Artist Interviews 2022

Mister London  
By Laura Siebold

Mister London is an artist “duo” from the UK that specializes in the portraiture of female characters. “[E]xploring the boundaries of gender and cultural identity”, Simon, the main artist behind Mister London, creates multilayered mixed media artwork that just has the special diamond dust to stand out. From his choice of paper and materials, through the process of creation to its exhibit, Mister London gives all his artwork a unique crafted expression. Drawing from his art education and years of teaching art, the artist displays diverse influences in his female portraitures.

In his interview, Mister London talks about the inspiration for his art, lessons he gained from his teaching and about his excitement for upcoming art fairs. Mister London is based in London, England.

Mister London/Simon, I absolutely fell in love with your portraits when I saw them at the previous edition of The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles, CA. Was this your first time exhibiting at the fair? What did you love most about the experience?        

Although it wasn't my first time exhibiting with The Other Art Fair, it was the first time exhibiting in LA. It was where I used to bring art students from London to see all the art, and it was always where I most wanted to show when I turned professional. So, I was excited to learn that I had been accepted to show my work for April 2020! Of course, everything got cancelled, but after two years of waiting, it finally happened. In the end it was far better than I expected and what I really appreciated was the LA crowd who were very keen to engage with you as an artist, and of course they were very cool.

Can you tell us about your early beginnings in the art world? Was there a specific moment in your life when you identified yourself as an artist? 

I have always been involved in art from a young age, and it was what I was good at in school.  I went to art college in the UK to study Fine Art, and I have been lucky enough to see a wide range of art exhibitions here in the States, in the UK and around the world over the years. I have always thought of myself as an artist but for other people I think they first saw me as an artist rather than a teacher when I turned professional in 2019. 

In your art, you portray strong female characters and explore topics of gender and cultural identity. What fascinates you about female portraiture? Where do you draw your inspiration from?  

It wasn't my intention to just portray female characters. My themes I work on such as hope, strength, and resilience, just seem to work really well with the characters I select when working on early collages for ideas. Although these can be both male and female, it's often the female characters that really work well and are usually the most popular. London remains my main inspiration, although travelling to experience different cultures and experiences helps. But the Art I keep returning to is a Greek statue of the Goddess Iris in the British Museum. The statue is amazing, and she is a messenger and Goddess of the Rainbow, which reflects my work on diversity and inclusion. I have used the image many times and continue to be inspired by it!

You explore the boundaries of art by blending traditional and contemporary media in your work. Many of your pieces are given a special touch by hand finishing them with gold leaf, acrylic paint, and diamond dust, often completed with the help of your wife.  Can you describe the process of creating a mixed media art piece from start to finish?          

The process can be very long. I usually work on collages of ideas first, both in my sketchbook and on my laptop from photos of my drawings and paintings and things I have seen around London. For example, I was working on Dark Clouds, about hope in adversity, which has the Goddess Iris and then I collaged photos of the side of the Victoria and Albert museum where it had been damaged from the bombing in WW2 onto it. It had been left as a memorial to those times and how London had been through dark times but came back stronger.  After working on the image for several months on my laptop, I have it printed in the East End of London at my printers, and then hand finish it with acrylic, and my wife will then embellish [it] with gold leaf and diamond dust. I enjoy the whole process and really like working together with my wife. Collaboration was something we would always do in teaching, so it seems natural to be continuing with that now. 

You are based in London, UK, but exhibit your art internationally. Is your art perceived differently across the world?  

Wherever I have shown, there has always been an interest and enthusiasm for the work on show which is great. What I have noticed is that although the work is often inspired by London, the themes seem to be universal and appreciated from wherever the viewer is from, which I really like. 

Please describe one of your favorite experiences you’ve had with viewers and visitors of art shows. How did this experience change you?  

LA was definitely my favourite experience and I think it made me realize that showing here was something I could continue to do. It also made me more ambitious in the work I do, especially in the prints in terms of scale. This has made me make them more painterly and I have been more experimental with colour.  However, the first time I showed with Saatchi at an Art Fair after the pandemic was in October of last year [2021] and I think people were just so happy and excited to be out and about again. They were literally queueing in their hundreds outside and it made the front pages of the London papers. It made me realize how fortunate I was to be able to do what I enjoy and what we had all been missing over the last year or so, which is just human contact and interaction. 

Can you name an influential personality in the art field who inspires you to this day?  What kind of inspiration do you draw from this person for your own art?  

Through teaching I have been able to see so many exhibitions and artists' work, and with Frieze London, where there are lots of galleries from all over the world. Social media has also helped not only with introducing more contemporary artists but also where you can catch their work and being able to chat about techniques and materials. If I had to choose, it would be Jenny Saville for sheer ambition and technique, Toulouse Lautrec for mark making and Bonnard for composition and colour. I have always loved Picasso's use of line.

You’ve been teaching art classes in London for over thirty years. What have you learned from the interaction with students for your own life and art?  

With the students I made sure they had a real discipline to their work in the way they prepare, research, and develop their ideas and to be ambitious, which has now become natural in my own work. I also wanted them to have experiences that they wouldn't normally get to do, such as an LA art tour, a 24-hour trip to Paris, many trips to NY, which has also widened my own knowledge and experience in art, too. In my work now, I find the themes I work to are the themes that I spoke to the students about, and the art I am doing now reflects all those years I was teaching. 

What has been your favorite opportunity to exhibit your art? What kind of advice do you have for a newly emerging artist?

  Although I have been lucky enough to have my own solo show in London and work in galleries, by far the best opportunities have been through the Saatchi Art Fairs. It's been great to meet fellow artists, work with my wife, get feedback from the public and get to understand what people like and why, which really helps. For anyone wondering how best to develop their art career, it would be to get involved in the art fairs to showcase their work. And you get to travel, too, perfect!

The Other Art Fair

We are curious about future projects. What are you currently working on and where can we see your art next?

I am currently back in the studio in London getting ready for the autumn shows. I have just completed some very large prints including a new piece called ‘between 2 worlds’. It's based on the idea of a mermaid, someone who looks out for you as we embark on a journey from where we are now to where we want to be. It's part of my Angel series which has been well received.  I am also finishing the next of my large drawings which goes on show in London in October. Called ‘Diamond life’, it's part of the Babylon series showcasing the positivity of diversity. It's going to have Iris made up of images of diamonds that represent different cultures connected with London.  My next show, though, will be at The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles, 22nd-25th September [2022] at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. Come and check it out if you're around that weekend, it's a great experience!

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