Graphic artist Chris Gibson is bringing Hampshire’s landmarks in to
people’s homes with his nostalgic posters says SANDRA SMITH
My first thought when arriving at Chesapeake Mill is gratitude for being sufficiently early to allow time to browse through 1960s clothes and stacks of vinyl. My second, is chastisement.
The restaurant is full, why didn’t I book? Thankfully, my discomfort doesn’t last long. Within moments a table becomes vacant and I sit down to await the artist whose Southsea Pier image was a front page highlight in the August edition of this magazine. A strategically placed copy ensures Christopher Gibson finds me. When he does, it turns out he, too, has spent a while perusing the diversity of this emporium. The outer façade, apparently, might even make a good a subject for one of his legendary prints.
“It’s the iconic views which tend to sell,” the graphic artist states between sips of coffee. “More obscure places don’t interest people; they prefer an image of somewhere they’ve been. Water is the most tricky thing. I did Petersfield Open Air Swimming Pool in vintage style. The motion of water can look so beautiful if you think the way David Hockney might approach it.”
Having long harboured an interest in the history of graphic design, redundancy a decade ago, coinciding with a now famous poster, proved to be the spur which instigated Chris’s latest portfolio.
“Keep Calm and Carry On became popular about that time. Heritage is a huge industry. I’m not sure if it’s anything to do with nostalgia; vintage posters of the early twentieth century have a certain glamour that is appealing, even though the reality was very different.”
Chris’s South of the Downs exhibition featured his series of classic prints based on old travel posters. These were, he confesses, more popular than his watercolours or pastels: “They seemed to strike a chord with
people, tapping into an interest in the past.”
The process begins with the 50 year old visiting his chosen subject. Weather conditions at this point are crucial.
“I always go on a sunny day.
You want the sun for crisp shades, more contrast. Back in my studio I sketch up a rough composition which is scanned to the computer. Then I draw on the computer – I’m doing the drawing, not the computer. Getting the composition right takes a bit of time because you really want to create the iconic imagery people expect. Flat colours are built up in layers. It’s challenging getting things to work together. I have a folder full of things that haven’t quite made it but nothing is thrown away. My images have evolved, become more illustrative.”
Printing onto thick, uncoated art paper fixes the colour and prevents fading while as well as online sales, Chris works with White Dog Gallery whose Partner, Helen Steenhuis, is a big fan.
“Chris, one of our best-selling artists, has a fabulous range of over 35 images here, all produced in his highly collectable, vintage poster style. Each one is thoughtfully created as he looks for an unusual angle or iconic part of a building or scene, The Kings Theatre, for example.”
This two way relationship is beneficial on several levels, as the artist acknowledges.
“Working at home can be a bit isolating. You have to be quite disciplined and look for excuses to get out. It’s good to get involved with galleries and retailers. At first I found it a bit daunting going in and trying to sell yourself. It’s easy to be knocked back but wonderful when you get the right response.”
And satisfaction with his work, does that come easy?
“A lot I’m happy with but some I wouldn’t mind going back and tweaking them a bit. It’s a progression always. I’m probably happier now; learning how to see, that’s taken time.”
This year Chris’s subjects have included Portsmouth based HMS Queen Elizabeth, though a past trip abroad to Canada has also stimulated ideas.
Given the flatness and clarity of his work, learning of his love of the Pre-Raphaelites is unexpected. He also confesses to a fondness for Victorian books and old prints of birds.
“I try to get the odd bird or bit of nature, if not an aeroplane, into my prints,” he laughs.
Talking of aircraft, the RAF centenary and Southampton’s link with the Spitfire inspired a scene of these celebrated planes over the Solent. And I reckon today’s venue will appear in print in the not too distant future because Christopher has developed a fascination for this historic building. And more. When we leave, he strolls around the village taking in the local scenery before declaring, “I’ve a feeling Wickham will be my next project for the autumn.” I can’t wait. Turning landmarks into vintage style posters will gain Christopher Gibson, and this historic village, a whole new following.
ABOVE: Solent SpitfireLEFT: Chris GibsonOPPOSITE PAGE: The Camber, Portsmouth
ABOVE: Southampton Tudor HouseLEFT: Solent Racing