Allistair Covell is in his second year as a Fellow with Digswell Arts, based at The Farmhouse, Stevenage. Allistair is an award-winning Contemporary Surface Designer with a background in fine art, printed textiles and fashion design. He creates unique and distinctive patterns across a variety of surfaces, blurring the line between art and design.
1) How would you describe your current practice?
My current practice is an exploration of colour and pattern with the aim to blur the line between art and design. As a synaesthete I paint and design from the perspective of the artwork being primarily inspired by my sensory responses to sound and music, which I interpret onto a variety of surfaces using colour, pattern and texture in different mediums and materials, whether they are traditional or digital. My artworks also take inspiration from the shapes found within the urban and natural landscape.
2) What are you working on at the moment (forthcoming exhibitions, events, workshops etc)?
At present I am working on a variety of projects that incorporate a variety of materials and areas within art and design. I have recently returned to my fine art roots and started to paint directly on to calico and canvas using traditional materials such as paint and dyes. Last year I spent a majority of the time intentionally concentrating on using the iPad as a drawing surface and exploring the paint apps and tools to create digital abstract paintings so it is interesting to return to painting with a paintbrush not a stylus. The digital paintings have continued to inspire and influence my continuing experimentation within fine art textiles where I am painting with threads and yarns, which I call ‘stitched paintings’. The digital art and the stitched compositions have also directly inspired new rug designs. I am currently working with the UK based company Rug-Maker and I have just received a new collection of samples delivered from Nepal where they are hand-knotted by highly skilled weavers.
The National Wool Museum in Wales has recently acquired my digitally printed textile artwork Digital Stitch –the surface design is based on a stitched painting– so I am currently writing the brochure that will accompany it when it becomes part of the permanent National Flat Textile Collection. In 2015 Digital Stitch was selected, along with other international artists and designers, to be part of the Cambrian Mountains Wool 2015 Design Challenge. The accompanying exhibition toured the UK and at the private view in Wales last July, I was fortunate to meet and talk to HRH Prince Charles about the artwork and my own practice.
3) What are your plans for the coming year?
Plans for the coming year involve continuing to develop my work and to explore new surfaces to work on and with. I feel a natural progression for me is to begin to explore three-dimensional design that would involve looking at the creative possibilities of transferring my 2D surface patterns into 3D shapes and forms.
Away from my own practice, but still linked with my studio, I am currently working on a variety of projects that are connected with the celebration of the Digswell Arts Trust 60th Anniversary next year. Researching Digswell Arts own history is a fascinating process and since its creation in 1957 by Henry Morris, Digswell Arts has over the years supported some incredible artists and designers within the creative industry including the sculptor John Mills, the ceramicist Hans Coper, the painter Michael Andrews and the master weaver Peter Collingwood.
4) What is the question you get asked most about your work and how do you answer it?
Sometimes people ask if I wasn’t doing this what other job would I be doing? I usually answer with I would still hope to be doing something creative but maybe within the film or theatre industry; working as a set designer or drawing on my fashion background and working within a costume design department. Having said that, there is still time yet if I wanted to pursue that path…
5) What or who inspired you to be an artist and why?
I knew early on I wanted to pursue a career where being creative played a crucial role but wasn’t at the time sure which path that would be. My mother had been a fashion designer before I was born and when I was young I would pour over her sketchbooks and fashion illustrations and she introduced me to the work of Zandra Rhodes. I instantly fell in love Zandra’s vibrant and exotic textile designs and abstract patterns and I was excited by the fact that her birthday is a day after mine – at the age of six I felt an instant connection! It never occurred to me back then as a child that I would actually get to meet Zandra Rhodes, let alone have the opportunity to work directly with her. It was when, one afternoon in her studio, she asked if she could see my sketchbooks that I thought I was dreaming. Not many people are able to meet their childhood hero or design idol’s so I feel very fortunate that got the chance and that meeting Zandra in person was everything I thought she would be and so much more.
6) Which artist do you most admire and why?
Rather than say one ‘artist’, there are so many I admire and these can change all the time depending on the mood I am in, what I am currently working on or where I am creatively. Also I am not necessary drawn to just artists but also designers, musicians, singers or authors. A snapshot of ‘now’ is I am currently admiring the artworks of the artist Alexander Calder (encouraged by a chance visit to see the exhibition at Tate Modern) and his 3D “mobile” abstract paintings; the beautiful and highly skilled work of the rug designer Jan Kath; reading books on Synaesthesia and it’s relationship with colour, art and music; and listening to Lana Del Rey’s latest album.
7) How has your relationship with Digswell Arts Trust strengthened your practice as an artist?
Being a Fellow of Digswell Arts has enabled me to have a studio and a base during my emerging years as an artist. I feel very fortunate to be located at the Farmhouse site – the building alone is inspiring and my studio is in the old drawing room. From there I have planned exhibitions and shows, developed my work, making full use of the onsite facilities, such as the kiln, but I see my studio as more than just a room within Digswell Arts. I am part of a group of artists who have created a strong bond, that support each other professionally and personally and it is great to be part of a community that is both immediate on site but also extends to the other Digswell sites.
I am very grateful for the Trusts continuing support of my practice over my first year as a Fellow and the platforms that they provide; from the website which is a great news platform to share news of achievements of the Fellows plus it is a great tool to learn what the other Fellows are currently working on. Also I was assisted last year by the Trust’s generous Fellows grant scheme which part-funded my stand at the international trade show Designersblock during The London Design Festival last September. The more I am researching about the history and legacy of Digswell Arts I am honoured to have a studio here plus I feel lucky to be a Fellow during it’s 60th Anniversary year.