Steve firstly you appear a very private man, having carried out my research (like a good interviewer), there is surprisingly little about you out on the net, why so private?
Illustrators tend to toil away in secret with very little contact to the outside world, but I’m definitely not a recluse, in fact I generally get a great deal of inspiration from the people I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by in Dublin.
It’s quite possible I’m hard to find online, but If you happen to pass Grogan’s pub on South William Street any time soon, ask anyone and they will know all my business.
Did you always have an artistic talent?
I’ve always been curious, and I’ve always been a bit inside my own head – drawing seemed an easier way to communicate when I was younger, as I was very dyslexic, so you could say it was how I adapted.
I don’t really believe in talent, you never question your ability to speak your native tongue, and it’s well understood that to learn another language it’s just a matter of studying. Artistic skill is the same, it’s just another language.
Did you know that you would work within the arts?
I knew from an early age that drawing was my favourite solution to problems and when I needed to earn some money I turned to art and I still love drawing today.
I’ve begun to appreciate the problem solving aspect of creative work much more. I like the practice of being presented with a creative puzzle and using whatever tools necessary to solve it. The pencil is still my favourite tool though.
Having had a look at your website I was really drawn to the slightly darker side (my interpretation) of your drawings. Is there a dark side, or was it just my interpretation?
One of my favourite film directors is David Lynch, he is as comfortable with horror as he is with humour and he sees nothing wrong with walking a narrow line between the two, which is how I feel. I think comedy is much more vivid when its framed in tragedy, in the same way colours are so much brighter against the dark.
Are you a fan of whisk(e)y?
Yes absolutely, whiskey is such a big part of Irish culture especially around St. Patrick’s Day.
Do you remember your first whisk(e)y?
I don’t remember my first whiskey, probably because it was drowned in Diet Coke or some such mixer. I do remember when I was in my 20s, I’d just left my girlfriend’s house after spending the whole day breaking up, I guess we were distracted so we hadn’t heard there was a riot taking place in Dublin at the time.
I passed a burning car and a couple of over turned bins before realising what was going on – it was absolute mayhem – and in a lot of ways the mood suited how I was feeling right then.
Along my route I ducked into an open door which happened to be a bar, I sat down probably looking really sorry for myself and the bar man – all joking aside – placed a neat whiskey in front of me, he didn’t even ask what I wanted. The Barman just looked at me as if to say, “it could be worse”. It was the sweetest whiskey I ever tasted.
As it does in Scotland, whiskey plays a massive part in Ireland’s heritage, right back through the ages, how important is it as a part of Ireland and its history?
Whiskey plays a huge role in Ireland’s heritage. St. Patrick’s Day, as everyone knows, is one of the most important cultural holidays in Ireland and it wouldn’t be the same without a small glass of Jameson.
More recently I have learnt the history of Jameson right back through the ages to when John Jameson started distilling in Dublin at Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery in 1780. Jameson has been making whiskey the same way ever since.
How did the collaboration with Jameson come to be?
Every year Jameson celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by commissioning an artist to create a piece of original art for its limited edition bottle. I was picked out because my bold, colourful style together with a certain level of humour and wit was a perfect match for Jameson.
I was honoured to be chosen considering the famous artists who have produced artwork for the limited edition bottle in the past including my good friends, street artist James Earley and illustrator Steve Simpson.
What was your biggest source of inspiration for your design?
The biggest source of inspiration for my design of the Jameson’s St. Patrick’s Day bottling was the legend behind the Irish phrase, “to chance your arm”. Legend has it that in 1492, ‘Black James’ Butler and his men found themselves barricaded behind the door to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
On the other side was Gearóid Fitzgerald who, tired of the constant fighting between the clans, decided it was time to make peace. Fitzgerald ordered his men to cut a hole in the door before extending his hand through the gap as a token of friendship. Rather than cut his arm off with a sword, Butler shook it and the long standing feud came to an end, giving Dublin one of its most famous sayings: “to chance your arm”.
I was also inspired by age old Dublin landmarks that are loved in equal measure by the people of Dublin, and by me. In the background of my design you can view Ha’Penny Bridge across the River Liffey, the surrounding Irish mountains and the Smithfield tower.
Were you familiar with the bottles, and designers that worked on the previous bottles? Is there a desire to work within their themes, or did you want to get away from that?
I’m good friends with Steve Simpson and James Early – they really made it difficult for me. It was tricky but at the very least I wanted my bottle to have its own personality.
Both James and Steve put a lot of time and thought into what they did and made things very personal to them – all I wanted to do was keep that attention to detail going.
What was the most challenging part of designing the packaging?
There’s a massive amount of constrictions with what you can and can’t put on a bottle and, on top of that, it has to feel and look very much like a Jameson bottle at a glance.
Even though there were all these hurdles Jameson initially gave me free reign to develop the concept and then they guided me through the challenge of making that concept work within the constrictions.
Did it take a long time to design?
The whole project from being approached, to inspiration and crafting the design took 24 months.
Now that it’s in production, how does it feel to see all these bottles with your label on them? I take it you have one or two stashed away?
I do, but it’s funny, I haven’t had that moment yet, where you bump into your work when you’re not expecting it, I’ve had that happen with books and with smaller projects but nothing on this scale.
I almost want to book a flight to see how far away I could go and still spot my design – it often happens when you least expect it, that’s the best.
For people that maybe haven’t visited Ireland yet, what hidden gems would you recommend?
The Aran Islands, there’s just something unquantifiable about them, the communities are so full of creativity and ingenuity and they embody everything great about this little patch in the Atlantic.
What projects do you have planned next?
I’m illustrating a book, which is out in September. I’m also writing my own book that will hopefully be coming out the following year. Apart from that, I’ll be celebrating with my bottle – it’s been 24 months in the making, so I have a lot of time to make up for.
Thank you for that Steve, we will be sure to keep an eye out for your upcoming publications and enjoy your time with your bottle, you’ve earned it.
Jameson 2017 St Patrick’s Day release is now on sale, don’t miss out grab a bottle or two whilst you can as it will be very popular indeed.
Kirsty Clarke (@KirstyClarke29)