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Navigating the world through graphic abstraction: David Lemm

His eye-catching artworks have been on top of my list for a while. Experimenting with form, composition and texture to weave complex narratives, David Lemm’s graphic works explores human assumptions of truth based on abstract, symbolic representations of reality. And after collaborating with the likes of Leith Late, the Hidden Door Festival or the Bothy Project, a little bird has told me that the Edinburgh-based creative has been selected as  House of Illustration’s latest resident artist! Due time to reach out and chuck a few questions over, don’t you think?

Hello David, thanks for your time! What about a short intro? Hi, no problem thanks for asking. Well, I’m an multidisciplinary artist and designer based in Edinburgh. I work on a broad range of projects, including exhibitions, residencies, illustration commissions, animation, art direction and workshops.

How would you describe your style & which narratives and themes does your work explore? I like to combine analogue and digital processes with a playful and experimental approach to composition, narrative, form and texture. Recently I’ve been exploring ideas relating to knowledge communication, specifically maps/diagrams, and our assumptions of truth based on abstract, symbolic representations of reality.

You’ve recently completed an artist residency on the Isle of Eigg. How did that come together? Which things did you miss the most down there in the solitude & now miss being back in the city again? It was through the project with the University of Edinburgh. I had participated in a mini residency called Ethnograms, which aimed to explore the use of diagrams in anthropology and was hosted by and ASCUSFrom there the organisers of the Ethnograms project, Dr Alice Street and Dr Jamie Cross, invited me to Eigg as part of The Bothy Project.

The project was inspired by the story of an infamous lost map on the island and aimed to examine how maps are perceived and used relating to the infrastructure of an off-grid community; exploring their significance and value as tools, instruments of organisaton, material artefacts and repositories of meaning. In particular, I was interested in exploring the idea that maps fundamentally describe how we navigate the world through graphic abstraction and also how markings in the land can influence graphic notation or vice versa.

I had no phone signal/internet, although it is available on the island, so it was nice having the choice of when to be connected to the rest of the world and having a bit of space to think. It’s a beautiful place, and I miss the day to day things like chopping wood, getting the fire started and even the outdoor shower. It was good to get home to my girlfriend though and to be able to pop out to get a pizza or whatever whenever you want!

What tools do you use for you works? And if you had to stick with only one: Analogue or digital? I use a lot of different tools and try to think about what would work with a specific project. I always start with sketches, then depending on the project I’ll start developing the work digitally or start creating textures and other assets to either use digitally or to process digitally before using analogue techniques to create a final outcome. I prefer the tactile quality of analogue and creating actual physical objects, but of course digital is a really important part of sharing work and is much quicker when working on commissions. I think there should always be a balance between analogue and digital, where each process is just considered as a tool within a given process. Recently I’ve been drawing a lot more and am really enjoying developing that again.  

How does a creative day in the life of David Lemm look like  – ideally + in reality? It changes everyday depending on what I’m working on at any given time really.  I don’t feel I need a routine really and quite like everyday being a bit different. I’ve just moved studio so am trying to get into the rhythm of going somewhere new to work. I guess an ideal day would be a day I had time to do a bit of drawing, bit of research/reading, a solid run at focusing on whatever project I was working on and not getting too distracted by emails!

Congrats for being picked as illustrator in residence at London’s House of Illustration! Tell us a bit more about that. Thanks, I’m really excited about the project. It’s a 6 month residency, only the second since the House of Illustration opened at Granary Square last year. I’ll be based in Edinburgh for the duration, but will be visiting every few weeks which will allow me quite an interesting insight as the place changes. Granary Sq is part of massive re-development around Kings Cross, so I’m going to be exploring the area and developing a new body of work relating to that – developing  ideas I was working on whilst on Eigg and for my show at Edinburgh Printmakers. I’m hoping to experiment a bit more with how I make work and i’ll be hosting a few workshops and events looking at mapping in particular. I’ll be presenting the outcomes in a solo exhibition at House of Illustration in January, and there is a work in progress mini exhibition in November.

Do you think the change of scenery – swapping Edinburgh for London – might influence your work in specific ways? I’m going to be exploring spatial relationships and how we perceive the places we inhabit/visit as part of the project, so yeah it’s going to be a big influence. On a practical level, most of the development work will be drawings and work which can be made on the move, so perhaps more of that, stuff I usually don’t show, will make it into final outcomes.

Time for a shout-out: Is there someone creative, who’s flying under the radar that we should absolutely know of? Not sure how under the radar they are , but I worked with Workhorse Press on a couple of projects recently and they are awesome. Also, maybe not so much under the radar, but I love Ross Hamilton Frew’s work. He currently has an exhibition alongside some other exciting local artists as part of Edinburgh Art Festival, which is well worth a visit.

Any plans for 2nd half of 2015 and beyond? Any cool projects or exhibitions happening? Any themes you’d love to develop or materials you’d love to work with in the future? The residency is until December, and culminates in a solo exhibition at House of Illustration in January so I’m mainly going to be focusing on that. I’m looking forward to being in London for bit and seeing what’s happening there. Other than that my film “Sputnik” is in the Aesthetica Film Festival in November, so I’ll head along to that hopefully, and I’m planning to get back to the islands to do a project on Skye.

Thanks for your time David & all the best!

Check out David’s website for more of his works & don’t forget to follow him on social media!


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