INTERVIEW: STEPH DUTTON
Steph Dutton is a brilliantly talented artist based in Bristol; chances are you’ve seen her work on Spotify when sticking on your favourite Do Nothing tune, but that’s not all she’s got under her belt.
Artwork for 'Zero Dollar Bill'
First let’s address the elephant in the room - Steph Dutton isn’t a Leeds based artist. Our readers may be screaming and crying ‘But DRAB, I thought this was art, music and culture in Leeds?’ Well yes mostly, but if we have the chance to interview a talented musician or artist such as Steph Dutton - we are of course going to jump at the chance. Besides, we use that term loosely over here; we’ll produce content from creatives from Leeds but you need to expand your minds people! This is why we’ll also be including works that may not be Leeds based, but that we think the people of Leeds will really love. Right, enough logistics, let’s get down to the good stuff!
DRAB: Good afternoon, thanks so much for doing this interview. I hope you’re keeping well in this stressful period and that it’s not prohibiting any creative juices from flowing! I wanted to start off by asking what the general themes are around your art? There’s something really special about it; I love the darkness sometimes contrasting the humour or seemingly nonsensical-ness of it all. Steph: Thank you! Haha yeah the collages probably don't make sense to anyone else but they make sense to me. I'm super interested in the way people communicate, the verbal language and body language we use, relationships, silly things people say or things I overhear. Some people say I'm more of a listener than a talker so I'm kinda just a lil fly on the wall that observes people, conversations, situations, and thinks too much, then makes silly collages from the bits I find interesting or funny. I like adding bits of humour into my work cause well ya gotta laugh ey?
I love that, I suppose it's the artistic filter that those conversations and situations are going through which may make them appear nonsensical to an outside viewer. What else do you take inspiration from in life? Hmm so many things, I love psychology textbook covers or instruction manuals and the diagrams inside them. There's something about lines, arrows and lists; I bloody love em. I watch a bunch of films and get lots of inspo from them. I like films that are kinda realistic but something is slightly off like Yorgos Lanthimos' films (Dogtooth, The Lobster) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. Lost in Translation is a definite favourite. Creative friends are also a huge inspiration! And nice phrases I find in lyrics or books.
'Big Feet Save Lives'
What a great selection of films! Now that you mention it I can totally see the similarities between your work and Lanthimos' films. (reader, I also heavily recommend these if you want something weird and mind-melting to watch.) What other artists inspire your work, and are there any artists you like at the moment whose work isn’t necessarily related to your own?
Eva Kotatkova, Bráulio Amado, Andrew Savage, my sister Marie - she makes these great films/music videos with her VHS camera. She's also started making these sculptures of odd devilish characters - kinda weird, kinda sexy. (You can see Marie's works on Instagram @ma.riedutton)
In terms of artists work unrelated to my own: Roy Andersson, Miranda July and Sophie Koko Gate, particularly her animation 'Darcy'. I'm completely in love with it plus Jerry Paper did the music for it - double whammy.
Aw I find it very sweet that your sisters work inspires your own, I guess the creativity runs in the family! I’m interested to know when you developed this particular style. What got you into making art and this style specifically? I started experimenting with collage during my Art Foundation course. We went on a trip to the Venice Biennale and I remember being completely blown away by Eva Kotatkova's installation 'Asylum' - I was like THIS is what I want to make. I then went to uni in Bristol and developed my style. I was attracted to the idea of making posters for gigs or events so ended up making a couple of posters for fundraisers my course put on and really enjoyed it.
When finding images I was always drawn to psychology or biology books - maybe that's where I got my sort of clinical/linear/diagram style from. I always want to try and recreate a situation or feeling or thought through collage and using arrows, lines and numbers allows me to do that in a way that makes sense to me.
You’re probably most known for the creation of your artwork for Do Nothing and I’ve just discovered you also did the single art for ‘Jealous’ by Heavy Lungs - a song I’ve had on repeat recently! How have you managed to become so involved in the punk/DIY music scene? Do you have any tips for smaller artists wanting to do the same?
I've known the Do Nothing boys for a while now, we all grew up in notts and just kinda met through mutual friends. Same with Heavy Lungs - I moved to Bristol for uni and met Danny through a friend when they were making music together.
I've always loved music thanks to my dad and I've been going to gigs since I was a teenager. It was during Art Foundation when a solid friendship group started to form and everyone happened to be into the same kinda music. I mostly met people through being at music venues like The Bodega and Rescue Rooms.
I'd say go to as many gigs as you can, chat to people, show them your work and most importantly put your work out there! Instagram was a huge help for me and allowed me to get a bit of recognition. I think the first band I made artwork for was Spang Sisters (big love to them) and then I started to get more commissions!
Who are some bands or artists you’re listening to at the moment? Any music in particular that helps you while you work?
I've been listening to a lot of Charlie Megira - very beautiful. Pregoblin, Julia Jacklin (and her side project Phantastic Ferniture), Katy J Pearson is dreamy, my lovely friend Benjamin Spike Saunders, Talking Heads, Devendra Banhart, Nick Hakim. I usually put on a mix of everything I like!
Some nice recommendations there, thank you! Is there anything you’re working on at the moment? How are you finding the artistic process in this unprecedented situation?
I'm designing a cover for my friends EP and trying to teach myself how to animate (a lil something will be released soon).
It's been up and down, some days I feel super motivated and find it easy to produce lots of work and other days I just wanna lie on the sofa and watch films or play tetris (I'm rlly good). Trying to find the balance between being productive and chilling out. In a positive sense, it's really nice to have more free time to make work but it's so easy to get caught up in news stories and feel sad about not seeing loved ones.
What’s your personal favourite piece of yours? What is it that you like about it? Hmm at uni I started an ongoing project called 'Where did you put my arms?' I have a series of collages inspired by that phrase. I never know what to do with my arms when I feel awkward in a situation/conversation so I thought it'd be funny to put the blame on the other person. YOU put my arms somewhere, it's YOUR fault I don't know how to use them. Haha. I guess I like it cause it's personal and a bit silly. Still can't find em.
'Where did you put my arms?'
Haha I wish I didn't relate to that as much as I do. Good thing we're both at the safety of our computers in quarantine otherwise we'd be sat opposite each other waving our arms about aimlessly during this entire interview. Although I do very much enjoy that visual.
Have you ever visited Leeds before? If no, do you have any plans to come? If yes, what's your favourite thing about the city? My older sister went to university in Leeds so I visited a few times but that was about 7 years ago so I can't remember it well! I'd really like to visit at some point though and check out some nice places.
Oh, small world! If you're ever here I'd recommend grabbing a drink at Headrow House or Belgrave - they both have lovely roof terraces and Belgrave has the best selection of to-go pizza slices you'll ever see.
At the time of writing, the country is still in lockdown. Do you have any words to say about what’s important to you as an artist during this time?
I think there's a huge pressure to stay productive and creative now that people have all this free time on their hands but it can be really hard. Keep making work if you can, being creative and having a small routine is really helping me stay motivated but at the same time you don't have to make anything at all. Do whatever you feel comfortable with. Also if you're able to, it's real nice to support other artists by sharing and buying their work, particularly if they're freelance - I know a lot of creatives who have had pretty much all their upcoming jobs cancelled due to the current situation. It sucks, but we gotta do what we can to help each other out.
I couldn't agree more! Thank you so much for talking with us, I hope you and all your loved ones are staying safe.
Our review of Zero Dollar Bill is live on our site - why not read it next!
Writing By Summer Crane
Artwork by Steph Dutton