Waiting for Elliott in the rooftop bar of the Sheraton Aleppo on a blindingly bright day in June, I yawn and wince as I sip from an ice cold but nondescript cocktail, smoke a cigarette and keep on the look out. The waiters buzz around, talking in low voices. Across from me a pianist is playing a jazzed up (or down) Lady Gaga. The heat seems to go on forever, through everything and is impossible to mediate with umbrellas, shades or even in the relative safety of indoors. Elliott arrives and we immediately make our escape, down to the streets below and into what Elliott assures me is the best bar in Syria. He is tall, thin and despite the searing morning heat is dressed as if at home in Wales, wearing a beanie, thick jeans and jacket. Down the road and stuffed in-between two larger bars is a shack, like a living thing made of wood it seems to have grown in the gap. We sit and I order another cocktail with numerous unknown ingredients in it. We start of talk, easily. The first thing I ask him is what does Elliott Lane, a screen printing designer from Mid Wales moving to London to begin at Art School, have to do with York? How has how work ended up being showcased here? The most obvious reason, he replies: is that the only place you can see or buy his work, “other than the obligatory online shop,” is York’s Purple Haze. Elliott has been designing T-shirts for York’s most popular vintage shop for the last two years, all from a shed in Wales where he built his own press and exposure set. He’s been interviewed for various magazines, featured in ID and Canary but this is the final interview. He is off to Hackney and “have also decided to take a break from tee shirts and ‘elliotttees’ for a while to focus on doing other projects for a bit.”
The obvious place to start is Llanidloes, known affectionately as Llani, in Powys, Wales. Elliott quickly corrects me, it appears Edinburgh was the place where screen printing came to mind. “I went to the fringe for the first time in 2010 when my brother was in a play. There I went to that Analogue Books, where they were having an exhibition in the back room. It was called ‘Turn up the Colour’ and had stuff by illustrators and printmakers. Many were screen prints. It sounds like a cliche but that exhibition really did change my life. I started talking to Russel, who owns the shop, and he sold me a book on DIY home screen printing. I read it, bought some equipment, some ink, built a super scrappy exposure light box and press, and jut had a go.” Wales was the place where Elliott first began drawing, though he modestly calls it “doodling”. “I have always been a compulsive doodler. I began looking at people link Banksy, as everyone did, and poster artists and then drew some designs in class. Friends liked them, so I refined them when I got home and made them into screen prints, the first one being Rock, Paper, Scissors one. Most of my early designs began at school, which is why I called my first collection released as a zine ‘Philosophy and History’. These were the college classes where I did most of my work. It was a tribute, in a way, to time well spent there.”
Elliot’s T-shirts are bold and clean, daring to not ape the Banksy or graffiti style. They are clever, visual jokes. “I didn’t get into screen printing to make T-shirts, I bought some cheap blank tees online to have a go. This was many because one of my favourite artists, Tim Gough, had started printing on shirts. I think there might have been the influence of stencilling and street art background, I like the idea of sharing art in a different setting to the gallery. Putting my art on a shirt just meant that I could give them to my friends and see people physically wearing my art. After giving them to friends, I took them up to York, and showed some friends. It was then that I stumbled across Purple haze, after I got them there and began to see them selling I became more enthusiastic, became obsessed with print making.” There was a downside to this, Elliot reveals, whilst rolling a cigarette and looking forlorn. “I really dropped the ball with college, only really focussing on new T-shirt designs, making them instead of doing work. I even just did screen printing for my art coursework. I was all about making and selling, getting to see people enjoying the T-shirts. York was fantastic for that, the students really seemed to like them.”
So York became Elliott’s inspiration, the place to sell his work and get it seen. “Though I never really thought of it as a business, I didn’t think about the money to start with. It was a way to make better work, it went into materials and a custom built press where I could produce more intricate work. It was still a shed in Wales though, everything was getting. I began seeing my work in magazines, next to Ralph Lauren and Cheap Monday – being on designer lists. Then an article in Canary dedicated to me. The interest and the orders made me work hard, kept me going. I improved. My older prints had a tounge and cheek, ironic sense to them. Like the hand guns design.
They were bold and simple because that was all they could be. Now I am enjoying moving away from that a lot, working a lot with fine lines and pattern. As all my work is completely done by hand and it is a lengthy process. I am enjoying putting more detail into prints, technically they are a lot more impressive”. Elliott still wants people to think of each piece as an individual piece of art, crafted by him. There is not suggestion that he would ever move into selling off designs to be made by other people under license.
This is good news to the people of York. The T-shirts sold here are the last of an era in Elliott’s work. The nature of the process used, small runs and never repeating designs, means that these pieces really are works you can wear. As soon as we get to the depth of his work, he has be off. Our interview is over suddenly, he runs off to catch his flight to Singapore with a stopover in some strange place, some unknown airport. He remembers his beanie but leaves his tobacco tin.
To see more of Elliott’s work and keep up with his progress after York, visit his website here: http://elliotttees.tumblr.com/
His online shop is here: http://elliotttees.bigcartel.com/