Roaming the halls of the lifelike caves in the events space of Tobacco Docks, East London at this year’s London Tattoo Convention, from the corner of this eye of mine, a piece of art I spotted. There, it is, a room full of beautiful dark art and we at The Moshville Times spoke with the inventor and creator who, for someone who works in such a dark art form, is actually a really nice guy. He is metal music lover and grunge fan: Christopher Lovell, and below is the outcome of our conversation.
Can you tell the readers a little about yourself?
My name is Christopher Lovell! I’m a Welsh artist from the UK. Obsessed with 80s and 90s nostalgia, keen musician and a hopeless nerd. I am currently living in the City of Wells with my girlfriend Jess and obnoxious cat called Panda. I’ve been working professionally on art for the last decade and have way too many ideas for how few hours there are in the day. I love travelling, eating and lifting weights when I can and filling my man cave with geeky clutter that only I will ever appreciate. Hmmm… that sounds like a train wreck of a POF profile.
What jobs did you do before being able to be an artist for a living?
Phew! Where do I start…? I worked some truly awful jobs in my past. Circumstances found me in situations where I had no choice but to surrender to some horrible minimum wage jobs. I’ve done it all from door to door gas salesman, bar work, retail. I was a quality control inspector for Jaguar car air conditioning units, a laminate floor fitter, shelf stacker, office worker, cheese factory packer (one of the worst jobs).
I was so mentally broken and financially trapped in a Groundhog Day type hell, packing cheese into boxes and thinking about everything else I should be doing with my life. I could tell you some ridiculous stories regarding my excuses to “phone in sick” for a day off. A situation that escalated to people thinking I had died… Long story!
I started a web design company with a best friend in 2004, it was fun but that lasted a year or so. I was a guitar teacher which I did for a few years before I took the plunge to try art full time. Teaching was fun at times but it totally depended on the student. Half the time I felt like I was babysitting as some kids had zero interest in learning. There’s lots of other jobs I tried to forget. It feels like there’s been many chapters to my life.
I was a stock room supervisor in WHSmith! That was fun over Christmas as I would get the staff to join me on epic games of hide and seek at night in the massive stock room. I remember the manager coming down and catching us by surprise one night. I was having a conversation with him about delivery strategy and I glanced over his shoulder I could see one of my staff hiding in a shelf compartment behind a large box staring at me with fear and panic across his face. It was so tense but hilarious at the same time.
The cheese factory still haunts me to this day. I remember wanting to go insane so I could be put in a lunatic asylum so I could escape the rut I was in. Crazy looking back at it all now, but I still enjoy cheese though. I know I will always be incredibly humble even If I become the most successful millionaire artist. I very much know the flip side and what it’s like to be fighting to find a way to do what you love and what you know you should be doing with your life.
What a lovely start to this interview! Thankfully I’m in a much happier place now. Every morning I thank the powers that be that I’m in a position to be able to get up, create and do what I love.
Who inspired you to become an artist?
My inspirations are super-vast. I’m very much a nostalgia freak and obsessed with the 80’s and 90s. I feel so blessed to have grown up in a time where I was pummelled left, right and centre with inspiration in all areas. Cartoons like Dungeons & Dragons and He-Man made me love fantasy and science fiction. I would draw characters and make up my own monsters all the time.
Then I got into the Games Workshop hobby and that blew my mind, it was everything I had ever wanted to see fantasy-wise. Through that I discovered incredible artists like Adrian Smith, Paul Bonner, John Blanche etc. So much talent and inspiration for me. Then I became obsessed with Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and discovered more amazing artists through that.
I was about 12 when I discovered Anime, or Manga as it was known in the UK at the time. The first batch of movies had been released over here: Akira, Fist of the North Star and of course Urotsukidoji – Legend of the Overfiend (which one would argue is not a film for a 12 year old to see). For me it was like a super injection of everything I had craved visually. My mind was yet again blown and I became obsessed with collecting Manga and Anime on VHS.
Model kits where a huge hobby of mine too. The 90’s Alien, Predator and Horror kits were such great fun to build and paint – a hobby I still enjoy to this day. I was never bored as a kid, I could list my hobbies and interests all day long and still not scratch the surface. If it had a cult following and was dark and twisted I was probably into it! So much inspired me to become an artist before I even knew it was what I wanted to be. So much inspiration and love for things that creating was the only way I could release some of it, or I’d spontaneously combust!
Has anyone had your work turned into a tattoo? If so how did that make you feel and what was it?
Yes. I’ve seen literally hundreds and hundreds of tattoos of my work. About four or five times a week I’m sent photos or tagged in photos of tattoos of my work. This is something I very much enjoy seeing and it’s a massive compliment seeing people walking around with my artwork on them. I know some artists get a bit angry over tattooists making money tattooing their designs, but for me I would much rather see someone walking around with my artwork on them than not. I’ve seen some amazing huge back pieces done and my work beautifully replicated, so if you want my work tattooed, go for it and send me pics.
How did you find the London Tattoo Convention? What’s your experience of being there for three days?
They found me. I was contacted by one of the organisers to be involved at the 2016 Tattoo convention as a guest artist/exhibitor. I was thrilled and had an amazing time. It’s wonderful to meet followers of my work and see people taking a genuine interest in what I do. I spend so much time grafting on things alone, that conventions are a place where you get energised and inspired to keep doing what you do. I’m always energised, but it just makes you want to push things to the max and have even better stuff to display next time.
I had a wonderful experience both times I’ve been there. The recent 2017 Tattoo Convention was a chance for me to exhibit big framed pieces and original paintings, which is something I’m grateful for. I hope to return in 2018!
Can you explain the artwork of the plague doctor holding the robin redbreast? A lot of your artwork is pretty dark. Is that something you intend to do?
It’s kinda weird when people ask for my interpretations as I work very spontaneously and subconsciously. I start out with a rough sketch and then start shaping it and adding to it as I go. I drew the plague doctor on his own, then thought the addition of a chained bird would be a nice touch. Then I thought a little splash of colour would be nice and made the bird a robin. I decided to add a little paint brush and some running red colour. I wish I had a deeper explanation for this one, but It was just a steady stream of inspiration and story-telling as it’s being created. I guess the doctor is surrounded by so much death, I just wanted to bring some colour and vibrancy to his life through his little companion.
How long does it take for you to complete a piece of art?
It varies depending on the piece. Some images come together super quick as I’m locked in and totally focussed. Others are a labour of love and I just over-complicate and get so lost in detail. It all becomes a blur of days and weeks. I try my best to wrap up a client commission within a week, but that’s all subject to revisions and how much I am vibing off the piece. I tend to be very picky about what to take on as I’ve been a “yes” man in the past and found myself doing some incredibly hard and frustrating projects that required so many revisions. I have no idea why the client came to me in the first place.
If I’m doing a personal piece like a painting, sometimes I’ll shelve it and start something else and come back to it weeks or months later with a fresh eye and new energy for it. I’m always multitasking and although that might not always be the best way to work, it sometimes really helps me in terms of inspiration and energy.
Have you any tattoos? If so, what do you have? If not, what would you get and by who?
I only have one on my upper back. It’s a Gao Yord (Protective Sak Yant Thai tattoo), I got on my first trip to Thailand. It was a bit impulsive to be honest but it’s symbolic of a very big change in my life. I was out in Thailand with my brother and had such a magical time. I realised I was at the gate of a new chapter of life and wanted something to symbolise that transition and be a memento of a life-changing holiday.
I turned up to the tattoo parlour a few hours before my flight home with a horrific hangover and pretty much slept through it. I would like to get more tattoos done, I just never seem to get around to it. Hopefully in 2018 I will get some. There’s many amazing tattooists out there I don’t know where to begin. Sam Barber does some beautiful work and I love the dark style of Grindesign. Ideally, a sleeve of everything that’s inspired me over the years. How that could work and not look like a colossal mishmash would be a challenge though.
While working, is there a band or album you insist on listening to while creating?
I’m a very big music fan. I grew up in a prime era, early 90s was an incredible time for music. The metal and the Seattle grunge band scene was a huge part of my teenage years. My friends and I were always going to record shops and seeking out new bands to become obsessed with. I still listen to a lot of bands from that era. I’m definitely old school when it comes to the majority of my music tastes.
One of my favourite bands is New Model Army, and I’m currently going through a huge phase of listening to them again. I hadn’t listened to them for a few years and now they’ve new albums for me to discover and fall in love with. I put together a New Model Army Spotify playlist which I listen to constantly.
I really enjoy listening to ambient drone. There’s an artist on Youtube called CryoChamber and they’ve endless playlists of some of the best stuff I have ever heard. It’s so deep and literally takes you on a journey through the darkest and most beautiful labyrinths of sound. I can’t imagine the hours I’ve worked on art while listening to their beautiful soundscapes. I constantly play guitar too, so I’m always having a coffee break and picking up a guitar in-between art shifts.
What was the first gig and last gig you’ve been to?
First gig was Pantera in 1994. They were playing Newport Centre and Downset were supporting them. I was just a kid, it was so exciting and scary at the same time as live gigs were such a new thing to me. Amazing experience! The last was New Model Army recently in Chepstow Castle. They are an amazing live band, lots of atmosphere and intensity.
What advice or suggestions would you give someone who’s struggling to get into the art world?
It’s an amazing time to be an artist now, and very different to when I started out. Social media can make you the world’s most famous artist if you have what it takes. There are so many platforms to showcase what you can do. I see teenagers with mind-blowing talent doing photo-realistic art I could never have dreamt of doing at that age. Just get busy, work hard and get your work out there and seen. Don’t let people make you doubt yourself and don’t let your followers or lack of dictate how good you are.
I can imagine a lot of artists these days feeling like failures because the big Instagram pages don’t feature them etc. It’s a double edged sword, but as long as you’re passionate and creating for the right reasons, not copying what you see is being shared all the time and doing something fresh you will succeed. You need to be a bit obsessed though and willing to put in countless hours of work, but if you enjoy what you do it will never feel like work. Just get busy and experiment with mediums, you never know what medium you might excel with until you try it.
Another music question – You get to choose four bands to play at your own private festival. Who would those bands be and why?
Ohhhhhh that’s tough… Wow. I’d probably go with bands that are no longer around due to deaths or break ups. Pantera in their early 90s prime for obvious reasons. I got to see them live a few times thankfully, but I kick myself for not seeing them more while it was possible. My friends never got to see them either so it would be awesome for them to witness what I did.
Savatage, one of my all-time favourite bands. Massively underrated prog metal and the soundtrack to many years of my life. I’d love to see them play a full gig with Criss Oliva back on lead guitar. I’m obsessed with Savatage so I’m having to stop myself writing an essay here on them.
Alice in Chains with Layne Staley. I never got to see them with the original line up and would’ve loved to have witnessed Layne in his prime, so they are a must.
Hmmmm and last of all… Part of me wants to say Nirvana, but I think I’ll go with early 90s-era Sepultura. Max and the guys playing anything from the albums up until Chaos AD would be so amazing. I think Arise is one of the best thrash metal albums ever and very ahead of its time. That is a real tough question and something I could think about and change constantly. Those are my immediate thoughts!
Is there a movie quote or lyric you’ve heard that aided your imagination and turned the lyric or quote into a piece of art?
Again I’m back to New Model Army. Justin Sullivan, the singer songwriter, is a true poet and lyrical genius. He can write a song that’s so simple, yet the choice of words at a specific point in the song can create such an atmosphere or tone that touches your soul so deeply. There’s a painting of a warrior type girl I’m working on at the moment that is inspired greatly by their latest album Winter. I was going call the painting “Feral” and realised that one of the tracks on Winter is called “Born Feral” so that became the painting’s name. There’s a track on Winter called “Eyes Get Used to the Darkness” and I decided to have some of the lyrics from that song tattooed on to the hip of the character I am painting as they are so fitting to my vision.
And if we get used to stillness, we’ll feel the air breathing.
And if our ears get used to silence, we’ll hear our hearts beating.
Come on into the jet black night with all the animals and the rivers running.
And when our eyes get used to the darkness, we can see the storm coming.
Is there a band you’re listening to right now that you feel the readers of The Moshville Times need to be told about?
Guess who? New Model Army! They’ve been around for a long time and have a huge amount of material to discover. I would start with an album Like Impurity. Beautiful, deep and atmospheric and every song is brilliant. Especially “Purity”, “Space”, “Lurstahpp”… oh god, they’re all good. Thunder and Consolation is another masterpiece album.
They’re a band you have to give a few listens as it’ll grow on you, but trust me it’s worth it. Anyone who’s a fan of New Model Army is a die-hard fan, there’s nothing less you can be. They are unique and as real as it gets and your life will only be bettered if you give them a chance and let them in. Now go listen to my New Model Army Spotify playlist and thank me later!