John Booth: The Multidisciplinary Artist Making Waves In The Interior World
Colour is not something John Booth shies away from, and after speaking to the Scottish-born artist, it’s easy to understand why one would want to live a life of colour. Whether it’s his idiosyncratic ceramics or a repurposed piece of furniture, his exuberant and carefree designs are an invitation into his mood-elevating world. Brimming with curiosity and a refreshing willingness to try, John Booth redefines what it means to be an artist. There’s no limit to his talents. An illustrator by nature, John Booth has traversed his playful drawings into 3D objects that blend the boundaries of art and homeware.
Ahead of Pride in London, we caught up with the man behind our celebratory window displays to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
How would you describe your work to people who haven’t seen it before?
It’s primarily about colour. There’s always a hand-drawn element to my work, even if I didn’t make the base product, I’d still paint on top of it. There’s a hand-drawn element to almost everything I do.
Colour can intimidate some people, what makes you embrace it so exuberantly?
I’ve always been drawn to colour, even since I was a youngster. It feels natural to me so I can’t seem to relate to people who say they are scared to use it. When it comes to playing around with colour, it’s factual that some combinations work and some don’t. I think when people look at my work, they think it’s just about using any single colour, but it’s far from that. I’d like to think there is something more calculative about my approach. You have to develop your own colour combinations through trial and error and learn to understand the proportion of how you use them.
Do you have a favourite colour?
Yellow. I’m a new fan of orange but yellow is just something I really enjoy. I use a lot of it in my work but I wouldn’t wear it. Maybe mustard though…
"You have to develop your own colour combinations through trial and error and learn to understand the proportion of how you use them."
Do you think growing up in Cumbria has influenced your practice?
I think it has made me appreciate what I do even more. There’s definitely a small creative movement in Cumbria considering there isn’t a huge body of people who live there. That definitely made an impact on me. When you live somewhere remote, taking up arts and crafts gave you another form of entertainment, but I often wonder if I had grown up in London, which has a lot going on creatively, would I have appreciated it as much?
I read that you find it difficult to call yourself an artist, have you changed your mind?
It’s definitely getting easier for me to say, but I find it difficult because I work on a lot of projects that revolve around fashion and design, generally everything except gallery-based work. Not that I think you have to show in a gallery to be considered as an artist, but there is still somewhat of a thing about displaying work in an exhibition space. I’d quite like to do that though but I think I’m still working towards it, I’m not in a hurry.
"I often wonder if I had grown up in London, which has a lot going on creatively, would I have appreciated it as much?"
I think in the age of Instagram, the definition of “the artist” has been reshaped, with many adopting a multi-disciplinary nature to their work. Would you agree?
It’s true, it’s a more relevant way of working nowadays and I think it’s a response to how we consume things. Creating work for solely for a gallery space is almost defunct now because your practice doesn’t need to be just that. Saying that, there’s still something nice about showing work in a formal format.
What would a John Booth exhibition look like?
It’d be interesting to work with a gallery and be given the time to create a whole new layer of work. Knowing the space I’d be designing for I could scale-up my work and create larger pieces.
Is sculpture a medium you’re tempted to work in more frequently?
I’m definitely interested in moving into more sculptural, 3D pieces that shift the focus from function to form, colour and material. I would love to create more abstract pieces of work that are even bigger and shown in an outdoor setting. Even if it starts with a drawing, I love the idea of collaborating with someone else to fabricate large-scale work in metal – that would be interesting.
What impact does social media play in your role as an artist?
It’s about using social media responsibly, isn’t it? You can use it as a showcase for your work but I’d never make work especially for it. It’s a good tool to share work and build communities with like-minded artists but it’s weird because making work is the opposite of sitting on Instagram? I see social media as a form of entertainment – I’d much rather people see my work firsthand and in-person. I don’t think social media should be the ultimate medium to discover an artists work.
"I’d much rather people see my work firsthand and in-person. I don’t think social media should be the ultimate medium to discover an artists work."
A made-by-hand quality runs through your work, does that feel important to you?
It’s the process I enjoy the most. Even if the work was fabricated by somebody else, I’d physically still be involved in it some way or another. I like the idea of hand finishing work, not that I think it makes the work any better, but I think it gives you the opportunity to make your own mark.
What about obscure obsessions, have you got a knack for collecting something?
I’ve started collecting keyrings and trinkets. I never wear them but I have these little clip-on brooches and accessories. I recently bought the J.W. Anderson sprinkle doughnut bag charm and it’s so stupid because I would never wear it – but they almost become idyllic little objects in their own right. I like stuff like that.
I’d like to think everyone has a little creativity inside of us but fear holds us back a lot of the time. What would you suggest to get people making?
You’ve got to want to do it, especially in finding the time and place to be creative. I think as we move into adulthood we become more worried about the outcome of our work, that it’s not going to be good enough, but as a child you don’t have that fear, do you? It’s for enjoyment, that’s the key thing to remember.
"As we move into adulthood we become more worried about the outcome of our work, that it’s not going to be good enough, but as a child you don’t have that fear, do you? "
You’ve collaborated with Fendi and Scottish weavers Begg & Co. to name two, what other projects have you been working on recently?
I have a few upcoming projects that I’m really looking forward to but I’m most excited to be working alongside my studio mate, Ian McIntyre. We started a little separate sideline project called Super Group and worked together on a project with Hem, a Swedish interior company and designed a range of not-so-little ceramic objects like a rainbow, a flower and a cloud, which was fun. We definitely have a few more projects in the mix.
When it comes to working on a brief, do you have an idea in mind of where you’d like to take it, or do you embrace whatever comes naturally?
I usually have to come up with something quite quickly but it’s just about listening to your client, understanding what they want, and thinking about how you can meet them in the middle so you’re getting something creatively out of it too. I couldn’t work with someone who would want to pare me back so much.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, you’ve designed celebratory Pride window displays for us. What does Pride mean to you?
Visibility. That’s ultimately what it means for me now.
There’s a lot of discussion surrounding how Pride Month has become a branded holiday. What do you think brands need to learn from this going forward?
In the last two years, Pride has shifted somewhat. Corporations and brands have become more opportunistic, using the month as a marketing tool and I think this has led to the misuse of the true meaning of Pride. In my opinion, brands need to be giving back to the community by working with an LGBTQ+ charity to raise money and awareness. In the least sensitive cases, selling rainbow flag merchandise is an empty gesture.
How do you celebrate Pride?
I get together with a group of friends and join in on the parade. It’s a time for celebrating as well as visibility and I regularly donate my artwork to a few charities to help raise funds and awareness. For me, it’s not just a yearly event, it’s ongoing. I’m lucky to work in a field where I can do what I want quite unapologetically with the work I present to the world, I don’t shy away from any representation of myself.
To celebrate Pride, John Booth has designed a celebratory window display for our London flagship St. Christopher’s Place, South Molton Street, Edinburgh and Brighton stores. A Limited Edition Rainbow print designed by John Booth is also available to purchase with 100% of the proceeds going to the Albert Kennedy Trust, an LGBTQ+ charity that supports young people affected by homelessness.