An interview with the artist Stephen Graham
Updated: Feb 25
Stephen Graham - Myself in Words, pen, 2021
Stephen Graham' by Mariana Gordan, from the series 'Scratch the Surface and you'll find Gold', oil on gold leaf on wood, 2020.
Stephen is a long-standing member of Art&Soul and an active artist, working
in text, photography, painting and drawing. Stephen has exhibited his artwork
many times, both at Art&Soul exhibitions and in solo shows at Putney and
Westminster Libraries. He is currently the unofficial artist-in-residence at the
Doddington & Rollo roof garden. Here he tells us a little about himself and his creative process.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you started making artwork?
I have university degrees, but I reckon the real threshold to be crossed is the
beginnings of the ability to think, to appreciate and to be correct. I remember
doing a few paintings at school: ‘Moses breaking the tablets’ and an interior
scene. After my second breakdown, I created several artworks including a
type of font, a poster and a nativity scene - they weren’t appreciated by all, but
this made me realise that other people bring their limitations to artwork rather
than making any real comment on the art itself.
My art career began because of mental illness, which gave me a little rest at
home and the chance to be creative. Like most breakdowns, it took about five
years till I was in any shape. During this time I volunteered working for
charities, which I enjoyed, but eventually I had to go back to work, as a part-
time library assistant. At the end of my working life, I was able to become
what I wanted to be, concentrating on gardening and art.
What have you been creating during lockdown?
I have collaborated with the poet Hilaire on "Indoors Looking Out", a book
featuring haiku and tanka written during lockdown, published May 2020 by Lower Case Press. We live nearby and know each other through the
Doddington and Rollo Community roof garden. The idea for the project was ‘a
creative exchange in constrained circumstances’. She would text me poems
and I would create a new script and illustrate them. The poems draw on
Hilaire’s observations from her second-floor window of minute changes and
fleeting interactions. Collaborating on the project gave us both a focus during
lockdown 2020. I have also recently worked on a ‘Black Lives Matter’
publication through the charity Sound Minds.
You can buy the booklet here.
An interview with Stephen and Hilaire can be found here.
What are your favourite books?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich
George Orwell - Down and Out in Paris and London
Carl Jung - Memories, Dreams and Reflections
Describe yourself in one sentence
A vegetarian, schizophrenic Christian, an exile from Scotland and one who is
asked to ‘shut up!’
Describe one success
Being allowed to join the Catholic Church.
In what ways do you express yourself?
In words and pictures, speaking my mind and inviting undue criticism.
What do you explore in your work?
I have found, reflecting on my work, that there are two methods of devising or
constructing an ‘art’ picture. The first is to follow ‘inspiration’, an idea that
comes from somewhere, and is what it takes to make the picture worthwhile.
The other, ‘invention,’ is the artist’s own doing. An example is ‘doodling’ but
there are other ways, all of them are self-revelatory, e.g. the Freudian slip.
I like to use invention only to frame, decorate or texturise the picture. You
need to be the lucky recipient of inspiration in order to take up art in any
significant way. I have slowly come to the realisation that my kind of art is at
times symbolic and at times abstract. I see abstraction as depiction of the
essence of what is being drawn or painted.
Who or what are you grateful for?
Since I moved to Putney, three charities have helped me with my creative
projects: Art & Soul, Sound Minds and Capital A.
What motivates you?
I enjoy sharing my artwork widely and I have contributed the proceeds of any
sales to help displaced Syrian refugees.
Stephen Graham - Untitled
Stephen Graham - Abstract
Stephen Graham - Untitled
Stephen Graham - Garden