Meet John Booth: The Man Causing a Stir in the Fashion and Art World

Osman Ahmed talks to John Booth about working with Fendi, and his love of office stationery

At a time of uncertainty around the world, with Brexit looming and Trump in power, what could be more joyously uplifting than bright, optimistic colour? It is the reason that children enjoy colouring-in books so much and why so many adults have followed suit. It’s also the loud antithesis of the prevailing clean and subdued décor epitomised by Kinfolk, which can sometimes come off as ubiquitous and anodyne. Most importantly, however, it’s fun and light-hearted, just like the houses on Portobello Road in London and David Hockney’s saturated landscapes.

“I’ve always been obsessed by colour and office stationery,” Booth says. Dressed cobalt blue and yellow, it’s clear that his is a colourful life.

“I have a twin sister, so I would always be drawing and it was my thing – especially because stationery is something you can be quite protective of,” he explains. His mother, like any true Englishwoman, is crafty and although his family is not ‘artistic’, he was encouraged to be creative both at home and at primary school. “Cumbria is quite famous for its art scene and I remember having really great art teachers. One of the first artists we learned about Kurt Schwitters.”

In a way, Booth follows in the footsteps of his fellow Lake District dweller. Schwitters, who was a modernist and founding father of Dadaism, worked predominantly with found objects, his sense of composition and figurative faces can be felt in Booth’s own quickly paced illustrations and collages. David Hockney, too, is a clear influence, but Booth is not just inspired by flat surfaces – he is keen to expand his media to everything from furniture to houses.

“I would ultimately love to design a whole house, and everything inside,” he says.

Recently, he has been making ceramic faces and figurines, and has become known for his cartoon-like penises. Both forms, he says, have an archetypal quality that inspire him. “Often when I’m illustrating I work very quickly, but with ceramics it takes more time and becomes three-dimensional, and I love that.”

 

Right: Fendi artwork AW17

Booth initially studied Fashion at Central Saint Martins, but throughout college he says that drawing played a big part of his process. This informed his work while interning for Zandra Rhodes and John Galliano. “At Galliano, I was given lots of design drawings to do for the accessories, which were pretty abstract, so I was doing jewellery pieces and big necklaces and headpieces, but also lots of hand drawings with colour and texture,” he recalls of his time in Paris. “In a way, the whole embellishment was just like collage – you’re just working with fabric instead of paper.”

Booth’s sensibility has led to a number of high-profile collaborations, the most notable being Fendi. Booth created graphics and illustrated faces for everything – bags, prints, you name it – and his sense of bold colour has become an essential part of the aesthetic of Fendi’s menswear. His time in fashion, however, made him realise he didn’t want to be a designer.

Often my best work is that which has taken five minutes.

“It sounds quite terrifying, but at Fendi there’ll be ten people stood around the table while I draw,” he says. “Ideas are shown instantly, pinned to a model and then applied to a piece or discarded. I’ll apply the same approach but always responding to their research. They’ve actually got me using a ruler so that it’s all precise and easier to produce, which I’d never normally do. Often my best work is that which has taken five minutes.” The idea of drawing quickly for a crowd appeals to Booth, though, and recently the Italian brand invited him to Japan to paint on bags live for customers at  Isetan, the renowned department store. “I actually don’t mind it too much because I’m used to doing that when I’m teaching. I can’t be too precious about illustration because it always turns out better when it’s responsive.”

Elsewhere, Booth’s work has appeared in collaboration with London-based designer Lou Dalton, who turned his saturated patches of colour into colour-blocked prints on everything from shirts to trousers and scarfs. The Tate also commissioned a series of illustrations inspired by Sonia Delaunay, which now sit in their permanent collection of drawings. Studio Voltaire, the London-based shop that sells products designed by multi-disciplinary creative, has also been stocking Booth’s ceramics – he’s working on expanding his product offering to things  like cups, towels, and flower pots, which will be available to buy as one-off pieces that neatly straddle the ideologies of art and product.

I don’t create work specifically for Instagram

Many of Booth’s projects are often credited to his popularity on Instagram, where he has over 70,000 followers, and although the social media platform has certainly been helpful in sharing his work, it’s not what drives him. “It has never impacted my work but it means that a lot more people see it,” laughs Booth. “It’s been a great way for me to get my work out there – especially at the moment, because I’m in my thirties and I really love working – but I don’t create work specifically for Instagram. That’s the opposite of how I work. I don’t work digitally and I’ve started scanning my illustrations in so I can post them there, but really what it’s about is sharing, and lots of great people have contacted me through it to collaborate.”

Booth’s Instagram is a voyage into his colourful world, which can’t help but inspire during the doldrums of today’s bleak landscape.

“Little Fatty”, 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Studio Voltaire, London

Taken from Sleek 53

All artwork by John Booth, courtesy of the artist

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