Illustrator Sean Mulvenna. With use of simple mark-making techniques and an outlook to play to more ‘relatable imagery’, Mulvenna’s visuals are pasted over a foundation of often warm, unassuming colour combinations: Mustard yellows on Payne’s Grey; Ceylon blues and Coral pinks; Muted green.
This year’s Glasgow Open House Festival became the most recent of his projects to date, spanning the creation of a logo, a map, a mural, tote bags, postcards, flyers... forcing the context behind his drawings to act in spite of their own simplicity; tasking the breadth of his creative skillset in light of the festival’s industrious approach:
“The brief for the Open House Festival was quite free. It was difficult to know how to approach illustrating for it at first. You are designing on behalf of a variety of exhibitions promoting other artists, so I couldn’t draw too much attention to myself, or my own work – you always have to be wary of that. Most of all, I wanted to keep things simple and work on the things that I am not-so-good at. I have a massive problem with filling space; so wanted to make the main logo fill the page as much as possible and so came the massive figure, the giant woman; an emblem of people, which the festival is ultimately focussed toward...she’s being very gestural with her arms, I guess enclosing four motifs – the chair, the bust, the easel, the urn – of what art and can be and how it is seen. Clouds; purely to emphasize and create a sense of scale, like the birds, and the snakes do too – birds flying in the air, snakes hiding in the grass. Both lay eggs, and that carries an idea of property; the festival sometimes being based in the artist’s houses.”
On the festival itself, Mulvenna comments that ‘Glasgow seems to be a place where people will open their doors and put art in their houses... The festival would probably work in other places, but the people might not always be so open or willing.” People are of course a major focus in his drawings, comics and storytelling; citing literature and symbolism as his primary sources to work from, as well as an Tumblr account which is earnestly boxed as ‘NICE BITS’. This little blog makes for the most interesting divergent of the Illustrator’s life, packed with easy-pleasing imagery of watercolour artist Charles Birchfield; a few pottery sculptures by Picasso; block colour figure studies by Pierre Boncampain and a tessellation of playfully asexual dancers by Emmanuel Frinta (where you could suppose Mulvenna has borrowed the colour scheme for his GOH commission):
“All through art school, most illustrations were animals or people. For me, they’ve always been the most instinctive things to draw and have produced visuals that are nice to look at. I like working with characters – for a work-in-progress show in Art School, I put together a briefcase full of hand-made brochures and tapes from a character who was going to stay at a holistic retreat. That was an idea for a comic I was thinking about making at the time.”
This particular comic, ‘Sungazing’, amounted to 60 pages, detailing one man’s) grumbles whilst staring into the sun. There is a common belief that this holds a variety of benefits, both in terms of an individual’s health and spiritual wellbeing – with some claims of sun-gazing bringing them closer to nature or in fact, to god. Another of Mulvenna’s comics, ‘Our time together is short’, subtly finds humour in another estranged practice – breathalism – by illustrating frames from a youtube video in which one breathalist claims to be a messiah, sent to educate the masses.
“I wouldn’t say I was a cynical person... as someone who isn’t religious or even very superstitious about things – I don’t believe in magic – I find it quite amazing what some people or cultures do believe in. I suppose I’m quite jealous, really; I’ve never really found myself questioning these existential themes of life, and I’m curious about people who do... who can dedicate themselves to radical beliefs and say, openly, ‘I believe in this’.”
His comics always appear distinctly hand-made, where the most base of materials are used for three basic things: a colour, a line, or a fill. Whereas Sungazing’s central character is drenched in a watercolour world of oranges, browns and yellows synonymous with warmth, ‘Our time together is short’ is 90% pencil on paper; its character an amorphous tonal study of sketchy lines, shifting and blending in all different directions to replicate a man as vague as he is odd.
The obscure and the occult has always fascinated Sean Mulvenna in the way the beliefs of others can affect him; making these stories easy to remember and hard to forget:
“Working with stories is something I like. I tend to work a lot with people’s reactions and coping systems in relation to death."
Doing comics, I often have to rely on getting work done quickly. Everything has to be kept simple – to make sure the characters and background look the same in each frame, and to make sure that everything comes together in a sequence. I like to work quickly, both as a way of my work being intuitive and consistent.”
Mulvenna aims to produce a new comic within the year, working alongside writer Kev Sherry. His only aspiration - in the meantime - is to finish it.
To see more of Sean's work visit: www.seanmulvenna.co.uk
Article by: Rachel Boyd