December 11, 2015

AVENGERS POP ART INTERVIEW

Odysseas Constantine from 286 Blue and Art & Hue recently created a plumb project that has thrilled fans of design and the original Avengers. Working directly with the Studiocanal archives, he was able to put together a new collection of pop art pieces that feature our beloved Steed and Peel decked out in retro half tone. He stopped by the Spy Vibe lair last week to tell us more about the project. Welcome, Odysseas!


Tell us about yourself and your design work. 

The day job is my design agency 286blue.comwhich creates award-winning websites, branding, graphics, and logos for small to large companies, particularly in fashion and interiors. Working on design projects to a specific brief can be highly rewarding but I always felt the need to have a side project where I can create freely. I've been toying with halftone pop art since 2007, and have even sneaked it in to some of the design projects I've worked on, so finally decided to launch Art & Hue at the end of 2014 as a new design-led interiors art brand producing in-house studio prints, as well as bespoke pop art prints, in what has become my signature style.


Fans have loved the style of The Avengers since it first made its debut. Tell us about how this project to create Avengers pop art began.

I discovered The Avengers in the 1980s when Channel 4 used to show them in the afternoons. As a child, I was transfixed by Mrs Peel and Steed and to me they defined 1960s-style. The 1960s seem to be such an exciting time with great design and major cultural shifts and The Avengers played a global role in changing perceptions. Whilst the 1960s was before my time, it's an era I feel drawn to - stylish and meaningful. 

Obtusely, the idea for contacting Studiocanal came about whilst I was watching a documentary about the Carry On films. In the documentary, they visited an archive of photographic images from the films and it occurred to me that perhaps The Avengers also had a similar archive somewhere. After some research to find out which company holds the copyright to The Avengers, I contacted Studiocanal with the idea of creating pop art based on the show and they've been supportive and enthusiastic about the project since day one and a dream to work with.


Studiocanal opened their vaults to make their Avengers archive available? For a designer, that's like winning Willy Wonka's factory. Tell us about the image collection. 

You're completely spot on - it was like the golden ticket to the chocolate factory! Visiting Pinewood Studios was thrilling enough but then to be able to go through The Avengers archive was a dream come true. The original images are all securely stored in a climate-controlled strong-room and was quite overwhelming. 

Did you see many images that haven't been in circulation much?

Yes, there were many images that I hadn't ever seen before including the striking shots of Diana Rigg in a fashion shoot that I selected to use for the Triple Emma print - her look in that shot is sheer 1960s perfection. 

It was lovely to see shots of her on set with her poodle, and to see colour shots from the Black & White season - seeing some of the sets in full colour was impressive, purely to think of the effort that was put into building the gold set of "The House that Jack Built" for example knowing that it was going to be broadcast in Black & White.

Plus it was wonderful to see who sat in the car with Mrs Peel in her final episode when she drives off with her rediscovered husband.

I can't watch that scene again- too sad!


Did Studio Canal put any limitations on you regarding images?

Not that I'm aware of. Perhaps if they didn't like the resulting collection, there may have been, but thankfully they thought that the pop art had captured the spirit of the show so there were no caveats. They were very generous with their time and images and I was able to experiment with a large variety of images before deciding on the current collection.

Tell us about your process of choosing and editing the images. Did you have to narrow down the portfolio from a larger batch of work?

I originally selected around 60 images that caught my eye and then gradually discovered what did and didn't work as pop art. Some of the John Bates outfits for example are completely amazing, but didn't work for the way I wanted to create the art. For the final collection, I've selected what I hope is a balanced cross-section of looks that nail the feel of the show and the characters.


What is the overall style and mission of your company? Is the Avengers series cohesive with other image lines?

The Pop Art I create is based on a technique called "halftone" where an image is broken down to a series of differently sized black dots, similar to the way newspapers used to print images (pre-digital presses). I then apply colour blocks or overlap different colours and, to me, it's a very 1960s look so The Avengers universe fits perfectly into the style. 

I've created collections based on Mid-Century architecture and Modernist objects so I feel that Art & Hue sits well referring to the 1950s and 1960s. There's a new collection on the way which adds an 1980s feel but still could be from the 1960s. 

Which of the Avengers pieces are most popular?

All The Avengers prints have been evenly well-received - my personal favourites are the Triple Emma [detail below] and Triple Steed prints  along with "The Avengers" print but they've all done equally well, there are no obvious front-runners. 


Are there more images coming?

I'm very happy with the collection I've created at the moment so there are no current plans to expand it, but that's not to say I wouldn't consider a limited-edition variation. To me, this is the collection for the Mrs Peel era and if there were more pop art prints about The Avengers, perhaps it would be from one of the other eras. There are other collections on the way, some based on cult Film & TV and others on themes that appeal to me and I hope will appeal to others.

Were you a fan of classic 1960s/1970s spy or sic fi series as a kid? What were your favorite shows?

Of course! As a child I loved watching the repeats of The Man From Uncle on BBC2 in the 1980s and was transfixed by Space 1999 and The Prisoner.

The 1960s is the blueprint for stylish spy sagas, from The Avengers to James Bond and as a child I think I got a bit confused and thought Mrs Peel had left Steed to marry James Bond. Recently, I heard that a critic of On Her Majesty's Secret Service at the time wrote that Blofeld should have killed George Lazenby - since then I haven't been able to get the thought out my head about Diana Rigg continuing as Bond, Tracy Bond, in the 007 franchise. Perhaps in a more stylish alternative universe, she is.

That would have been cool to see. Were you ever a collector?

I've never been a collector of memorabilia, mainly as I've never found products that capture my memory and feeling of the show. I guess that's why I was keen to create my own collection of The Avengers art. I am an avid viewer and watch certain films and shows regularly, but I've now even stopped collecting DVDs as I've found that, once it's in the cupboard, I mentally think "got it" and never see it again. I gave away many DVDs recently, so now whenever a personal favourite is shown on TV, I make the point to watch it. 


How did you get into your work as an artist?

My background is branding & graphic design, mainly for fashion brands, but I felt the need for a creative outlet that wasn't dictated by a client's brief. Art & Hue is my umbrella for creating pop art prints that are minimal and stylish, which add a pop of graphic colour to the home. I love how the prints, depending on the subject, can be simultaneously fun and stylish because of the technique and it's great to hear feedback from customers about how the art makes them happy. 

Were their artists and designers in the past who inspired you? What were some of your favorite images?

I've always been a huge admirer of Andy Warhol and it's his use of screenprinted photographs that has influenced me and Art & Hue. His screenprints of cows or Marilyn are made up of halftone dots which he then overlays with colour and illustrations. I suppose I'm referring to the technique and the method but using modern technology and stripping it down to be more minimalist. Also, Roy Lichtenstein would zoom in on a moment in a comic strip for his pop art and sometimes I feel that's what I'm creating with certain Art & Hue prints - focusing in on an image and magnifying it so that the half-tone dots become the story. 


You recently got to meet Diana Rigg at her BFI appearance, where she saw some of the collection. Tell us about that experience. 

The BFI held a very special event on the 25th of October to celebrate 50 years of Mrs Peel. There was a screening followed by an on-stage interview with Dame Diana Rigg. Art & Hue was kindly invited by Dick Fiddy of the BFI to install a pop-up exhibition of The Avengers pop art collection - it really made the day feel more like a "Mrs Peel Festival" rather than just a screening. It was great to see attendees responding well to the display and taking photos of themselves in front of them. 

Dick Fiddy is the BFI's resident film and TV expert and he conducted the on-stage interview with Diana Rigg. He also kindly introduced me to her in the green room of the BFI ahead of the screening and interview. She was warm, welcoming and charming and it was amazing to meet her. I must admit that the whole experience was a bit of a haze, to the extent that I didn't notice anyone else in the room when we spoke. It was a dream come true to meet her and it was wonderful to be able to present the art to her. Thankfully she loved the prints and selected art to take home with her. She was most self-effacing and made the point that she wanted art that featured PatrickMacnee, as she missed him terribly. Incidentally, Dick Fiddy was a consultant to Channel 4 when it first launched in the 1980s and he advised them to broadcast The Avengers, so it's funny how it all came full circle. If he hadn't suggested The Avengers to Channel 4, I wouldn't have seen the show and the pop art wouldn't have existed for him to get in touch all these years later. [BFI field report by Odysseas here].


Did you get any sense from Diana at the event that she is looking back at The Avengers with a new perspective?

I can't claim to know what her perspective was previously or currently but from the interview at the BFI, she seemed very happy to talk openly and fondly about her time on The Avengers. From what I understand, it was her suggestion to be interviewed after the screening as it was marking 50 years, which is a momentous occasion. It was palpable that she missed PatrickMacnee, who sadly passed away in June this year, and perhaps wanted to pay homage to his memory in some way by taking part, but that's purely my take and not an insight into her perspective.

Now that you have worked on this collection, are there other classic shows you'd like to adapt to pop art? Anything coming up you can talk about?

There are some other classic shows I'd love to give the Art & Hue treatment but none can come close to The Avengers in terms of style and wit. Perhaps that's why I felt the show would be such a perfect fit for my art as the prints are simultaneously fun and stylish. There are some new collections that I'm working on at the moment which will be launched in the new year, some based on classic film and TV, and others on themes that appeal to me, so do stay tuned!


Thank you! Readers can order images from the collection at Art & Hue. Video promo here. In homage to Art & Hue's tribute to The Avengers, here is my quick attempt at John Steed in half-tone- the original Spy Vibe Gentleman. Enjoy! Related posts: Avengers Interview: Alan Hayes, Jaz Wiseman InterviewAvengers Interview: Mike RichardsonCasino Royale Interview: Mike RichardsonThe Saint Interview: Ian DickersonAvengers Interview: Rodney MarshallAvengers Interview Rodney Marshall 2John Buss InterviewFarewell Steed, Shakespeare Spies: Diana Rigg, Lost Diana Rigg Interview, Diana Rigg BFI Screening, Avengers Season 5 Titles, The Avengers Sing, Lost Avengers Vol 2-7, Richard Sala Interview: Super Enigmatix, Adventures of Richard Sala Interview.


Selected Spy Vibe Posts: Fritz Lang SpiesFergus Fleming Interview, Avengers: Alan Hayes InterviewJaz Wiseman Interview, 007 SPECTRE ComicsCasino Royale FolioNew James Bond ComicDiana Rigg BFI InterviewCallan Documentary and SetCasino Royale Interview: Mike RichardsonEarly Saint Box SetLost Diana Rigg InterviewDiana Rigg EventIan Fleming LettersNew Gillette 007 CoversPirate RadioSpectre Advanced PosterHonor Blackman at 90UNCLE SchoolIan Fleming MemorialRadiophonic ExhibitPortmeirion PhotosDoctor Who ExhibitFarewell SteedPussy Galore ReturnsDiana Rigg birthdaySherlock at 221BInvisible AgentSaint Interview: Ian DickersonSaint DoppelgängerFleming's TypewriterRare FlemingFleming's MusicIan Fleming's JapanJim Wilson Corgi InterviewFantomas DesignJeremy Duns on BondJohn Buss interviewAvengers Season 5 TitlesSaint VolvoMod Tales InterviewAgente Secreto ComicsDanger Man Comics 2Danger Man ComicsJohn Drake ComicsDer Mann Von UNCLEGolden Margaret NolanMan From UNCLE RocksteadyPussy Galore Calypso, Cynthia Lennon R.I.P.Edward Mann FashionLeonard Nimoy TributeShatner at 84Bob Morane seriesThai Bond DesignBond vs ModernismArt of ModestyTokyo Beat 1964Feraud Mod FashionGreen Hornet MangaNo 6 FestivalAvengers Interview: Michael RichardsonIan Fleming: Wicked GrinJane Bond Hong Kong RecordsRyan Heshka Interview, Comics Week: Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.Comics Week: ArchieComics Week: Robots, Comics Week: Cold War Atomic, Comics Week: SPYMANComics Week: Jimmy Olsen, Shakespeare Spies: Diana RiggShakespeare Spies I, Rodney Marshall Avengers Interview, Richard Sala: Super-Enigmatix, Cold War Archie, Playboy Bunny InterviewThe 10th Victim Japanese and KindleU.N.C.L.E. Japanese Books, Trina Robbins InterviewCatsuits, Batman '66 Green Hornet Interview: Ralph Garman Ty Templeton.

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