David Curtis-Ring is a London based artist, set designer and art director, working in the areas of fashion, film, and performance. He has had an impressive career, collaborating with people like Craig Green, Nick Knight, Pink Floyd, & Arctic Monkeys. I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions to get some insight into his projects.
JOEL DE LA ROSA: For an artist who has had his hands in so many different fields, do you feel you have to approach projects very differently or are there common concepts in everything you do?
DAVID CURTIS-RING: I think working across different fields definitely strengthens my practice overall. From a conceptual perspective, the ideas and references always come from the same world, really. So symbols of nature, surrealism, fantasy, and mythologies are recurring themes. From a practical point of view, what is handmade is a consistent and instinctive preference but there are definitely specific skills that you need to have for each of the different industries. For example, working with theatre and installation - where the public physically encounters the work 'live' - is very different from seeing a music video or a photo on a phone.
I think the methods are very transferable though and the variation keeps my mind and eyes open to different possibilities. For example, a set for a photoshoot might have a very different quality in real life to the way it appears in a photograph. That live visual sort of gets stored in my mind and reimagined at a later date for an installation or theatre piece.
Courtesy of Junko Shimada, Photo By Quentin Chamard-Bois
JD: Is there a medium/field you are interested in experimenting with that you still haven’t?
DCR: I'd like to do more experimental film work, play with the possibilities of glass as a medium and Opera is an area that I'm interested in. It has such a layered history to it, the scale and attention to detail of productions can be so impressive. I'm curious as to how this history can be subverted and what that could look like in terms of design. It would be an exciting new challenge for me, to work alongside musicians in this context and to explore storytelling in this way.
JD: I sense that some fashion designers become intimidated by artists and view them with superiority. As an artist, have you experienced this working in fashion? Do you believe fashion can be art?
DCR: I don't personally find that fashion designers view themselves & artists in a kind of creative hierarchy – or at least I haven't encountered it. Although I do tend to work with fashion designers that are interested in exploring concepts and who work with contemporary art references. For me, art is a combination of expression and communication. In the words of Andy Warhol/Marshall McLuhan 'Art is what you can get away with'. It's all about perception and context, so in that sense - anything has the potential to be presented and considered as art. The field of Fashion is just another platform to do this.
JD: Has living in London played an important role in your creativity?
DCR: I find London an inspiring place to be, for sure. I've been here almost 15 years now and I still feel it's a great city to discover and one where you can achieve things creatively. I studied here and it's an exciting place to be, in terms of connecting with people and collaborating. There are so many different creative communities and I find that really joyful and stimulating for making work and expanding my knowledge.
Geist, Photo by Marco Berardi
JD: How has your background in theater influenced your work?
DCR: It's impacted my work probably most through nurturing my joy of the spectacle. I'm interested in creating worlds and in theatre, you can be transported to another time or place through a set, a costume or even a prop. I love the magic of a moment where you can suspend your disbelief and feel that you are somewhere else. This happens in film and photography too, but there's just something really enchanting about being in the same space at the same time while a performance is happening.
JD: When it comes to designing sets or spaces. Do you have any rules you adhere to?
DCR: I always try to create something that I would like to see exist in the world, something that feels new. If it's too familiar or similar to things I've seen before then I start to lose interest. Most importantly, I have to feel that I can stand by my decisions - both in terms of the references that I use and also the making process. As I get older and further into my career, I really appreciate the importance of a healthy working environment and process. Often there is not much time, enough money or resources and you really have to work hard to achieve something you're proud of within these constraints. If you are surrounded by understanding people who have kindness and mutual respect, this always makes for a better working atmosphere and for better work.
Courtesy of C.P. Company, Photo by Guido Borso
JD: Do you have a specific project that you are most proud of in your career thus far? Why?
DCR: There are so many that I'm proud of and for different reasons. The projects I've done with Craig Green are up there, not least because it's a joy to share in that creative journey, but also because they represent a beautiful collaborative partnership and friendship. Working in collaboration with C.P Company, I recently designed an installation that celebrated their FW20 collection. I feel especially proud of this because I created the most immersive set I've ever done. I took the starting point from the collection's theme of nature reclaiming urban environments.
The event was held in a disused car park in Milan and filled with overgrown wild vegetation. We created large textile fragments that were suspended from above and intermingled with cables and vines. These trailed down into vast-reaching, shallow puddles, with patches of shrubbery and grass springing up. As you crossed the footbridge - two tall watchtowers were positioned either side - leading into a second room which was transformed by an abundance of plant life.
Craig Green Spring/Summer 2019, Photo by Dan Tobin Smith
JD: What is your advice to an artist in balancing art & commerce?
DCR: I think it's a difficult balance to achieve and from a commercial perspective. It's something that I'm always trying to navigate. For artists who are just starting out, I'd say to focus on your craft as much as possible and to remember that it's ok to have other jobs run alongside. It takes time to reach a point where you are able to support yourself financially from your art practice alone. I had to do things this way and it took many years of patience. I think it's worth it in the end though because you have time to consider the kind of work you want to make.
Social media has also changed the way people find artists now and it has democratised the process of reaching potential clients or collaborators to some extent. We may be faced with some tricky choices in terms of these types of collaborations and ultimately it depends on the person and what they feel their boundaries are. In way of advice, I would say to research, talk to your peers, and trust your instincts in order to have confidence in your decisions.