Metro Colour Catches Up With Adam Dant

Metro Colour Catches Up With Adam Dant


Can you tell us about your background and how you became interested in art?

I was fortunate to be born in Cambridge which, for those who have not had the pleasure of visiting its dreamy spires and hallowed cloisters, is something of a fantasy realm, especially for a young child, whoever they are or whatever their background. I escaped 'normal life' by living in institutions such as The Fitzwilliam Museum, The Wren Library, Sedgwick Museum, etc., and later, in The Eagle Pub, Clare Cellars, or on a punt with a bottle of vin ordinaire, a harmonica, a girlfriend, and some pretentious reading material. When people asked me as a child what I was going to do with my life, I told them that the RAF wanted me and that I was going to fix Spitfires like my grandfather had done, but they wouldn't let me and told me I was an artist, and that was that.

Your artwork is known for its intricate detail and complexity. How do you approach creating such elaborate drawings?

When people around me realised that tying me to a chair was not going to stop me from drawing, I was told that if that was what I was going to do, I'd have to learn to do it properly. I went to life drawing classes every night for years and years, studied perspective, technical drawing, graphic reproduction, etc., and took work providing very objective illustrations for Cambridge University Examination Board papers for what was then known as 'The Third World.' When I approach creating an elaborate drawing, all that stuff is there to start with now.

Could you walk us through your artistic process, from conception to completion?

Not without giving away all the trade secrets and the mystery. It's probably best for people who don't make art to stick to believing that it happens as it does in movies about artists, you know! Vincent Van Gogh is standing in a cornfield, flailing around and fighting crows then bang, suddenly it's all 'starry, starry night...'

Your drawings often feature maps and historical references. How do you incorporate research into your artwork?

Some of my drawings require as much time to be spent in libraries and archives as in the studio. Often all this research and reading ends up as a long list. When everything on the list is ticked off, then the drawing is finished.


You've lived in Shoreditch for many years. How has the neighbourhood changed since you first moved there?

I moved to Shoreditch, specifically Redchurch Street because I was working with various print processes, and that's where all the printers were. Lithographers, Foil Blockers, bookbinders, letterpress printers, and even a guillotine blade sharpener were all on the same street busy doing all manner of things mainly for the City of London firms. I'd come along and ask them to do odd stuff, mess about with their usual processes, like printing my banknotes or printing with no ink. Everyone used to stop for lunch at Ron's cafe or next door in The Owl and The Pussycat pub. I no doubt first met Danny from Metro Colour in the greasy spoon caff. Metro Colour seems to have survived in the neighbourhood, while every single one of the other printers has vanished and been replaced by beard moisturising operations or yet another bloody coffee machine. A supposed ancestor of mine was a printer around here called Danter who had his presses confiscated for printing pirate copies of Shakespeare plays. A bit like the man with a camcorder in the Rio cinema would pop up on Brick Lane with copies of the latest Tom Cruise movie the following Sunday. Printing might well be in the blood of the neighbourhood, I’d like to think so, William Hogarth trained as an engraver in Spitalfields and Gilbert and George have just opened their museum in Brick Lane.    We mustn’t forget that this is still the Shoreditch where Shakespeare created his great works, and who's going to last longer, Shakespeare or Foxtons? 


What draws you to Shoreditch as an artist?

Everyone who lived here in the late 1980s and early 90s assumed the neighbourhood would eventually be swallowed up by The City of London. Shoreditch, as a hub of light industry and the centre of the cabinet-making trade, started dwindling after all the chaps were killed in the First World War. By the time the recession arrived in the 1990s, it was pretty much deserted. An estate agent called James Goff managed to persuade young artists to move into the area. Everything was in a terrible state, and there was only one pub to go to on a Saturday night. Anyway, Redchurch St is in Bethnal Green, in the parish of St. Matthew's, so not really Shoreditch.

Your artwork often comments on social and political issues. How do you use your art to address these topics?

Living in this neighbourhood often feels like being at the epicentre of the events of the day because of its proximity to the City of London and its attraction for all sorts of reasons to all sorts of people. I quite often draw in the street when I'm out and about and look for how the issues of general 'politics', 'social change,' and 'social control' become visible as part of the everyday. When you pair the observable with the way the media report on various topics, the apparent 'disconnect' prompts further investigation. I was making drawings in Canary Wharf during the 1998 financial crisis. Reading the newspapers, one would have imagined that the place resembled the gates of hell, while in reality, it was just a bunch of sad-faced men and women wandering around carrying boxes full of novelty mugs, pairs of trainers, and photos of the dog.


Can you speak to the relationship between art and gentrification, particularly in Shoreditch?

I have no idea as to the current status of art in the gentrified now. I don't think I'm really in that bit of the 'art world.'

Your work often incorporates humour and satire. How do you use these elements to convey your message?

I used to make a lot of big drawings that were full of 'gags' to make people laugh. The scenarios I depicted were ridiculous but all came from real life. Images of accidents waiting to happen, set-ups like early cinema, or literalist depictions of figures of speech in the manner of Bruegel, Van Der Borcht, Teniers, et al. In the National Gallery, I looked at how little time the visitors spent in front of paintings and wondered how I could sustain their attention for as long as it took to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster but solely with the use of a bottle of India nmn ink and a number three brush. The drawings became an exercise in problem-solving through densely wrought visual narrative.

Can you tell us about your experiences exhibiting your artwork in different settings, such as galleries and public spaces?

Before I worked with galleries, I used to produce a newspaper as a work of art and hand it to passers-by in the street. It was called Donald Parsnips Daily Journal, it was an A6 8-page stapled pamphlet in the style of an early 'chapbook,' and I made 100 copies of it every morning at Frank's 2p copy shop from 1995 till the millennium. I worked in an Old Master Picture gallery on Old Bond Street at the time and would distribute this newspaper/work of art during my walk from Bethnal Green to Mayfair. The Arts Council, national collections, and arts organisations were banging on about 'seeking arts new publics'; they probably still are. I thought it was simpler to just go into the street and 'Look! there they are.'

The newspaper bore the motto "Take it of Leave', it was all a bit stupid and annoying really but was sometimes extremely funny. An American collector commissioned for 13 archival boxes of facsimile copies to be produced. These are now in The Tate, MOMA, The British Museum etc so the whole performance did end up being detained in a cultural institution in the end. 

adam dantr hand drawing -artist

What initially led you to choose Metro Colour printers as your preferred printing method? Are there specific features or qualities that make them stand out compared to other printers you have worked with?

Getting to know the chaps at Metro introduced me to the possibilities digital printing offered me as a fine artist. I trained at the Royal College of Art as a printmaker using processes that would be called 'auto-graphic' printing, meaning that the artist's hand directly fashions the end results via lithography, woodcut, engraving etc. What Metro Colour do would be called 'repro-graphic' printing which is more associated with commercial applications such as producing posters, books, pamphlets etc. Because Metro allowed me to be a bit more hands-on with their processes. I've been able to incorporate these processes using Metro Colours machines into the things I make as an artist, allowing me to experiment with proofing  prints as digital output on my own papers with archival inks where doing the same operation via traditional print processes would be very expensive and time-consuming. Working with Metro Colour also allows me to scale up my pictures to a much larger size than my usual lithographic process would allow. In addition to printing Metro help with other aspects of producing my artwork, particularly scanning large works on paper to turn them into digital files for the various publications I work for. If you see one of my pictures in a magazine like The Critic or The Catholic Herald it will have been scanned and digitised at Metro Colour. 

Could you share the story of how you first encountered Metro Colour printers? Was there a particular moment or experience that made you realize their potential for your artistic endeavours?

I've been using the various print services Metro offer so such a long time I can't remember why I first went there but I do remember talking to Danny at lunchtime in Ron's greasy spoon cafe on Redchurch St. The potential offered by Metro usually comes from me pushing my luck as to whether something a bit out of the ordinary is possible or not. It's usually do-able. That kind of service isn't possible with your run-of-the-mill standard over-the-counter type commercial digital prints.

What aspects of Metro Colour printers make them the ideal choice for your artistic process? Are there any unique capabilities or characteristics they possess that align perfectly with your artistic vision?

Because a lot of my subject matter concerns the life and history of The East End of London Metro have become a good fit because beyond the practical aspects of printing etc as they kind of get what I'm doing, which is not necessary but it‘s a bonus.

It's wonderful to hear that your use of Metro Colour printers supports one of the longest-standing printers in Shoreditch. 
How many jobs have they successfully completed for you?

I've lost count of the number of jobs Metro Colour have done for me as they've gone from being just the local printers to providing me with a service that became integral to the way I work as an artist. They've certainly done all my image scanning which is about twice a week for the past 20 years. Metro have also been a resource on my doorstep for trimming large wads of paper for my artist's books, doing all my club literary luncheon invitations and menus, sharing large files with designers on my publications, mocking up pamphlets and fancy folding maps to present ideas to clients for commissions and they also gave me a  large fancy  jute rug for my studio which would have cost at least a 'monkey' if you'd got it from Habitat.

You can find more of Adams's work here: here.


You can also get some insight into his commissioned piece for the recent Prince Charles Coronation here.

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