draw a vulgar picture

Artist Craig Boagey’s new zine Recital is filled with painstakingly created photorealistic drawings of sex and violence.

by Felix Petty
26 October 2017, 10:38am

There are no traffic lights in Skelmersdale just endless roundabouts. The streets are arranged alphabetically. Skelmersdale (Skem to those in the know) is a small new town in the north west of England built in the 60s to feed the Merseyside overspill. Like most of the 60s new towns -- full of "those ugly new houses" as Morrissey once sang -- Skem is falling into physical, emotional and economic disrepair; a place well stocked in Scouse, suburban ennui. The roundabouts probably make it seem worse, just going round and round and round. Artist Craig Boagey is from Skem. "The place is desolate," he explains. "It's become so isolated that employment in the town is difficult, jobs are sparse and travelling isn't easy. It also has loads of roundabouts, which is pretty much all people know it for. We all speak as if we're from Liverpool even though we were born miles from the city."

Craig Boagey makes photorealistic drawings (which have been compiled into a new zine by Ditto, launching tonight) of images pulled from Google, or newspapers or magazines. The drawings are made from famous images, infamous images, sexy images, unsettling images; a picture of a captured Viet Cong prisoner, a naked bum pressed against a white picket fence, the skyline of Gaza after bombing, the Columbine gunmen, a statue of Lucifer. Each picture is washed over in blue or red. They're as provocative and unsettling as they are poetically hypnotic. Many images are so well known that their re-creation in pencil re-sensitises us to their violence. What else is there to do in Skem, a town with no traffic lights, except make photorealistic drawings of sex and violence and statues.

"How I started drawing this way relates pretty heavily on my upbringing and introduction to seeing art," Craig states. "Being from this small town, visiting galleries wasn't easy, I can rarely remember visiting a gallery until I moved to London to study at Central Saint Martins. The art I was introduced to was basically bad pencil drawings of celebrities, athletes, stuff like that. Looking back it was so limited, but now I feel that correlation between portraiture pencil drawings and what I do is present. And I like that, there's something personal in it."

How did you develop this photoreal style of drawing?
It's not about trying to be accomplished technically, it's this connection to the art I was aware of as a kid. It's the lowest type of art -- it has no significance or purpose other than to show a representation of a photograph through drawing. It's an illusion more than anything else. The drawings look photorealistic, but maybe because I've been so consumed with every inch of them, I see the small imperfections or the undergird coming through. I love all of that.

Why drawing?
A drawing is viewed differently to a photograph, and that's important. All the original subject matter was sourced on the internet. It's all accessible and readily available. People absorb information quickly, and digest it also very quickly. It's a swiping culture, but I find with drawing, perhaps because there is that technical skill involved, the viewer maybe might just take a little longer to absorb what's going on. For some reason when you combine this very subtle and delicate way of working with these powerful, sometimes controversial images, something seems to happen.

What about the blue and red washes on the images?
Blue is a very cynical colour. It's cold of course, but also calming. I've always liked this idea of colour marketing, and how companies like Facebook use blue because it's calming and trustworthy. When you combine those principles with the heavy subjects it seems to soften their intensity, which I like. There's also strong religious connections with blue, I found out the devil was originally portrayed in blue and not red. The cover of the book of course is Lucifer, which was also the first drawing I created in the series. But you can contrast that with another strong use of the colour, and that is when portraying the Virgin Mary. It's a symbol of her purity, and I think maybe these drawings fall in between the two.

To misquote Kanye and Jay-Z via Anchorman . It's provocative, but what does it mean?
The thing is I don't actually think it is that provocative. All the references for my work are sourced from media websites, blogs and Google Images. They are familiar and as easily digestible as any other image found on the internet. They've been seen on Time covers, major news platforms, every corner of the web. In some ways I think that relates to one aspect of "what they mean". I like to think of it as a sort of commentary, how we absorb information and process it. A lot of people think I'm making a political statement. I don't mind that, but it's not really my intention. So maybe that's what the images mean, or one aspect of what they mean. But provocative? I don't think so. They are direct and significant pictures of important events.

How do you choose your subjects?
A lot of time is spent browsing websites and looking for images I find interesting. I don't tend to focus on current events as such. I think if I did that it would appear even more as if I'm trying to make political statements, or even exploit tragedy. I'm much more interested in situations and things which are within the public domain. But there can be a direct link between certain drawings and what is currently happening in the world. The Columbine pictures for instance, even though that occurred in 1999, there are still school shootings. So they're relevant, but not necessarily as of the now.

Another consideration relates to the actual image. Some of the subjects are completely innocent in their appearance. A totally harmless looking smiling girl for instance. I like that, it's ambiguous and I want variation. I'm okay drawing a violent scene, but I don't want all the drawings to be that. I would argue even the more extreme images have a softness to them, I hope they do at least.

How do you think, expect and want people to react to these images?
I don't really care, but I am aware of how people normally react. I like the varying opinions of people, and what they believe my intentions are. The whole protest art thing is interesting -- I think people love appearing empathetic. Then other people perhaps think I'm trying to shock or exploit, and I don't find this to be the case either. All of the subjects have been seen and absorbed for many, many years. There is nothing shocking about what I am doing. Maybe in the context of other artists, I have no idea.

How do I want people to view them? Well I guess with an open mind obviously, that would be better. I'd want people to be simply interested in them, it's fine not liking what I do but the worst thing you can be is boring. So I hope they aren't bored, that would be bad.

Buy the zine from Ditto here or attend the launch in London at LN-CC tonight.