“Although Ventnor is like Trumpton, with one baker, a butcher and a library, there is this fringe festival which massively punches above its weight.” Visual artist Ladypat is telling me about the differences, and similarities, between his hometown and Brighton. “People come from across the country for that, and it’s put us on the map. Stu came over in June for one of his shows at the festival, and that kickstarted this year-long collaboration between the two towns.”
Pat and Brighton legend Boogaloo Stu are launching Queer Hearts. Supported by Arts Council England, Ventnor Exchange, Brave Island, Mind Out, Jubilee Library, Marlborough Productions and Brighton Fringe, this year-long project sees them presenting their eye-popping art and bringing local communities together in celebration of queer heroes. They share a love of psychedelic and surreal pop art, all informed by a maverick sensibility. After two decades of working together in various forms, this year-long collaboration encompasses a joint exhibition of brilliant new pieces, along with a season of queer-focussed workshops and events.
“We’re coming to the end of a seven-week run at the Ventnor exchange, which is a cultural hub on the island,” continues Pat. “We’re in the activity room, which is quite funny. Every day, groups come in to learn French, practice ukulele or do crafts, and all the time there’s these amazing queer hearts staring down at them.” It’s the way much of its arts and crafts is platformed on the Isle Of Wight, presented in naturally inclusive common spaces. After its debut on the IOW, the project will be moving to Brighton’s Jubilee Library this month.
“Ventnor Exchange are very good at cross-pollinating their audience,” adds Stu. “They programme events to draw people in, so there’s a constant flow of people coming in and seeing them. It’s not just those who’ve read about it, there’s people who are also discovering them. And that’s vital for us, to spread the word about the project.” It does seem a world away from Brighton, where there’s a long-established ‘queer infrastructure’ to plug into. It’s more a case of just doing it, and people will encounter it.
Long before he went on to dominate Brighton club scene with nights like Dynamite Boogaloo, Stu studied textile design at university. While his career started evolving into innovative theatre-making, it was the pandemic which encouraged him to immerse himself in art once more.
“I’d always designed club flyers and fanzines for my nights, so I’d always been drawing,” he says. “I thought I’d make some artworks, just to see what happens. I didn’t think about selling them, it was more something to put on my own wall.” It wasn’t such a huge leap for someone already had a rich visual aesthetic flowing through everything they did.
His style is influenced by 70s psychedelia and product design, mixing a playful optimism with kaleidoscopic visuals which draw the observer into distinct and fantastical worlds. “Everything I’ve done has a strong visual aspect. I’ve always made my own costumes and style my own wigs. The whole is tailored from top to toe. “
“He’s always had an air-tight fantasy bubble of fab,” chips in Pat. “It’s one of the things I’ve always admired about Stu. He’s been doing this uninterrupted for 30 years. He’s held his nerve, there’s no ‘I will retire this and do something else.’ He’s like a trooper. And it was fully formed when it started, and it’s just continued.”
“I don’t know if it was fully-formed,” says Stu. “If you came to Brighton in 1992, you would have seen a dog’s dinner.”
“Oh well. But there wasn’t much internet then,” laughs Pat.
“That’s the saving grace,” agrees Stu. “No one can point a finger and say: ‘You looked like this!’ There are photos, but they’re not readily available.”
A few years ago, Stu illustrated his whole website, transforming it into a mischievous visual playground with minimal text. He took this as a cue to further expand what could be achieved with a mix of handmade and digital processes. “I really wanted to make dioramas, so I had to figure out a process where I could take my drawings and make them come to life.” All the elements in each work are drawn and coloured by hand, then digital processes are used to cut them out, ready for assembly into 3D form.
Prior to doing Queer Hearts with Pat, Stu’s friend Mark Vessey introduced him to the director at Enter Gallery. “To my surprise they took my work right away. I didn’t really expect to be selling my work as soon as that.” Now his work is available at Brighton’s Enter, Electric Gallery in London and Maison 10 in New York.
The Boogaloo Stu persona, carefully crafted club nights, theatre productions and these artworks all feed into Stu’s world-building. He suggests the main factor is that he’s not very good at delegating. “If someone’s doing something for me, I’ll always be there interfering.” Pat is not so sure. “But, when I’ve done some of your music videos, you’ve allowed me to just do it, and then come along at the end with a few edits.”
“Perhaps that’s why we work well together,” suggests Stu. “Because we do have a sort of kinship in our approach and share a lot of aesthetic similarities, so I didn’t have to say those things to you,” he says with a chuckle.
Pat has been doing art since he was a child, long before the striking visual style of Ladypat had evolved. At school, he designed and drew his own comic, printing it off on the youth club’s photocopier, and touting it round the classrooms. Later, he found a job amongst the multi-coloured sands of Alum Bay, drawing caricatures for tourists. “I was useless… but also a 12-year-old boy. So, they’d have to buy it. That’s what was significant. It was never a case of: ‘I WANT to be an artist’ It was more a case of actually doing it.”
Moving to the mainland, he was obsessed with music. A lot of friends were musicians, who wanted website live visuals or promo videos, which he was more than happy to help out with. “At the time it was the early 2000s. There were all these new technologies around. You could make your own website, or you could publish your own videos in Flash. It was a wild west time, where the rules weren’t formed yet.” The internet boom meant he could show his work to an ever-increasing audience. He’s accumulated over 4 billion GIF views and has created over 100 music videos for scores of artists, including Boy George, Adamski and Hifi Sean and Yoko Ono, and of course, Boogaloo Stu. Along the way, he also became a successful Visual Jockey, enjoying residencies at London’s Ministry of Sound, Barcelona’s The Loft and Pete Tong Ibiza, as well as providing eye-scorching optical treats alongside icons like Fatboy Slim, Lady Gaga, Chase & Status, Hot Chip and Sasha.
He says it just seemed like an exciting thing to do. “You could fly around the world, go to music festivals and stay in nice hotels, but not as a musician – just doing the visuals. Sometimes you do hit upon these cultural waves, and often walk into them accidentally, but people seem very interested and come to you. I think it’s all about timing.”
These days, he’s more familiar for audacious oversized Fuzzy-Felt compositions, exhibiting at galleries across the UK. These again deploy leading-edge technology, using computers to plot shapes and cutting pieces with machines. “I’ve no background in textile art, so I can disregard the rules straightaway. It’s the same when I was doing music videos. Nobody was asking me to do them, I had no training. And that just makes it better. We don’t have to do things the conventional way. If you want to do it, you should just do it.”
Pat was born in 1970, during the peak popularity of Fuzzy-Felt – a creative toy for making geometric shapes or pictures out of brightly coloured material pieces – bringing it into the 21st century with next-gen AI tech helping shape creations. “Your approach to AI is really interesting,” says Stu. “You spend a lot of time programming what you want to come out. It’s not just happening randomly.” “You can generate imagery which no one else would,” replies Pat. “And if you refresh the screen the image is gone forever. It’s so mental. It’s like you’re dancing with the universe. These tools come along, but you should use them, instead of them using you.”
By existing on the properties of what’s considered classical, or even ‘fashionable’, Ladypat and Boogaloo Stu’s work is not bound by traditional expectations. What they lack in convention is more than compensated by truth. “I’ve never felt fully immersed in a ‘scene’,” mulls Stu. “When I’ve been doing clubs or theatre, I’ve always been on the fringes. But that gives you permission to blur the boundaries as to what you can do. I’ve never been afraid of trying different things. I’ve never shied away from trying something new.”
“It occurs to me that you could be more successful by finding your point of appeal and just repeating it,” nods Pat. “Generally, if you look at people who are quite successful, you can say in one word what kind of art they do. And you know I what it will be in ten years’ time, because they’ve set that parameter and found something that works. Good luck to them, but that’s not for me.” He pauses to laugh. “This is a good excuse for not being highly successful, I suppose!”
Pat says he likes to look back on everything he’s done as a sort of diary. “When I’m on my deathbed, instead of every episode of Eastenders flashing before my eyes, there’ll be exhibitions and music videos. I love doing things which date immediately, as well. This could be part of being interested in emergent technologies, because they come and go, whereas if you’re doing oil painting it’s a classical realm to involved in. Realm – one of my favourite words…”
The exhibitions for Queer Hearts also break from tradition by having a more interactive form of visitor book. Rather than filing musings away in a discrete volume, they’re encouraged to write their thoughts on Post-It notes and stick them to the walls around the world. As such, different voices from amongst the visitors become part of the experience. “I was brought up on the Isle Of Wight, which is a place where I never knew any gay people, or places to go,” says Pat. “We had our first Pride in 2018, so this isn’t an up-to-date place. But when I see those comments, it takes me back to being a teenager. I would have loved something like this. It would have been good to know there were similar people around me.”
Obviously, when it comes to a place like Brighton, it’s easier to make these connections and enjoy that sense of community. But there is still work to be done. This free exhibition is complimented by a series of workshops called Queer Hearts Awards, which is designed to draw in younger queer people who don’t have the opportunity to socialise. “We’re going to be in the Jubilee library, which is an inclusive space, but it’s not specifically queer,” says Stu. “So, there’ll be a good flow of people who’ll be surprised and hopefully enjoy it.” As well as the workshop events, which are open to anyone accessing the Mind Out charity, the project concludes in May with a cultural exchange between the artists’ home locations of the Isle of Wight and Brighton. A group of kids will be heading to Brighton for day of queer-led shows, curated with help from Brighton Fringe and Marlborough Productions. It’s all about visibility and creating a sense of empowerment.
“There’s a lot of strange people who complain about Pride and ask why it’s necessary,” he adds. “But you can’t walk down the street holding your partner’s hand without feeling judged or worrying about what’s round the corner. Straight people don’t have worry about that or wonder if they’re safe. There are still huge reasons why we need this kind of visibility, even in Brighton.”
“You have to keep refreshing it,” adds Pat. “It’s not something you can shore up. Like: ‘Oh we’ve done a Pride now, that’s it for five years.’ We very much have to create these spaces and be on a mission about it.”
Ladypat and Boogaloo Stu’s Queer Hearts exhibition comes to Brighton’s Jubilee Library on Mon 16 Jan – Sun 5 Feb. The Queer Hearts Awards workshops take place at Jubilee Library on Tues 17 – Weds 18 Jan. For more details, head to: www.queerhearts.uk
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