August 7, 2017

Spotlight: Hattie Stewart

Hattie Stewart bends reality with tongue-in-cheek, 
playful illustrations and "doodle bombs."

There is an excerpt in Simon Schama’s “Power of Art” where he asks the questions: “Just how powerful is art? Can it feel like love, or grief? Can it change your life? Can it change the world”? In this instance, the art historian is speaking about Mark Rothko, but every time I come across an artist that is new to me, his words echo in my mind. Enter Hattie Stewart, an English artist and self-professed “professional doodler” whose work can feel like joy, play, and even, *gasp*, love. Hattie recently created art that hung in London's Roundhouse for the Apple Music Festival 10th Anniversary last September and has also worked with MAC Cosmetics.

The Le Sigh: Your work is super playful and bright! How do playfulness and humor affect your every day process as an artist?

Hattie Stewart: Illustrating for me has always been the thing that gives me my sense of calm, even if I am not feeling the most super playful or bright! I somehow get there on the page. I've always described what I do as very 'tongue in cheek'.  For me my work is like when someone gives you a cheeky, knowing wink and without saying a word, brings forth a sudden thrill, a fleeting moment of recognition. It isn't meant to change the world but change your mood, even if it is only for a moment.


TLS: The art world has historically been quite the boy's club, but it seems that things might be changing with the advent of social media. I myself discovered your work through tumblr! Can you talk about how platforms like Instagram and tumblr have played a part in your work, whether it be as a source of inspiration, a method of distribution, or just good old fun?

Hattie: Social media has definitely played a big part in sharing my work with a much larger platform of people that wouldn't have necessarily come across it otherwise. It has also worked the other way round too and opened up conversations with other creatives that I wouldn't have necessarily known, sparking collaboration. I think it's an amazing platform in that it's allowed a voice to come forth for many women and other people that perhaps wouldn't have had the same exposure otherwise. Through it, I've been very lucky to have created a network of women (and men) supporting what I do. I also believe there aren't as many definitive divides between disciplines, which I think is really exciting and has opened up a lot more possibilities for different artists. Saying that, it also can breed anxiety and pressure but of course with everything there's always two sides...!

TLS: Your doodle bombs are really a perfect representation of pop art: fine art literally on top of pop culture. Who are your influences, both in pop culture, and in art?

Hattie: Martin Sharp, Pauline Boty and Keiichi Tanaami are some of the artists that I particularly admire.


TLS: The cover illustrations you create are very tongue in cheek. You have said previously that they are "half homage, half satire." Would you mind talking about the power of using commercial, "ready-made" photographs as a jumping off point, and whether or not you believe this to be a subversive move as an image maker?

Hattie: Illustration, for me has always been a way to bend reality. Photography, of course can also do this but in a different way. Each technique has its own method of doing so and allowing one to see a particular side of something. My work, as I've said, is very 'tongue in cheek', it has its own 'comic' styling and there are different characters that you see popping in and out to say hi. Colour and a pattern are also very important elements in my work that I play a lot with. When I am illustrating over the magazine covers, I am attracted to the model's face and personality because of what I conjure from that, which allows for the illustration to become more of a satire.


TLS: You collaborated on the music video for Kylie Minogue's "Sexercize" and I've heard that you would love to work on a feature film at some point. What is your favorite film of all time, and who/what would be the ideal star(s) of your own full length feature?

Hattie: My favourite film of all time is Betty Blue, I also love Leon, basically any films with a strong female lead. I think I would let my characters that I draw be the stars of my own full length feature! If I were to cast any actors, I would probably go for more unknown names.

TLS: Your book "Living With: Hattie Stewart" came out recently. It is a collection of illustrations that also serve as removable art prints! Can you talk more about the book? What was the process of curating these pieces like?

Hattie: My new book with ROADS publishing is part of the artist series 'Living With' and is a collection of removable prints. I had just completed an exhibition creating 100 brand new illustrations, so I had a large set of images to curate a nice cohesive collection for the book. What's included is peppered with character based illustrations, pattern and shape.

Play With Me

TLS: When I found out about the removable aspect of your book, I thought it was a very DIY approach to fine art. Your doodle bombs as well have a do-it-yourself attitude about them. Do you have any advice for female and non-binary artists on "doing it themselves" and breaking into the art world?

Hattie: My advice to aspiring artists has always been 'don't get mad, get drawing'. If someone doesn't appreciate you today, keep working because they might do tomorrow - but always remember, deep down, the work you create has to be for yourself and you only.

You can see more of Hattie’s work on her website.

Natasha Villarraga, who is a graphic designer and writer in Brooklyn. You can follow her on twitter: @silkstones.