I enjoy Viva’s more abstract themes. Seeing how our contributors interpret them and how different strands get woven in. ‘Foot print’ inevitably struck an environmental note for many, including our cover artist Robert Littleford.
Working at his studio in the King's Road Arches between Brighton’s piers, and visiting Rottingdean beach most days with his dog Moose, he’s frequently confronted with one of our worst predicaments. “Every time I go down to the beach, I see all the plastic, the rubbish and the barbeques. I’m just appalled by the state that people leave the beach in.”
His fears about the overwhelming scale of the problem are captured in his cover design. “Brighton Council spends a fortune keeping the beach clean every single day. But it’s an avalanche of waste. It’s just depressing. What can you do against that? When I was a kid, there was the whole ‘keep Britain tidy’ campaign. You would never go to a beauty spot and leave rubbish. So, what’s changed? Is it that people aren’t being educated about it? Or that it’s virtually impossible to buy anything that’s not wrapped in plastic?”
Behind him, on the walls of his subterranean studio, are paintings from his recent Just So exhibition, which started out as a reworking of the classic Rudyard Kipling stories, but then took an unexpected twist. “The Arts Council suggested that I do some research in the local community and the stories I discovered were darker and more interesting. Like the sea serpent off Seaford, big cats on the loose in Friston Forest, and flocks of starlings falling dead from the sky. Falling birds! It’s all a bit biblical, a bit ‘end of days’. Virginia Woolf describes it in Orlando.”
Speaking of Woolf, visitors to the studio often compare Robert's work to that of the Bloomsbury group of artists, but Robert doesn’t see it and cites Georgia O’Keeffe, Léger and Hockney as influences. He trained as an illustrator, doing a foundation at Stafford, three years at Harrow School of Art and a further three at the Royal College, then worked for a time as an animator. Now he divides his time between his own painting and commercial work – illustrating books and magazines including the Sunday Times, Condé Nast and National Geographic.
“I’m an armchair traveller. I like working on travel magazines because it gets me drawing things that I wouldn’t normally draw, and going to places in my head that I wouldn’t normally go to. Left to my own devices, I’d probably be like O’Keeffe, living in New Mexico and drawing cactuses.”
But for now, he’s preoccupied with more pressing concerns on the shoreline. “I’ve heard that once the oceans die, we’ve got five years left and they’re giving the oceans until 2045… It’s bleak. But I’m not innocent; I use acrylic paints and wash my brushes out in the sink, and I bag things in plastic to sell. Even though I’m mindful, I know I could do a lot better. We all have to do a lot better.”
See Robert's work at his open studio at 168 King's Road Arches.