London based artist Ruben Ireland merges traditional techniques with digital processes in his creation of otherworldly, monochromatic illustrations. As his life becomes more colourful, so does his work. Thankfully, not even a pop of purple can take away the mysterious soul that eerily manifests itself in each of his pieces. We ventured beyond the Barbican on a journey to uncover Ruben’s enigmatic world; a kingdom where powerful feminine protagonists reign and beautiful beasts run free, under the watchful eyes of animal totems.
What’s your background? Did you study art or illustration? What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I studied art at two colleges with a focus on a broad range of practices and then went on to study illustration at university. Apart from a few small jobs growing up and a year in a central London cinema before working as an illustrator/artist full-time, I have somehow managed to avoid regular work for a few years now.
I did spend a month or two painting houses in Norway, but that was more for fun. My parents have always been self-employed so it’s always felt like the more natural choice to me. I don’t think I would be happy doing anything else now, although I'm learning how to drive boats and am thinking about getting training as a pilot soon.
You've said to us in a previous interview that you wanted to be an actor. What was it you loved about acting and what kept you from pursuing an acting career?
I really loved the sense of family and community during rehearsals and final shows. You build really close relationships with the other cast members and there’s something special about rushing around together in fear and excitement before a show, that I haven’t felt anywhere else. I do miss that. It’s also really nice to pretend to be someone else for a while and have all your words and actions written down for you. As a naturally shy person, that really helped me to become comfortable engaging with others. There was a point for me in my later teens where I had to choose to pursue either art or acting at university and although I enjoyed acting very much, art has always encompassed much more for me - there was no choice really.
How do you conduct your research?
I buy a lot of books and watch a lot of documentaries.
What work do you most enjoy doing away from work? Does painting feel like work to you?
I really love DIY and have just bought a boat to turn into a home, so I'm getting pretty excited about painting, refitting, tiling and wiring her over the next few months. Whilst I do this I’ll still be creating artworks so I'm interested to see which one will feel more like work and which one will be the escape. I have hopes that it will all be fun. So far I've never felt like my work is too much of a chore. You have many, many fans both in the JUNIQE community and around the globe.
Can you guess why people are so fascinated by your work?
I'm not sure how it happened. I've always tried to make work that means a lot to me, but it’s also been important to me to think about whether someone might like to put what I'm making on their walls too. I feel really blessed to see how people have responded.
Is there an artist/musician/person that has influenced you especially?
Tell us about someone who inspires the way you work. There are many people that inspire me, for different reasons. My mind goes to Thom Yorke and Radiohead, who have the amazing ability to adapt and grow creatively, whilst always keeping their underlying identity true. I'm not sure I’ll ever be able to match that, but I’ll try.
What would be your dream project?
I have many dream projects really. I’d love to translate my work into animation or sculpture at some point. I’d love to work with Björk. I’d love create a series of children’s books. I’d love to be lead artist for an indie game. Let’s see, there’s plenty of time.