In the first in a series of interviews with Fierce Nice's partner artists, Northern Irish artist and illustrator Joshua Rush joins Ruan Shiels for a discussion about his art, exhibiting at the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts Annual Exhibition, raising awareness of issues like mental health and LGBT rights, and lots more besides.
Thanks for joining me for this interview, Joshua. Can I start by asking you to introduce yourself and talk a bit about your background?
Certainly! My name is Joshua Rush and I'm an illustrator and visual artist from county Antrim, up in the North of Ireland. I studied graphic design and illustration at Belfast School of Art, Ulster University and graduated in July 2018. Creativity has always been a part of what I do, having acted on stage several times, recreating classics like Blood Brothers, Send In the Clowns and Thoroughly Modern Millie. My work has been awarded by The Royal Ulster Academy of Arts and featured in So Young magazine’s top 20. As well as illustration I have interests in design and moving image, including video and editing (check out my online portfolio for examples). I now reside in Swansea, Wales, where I'm about to begin my masters in illustration at Swansea College of Art.
How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it before?
This is a difficult question. As I'm still currently developing my style, I find it hard to pinpoint the perfect description of my art, but I’ll give it a go. I utilise the rawness of simple mark-making and refined elements to create a layered visual that has depth and complexity. A mixed-media treatment that on occasion lingers on the line of abstraction. Also, I feel that describing my art bares some restriction on how I create. I usually leave it up to others to have their own interpretation of my art. I find it much more satisfying hearing what they think.
Which artists do you most admire? And have they or others influenced your work?
I began taking an interest in Fin de Siècle (turn of the century) Vienna when in my final year of university. I became fascinated with work by artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, amongst others from that period. At this time the visual arts underwent radical changes thanks to progressive thinkers like these artists. Their works were more than just enquiries into a subjective journey; they produced "controversial" works in mind of their cultural and social circumstances. Challenging the status quo with the content of their works, asking questions and making society at that time confront their ugly truths. This is what I admire most about this era and in particular the aforementioned artists. Their work was a catalyst for progression and change, and as I mature as a creative I see their influence on my own practice.
What does your workspace or studio look like?
Up until last month, I was working and creating from my home studio. As an emerging young artist, funds can be hard to come by, so I take advantage of what space I already have. With the help of my dad, I built a multipurpose desk, and that has been where I’ve created my art for the past 2 years. However, I am in the process of moving to Swansea, Wales, to further my studies and I plan to take on a small studio space in the heart of the city within the next month or two.
Can you describe your artistic process and how you go about planning and executing your works?
I have no set way or process for creating my works. I wouldn’t want to analyze the way I do things too much, as I feel it takes the spontaneity out of creating art. However, I do always have my sketchbook on my person, so I can record any initial ideas that come into my head. If we are talking about planning I would always start with my sketchbook. Everything after that just takes its natural course.
Your work spans a number of different mediums. What's your current favourite to create in and why?
I'm currently enjoying combining traditional techniques and digital software. I’ve always worked in mixed-media, using pencil, charcoal, pastel, gouache etc. However, recently I've been bringing my mark-making into programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Here I feel the possibilities are endless when you experiment. Lately I've been creating vector-based illustrations and layering my textures, tones and forms on top to create my own style of collage.
I get a very real and raw sense of passion and joy from your art. Are you happiest when you're creating?
Definitely! It is where I feel most comfortable and at ease with myself. In the 21st century - especially in the past ten years - it's easy to get caught up in life, with social media and with what others are doing. Stopping to create and taking yourself out of the world, into your own can be very helpful and rewarding. It's only then I realise how lucky I am to be able to create and produce art.
Quite a few of your works contain an overt social or political element. What are you hoping to achieve or convey with your more message-driven pieces like, for example, Brexshit, Animan and The Evolution of a Tree?
I want my work to be a catalyst for awareness of various modern-day issues and to challenge these in a journey of creative thought and power. I hope to inspire people, especially young creatives, to believe they can change the world. I want to add to a growing community who are collaborating and creating in an environment where young people know, if we support each other and the things we believe in, anything is possible.
As a young artist, are you satisfied with the current art scene in the UK and Ireland? Are there enough opportunities out there for you and your contemporaries to forge sustainable careers?
It's a very competitive industry, which can be quite daunting for a young artist interested in breaking into it. While I do think there are enough opportunities, it seems for the majority of them you need quite a lot of experience and your work needs to be well-known. That can be quite limiting, as personally, I feel the willingness to develop and learn is just as important. However, nowadays creatives are generating more self-made ways to make a sustainable income and career. For example, on social media a lot of young artists/creative platforms are having call outs for illustrators, designers, writers, photographers etc to contribute to the zine, booklet, magazine they’re currently producing. It seems artists are taking the initiative and making opportunities for themselves and others. Kickstarter is a great way to fund a creative project you want to get out into the world. Social media has driven this new trend in creative production.
You're very active on social media, particularly on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. How useful do you find these online platforms in terms of promoting yourself and your work, floating new ideas, networking with other artists/galleries, etc?
This one of the advantages of social media, especially for creatives. It is extremely useful to showcase work in development and get a feel of how an audience will react to a working idea/concept. I know I have revised a few ideas based on comments and advice from other creatives. It is - in particular, Instagram - a foundation to build on, in terms of creating a mini-portfolio to complement your main website. I feel with a website, all the work posted has to be finished, whereas with social media I can create a daily account of what I am working on. I can upload a 1-minute sketch or some textures I am experimenting with. Like my work process, what I post is spontaneous. In addition, as social media is a big part of everyone's lives nowadays, my work can be discovered by anyone and vice versa. If I’m not mistaken I think this is how we discovered each other and formed a professional relationship. Finally, I can run competitions, giveaways and enter any sort of creative challenge. This is probably the best way to meet new creatives. Shake Bristol's Shaketember, for example, is a list of prompts to illustrate for every day of September. Social media is unique for things like this - it brings artists together to draw and share art.
I know this is a tricky question, but I'm going to ask it anyway: Out of all your own works, which is your favourite and why?
If I had to choose I would pick my work with TomorrowCreates and my In Two Minds illustrations and t-shirt (pictured above). It is exactly where I want my work to be right now, in terms of collaborative content aimed at raising awareness. The work we are creating and achieving is an exact portrayal of what I have mentioned above. Young people are seeking opportunities to change the world we live in. Not only are we bringing creative people together from all over the world, but we are also using this creativity to help charities right across the UK and Europe and in turn raise awareness for the issues like LGBTQ rights, mental health, our oceans and wildlife.
What's been the highlight of your career as an artist so far?
It has to be exhibiting at the Royal Ulster Academy of Art’s 137th annual exhibition, held in the Ulster Museum. I had just finished my final year and organising our degree show and I was genuinely exhausted from all the work. However, reading that six of my pieces from my graduate work were going to be on display in the Ulster museum made all the hard work worth it. Of course, achieving my degree made it worth it, but receiving that award was like the cherry on top of the cake. It has given me a boost of confidence and belief in myself as I establish myself in the professional world.
How do you envision your career progressing and evolving over the next, let's say, 5 years?
I am about to begin a masters in illustration from September 2019, which I'm taking part-time over 3 years. So while studying, I plan to delve into my first screen-printed children’s book. As I’ve said I want to educate and inspire a lot of people with my work but especially young people and children. I want to take the next 3 years to develop an animal, wildlife and/or environmental-themed story concept and bring it to life. In addition, I am very interested in music and its relationship with art. As a learning 2D animator, I am interested in improving these skills so I can introduce movement into my process and complement it with sound. I can see myself in the next five years collaborating with a musician or band to create a music video. Check out French duo Palefroi or Daniel Barreto's work with sound and art. These two have been massive inspirations to me in this field.
What an interview! Thanks so much, Joshua!
An exclusive collection of Joshua Rush's work is now available to purchase from Fierce Nice at the following link: The Joshua Rush Collection.