Show: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Guy McKinley.
Tell: “This is a re-imagining of the cover of a famous book, by Maya Angelou, of the same name. It’s a three-colour screen print, produced by Manchester’s mighty SAVWO, in limited numbers and was specifically designed to go in a group show with other artists from the Col-umn Arts Agency, for the 2012 Print Odyssey exhibition in Norwich’s Stew Studios.
“The starting point for the work was simply the books title; it’s very evocative and a beautiful way of describing the plight of the protagonist. It’s apparently a line from a famous black poet called Paul Laurence Dunbar. The book itself tells the story of Maya as a young girl growing up and highlights the serious issue of racial oppression in the US at that time.
“I definitely made a conscious decision to avoid visualising any of the heavy topics raised within the book in this illustration, whether people see that as an easy option is up to them. I focused solely on the title, literally visualising that. One thing I strived to do was lose the more whimsical, light, decorative elements that are in a lot of my work. I thought if I was going to pick this book I didn’t want it to be too cartoonish or meek. I wanted something striking and also quite fierce and I wanted the bird to look confident and defiant, like it was railing against the situation.
“That said, I didn’t want the bird to be a large imposing figure, the sight of the small, singular and vocally defiant bird appealed to me. Plus it’s a simple, pared down image. Stylistically, I love it. I had so many attempts at getting the bird right. The rest of the composition was easier to achieve, but the bird had to have a rushed dynamic brush stroke I felt. Not too clean, a little ragged in places, like it had been through an ordeal.
“Any influence outside of the book is negligible, if any to be honest. I never looked to anything for influence directly, but have a lot of screen-printed/graphic art/gig posters in my home and they must influence me subliminally. But, I just drew and drew until I had an idea, developing it further by sketching and sketching until I was happy. I paint a lot of birds in my work and I felt this one had to look more realistic in its form, which meant I couldn’t fall back on birds I had done before. I just had to crack on and put in the time drawing until I saw the bird I wanted appear, then getting messy with the ink to get the textural point right.
“I am quite proud of the final work. It’s not often I use type in a piece and hopefully all the graphic designers about won’t be pounding me for making any novice errors. I love type in work, its grounds work sometimes, especially when I use it. I tend to use it like the dot to an exclamation mark. This was actually one of the first illustrations I’ve made going down a more design route. It has a graphic quality, rather than a highly illustrated piece that is appealing to me more and more. It’s something I hoping to explore when I get the chance.
“I loved the process of marrying techniques, especially the textural elements. They’re some-thing I used a lot anyway, but this piece in particular definitely sets itself apart from a lot for the illustration work I have done. I love simple graphic print work. There are so many great illustrators/designers/graphic artists screen-printing their work at present and it’s an area I have very rarely touched on, but hopefully I can do a lot more.
“I like the process of collaboration too, it’s always nice to have a reason to work with others after being cooped up in your own studio for ages and I have learnt a bit more about the magic of the process with John at SAVWO. Screen-printing is so versatile and I really enjoy working within its limits of colour and tone. But learning the processes is the only way to expand and form new methods and also best exploit the method, so it’s been nice going in and chatting with him.
“We hope to do something together in the future, which would be interesting considering our relative tastes/styles. There is definitely an overlap of taste and obviously we both illustrate fairly traditionally, but the other ends of that overlap are really far from each other which will hopefully mean something interesting is produced.”
Show: Guy McKinley lives and works in Manchester, UK. Copies of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings are available to buy in Guy’s online shop.
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