First Hand — Camberwell illustration graduate Alexander James Wood gives an honest appraisal on his first 12 months since graduating
This article was published as part of our soft launch in 2016.
It’s Nice That identified Alexander James Wood as part of their annual graduates feature in 2015. Here we asked him to give an honest appraisal of his first twelve months since graduating...
On a hot and muggy afternoon in July last year, It’s Nice That announced their 2015 Graduates at Hoxton Arches Gallery Space. Inside that packed brickwork grotto, it quickly rose to a temperature you would normally expect from a sauna located somewhere on the surface of the Sun. I gave a presentation on the inspiration behind the work I made that year at Camberwell College of Arts. I called my work ‘uneasy’, ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘awkward’. Not just because of the content of the images themselves, but also because of the medium I used to make them. Screenprinting. A fairly labour-intensive process during which many things can and usually do go wrong. Especially at the large scale I usually work at. After twelve months, I would be lying if I said the outward trajectory of life in higher education to “artist” in the real world had not been some combination of those three things: uneasy, uncomfortable and awkward.
Anyone who makes screenprints will tell you that don’t know exactly how the print will look on the nal layer. You can have a pretty good idea, but it always feels like a surprise in the end. However if the conditions are right and you’re methodical, the artwork is good, and you don’t break anything, the feeling you get as soon as you see the nished print is always one of immeasurable ful lment. I would dare to say that it is what it feels like doing something you love, and maybe, you’re pretty good at it. Since I’ve graduated, I can tell you that the conditions still look positive: I’ve been organised, people like my artwork, and I’ve only broken one screen. I think I could say I make a good print, but I’ve yet to nd out if I can make it as a good artist.
Alongside the It’s Nice That feature I was picked for the Clyde and Co. Graduate Award. This experience was overwhelming for a misanthrope who had spent a year in a studio staring at ink, paper and four white walls. My screenprints made a dramatic leap from inside a small storage room, underneath a scrawled note saying ‘ARTWORK – DO NOT TOUCH’ to the top floor of a prestigious looking office building next to a little placard with information about the work and bidding procedures. I felt like a kid on holiday at a fancy hotel – all I wanted to do was jump up and down on their desks and eat all of their luxury biscuits. I did one of those things.
My work proved to be popular among lawyers, with other firms soon to be in touch about acquiring work for their offices; one enquiry even becoming a commission. Despite my chosen subject area at university being Illustration, I’ve since found that this has been what I’ve enjoyed the most. I illustrated an article for Mosaic Science magazine, and painted a billboard in Shoreditch for the Wellcome Collection. I completed 20 illustrations for the Jigsaw Trust, but my favourite work remains my self-directed print work. When I’m in complete control. This means I’m likely a terrible Illustrator, but potentially quite a good Artist.
I wish I could say that the sales of my work to those generous clients paid the bills, and that I’m writing this from the balcony of a penthouse suite overlooking the Thames, in a mink dressing gown with a freshly popped bottle of Cristal. I’m not. I’m living with my Mum in Morden and the kettle’s just boiled. Doing exclusively what you love, whilst simultaneously receiving a steady income that will put a roof over your head is perhaps the most important goal for any Artist. Iggy Pop put it best when he spoke at the Peel lecture in 2014: “When it comes to Art, money is an unimportant detail. It just so happens to be a hugely unimportant detail.” Whether there should be or not, there is very little in the way of support for a recently graduated arts student to continue the practice they have developed at University.
I have tried my best to be creative with not just what work I make, and how I make it, but also the work I have to do to make ends meet. To make money, I work for a picture framers. I work there on weekends taking orders, cleaning and maintaining the gallery. I had no experience in making picture frames previously, but over the past several months I’ve started training, and I love it. I also think that experience in picture framing can only prove beneficial for somebody who makes unnecessarily large screenprints for a living. As well as this I joined Hato Press as part of their three-month internship. Four months have passed and I’m still there on Mondays working with a process that has many similarities to screenprinting. At a time when making things pay is difficult, and I no longer have access to subsidised facilities, working in exchange for use of a similar (albeit smaller) print process allows me to keep producing new work at a rate of relative speed.
Next year my work will be in Jealous Gallery’s annual exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and I’m still getting work from the Clyde and Co. Award, even now. In New Cross, I have found affordable studio space with two other Camberwell Alumni. I cannot overestimate the value I have found in being surrounded by other engaged and passionate creative people. If I could give someone soon to graduate from an Arts course any advice, it would be that the community you are currently in is as important to you as your own work. After you graduate don’t lose it if you can help it. Your trusted cohorts will provide you with an energy and focus you will find nowhere else. Be candid with those you know, and cultivate new ground with those you don’t. I suspect this is why It’s Nice That organise so many events with snacks and free beer.
One year may have been uneasy, uncomfortable and awkward but I am still positive. In the same way my medium of choice involves a little uncertainty, I shouldn’t expect anything else from trying to make a career out of it. The one thing I failed to mention that hot day in July was that despite the fact screenprinting can be so unreliable and at times incredibly stressful; I don’t intend on stopping now. I don’t do this for the money, and nor do I really want to. The truth is that I’ve made some good art, and I’d really like to make some more.
I mean, people have paid good money to put in on their wall and look at it every day.