I have been asked this question, or a variation of, many times in my career as an artist. It has become a standard question. More so, when people learn that I am a student of art. If you are studying art, you should be admiring other artists, right? That’s what people seem to think. I suspect it would be same if if were a musician. Then I would be expected to be able to list my musical influences. Or if I were a writer the questioner would anticipate a list of well-known authors. As an actor, I should be able to spout forth a number of stage and Hollywood greats as the people I look up to.
Why do we feel that ‘creative’ people need to stick within their field, or even, within their genre in terms of their influences? I’m not so sure that it is that important. At least, it isn’t to me.
In truth, I am usually stumped when I get asked to name my artistic influences. I admire the work of a number artists, that is true. And I’ve come across a lot of amazing work in my research for my degree and my masters. But I can usually name but a small number of artists when asked, and I’m struggling to list them now.
It isn’t necessarily people’s work that I admire, so much as their thoughts, their drive, their style, their talents and their ability to tease what I call the ‘essence’ out of life. And that essence can be teased in so many ways. George Shaw is the only well-known artist that comes to mind that does this.
Last night I found myself (not accidentally) in a sweet little place called the Kitchen Garden on the outskirts of Birmingham listening to the poetic, melodic, and emotionally moving songs created by two blokes and their guitars: Ezio and Booga. Ezio sings. They both play guitar and timbales. Have you heard of them? Perhaps not. They are a two-some outfit, and have been going for many years now. I came across them just recently, introduced to me by someone very close to me. I had never heard of them. But as soon as I started listening to their music, and I mean really listening, to the words as well as the sounds, I fell in love. I might as well have learnt How to play the timbales, just so I could recreate those mellifluous tunes. Six months ago I had never heard of them. Now I have seen them play live twice (and am planning another night). I’ve even conversed with them, albeit a little nervously in my own stumbling style.
They aren’t very well-known, yet they should be. But as to why that is, that is an unanswerable question that isn’t relevant here, what is relevant to me is that I will now cite them as amongst my creative influences. They have that passion and drive I spoke of above. They seem to be constantly pushing always onwards and forwards by their innate desire to create and tease the ‘essence’ out of life. They don’t seem to be looking for fame, particularly. Fame is nice, for sure. But they just love what they do. Their songs speak more than just the mere words. Their guitar playing is incredible. I’m not remotely musical but I can see and hear that. They aren’t painters, but they inspire me just as much, more so, than any painter I can name here. I’d like to think that I have that creative drive and that passion, and the desire to tease the essence out of life.
In addition to the wonderful Ezio and Booga, there are other ‘creative’ non-artists who inspire me, who I could call my ‘influences’, other people who do, or have done, this teasing I talk of in their own endeavours and fields: George Perec, Marcel Proust, Haruki Murakami, Kate Atkinson, Johnny Marr, Daniel Miller, my old art teacher, my old English teacher, my grandma, Robin Williams, Michael Caine, Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut, my oldest school friend’s dad, a friend who has just suffered a devastating loss in her life, another friend who is writing her story at the moment and a few other very important people in my life who might not necessarily feel creative but are. They seem to me to have that one thing in common: a compulsion to create something out of nothing and a drive to keep going. Some of them are famous, others not. But they all have tenacity. They all move organically. They just do what they feel they need to do. They tease the essence.
I have far too many ‘influences’ to mention it seems. The list above is just a small drop and just the people that came to mind just now. So next time I get asked that question, rather than struggling to come up with any names, I think I will just respond with ‘all sorts of many’. My final words: moon – you’re just a ball. Maybe so, but the essence is there.