Some great questions from student Bethany Husband for the festival blog. I'm afraid that you've missed the festival but here is the interview.
I am very excited about Moose Allain being a guest of the exetreme imagination festival. His fusion of art and narrative results in wonderfully quirky style that cannot be defined as just cartoon, illustration or satire. It is this undefinable nature of his work that makes him so exciting and relevant, while his use of twitter gives his artistic musings a sense of immediacy.
How has your use of social media changed the way you work?
It’s had a huge influence. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t ‘spending too much time’ on Twitter, I was writing jokes, writing stories, drawing cartoons, and when Vine came along I started animating. I realised that rather than distracting me from work twitter was inspiring me. The immediacy of an audience reaction is compelling. But I was also meeting all sorts of interesting people, some of whom wanted to buy my work, others to commission me. Twitter can be a kind of portfolio/showreel/shop window where you can show off to an appreciative audience. As an artist of course you want an audience. Where is that audience, traditionally? I suppose galleries. If you’re successful, maybe in books. Suddenly social media means that you can have that audience and build it. This is where your art takes place, where your ideas reach other people. Lots of artists don’t get that direct contact with people who like their work.
Of course it can also be a fun place to socialise and be silly. I’ve made lots of real life friends through Twitter.
Why are you drawn to a ‘childish’ style when dealing with adult themes?
The short answer is that’s all I’m capable of! The thing you’re trying to do is communicate ideas or tell stories in the best way you can. I love people like Modern Toss and David Shrigley who make a virtue of crude drawing styles. But I think cartoons, comic strips etc have long been ta primary medium for dealing with very serious issues, as witnessed by recent awful events in France. They allow you to look at things from a different angle, but also to leaven unpalatable events with humour, and they are quick, to the point. They can be throwaway, or stay with you long after. To be fair though, most of my work isn’t that serious, I’m not really a satirist or topical cartoonist. However, I do think playfulness and comedy are deadly serious pursuits.
Your work could be described as illustration, cartoon or satire. What are the advantages of producing indefinable art?
I always struggle when people ask what my work’s like because I do lots of different things. Recently I’ve taken to describing myself as a professional doodler as I think this best describes my creative processes. The advantages are that I can try all sorts of things – I’ve even done a couple of bits of stand up – and it still falls within the general heading of ‘artist’. It’s very liberating and has lead to some experiences I would never have had if I’d stuck to painting landscapes.
Is it the idea of storytelling that inspires your cartoons or do you find the act of creating art leads to the formation of stories?
It is both. I have discovered that you don’t have to have a story in your head to make stories. I often start literally with a blob on a piece of paper and ask myself what – or more often who – is this? This is the doodling element, just allowing your mind to wander, to play, to react, to imagine. The workshops I run are all about this idea – through a series of simple steps you can start from nothing and create stories you didn’t know were inside you.
Other times of course ideas pop into your head that you want to turn into something. Treating twitter as a medium certainly inspired me to write short stories, allowing nebulous thoughts to harden into an idea for a story that I would then write directly into tweets. It felt a bit like performance, improv, where you know roughly where you’re going, but not how you get there or how it ends. It’s exciting because you know people are watching.
How do you use words and captions in your art?
I’ve always loved cartoons, comic strips, graphic novels, maps, diagrams and so on, so adding words to pictures, or rather seeing them as integral is natural to me. Adding a caption to a doodle can transform a pleasant but inconsequential drawing into something thought provoking, funny or suggestive of a story which hopefully sets the viewer off on their own imaginative trail. I think it’s also an interesting by-product of drawing – I often find my mind goes off on all sorts of thought trails while my hand is occupied. Playing around with words in my mind while drawing was how I started tweeting. It’s almost as if you’re capable of two types of thinking, your hand is busy thinking about shapes, your mind is free to wander. One enables the other. It’s not just drawing that has this effect: washing up, mowing the lawn, walking the dog are often creative times for me.
How have your past experiences in theatre and architecture informed your current subject matter? Do they influence your wonderful variation in style?
That’s an interesting question. Yes, I think they both have in different ways, the architecture more obviously in terms of subject matter, but also in giving me a grounding in design disciplines. I don’t come from an art school background where I get the impression education tends to be about self expression (judging from many of the ‘artist statements’ I’ve seen). Architecture is much more client oriented and a legacy of the kind of work I was involved in as an architect was that I love participatory work, getting other people involved in contributing to pieces, such as the Pet Names & Favourite Words project. I also taught architecture for several years and realised how important the ‘crit’ system where you regularly present your projects is. Talking about your work, putting thoughts into words, can lead you to a clarity about your ideas but also to capture elements that are otherwise nebulous – just as with the story-telling process I described earlier you discover ideas you didn’t know you had! The drama experience is something I have carried with me throughout my working life. It helped me to realise the value of performance, of couching your ideas within a construct for an audience. It also teaches you the value of ‘projecting’ – speaking clearly to the back of the room. This is I realise only now that you’ve asked me the question is a great metaphor for the relationship between my work and social media.