Plastic Fantastic: An Interview with Anna Lomax

Portrait of the illustrator and set designer Anna Lomax, in her studio

Some artists are like sponges; they sop up whatever is in the general vicinity and wring it out into their work. Anna Lomax is no exception. In her case, the general vicinity is Kingsland High Street, with its Turkish baths, Kebab houses and matchbox-sized shops bulging with blingy phone covers, studded, candy-coloured handbags, diamante hair accessories and technicolour flower garlands. But, as far as she’s concerned, it’s all about the pound shop. ‘It always starts there, or, when I’m stuck, that’s where I’ll go back to. There’s always been a kind of lo-fi element [to the work], I guess it’s to do with mass production and how things are produced but not thought about. You get the mistakes. And a big part of my work is about the humour that comes from mistakes. Some things you find and you just think ‘I can’t believe someone bothered to make that, that’s so funny. I can’t believe someone could get away with that.

There is something of Disney’s Little Mermaid about Anna. That is to say that, if, instead of chasing after Prince Eric, Ariel had left her underwater abode to complete an MA at the Royal College of Art, and then set up a studio space just round the corner from Ridley Road Market in the heart of Dalston, I imagine her collection of whozits and whatzits would have looked a lot like this; Perspex boxes crammed full with cocktail stirrers, party poppers and afro combs – ‘these were part of a job lot – aren’t the colours lovely?’- fight for space amongst vacant and/or vaguely mean-looking mannequin heads, giant cardboard eyes and a host of other psychedelic, shiny and acid-hued treasures.

It is a feast for the eyes, but I can’t help wondering where she goes when she wants to get away from it all. Does she ever just need to go and sit in an empty room? My question is met with the ever-so-slightly manic laughter of someone who’s worked far too hard for far too long. Anna, (whose voice closely resembles Tulisa’s) claps her hands to her cheeks ‘No, I don’t ever chill out it’s terrible. My boyfriend DJs and I go out partying with him. That’s what I do when it all gets too much. I slack it all off and just go out. I don’t really ever… sometimes I’ll go down to my mum and dad’s but it’s not… they’re both artists, so they have just as much crap as I do.’

But what would happen if it all went tomorrow? I ask. I realise I’m sounding like an irritating, prissy younger cousin right now but I genuinely want to know. It’s not that the multicoloured hubbub troubles me, it doesn’t. I just think if it was me, I’d need some respite occasionally. ‘I’d fill it up again’ she says a little dismissively, as if the very idea doesn’t bare thinking about. Then, as if to qualify it, she adds ‘the stuff I’ve been working on more recently is a little bit more minimal. Obviously you evolve with what you’re doing and I’ve got more particular about the objects. It’s not just stuff. I’m being more particular about what I’m saying with each thing.

As Jiggery Pokery, art directors and set designers Anna Lomax and Lauren Davies brought their own particular brand of life-sized illustration to window displays, editorial shoots, advertising campaigns and music videos since graduating from the Universityof Brighton, in 2007. The duo began collaborating in their second year there, as a way to get as much work done as possible, ‘We were given a load of briefs at once and it was a case of divide and conquer. That’s why we started working together. We’re both from London …Lauren’s from North London, I’m from the South, and we moved back at the same time so we carried on working together because we found that the jobs were so big it really helped to have someone else, especially when you were really kind of blagging it at the beginning. It made life a lot easier.

From then on the client list (Becks; Vauxhaull; Courvoisier; Nike), the jobs, and the collaborators continued to grow in number. Anna is now working solo, but shares a studio space with seven other artists, including the illustrator/ art director Jamie Brown, the florist Ellie Jauncey and the photographer Jess Bonham. There’s a lot of banter –  I arrive as Anna and Jess are cradling mugs of tea (incidentally Anna’s mug is emblazoned with the words ‘THE BOSS’) and discussing goldfish that refuse to die with Max and Liz, the photographers –  but it’s clearly an intensely productive environment, and one I figure must be beneficial for everyone involved. Obviously everyone gets stuck sometimes, especially when you have 101 briefs flowing through at once, and you haven’t slept for a month. When that happens it’s great to have someone else to bounce ideas off. Me and Lauren worked together for so long, we knew where the other was coming from, we didn’t have to explain what we were doing. All of us have shared the studio for about a year with other people coming in and out, so everyone kind of knows each others work really well… we can all suggest things that will make sense. Me and Jess collaborate a lot. If I had a job that involved flowers, then Ellie is my first port of call. Having that network is so important. I’ve got five set designers I can literally phone up for help in the middle of the night, and vice versa. You have to have that when the pressure is on. When you’re thinking ‘I need a stuffed camel, where am I going to find one?

In addition to the official collaborators, there are the work experience kids, some of whom turn up expecting it’s going to be all hanging out with celebrities at posh photo shoots. Anna is keen to point out that this isn’t the case. ‘A lot of the time it’s sweeping up around a pop star’s feet. It’s pretty full on. I have to be careful what jobs I do back-to-back. I’m pretty much always working, but I don’t like to do things that I can’t commit to 110 per cent. Because if I haven’t put it all in…you just never know what something is going to lead to. It could be that one job where you haven’t quite been able to pull it all together that turns out to be for the person you most need to impress. It’s full on graft. It’s very long hours. For me it’s fun because I love doing it, but some people don’t expect it to be such hard work.’

 She freely admits that, while some elements of the work are as fun to make as they are to view, in reality it’s neither as spontaneous nor as devil-may-care as it may first appear. ‘My work is really quite pre-planned. I am happy for there to be things that happen on set, the happy accidents that make things better, I just don’t like going in not knowing. I like to know what I’m doing so I know it will look good. The ideal on a video shoot is having a director who really knows what they want and has planned everything out to the nth degree. There’s nothing worse than arriving on set and finding that there’s something you can’t use and not being able to get round it because there isn’t enough time. If you’ve planned it all before then you know that yeah, this is the absolute maximum I can get out of it. That’s exciting.’

 By this stage in the interview process, Anna seems to have relaxed a little, and so I take the opportunity to bust out the question I’ve been gagging to ask: ‘If you could do your thing in any location, where would you choose?’ Whenever I research an interview and plan my questions, I can’t help but hear the answers in my head. It’s a bad habit, I know, but I was expecting her to say something like ‘the Pyramids’, or ‘the EiffelTower’ – somewhere that reflects Jiggery Pokery’s sense of humour and kitch sensibilities. Her answer is not what I expected, but it makes much better sense ‘ That’s funny, I did a fine art MA and at the end of the course – they didn’t really get me – I felt like I was fighting a battle I shouldn’t really have had to fight – they asked me ‘where is your ideal location to have your work shown?’ And I said Selfridges, you get so many people through the doors, it’s not locked away in a gallery where someone is going to expect a certain type of work. It’s there, at the forefront. Your average person might not understand what you’re doing but they are going to respond to it. And they might come away thinking it’s brightened their day. Any time you get somewhere in a real establishment –where you’re pushing that boundary between low art and high art. If it opens a door, then it’s cool.

So there you have it; of all the places, in all the world, Anna would rather exhibit her work in a major Londondepartment store than in any fancy gallery space, anywhere. It says a lot about what they are trying to do, about where they see themselves fitting in. Now I realise that Anna is about as native to this city as ‘Waterloo Sunset’, or Gilbert and George, or Pat Butcher’s earrings. Her work may not be about London, but it is ‘of’ London, and Londonis where she belongs. This epiphany is borne out when I ask her the following question: If you had to spend the rest of your life in one place, where would you choose? ‘The Ritz? There’s an upward lilt in her intonation, as if she’s not quite sure where I’m headed with this. ‘We’ve been there for dinner on my grandma’s birthday for the last five years and it’s amazing. It’s so naff. There’s like gold lions and cherubs on the ceiling in the dining room and everything’s mint and peach and pink. I’ve never been in one of the rooms but I bet they’re pretty cool.

Liz calls Anna over to do her portrait shot, and this feels like a good point at which to end our chat. Eventually, I find myself back on Kingsland High Street, but now I’m looking at my surroundings with fresh eyes in my head.  From here you can see the improbable silhouette of the Gherkin in the distance, but the square mile seems a thousand miles away. ThatLondon seems altogether more sober, and, compared with the one I’m standing in right now, a lot less fun.

A shorter version of this interview was published in Flamingo Magazine #3, The Homes and Habitats Issue

Image courtesy of wonderful Liz and Max, of Haarala Hamilton Photography






One comment on “Plastic Fantastic: An Interview with Anna Lomax

  1. […] Here is a great interview with the lady herself:  […]

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