Q & A with South African Artist and Freelance Illustrator, Christo Noel Booth

As someone recently branching out in the writing world, I somewhat fit the bill of the ‘penniless writer’…

So I’m generally left to salivate over the work of local, South African artists and return home empty-handed after attending an exhibition. But a talented member of 4 Blind Mice made me an offer one evening I couldn’t refuse… A collection of short stories I had edited in exchange for an art work. I readily accepted. Of course, expecting a little pencil sketch, I was flabbergasted when he delivered the next day a fully-framed painting he had done. Today, a woman in red with a raven and a cyborg arm majestically adorns the one wall in my living room. I was so taken with this image, that I wanted to scratch a little beneath the surface, to find out what it was that made this 32 year old freelance illustrator and artist tick, how he conjured up these pieces… And I thought I might share these inner-workings of the mind of Christo Noel Booth with y’all…

JF: So tell me a little bit about the art collective of 4 Blind Mice…

CB: The collective was formed on the basis of friendship, a shared desire to be career artists, a love for drawing and making images, a shared ideal or dream to share studio space and a shared ability to sit around for hours, talking absolute crap.

The Mice, as we are affectionately known, believe in the art of loafing as part of the creative process and have on occasion been referred to as ‘gentlemen of leisure’.

4 Blind Mice can also be summed up as a subtle intellectual brotherhood. We use visual art to stimulate our curiosities about the world and the places we often find ourselves. The Mice believe in the power of the studio, that it binds us together and that it allows us to feed off each other’s process.

Our main objective, though, is to bring chaos and destruction to every eyeball, which dares to be blinded by the light of the Mice.

Warrior Princess of China and her Panda

Warrior Princess of China and her Panda

JF: A kind of female warrior archetype seems to feature quite strongly in some of your work (often with cyborg body parts) and I know from your own personal social media platforms, you are prone to sharing feminist material… Would you say there is a correlation? That there is a conscious motive in this? Or does it happen quite freely and by coincidence?

CB: A kind of female warrior archetype is exactly what it is or at least an attempt to create the notion of one. I’m glad you chose to describe it that way. Yes, there is most definitely a correlation between the way I try and present my female characters and the fact that I share feminist based material on Facebook. I am very conscious of it and I think long and hard about how to create these characters as strong and independent without offending women. I’m very aware on a daily basis of the sometimes negative ideals women in general have been set out to try and achieve. Men do this and I am a man. Men have oppressed women and there is no two ways about it. We have to make up for it, not as feminists I believe, but as men. As a man I can’t speak for women on feminist issues, but I can try and support those issues. Whether I’m doing so in the work that I make and how I choose to present the female form, I do not know. For a long time I used to create predominantly male characters as I couldn’t draw female characters very well. I forced myself to and I force myself to look at women differently to what the mainstream media and Hollywood would like to suggest.

JF: Then, let’s discuss the animals… There is an interesting tension between the mechanical and the natural world in a lot of your pieces… Is this to suggest something of human nature? The inevitable animal in all of us, in spite of technological advances and our understanding of being separate and apart from animals? And were you influenced at all by the notion of animal familiars (such as in the fantasy work of Philip Pullman)?

CB: Nature vs. Machine is the ultimate battle on this earth we call home. Humans are a part of nature and we have also set ourselves apart from it. We also make machines. The very thing that sets us apart is our technological advances. For the longest time these advances of technology have been to the detriment of the natural world. Instead of us using our apparent intellect to live with the rest of nature, we have chosen to do the exact opposite. There are those of course who have used technology in a bid to fuse with nature and it can be done without nature being harmed. We can coexist in nature with nature, with our technology, without trying to destroy it, so it all depends on how we use it.

I also wonder what Artificial Intelligence could mean for the future of the human race. How would an average human being fit into that kind of world? Would the very thing that we created try to destroy us, like Terminator? All these questions about nature and our place in the world, our human-technological influences we have on the world, our desire to know more, to look into the future, is like nectar for my imagination.

JF: Expanding on this, you suggested The Silver Back had become something of an alter ego for you? How does he differ from Christo, the mere human, and what freedoms does he allow you, artistically and otherwise?

CB: Silverback or Silver, as I call him, has helped me a great deal to develop, firstly as an artist fresh out of art school, secondly as somewhat of a storyteller, and thirdly as a member the art collective 4 Blind Mice. He’s become an integral part in my image making process, because he allows me to always have a subject to work with. Not that I always try to use him as a subject, but merely the fact I know that I can when I need to. I don’t really know if he’s allowed me any liberal freedoms; I tend to allow that myself. He’s the kind of bad-ass I would aspire to be. He’s brash, intolerable, rude, and selfish, a liar, loves to fight, jealous, opinionated, and thinks he knows everything, but then he could be the exact opposite of all of those things if he chooses. Same like me I suppose, except a lot more extreme.

Silver Boxer

Silver Boxer

JF: In your reworking of The Scream and the piece featuring Silver Back on a bicycle, you enter into a dialogue with other artworks and cultural artefacts… Is this another instance where Silver Back acts as a critique and artistic ammunition for you?

CB: Indeed yes, when using or illustrating Silverback racing a road bike and making reference to Lance Armstrong’s “Live Strong” campaign and I call it “LIVE SILVER”, it is a critique on that particular individual and questions the mainstream influence an individual like Lance Armstrong would have had. So I was using Silver to mock Lance Armstrong is the short answer. When Silver enters the realm of the fine arts, at least in the Western European historical context, he is there to destroy.

A Reason To Scream

A Reason To Scream

JF: On the opposite end of the scale, elaborate on your fascination with cyborg elements?

CB: Cyborgs, robots, AI, Science-fiction etc. fascinate me. There is the inherent kinda sleek, futuristic vibe to it all. Plus I just really like to draw mechanical arms. I am also somewhat interested in the use/need of prosthesis. This is something that has fascinated me from an early age, seeing people that were either born with physical disability or damaged in some kind of accident and how their new limbs, their prosthesis gives them a new lease on life –if I can put it like that. It somehow gives me hope. I don’t really know how, but it does. Perhaps hope for the future.

Sometimes I wonder, actually a lot of the time I wonder, what it would be like to have a robotic arm or leg. I kinda wish I lived in a world like that now and I’m a bit envious of the idea of future humans being fully cyborg and having amazing new abilities. Obviously we don’t know what the future holds, but technology would suggest that that’s the way it’s heading. I just want to be there to see it all. So I guess that’s why I draw those kinds of images, because I can’t physically experience them, at least not in this lifetime.

JF: Can you tell me a little bit about Nature= Myth… The animal presence is very striking in such an urban environment with the notable figure of a gunman, his weapon poised at the profile of a primate, and while you use vivid colour in a lot of your pieces, there is a noteworthy absence of it in this particular work.

She Villain

She Villain

CB: Nature = Myth, the actual work, is an earlier work of mine from 2009. It’s a diptych, meaning two, so two images that read as one work. Not to be biased, but I believe it to be one of my best. The use of colour or the lack thereof has to do with creating a certain mood in the artwork. The idea was to create that feeling of destruction and beauty fused as one. The subject matter is dark and so the visual elements within the work became dark. The artwork deals with man’s destruction of the natural world and of what he fears, because man has done this, man has separated himself so much from nature that it has become a myth. The idea itself, to create the work, came from a piece of writing I did beforehand. I called it “The Vanity of Our Humanity”. I was questioning our place in the natural world and then more specifically my place. What does it mean for me to be human and how would I go about expressing that meaning in a work of art…?

Nature=Myth (A Diptych)

Nature=Myth (A Diptych)

Nature=Myth (A Diptych)

Nature=Myth (A Diptych)

JF: Then, there seems to be an element of the comic/graphic novel world in some of your pieces. Would you say this has influenced your art and the narrative you try and convey in your work?

CB: I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of comics in general. I like looking at them. I wouldn’t necessarily draw or write my own or work on a comic or graphic novel, even though I have in the past. I am influenced by them for sure, especially Japanese Manga and Anime. I look at comics to see what other artists come up with and how they draw and tell stories and that is as far as most of my interest in them goes. Artists like James Jean and Ashley Wood have very strong comic book illustrative elements to their work, but are not by definition comic book artists. So I would like to see myself in that category. Of course Ashley Wood and James Jean, for me at least, are light years ahead in their artistic ability.

JF: Finally, what do you gain from using multiple mediums? What do you feel that one offers you more than other and what do you think a multi-medium approach adds to the final completed work?

CB: Using different mediums or at least trying to use different mediums/materials together on the same surface, I believe allows me a greater sense of freedom while working. I hate it when the medium I use wants to dictate how I should work or where the work is going. I get bored using one thing very easily and I get distracted by the idea of how something other than what I started off with, would either add or take away from what I am doing. The idea is also to encourage a bit of spontaneity while working and that adds to the challenge of bringing different mediums together. Different materials give different effects to the work and I like that. It’s like you never know what you’re going to get until you get it. And sometimes it doesn’t work and that’s fine, because at least I had fun experimenting and I learn new things and it’s important as an artists to keep challenging one’s self and not to get stuck in a comfort zone, as they say.

For more, follow Christo and his art collective, The 4 Blind Mice, on Twitter and Instagram @CHRISTOBOOTH & @4_blindmice

 

*This interview first appeared ob Jocelyn’s blog, Humble Pie.

About Jocelyn

After a life-long love affair with ink and paper, Jocelyn is finding the words to bring to light the things that are close to her heart. Residing in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, she spends her free-time mastering the art of pasta making and advocating the adoption of stray animals. To read more, you can visit her blog, Humble Pie or follow her on Twitter.