I met Bob Follen at last months Louder Than Words literary festival in Manchester. Bob is an artist and model maker who creates imaginative and innovative portraits and cardboard models. At the festival, he was selling a selection of portraits and cards, including a number of his ‘one word missing’ series of portraits. I really enjoyed talking to Bob, and asked if he would mind being interviewed for Too Late For Cake. We had planned to do an interview on the Sunday but, for various reasons, there wasn’t time so an email Q&A was arranged instead…
When did you start Bob Art Models and what made you start creating art?
Bob Art Models started on January 1st 2014. Although, I had previous model-making and artistic training. I was schooled in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, then studied at colleges in both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, finally after 7 years, graduated with an BA (with Hons) Degree in Model Design in 2003. Although “normal” jobs followed after the training, it was something I never fully left alone, and would draw and make things when I felt the urge.
An example of Bob’s cardboard modelling
The initial model made from cardboard was just a little building front/panel, which had a design drawn onto it and was cut with scalpels pressed and raised, depending on the architectural design. The miniaturised “Building Front” idea, was really about appreciating where you live, and is also about trying to bringing the outside in. All the card used (to date), is from old removing boxes dating from when my other half and I relocated from London to Todmorden, right before Christmas 2013.
Even now it would seem an awful waste to throw out that much cardboard. Cardboard is very friendly model-wise. When not being used as models, it’s being cut up for sign-age, or as dividers in storage boxes.
Did you begin making cardboard models before drawing and painting your portraits?
Initially the models were first. I’ve never ever really for some reason felt comfortable being classed as a painter or artist, even though I did a lot of art training. I think I may have been more subconsciously excited by concept and the problem solving of “how to make something from nothing” with very little cost involved. When Bob Art Models was formed as time progressed, I was painting more and more. And adding in finer details on the Building Fronts or in the Portraits. My hand steadied pretty earlier on. Like with most things in life, the more you exercise the muscles needed, the better you become.
Who has been your favourite subject to draw and paint?
That’s a difficult one. I do a bit of information research especially image research for all of the subjects. I like painting someone who has quite a few really interesting facts about him or her. With someone like Rik Mayall, I really wanted to get it right, because of the amount of inspiration and fun he dished out, to an awful lot of people. A enormous talent gone far far too soon.
Do any of your subjects own their portraits?
A good few do! John Lydon, David Gilmour (& Polly Samson) Jarvis Cocker, Robert Wyatt, Mark E Smith, Wilko Johnson, Peter Gabriel, Jimmy Page, Graham Fellowes, Robyn Hitchcock, Dr Brian May and a couple more….! Although, most only own a reproduction, as in Cards and the occasionally large print. I try not to think about the giants who might have seen the works. One chap came to see my work in Todmorden (via a gallery in Chiswick), he said he was a good friend of Peter Blake. And that he thought Mr Blake would really like my take on his relatively well known “Sgt Pepper” sleeve! Eek!
How did the collaboration with Louder Than Words come about?
Last year (2014) I painted a portrait of Robert Wyatt, and noticed via the web that author Marcus O’Dair had written a book in collaboration with My Wyatt, and that there was to be a series of talks about the book. One of which was happening in Manchester (at The Palace Hotel). I discovered the Louder Than Words Festival website, and purchased my tickets. Having chatted with Marcus on Twitter, we got to chat on the day. As I left I thought, someone from the Festival should really see the “One Word Missing” portraits, something about them seemed pretty relevant. The image is perhaps seen as Louder Than Words…etc! Getting an email address, I sent a message over and a meeting with Dr Jill was set up, and felt very lucky to have been given the opportunity and the encouragement, and the belief.
Philip Larkin, ‘One Word Missing’ series
You relocated from London to Todmorden, what do you like best about Todmorden?
Todmorden is like most places in the UK, put down a bit, but it is definitely home to some very good hard-working businesses, and people. Sure, it may rain a bit more than anywhere else in the Calder Valley (occasionally feels like 99% of the year), but since setting up Bob Art Models in “Tod” I find myself believing in the following phrase “Ask yourself what you can do for town, and not what your town can do for you”. If you have that mentality, then you can achieve a lot. Tod, has all the basic good access requirements of a town, shops, libraries, train station, buses. It’s very lucky really. I’m originally from the Fens, and long before I appeared on the scene, Dr Beeching put an end to a large amount of train stations around there. So from an early age I got to know what a place is like when it has limited information and access to other places.
Alan Bennett, ‘One Word Missing Series’
Do you have any events and appearances coming up in the next few months?
Oohh! There are one of or two mooted plans, but the only concrete happenings so far are:
16th December – Benevolent Fund Stall, Deans Gate, Manchester
“TheBobArtGrotto” – Pop-Up Market Stall Residency – Brook Street, Indoor Market, Todmorden. 4 days a week, 10am – 5pm, making and selling pieces live. (Have previously done this over a 3 month period in another space inside the indoor market. It’s pretty hard going, but people get used to you being there…appreciate it, support it…and eventually the word spreads, and people flock in from far and wide.)
I think from a financial perspective it’s far better for me to be the one selling my wares than relying on another system. It’s also very good because people get to chat directly to the person responsible for producing the work.
You can contact Bob via Facebook and via Twitter @bobfollen
All art enquiries and commissions to the following email address: email@example.com
All images copyright Bob Follen, Bob Art Models.
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