Graduating from the Royal College of Art, London, in 1982, Kevin Dean is a versatile artist and designer who has illustrated numerous books, designed textiles, wallpapers and ceramics. Kevin also designed much of the floral marble decoration at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and regularly travels in the region and to other countries. He is very committed to education, often working in schools and is an Associate Lecturer in drawing at Southampton Solent University, in the UK.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Kevin! How would you describe your art to our readers?
I would describe my work as decorative designs, paintings and prints, often of plant forms and landscape. My designs are usually for a product – textiles or ceramics for example. My personal work also concentrates on similar subject areas but is more experimental. A while ago I rediscovered printmaking, which I have really enjoyed exploring once more.
AT; Why do you often return to botanical or landscape themes?
I come from a family of gardeners and in terms of design, plant forms make the perfect subject for surface pattern. I’m also very concerned about environmental issues and although there may not be any obvious messages within my work, I hope by depicting nature, people might at least feel more connected to it. In the late 80’s I stayed with a tribe in Borneo, living in a Long House. Even then, as I painted in the forest, the sound of the logger’s chainsaws could be heard in the distance. Now, many of the tribespeople are forced to live in government camps and the rainforest has been converted into vast palm oil plantations. I’m not someone who thinks badly of the human race, but I do think that when it comes to how we treat the environment we are both reckless and foolish!
Carrie: Your art spans different media. How and why are you drawn to the materials you work in?,
When I was young I liked the idea of having my work reproduced, which was one of the reasons I trained as an illustrator. On graduating, publishers still had quite generous budgets so it was relatively easy to find a wide variety of commissions, from complex children’s books to reportage illustrations for magazines or advertising. When the publishing industry retracted and began to use a lot of digital imagery, I switched to textile design, something I’d always been interested in. This in turn led to me designing decorations and murals for various forms of architecture. As digital print became affordable to artists, allowing them to effectively sell products directly to the public or retailers, I developed my own range of wallpapers and textiles, which I exhibited in New York and Paris. I had a lot of support, both practical and financial, from an organisation called the British and European Design Group.
Alongside the design work I have always tried to continue creating more personal drawings, paintings and printmaking, which is what I’ve been concentrating upon recently.
My Dad is a retired carpenter and joiner, so I’ve always understood the importance of craft and honing skills which can be put to a variety of purposes, making it easier to find work of course.
I suppose I’ve tried to emulate what many of the UK post war artists used to do, artists such as Eric Ravilious or John Piper, not that I compare myself to them, but they did create designs for anything that came their way. Contemporary art students don’t always get the opportunity to try different media as I did, the courses tend to be much more specialised.
Carrie: What is surface design? How did you discover your interest in this artform?
It’s really a pattern or motif, usually in repeat, covering any object or product. At art college I found I was able to create patterns and forms that had a degree of movement and balance, so I was always keen to explore surface pattern further.
Carrie: Kevin you were involved in designing some of the marble work for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. How did you get involved in this project?
The lead architect at the time, Salma Damluji asked The Royal College of Art to recommend graduate artists/designers for the project and my name was given. I began by producing floral designs for the Mosque’s main courtyard, or Sahan. In time, I went on to design internal floors, walls and exterior archways.
Carrie: For this particular commission you worked with someone, no?; how does collaboration help and hinder art?
Being an artist can often be a fairly solitary existence, so I’m always happy to collaborate with other disciplines. As far as I was concerned the marble fabricators, Fantini Mosaici and the architects were the experts in their field. I, therefore, produced the designs and they advised me about the technicalities and how the designs might need to be adapted in order to create them in mosaic and water jet cut marble.
Carrie: Can you describe your artistic process to readers? For example, do you follow the same pattern and track when you develop an artwork from idea to product?
Drawing is always the most important component, often the drawing takes up more time than the finished artwork. Although Photoshop might be used towards the end of the process, I try to hand draw and paint virtually everything I do.
Carrie: We connected via a teaching colleague of mine; you worked with his students. What motivates you to work with school groups?
I always take any opportunity to work in schools because and I hope this doesn’t sound too worthy, but I want the next generation to understand how important creativity is to their lives, no matter what job they might eventually do. Virtually every decision we make, whether it’s in business or in our everyday lives, requires creative thinking, it’s just that most people don’t perceive it that way. I find it very disappointing that, at primary school level, in the UK at least, art is constantly being squeezed out of the curriculum in favour of maths and english. Primary teachers have told me that because they rarely teach art anymore, some children have difficulty in using a pencil, yet alone painting a picture.
Whilst at secondary level some pupils and their parents regard art as a non – academic ‘soft’ subject and yet all of the artists I know are extremely intelligent and often have very interesting, dynamic careers.
Carrie: What kinds of activities have school groups participated in with you?
In the UK anything from expressive drawing projects to 3D murals and a large ceramic mural at a school entrance. I’ve also worked in schools in the UAE, the projects there tend to connect with the Grand Mosque marble designs.
Carrie: Has there been one project you were involved in that has stood out to you in some way? Which one and why?
It has to be the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, simply because of it’s size and grandeur. It’s also led to other projects and enabled me to exhibit my work in the Middle East. The links below connect to a recent newspaper article about the project:
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
A paper and pencil.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
To go beyond obvious expectations – in everything we do.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How can you diversify your artist practice? I want to know! Tell me two new ways you can work with materials or your ideas below.
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