-How did Concrete Hermit start?
I’d finished my Art Degree in Glasgow and had hung around there for a bit. I then moved to London and worked in the Tate Modern Shop, which isn’t as fancy as it sounds. While I was there I taught myself HTML and built the first version of what would become the Concrete Hermit website. It all just went from there really, designing shirts and refining the website. I met Jon Burgerman through a mutual friend and he was into what I was doing so did a design for the site. I then gradually started working with other artists, people who sent stuff in and people that I met in the pub.
I left the Tate in December 2004 and have just kept going since then – working out of my flat and then eventually moving into the studio where I am now. We published our first book ‘The Shut Up Man’ by Ian Stevenson in 2005. All 500 copies sold out and that allowed us to do some more books. We’ve published 8 different titles to date and have got some new titles and formats lined up. It’s been a steady process of building up the business, working with new and interesting people as we go.
On a personal level I wanted to start a business that gave me the opportunity to work with interesting people on a range of different projects. I wanted to work on my own terms, having done a fine art degree I didn’t have a design or illustration portfolio as such to show people in order to get a ‘design job’ and I wasn’t really interested in just doing one thing all the time anyway, so I thought I’d do something myself and see where it ended up.
The primary aims of the company were to offer an outlet for interesting work and to help further promote the work of the artists involved. With the opening of our new gallery we can hopefully take that aspect of it to the next level and offer the artists we present the freedom to try out new stuff in the space.
-Where does the name Concrete Hermit come from?
I don’t know really, it just seemed to happen – I think it probably came from where my head was at the time, living in London, no money, rubbish job – I felt a bit like a Hermit. People always ask what it means, but I like to leave it open to interpretation. There were other names I came up with but I’m glad this one stuck – it seems to fit quite nicely.
-How would you describe Concrete Hermit’s style?
I try not to have too much of a house style which is why collaborating with different artists is great – it keeps everything fresh. When looking for artists to work with I look for people who do things I like – I try to work with people who aren’t following the current illustration fad or fashion. People whose work has it’s own voice. There are no rules really, I’m not bothered if you’re a student or an art superstar, good stuff is just good.
-How many people are involved in production and design of the line and what does each do? Please introduce yourself/yourselves
Tunch- Hello my name’s Tunch and I’ve just joined the Concrete Hermit team. I graduated last year in Graphic Design from UCCA Maidstone. I took a year doing my own thing while I decided which direction I wanted to go in. I ended up helping out on the Monster Burp show organized by Gemma from Lazy Oaf. Chris and a few of the Hermit collaborators had pieces in the show and somehow I ended up working here. I do a bit of everything really – it’s pretty laid back and I’m still learning how everything works.
Chris – I’m Chris, I tell Tunch what to do.
-You have collaborated with a lot of artists and have produced from t-shirts to art prints, books and badges what items are you most proud of and what’s coming up next?
I’m really proud of everything we’ve done. Even designs or projects that haven’t worked out quite as well as I’d have liked have been produced and are now out there in the world, which is an achievement in itself.
-Any other brands/lines you like or think are special; should we expect any CH collaborations with other brands in the near future?
There are a lot of people out there doing good stuff. I don’t think you can run a project like ours and not give respect to people like 2K or Beautiful Decay. People do sometimes approach us, but we’re happy just collaborating with artists rather than brands. We are looking at doing some new customized items in the future but I’ve not really thought about it too much yet.
-Major influences and favorite artists?
Tunch – I was already a fan of a few of the artists that have worked with Concrete Hermit before I started working with Chris. I really like Ian Stevenson and Jon Burgerman’s work. In my own work I try and do my own thing, my influences come more from music and film.
Chris – My tastes change, I’m into lots of contrasting things at once. I love minimalism and stuff from the Bauhaus, the really old skool. I like fluxus stuff from the 60’s and the work and objects of Joseph Beuys. Lawrence Weiner text work and book pieces, Jeff Koons and the kind of 80’s hyper capitalism. Then I’m into people like Geoff Mcfetridge, Shepard Fairey, these are pretty big names, but there’s lots of good stuff going on all the time. I rediscovered Hieronymus Bosch who I used to love when I was a kid. If you’re into character design check him out, he was born in 1450 and painted pictures of heaven and hell populated by loads of characters doing strange things with musical instruments. I think it’s important to get to grips with the history so you can trace trough were influences come from. It means that you’ve got a more solid foundation than if you’re just aping what’s around, the current fashion at the moment.
-Your favorite shops/places in London?
Tunch- The Prince Charles Cinema and any Sam Smiths Pub in the middle of town. I love a bargain!
Chris- I’m happy sat on the middle of Hampstead Heath on a sunny day with a beer.
-You’re just about to open your gallery/shop in London. Would you like to talk about it more? How long have you’ve been working on this?
Well, we’re living the dream! Right back when I first started the idea was to have some kind of space to put on shows and exhibitions, so it’s been about four years in the planning. There was no way that the company could have supported the space in the beginning, but now that we’ve grown a bit I decided to take things to the next level. I found the space in East London just off Redchurch Street near Brick lane. It’s a great location as there are already quite a few galleries and interesting shops in the area but we’re just off the beaten track so we can do our own thing.
Upstairs there’s the gallery at the front and the shop towards the back and then we’ve got a basement, which we can use to keep stock in and to run the web and wholesale operation from.
Our first show will be on 4th October with our long time collaborator Ian Stevenson. We will also be launching Ian’s new book, “Best Wishes Get Well Soon” which we’re publishing.
The Gallery Address is: 5a, Club Row, London, E1 6JX.