Stewart Bremner meets the Cat

First of all, I did not pick the title to this. 

AnyVoices must have thought I hadn’t been making too bad a hash of writing as they asked me to interview Stewart Bremner. He still talks to me now, so I see that as a good sign.

image

Thanks to the wonders of Skype I was able to sit and chat with graphic designer Stewart Bremner the other evening without having to face the joys of the Glasgow-Edinburgh train service. The downside? The fun of hearing the rain lash down behind me whilst he sat in the sunshine. I could therefore easily understand why Stewart has spent a large portion of his life there.

Stewart Bremner has been a freelance designer, abstract artist and photographer since 2000. Prior to this he studied illustration at the old Telford College in Edinburgh. He has risen to prominence recently through his work for the Yes Campaign during the run-up to the Scottish Referendum on independence.

He explained that, like most people, he had an awareness of politics but hadn’t been politically active. During a visit to the US in 2012 with Megan, his then girlfriend, he saw how she was able to contribute to the Obama presidential campaign and that inspired him to get more involved. Be the change and so on.

Coming back to Scotland, he found the initial Yes Scotland images to be quite bland and realised that he had the skill-set to improve the graphics being produced. He started by re-interpreting images already produced and showing them to Stewart Kirkpatrick, the Yes Scotland Head of Digital. Initially he worked voluntarily for the campaign, up to October 2013, after which he was employed part-time. Later, he set up his first crowd-fund appeal which successfully funded him to work on a full-time basis for the final hectic months of the campaign.

During the first few months he produced work that followed the imagery of the Yes Scotland logo, but in September 2013 he realised he could vary his designs and “plunder our artistic history” enabling his work to connect to a wider audience. His images are influenced by a wide range of artists; Alphonse Muncha, Charles Rennie Macintosh, Alexander Rodchenko, Reid Miles and his favourite to work with Saul Bass.

Now this is the moment where you should probably go and buy Stewart’s book, as on page 84 there is one piece inspired by Bass, which Stewart himself describes as a real ‘labour of love’. Originally as one (very) long graphic, it shows the powers devolved to Scotland compared to those reserved to Westminster.

One of Stewart’s (many) skills is being able to turn what is, in all fairness, a lot of information, into a series of bright and eye catching images.

A couple of other favourites of his are the “Cameron Bottles Indy debate” (page 142), “Banning air rifles then nuclear weapons” (page 161), and the one that makes him chuckle the most “Don’t get stuck with the Tories” (page 185).

When I ask Stewart about the current Scottish politic climate, his mood becomes more serious. He feels that the rhetoric coming from the mainstream media and unionist politicians is very anti-Scottish, and that eventually “something has to give”. This could lead to a second, hopefully successful, independence referendum.

Stewart says he feels that the situation will get a lot worse before things do change, and that the UK Conservative government is both directly, and indirectly, letting people die. He feels that Osbourne’s budget will make life a lot more difficult for many of our vulnerable people.

We talk for a short while about Greece, and Stewart says he is impressed that they have stood up to the bullies in the Troika, and that they’ve done it as a united people. Despite the positive attitude towards people taking part in both referendum and political campaigns, he does wonder what difference people can make against the government’s set agenda, and uses the protests against the Iraq war as an example of the public’s ineffectiveness.

I ask what inspires him re his current, more personal, political graphics. He says that he usually starts when he’s “pissed off at something” and that it may just be a phrase from something he’s read or seen in a video that starts the process.

We briefly touch on his recent encounter with JK Rowling fans. He says it was quite scary the number of people he had to block, as some comments were very nasty and it has made him more hesitant in commentating on certain things. He felt he had to write the response which appeared in Bella Caledonia, although that, in itself, brought the matter to a wider audience and resulted in another day of blocking on Twitter.

With heavy conversation so far, there was a need to lighten the conversation. So I asked some questions devised by children from the AnyVoices team (although I do skip the “Do you pick your nose?” one)

Which Avenger would you like to be?
‘No idea,’ says Stewart. He explains he’s more into DC than Marvel, and although Batman would be his favourite, he’s now offended by The Dark Night on a class basis. Batman is basically a rich guy beating up poor, mainly working-class, criminals . His favourite comic character is Spider Jerusalem in Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis.

Favourite pair of socks?
‘Blue, mustard and grey stripes,’ although he tends to wear odd socks.

Favourite cartoon?
Stewart went with Archer, as he likes ‘the satirical spy thing’.

Least favourite dessert?
‘Semolina, nasty and not keen of custard either.’
(And in the interests of balance I ask for favourite dessert)
‘Home-made apple crumble with ice-cream.’

Cats or Dogs?
‘Cats.’

Weirdest thing you’ve ever done?
Stewart said that around 2006, he spent a year doing a self-portrait every day, and that in his final week he decided to really push the boat out. So he and a group of friends went to Pentland Hills with a roll of bubble wrap, which they used to wrap him to a tree. He adds that it was very warm under all that wrap.

I then followed the theme and asked Stewart about favourite books, which he finally decided on Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day, saying that it was Pynchon’s use of language, his choice of words, in the book which he enjoyed. Stewart described it as similar to walking along a path in a forest, in that it’s not the journey which is important, but the forest that surrounds you.

We finished by discussing music. Stewart stated that whilst he used it as merely background when designing, that music was a driving force when painting; maintaining and focussing the mood reflected in the work.

Stewart’s website can be found here
His book “The Early Days of a Better Nation” and other merchandise is available online at indy-prints.com
or from
FreeSpace, Edinburgh
Word Power Books, Edinburgh
Art Village, Glasgow.

Featured image Nature Boy provided by Stewart Bremner

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