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Myth maker

London based illustrator Stuart Patience on how he created a five-story mural at The Loom. And why his work so often involves weird and wonderful beasts.

Above: Self portrait by Stuart Patience

Stuart Patience is known for creating strange worlds out of paper and ink. You may have seen his work in the Guardian, the New York Times or Wallpaper*, among many other publications.

Commissioned to create a huge new mural for a space in the historic Loom building in Whitechapel, Stuart took inspiration from the building’s past as a Victorian wool warehouse – and also from its new purpose as creative office space.

We caught up with him at his studio to find out what it was like to draw for such a large canvas.

 

Above: The atrium at The Loom as a ‘blank canvas’

CITY LIFE: The large atrium at the Loom is a strikingly black and white space. You often work in black and white. Is this a happy coincidence?

Stuart Patience: Well, we were originally going to use a splash of colour in the mural, but I think eventually we all felt that would have taken away from the strikingness of the image. But yes, we wanted it to blend quite well with the architecture, which is very black and white too.

Did you hit on the sheep motif straight away or did you try lots of other ideas first?

I initially looked more at Victorian factory workers, and my initial sketches had a lot of figures interacting in a more satirical way. But with such a large piece, you want to keep it quite straightforward and bold. So we narrowed it down to the sheep.

And yet some of the figures found their way into the finished work, as miniature people. It’s what gives the mural such a sense of swoopingness.

Exactly. The figures were based on the factory workers, all working together. I think a lot of the people who work in the building now work in teams. So we wanted to create the sense of people teaming up to pull the string down, collecting the sheep.

Some of the people are grounded, while others are very definitely up in the air. Is there a metaphor for modern work here, do you think?

I think there probably is, yeah. I like the idea of the imagination taking its course. As you go further and further up the building, it gets a lot more fantastical and surreal.

 

How does the production process work on a mural this big?

All my work is done in ink – painted brush pen on paper – and then I scan it in. I try not to use a computer too much, but I handed the artwork over to a guy who converted it into vectors. He then scaled it up and it was transferred into wall vinyl. So thankfully I wasn’t on scaffolding painting it all.

Your work often depicts animals in surreal or ritualistic situations. How did you become so fascinated with animals and myths?

I think it’s mostly linked to the way animals have been depicted in religion and myths, which always seem to use them as metaphors for evil or good. So that’s where it all started. As a kid I found nature such a bizarre thing that’s all around us, and I think it’s a thing that we’re so used to looking at that we don’t really notice how odd it actually is.

In a way, isn’t this mural a sort of a myth that you’ve invented?

Exactly. I like to have that balance between something that’s real, which comes from history, but then add an extraordinary twist to it. So the mural’s quite a good example of that.

What do you think is the role of artworks like this one in the modern workplace?

I think they’re extremely important. I think a lot of people associate art, especially painting, with being quite elitist and not very accessible. And I think it’s important for it to be all around us. It’s an instant communicator. It’s also an escape from our day-to-day lives. People get so wrapped up in their work and I think art adds a bit of a brighter side to things.

Above: The entrance to The Loom

The Loom – which is at 14 Gower’s Walk, E1 – won a prestigious RIBA National Award in 2017. The judges singled out Stuart Patience’s “playfully surreal” mural as one example of how the contemporary redevelopment of the Loom meaningfully celebrates the building’s history. Read more about the RIBA Awards at architecture.com.

View the website at theloom-e1.com and see more of Stuart’s work at stuartpatience.co.uk.