Left Cultures is your own concept – can you tell us where it emerged from and your own personal connections to the Left?
– Both Colum Leith and I, my co-collaborator on Left Cultures have over many years sat in Bristol beer gardens sharing left cultures, what we’d been reading, watching and listening to. The first beers we had after covid, I just said to Colum, come on let’s do a project around culture on the left, let’s put our words into action. We set a 2-week deadline to come up with ideas, the first idea we discussed was Left Cultures and we both said immediately, let’s do it and here we are.
– The project itself is a manifestation of years working as an editorial illustrator, working on the left as an illustrator, illustrating for example the book The ABCs of Socialism. Previously Art Directing/Publishing independent magazines has definitely helped to develop an understanding of how the editorial system works and how the world of independent magazines operates. It certainly feels like there’s been a journey from an Editorial Illustrator through to Art Director through to Editor. To reach a point of understanding to not only create an aesthetically high-end independent publication, but also challenge the dominance of the right-wing media to control the political narrative. It’s important we on the left tell our stories and present our ideas, otherwise there’s a void opens up to be filled.
You work as an illustrator and educator – how important is the pairing of illustration with stories in Left Cultures?
– In our opinion, right-wing corporations employ visual communication to visually wash their exploitative practices; banks will use watercolour imagery to sell debt, puppets will be used to soften the idea of loan sharks. Right-wing media outlets use visual languages and aesthetics associated with the left to demonise progressive ideas and figures. It’s important we challenge these practices and use left-wing visual methods to celebrate the left, to reclaim them as positive and progressive aesthetics. Visual languages associated with the left are exciting, expressive and challenging, unlike the emergence of the dull visual styles such as right-wing Corporate Memphis, which offer nothing unique, critical or unusual.
– We are always looking for illustrators with ways of working connected to the left, but we also ask illustrators, what types of culture do you enjoy? We may send an illustrator 3 to 5 stories and say take your pick, we want to pair illustrators to stories that feel inspired by. We don’t stipulate to an illustrator that they have to work in their usual method or regurgitate an idea, Jonny Hannah who works as a printmaker made a jacket incorporating fabric type to bring his story on the punk band Crass to life. We were surprised and delighted in equal measure when he showed us what he created. What is creativity if not the joy of experiencing the unexpected? We will leave the dull Cul-de-Sac of culture to the right.
Your contributors are wide-ranging from campaigners to professors, comedians to waitresses and then the likes of Sleaford Mods Jason Williamson. Do you find them or have they found you?
– It’s a mixture really, we reach out to who we feel fit our direction, potential contributors reach out to us and we ask previous contributors to make recommendations. In each issue what we are after is a really broad spectrum of culture creators, that celebrate culture on the left in all fields and wider society. It’s a really joyful experience making discoveries of folks creating culture in brilliant and usual spaces, Topple and Burn for example is a Left-wing jewellery maker, how cool is that?
From the work of Gerhard Richter to Boots Riley to the power of banners, and CND Discos… Is there any story from the latest edition which personally resonated with you?
– All the stories in both editions bring us so much delight and it’s hard to say one story is better than another, they are all equally inspiring and bring different responses to our enjoyment of experiencing culture. When our readers give feedback we are always amazed at what they have taken away from the publication and what it means to them. There really are stories for everyone interested in the left, its history and culture, the diversity written in the stories is what’s exciting about the project.
– For our 2nd edition we did a larger collaboration with Clarion House, which is situated in beautiful countryside near Nelson in East Lancashire, above the front door is a sign which says ‘Socialism, Our Hope’ and my word they were right then and they are right now. I grew up about 5 miles away for the Clarion and never knew it existed until my wife Sarah discovered a documentary about the Clarion’s history by Charlotte Bill. I feel so proud to have provided a platform for their members to tell their stories and to be honest, they are all just inspiring. The Clarion House is an incredible socialist space, with an even more incredible history. But why didn’t I know about it growing up? What would have happened if I did know about it? I didn’t know anything about politics until I left home and discovered the socialism at University whilst talking to an ex miner. Working with the Clarion felt like a home coming and I feel so proud to have played a part of celebrating their rich history and getting the opportunity to illustrate their stories. It’s the first time in years I felt creative pressure!
We want to take a line from the latest edition and have you filter it through the prism of what you do with Left Cultures. It turns out it is a lyric from Crass, the art collective and punk rock outfit, cited in a contribution by Jonny Hannah: “Warning! The nature of your oppression is the aesthetic of our anger!”
– The left and the cultures we create can get framed unfairly as either angry or utilitarian. That’s why we trick the reader through having a functional front cover, once you look inside…bang, you are hit with incredible stories, poetic ideas, dangerous situations that take you to edge, stories that make you smile and all brought to life expressively using a diverse palette of visual languages and creative processes. Our contributors all come at their stories from very different but personal angles and if someone tells a story of anger, then great we should be angry at the situation we find ourselves in. But let’s do something about it collectively, let’s get angry together, being together is the only way we will fight for a fair society.
As I send these questions over to you, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman is addressing the Tory party conference in Manchester. How optimistic are you about the restoration of left-wing or, at least left-leaning, leadership in the UK?
– History will not treat Suella Braverman kindly. It is very difficult in a first past the post system to enact change, the system is designed to not allow change to happen. There are cracks starting to appear in the system, will Corbyn and Abbott win as an Independent MPs? Will the Greens win a seat in Bristol? Will O’Driscoll win the North East Mayoralty as an Independent? The Labour Party did manage to upend the Liberal Party to break into the 2 party system under Kier Hardie’s leadership, there is a model there to learn from going forward.
– If you believe positive social change will happen through any of the primary coloured Tory parties, you’ll be sadly disappointed. It’s important is to recognise that change won’t just happen inside parliament, they will be forced to enact change from action outside parliament, through all forms of activism creating pressure. We all have a duty to use our skillsets to contribute to both the climate emergency and social injustice. That could be direct action, working in the community, culture creation, to being braver in discussions with work colleagues, family and friends.
– As to am I optimistic? We have to remember that in the 2017 General Election, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was only a few thousand votes away from forming a government. Once the public hear Left-wing ideas they like them and why wouldn’t they? We have the best ideas after all, let’s just out there and celebrate them in all their glory!
Issue No. 2, €15.95,
Issue No. 1 PDF only, €5.95
Words: Michael McDermott