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An Interrogation of Russell Marshall

  • 6 min read

Award winning newspaper designer and journalist, and artrepublic favourite, Russell Marshall could have been a boat captain. Instead he is creating iconic prints exploring our obsession with celebrity, reinventing images from the golden days of the red top press, and causing a stir in the art world.

He takes time off from the hectic aftermath following his latest print release to tell us all about his upcoming projects, a day in the life of Russell Marshall, and his hope for the future of British art…

What made you become an artist?

I'm not actually sure. But I guess everything thing that I have done throughout my career has brought me to where I am now.

How did you get started?

I design newspaper pages every day. I've designed something in the region of 2,500 newspaper front pages and tens of thousands of pages in total. And while I love the immediacy of designing for daily papers there are massive constraints - time and resources. You are also designing by committee. Someone chooses this image, someone else writes that headline, this size ad must go on the page... and someone else comes along and changes the colours you've used. So it's never really your idea.

I wanted to produce work that was completely my own.I had been collecting for years and after visiting a London Art Fair I felt that I could do better than some of the work on offer. I designed a print and took it to a studio to be screen printed. They put it up in their gallery. Sold two the first weekend and three the following weekend.

And now I have produced 22 different prints, canvass work, stainless steel work and am featured in seven galleries - and a new opportunity seems to arrive every other day.

How do you approach the actual making of your work?

The same way I go about designing anything. I tend to get an idea and can see how it will look in my head. Then I have to translate what's in my imagination to paper, or canvas or digital file. Which can be the tricky bit. I'm very production-based, I prepare artwork for my screen prints in photoshop - I'll use a different layer for each colour and produce a file in a similar way to how the piece will be printed.

What’s your medium?

Screen prints mainly, though I'm currently working on a collection of acid etched stainless steel pieces. And my first canvas work goes for auction in March next year to raise funds for Joss Parkes Searchlight - a charity that helps children with cancer. I'm really pleased with how this piece has turned out. I've spent a lot of time prepping canvas and then wet and dry sanding layer upon layer of gesso to create a smooth printing surface but also keeping the texture of the linen canvas.

What would you say are the main themes you pursue?

Celebrity; but hopefully with a twist. I like the more unusual newsy or candid images. I like collections, multiples and themes. I like there to be a story behind the image or images - a reason why the images have been used. Photo Opportunity has a story behind each frame, Cowboys and 27 are all collections of linked showbiz legends and Mouse Arrest was just a bit of pun-based fun.

How do you choose your subjects?

Images have to fit the theme, but also the composition needs to work too. With cowboys I needed all the subjects to visually look like cowboys in just a head and shoulders shot. A picture of a cowboy's face without a hat or a neck scarf is just a picture of an actor. It could be their driving licence picture.

What are you currently working on?

Sorry - that's a secret for now, but you'll be among the first to know when they are ready! There's a big anniversary coming up of the death of a hero of mine, I'd like to get a print in time for this but the schedule is pretty packed right now. The stainless steel work is in progress, a canvas collection is in progress too... and I've started the artwork for my next series of screen prints. It's taken over three months to get Photo Opportunity: The Collection finished, so I'm looking at spring for the next collection.

Do you care whether people like your work?

I want to produce work that people like, but I'm not upset if someone doesn't like a piece. I love getting an email or a twitter from someone who has bought something I have made. It's quite an honour to have someone spend their hard-earned money on a piece of my work because they like it, and they want to frame it and put on their wall... and look at it every day. I've also had people turn their nose up at my work. Which is fine. I probably wouldn't choose the art they have on their walls.

What’s the biggest myth about artists?

Ha! So far everybody I've met through the industry has been brilliant. I've met quite a few established artists and the most shocking thing has been how nice, supportive and in a way, normal, they have all been. I was expecting more ego and flamboyance. The one thing everyone seems to have in common though is dedication and hard work.

What is the greatest threat to art today?

I'm very positive about the art scene. Particularly the British art world. Technology is often seen as a threat to creativity but I'm not so sure. Software like PhotoShop makes it easier to produce images and effects that took years to learn longhand but it can't tell you what to produce - that still comes from the imagination. And it can't edit a good idea from a bad idea. Most people have internet access now, and a pretty good home printer but there's no value in hitting apple P and out pops an image. Collectors want value in the work they own and that comes from good people working hard.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

A lesson I've from many people, but one friend summed it up quite well: Put yourself in the way of life.

What have you sacrificed for your art?

Just time and money. Things we'd all like more of!

Do you suffer for your art?

I'm quite a positive person. I look at the failures as one step closer to the successes.

When are you happiest?

I'm pretty much constantly happy, no tortured soul here. I don't expect much so am rarely disappointed and often pleased.

Is there an art form you don’t relate to?

Absolutely not. There are styles I would not choose to work in or display in my home, but I can appreciate the talent and effort that has been put in.

Which artists do you most admire?

Too many to mention. Look at all the artists on artrepublic's website or in their gallery. I'm proud to be included among them and admire them all.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Old school would be Andy Warhol, the new breed would be Greg Gossel.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?

There was once the chance to become a boat captain. I worked as chief mate on a luxury motor yacht in Boston, Massachusetts. The boat was dry docked for repairs and I was given a month's leave with a view to returning and training up for my captain's ticket. I returned to the UK and my journalism career started to happen. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I'd have returned. But I briefly returned to the ocean several years ago. Four of us sailed the Atlantic on a 40 foot sailboat... it took us 19 days.

Describe an average day in the life of Russell Marshall

I still work in the newspaper industry. Average day starts at 7.30 to 8.00 with a coffee and a cigarette and I sit down at the computer to check mail. I've normally got several things to sort out before I head to work, like ordering supplies or sending out prints or working on the website. The studio I use is on my way to the day job so I often call in to drop off artwork or proof work or maybe a signing. Work starts about 11.00 to 11.30. Midday I have a meeting with my editor and department heads to plan the following day's paper. 1.00 the designers start to arrive and the we begin working on the paper. Things get busier throughout the day and I generally start designing the front page around 5.00. Everything can change at the last minute, but I'm usually away by 7.30 to 8.00 but there will be people working until 2.00 sometimes later. I tend to work on my stuff at weekends and mornings.

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