Real film and furnishings in the North Laine
The works of Brighton real film photographer Toby Mason and Margate printed furniture designer Zoe Murphy will share space in the former’s North Laine home as part of the Brighton Artists Open House Festival this May. Here we talk inspiration and artistic values to find out what else they have in common…
Which aesthetic elements of British seaside locations do you take inspiration from for your work?
Toby Mason: I have been inspired a lot by Martin Parr’s iconic seaside photography: I adore the bold colours, and the contrasts between backdrops – akin to the kind of garish postcards that you used to get – and his subjects, often close-up holidaymakers.
I also love the changing of the seasons in my hometown of Brighton: the beach changes in atmosphere throughout the year. There can be intense sea mists and amazing clouds and moody skies. During those months at dusk there are also enormous starling murmurations, where thousands of birds flock together before roosting under the pier.
Zoe Murphy: Social and economic histories are a constant source of interest and inspiration for me. For me it’s the forgotten or even embarrassing parts of seaside towns such as Brighton or Margate that get my brain whirring. What could be more exciting for a designer or artist to take something people don’t notice or avoid, and make it something they are proud of and want to see!
A lot of my collections draw initial inspiration from patterns and shapes that people don’t notice, like cafe tables, security grills, awnings, tin roofs and out of use signs. I’ve always found myself coveting and using bright colours, such as those that may have faded in seaside towns. It’s my way highlighting things I want people to notice and feel good about.
What makes an artwork nostalgic?
TM: I use analogue film cameras, some of them up to around 25-30 years old, for my photography. So in this digital age I feel that I am helping to keep alive techniques and traditions that have been forgotten by most.
I love the imperfections, the grain and lens anomalies, as well as the quirks that appear after processing. For me, this has more soul than the air-brushed perfection of digital photography and Photoshopped images.
ZM: A lot of the shapes and patterns I use in my work feel very mid 20th century thanks to the furniture I use and the tone-on-tone Formica-like patterns I draw and print with.
I want to make people re-connect with their belongings and places and also feel that it’s possible to have a reminiscent connection to a piece despite not being alive at the time that it is depicting. I think you can convey optimism and reinvention through a piece of artwork, and if this makes viewers or users look back at something and remember it better or more kindly, that makes an artwork nostalgic.
Why do you enjoy blurring the boundaries between old and new?
TM: I think modern society has become obsessed with having the latest gadgets, at the expense of whatever came before. Just because something is new, it certainly doesn’t mean that it is better. But I also try to find inventive new ways to push the boundaries of analogue photography, for example with double exposures achieved in-camera, film-swaps with photographers in Japan, and cross-processing slide film in C-41 chemicals (usually used for colour-negative film), which enhances colours, contrast and saturation.
ZM: The blurring of boundaries is much more to do with process for me. When I’m starting a serious project I’ll do some initial drawing and make patterns and colour palettes from those, but it is not unusual for me to want to go back and draw more even when I’m ready to print and make the final pieces.
I feel the same about processes and technique, as using a CNC machine to cut a detailed design is just as exciting as making those marks by hand or with a screen, and being able to use both really widens the possibilities of making great art.
I get a real bee in my bonnet about the crafts and trades that are disappearing in the UK so in a broader sense I actually feel it a bit of a welcome duty to use old methods or materials and show how contemporary or ‘new’ they can look when played around with a bit – it matters a lot to me to bridge those gaps.
What is it about mid-century imagery that most appeals to you?
TM: I love the bold colours and faded glamour of the mid-century, which evoke feelings of fun and jollity.
ZM: I didn’t grow up in the post war era and by some accounts it was actually a pretty grim time in terms of the economy and society, but at the same time there is something really enduring about that time. It was a time when technology was progressing again, thanks in part to wartime inventions, and above all else there were opportunities.
The imagery from this era seems to connect not to a time of prosperity, but of potential prosperity. I can certainly relate to this, as I’m sure a lot of people can in the current economic climate. The imagery of that time – bright colours, happy and almost naïve subject matter, yet still with a memory of making do and noble values – seems to reflect a nation recently stricken with austerity but working it’s way optimistically to a better time.
Where do you like to go bargain-hunting along the south coast?
TM: I am spoilt for choice living as I do in the North Laine. We have an excellent flea market here, open every day, together with a street market every Saturday and of course the wonderful Snooper’s Paradise. The Kemptown flea market is another great place for browsing and picking up bargains, without paying city-centre prices.
ZM: Margate is a complete winner when it comes to bargain hunting. We have some fantastic independent furniture and clothes shops in the old town that are packed with second hand and vintage stock.
Just out of town is a huge house clearance and antiques warehouse called Scott’s that is famous locally for everything you might need from any era. I also like to go to Hastings for a bit of bargain hunting now and again. Apart from having the best curated second hand furniture and home store I’ve ever been to (Hendy’s) I also discovered a second hand vinyl shack inside a junk store – it had every type of record you could want and was so disorganised that everything is fantastic value. I plan to go back with a packed lunch soon and stay the whole day.
Photos and Furnishings will be open every weekend in May from 10 – 5.30pm at 19 Queen’s Gardens, North Laine, Brighton, BN1 4AR