As we launch the latest in a series of collaborations with John Booth, we take a moment to speak to the artist about the longstanding partnership and gain some insight into his creative process.
Born in Scotland and now based in London, John’s practice encompasses a variety of media from ceramics and 3D sculpture to works on paper and in textiles.
The new drop of collaborative pieces between John Booth and Begg x Co sees the offering expanding for the first time into knitwear as well as accessories, reflecting a deeper knowledge of the possibilities of wool and cashmere.
What has driven the desire to see your designs translated into fabric and wearable pieces?
That’s what I trained at Central St. Martin’s - Fashion Design with Print - and I think I have always been really into the idea of seeing my drawings on fabric. As well as that, I have always paid attention to techniques. The digital print that Begg x Co can achieve on cashmere translates the drawings really accurately, so it’s really nice to see them transformed into something wearable.
I also like seeing stuff on the body. It’s about seeing your work in a different context. As much as I like static objects it’s nice to see it in movement. Also, it introduces the work to a different market of people, doesn’t it? People engage differently - you might not buy a piece of ceramic from me but perhaps you would buy a John Booth for Begg x Co scarf and it’s great to my work across different media. But the thing I really like about Begg x Co is that we have been doing it for five or six years now and it’s really nice to have that continuity.
Do you think the common ties between Begg x Co, Scotland and yourself make for a special collaboration?
It’s cute and I actually am a Scottish person even though I have a northern accent. I was born in Fife and a lot of my memories are rooted in Scotland. From visiting my grandparents to hearing my mother’s accent, a lot of my heritage comes from there. It’s something that’s always in the back of your mind; whichever country you’re from, it’s always part of you.
Part of my final collection at Central St. Martins was two kilts, a nod to my Scottish heritage surely but also a play between masculine and feminine. And that’s a deeper theme for my work with fashion and fabrics. I really like to play with the feminine side of things. Even cashmere has a softness to it that dialogues with that idea. It feels quite feminine and it brings a possibility for subversion.
Can you tell us a little about the creative process behind your practice?
It’s pretty dependant on the nature of the work and of the brief. I quite like working to a brief and that’s why it’s exciting to work with different companies, choosing avenues to explore after that initial moment. When you have worked with a company before, like with Begg x Co, it’s good to look back upon past projects. A big part of my process is looking back at previous work and then thinking about building from there.
You have experimented with a variety of artistic expressions, what's bringing you joy at the moment?
I recently rediscovered the joy of decorating ceramics again. I believe a lot of people fetishised this idea of the lockdown as being super productive and filled with creative freedom but I didn’t find them productive at all. Instead it was rather limiting and not inspiring. Now that things feel a lot better I am finding joy in being more productive after nearly two years. I have the ceramic exhibition with Supergroup which I am very excited about but I don’t want to say too much about it! Above all, the joy of being more productive again!
How have the last two years affected your practice? And how do you think your art sits in today’s world?
I can’t view it in an idealistic way, because these weren’t nice circumstances to work under. Lots of other things that are important to the creative process were eradicated - socialising, meeting new people, going to exhibitions, travelling. All that stuff on the periphery is really important.
I was super lucky I was able to keep making work but it wasn’t a creative paradise, quite the opposite. But I can say it offered a new context for the work. As I have worked for myself for some years I am used to the ups and downs, sometimes being in love with my work, sometimes not as much. It’s almost like it magnified that feeling of being up and down, and now I don’t feel different, just happy that things are looking better.
What’s distinctive about this new drop of the collaboration? Of all the collections so far, which is your favourite outcome?
There are two different things I work on; the digital print stuff is a no brainer because you can use any colour and any pattern but when working with the weaving process for the blankets, it’s useful to know what’s achievable and what’s not.
Looking back, I think the Valatzu JB graffiti blanket is one I liked the most. For the first time I think I truly understood the weaving process in how it affects the design and even when I was drawing it I was aware of its needs, more aware of the weft and warp and techniques involved. I really feel like this time I got it and that it shows in the product.
For the official launch party at our London store, we are joining forces with Alexis Taylor (Hotchip). You two have collaborated before and you dressed Alexis for the stage. How is it to establish bridges between your work and music?
I have been a Hotchip fan for a long time. He and his wife started buying my work and eventually I met them and I really like how he dresses. Looking at the window installation now on the store, especially the guy on the left, I could definitely see Alexis wearing that!
And when designing for Begg x Co, I do think of and imagine who is going to wear it. I like the idea of this or that particular person wearing it, even if sometimes it doesn’t happen. Ultimately, I design stuff because I like it and I want to make garments that I would wear or get enjoyment from.
Also, I never make work without listening to music. I cannot make work in silence. Music is such a huge part of my day. I start the day watching something on YouTube and even going to bed I might watch something just before going to sleep. I am way more into music than into watching TV. I’d rather watch a performance on MTV from six years ago than a currrent TV series.
Colour is such a fundamental part of your work, do you ever see yourself moving away from it?
Again, the idea of repetition in my work is important to me. I have a weird attachment to the idea of something being repetitive - I find both comfort and discomfort in it. I don’t want anything to become too repetitive but continuation is quite important. I’m definitely aware of repeated colour schemes in my work because these are tried and tested but it would be really exciting to move away from those. I don’t really know what it would look like now but it could be quite exciting. It would be amazing to try different colour schemes but it’s a risk that needs the time for exploration.
Sometimes people think that if you’re into colour then any bright colours will do, but I don’t think that’s applicable to me. It’s not about anything bright, it is more nuanced than that, without trying to academicise it or make it sound more complicated than it is. But if you look at my work, there are specific colour schemes that are used in a particular way.
Often people associate colour with happiness and joy and I do get a lot of joy from my work but I think there’s also a kind of sadness to my work that not many people look into. Colour is such a good way of expressing emotion but it doesn’t always have to be upbeat, I don’t always feel that when I’m working, sometimes it is cleansing and cathartic.
Scotland born, Cumbria raised and now having lived in London for almost two decades, what in the city brings you close to your northern home?
Nothing and that’s why I like it here! The further I went through my teenage years, the more I had a deep yearning for not being there. I’m a gay man, creative and it just wasn’t for me. The Lake District does have an amazing arts and crafts scene and it was influential for me. I was really lucky, I went to schools where art and design and crafts were really pushed and celebrated. But I’m not particular sentimental about the area. I’m a city person, I like fresh air but I’d rather be in the city, everything I like about life is in the city: being around lots of people, around fun and stimulating stuff, galleries and exhibitions, social life. I don’t fetichise the countryside, I don’t fetichise a quiet life, it’s not what I want or what my work is about.
Maybe one day when I’m old and jaded but I know lots of people in London that are in their 60’s and 70’s that are so full of the joy of life, I would rather aspire to that. I’m sentimental in some ways but not about that, I just really like it here.
What’s next for John Booth?
I wonder. There’s the exhibition coming up, new things for Supergroup which I’m really excited about and hopefully some time to consider new work, time to try new things. Paper based work perhaps? I’ve joined a bookmaking studio. I’ve always been really into books as objects and as a means of communication. Especially because everything that I’ve been into was drawn, born out of paper. Elephant Magazinerecently supplied me with some Liquitex materials to work with and it was really nice to experiment with. I use so much material it’s really handy to be given some.
I think I will look for more time to go back to absolute basics, back to drawing on paper. It’s the most liberating art form as there are so little limitations. So back to drawing and seeing how that can lead into something and maybe approaching other companies that I’d like to collaborate with. It’s hard to plan and you can get an unexpected email that changes your whole year, because I’m open and I’m free and that’s exciting.