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Neil Carribine The Weirdness Within Us All

An artist like Neil Carribine reminds us that once upon a time the farcical was commended, rather than being synonymous with the frivolous.

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The art world can seem a dour place. Certainly over the years seriousness and grandeur have been favoured by the establishment over their more humble counterparts, just as tragedy has triumphed over comedy in theatre.

An artist like Neil Carribine reminds us that once upon a time the farcical was commended, rather than being synonymous with the frivolous, and with the rise of the internet and the democratic platform of social media, the genre is ready to reclaim its crown.

Your work is often really quite comedic. Is this something you set out to create or is it just the way you naturally translate ideas into art?

I never try to make my work funny. It always ends up doing the opposite if I do that. It ends up happening by accident. My work is inspired by my recent experiences and interactions with people. When these moments happen, I capture them in my sketchbook and as I expand my thoughts and ideas, they become more exaggerated. Long limbs, silly facial expressions, crazy eyes – these small details bring the humour to life. Everything that I produce is a reflection of me. I love to make people laugh and I hope that shows in my work.

The relatability of many of your pieces, as well as the sketch-like quality of your style, is something audiences have come to really appreciate recently through internet culture. Do you see parallels between your work and the rise of memes?

The rise of social media and internet culture has been an important factor that has influenced the way that I communicate with my audiences. Internet memes are funny and ridicule human behaviour and my work often sets out to do the same.

Memes are also about sharing, communicating and engaging with an online community. At markets I’ve noticed people calling over their friends to show them a print that I have made. They say things like, ‘Haha, that’s so Michael! He’s so ugly and alone.’ Their reactions are like tagging a friend, but in real life.

A lot of your work features text in some form or another. Does the caption inspire the visuals or vice versa?

It varies. Sometimes I’ll come up with a sentence or a word as I’m drawing the character and other times I’ll respond to a word with an image. I love word play and how words sound. I keep a list of words that capture my imagination in my sketchbook. At the moment I really like the words ‘chunky’, ‘idiot’ and ‘super-duper’.

I try not to overthink what a word means. I’ll daydream and imagine silly situations where these words can be used and sometimes that results in a sketch or illustration. Normally it’s the first thing that pops into my head, which helps to keep everything loose, simple and punchy. If it doesn’t make me laugh then it doesn’t make the cut.

Do you ever worry that you won’t be taken seriously because of your approach?

I think the question that I’ve always asked myself is, do I have to be serious to be taken seriously? In the past, I tried to make things that I thought people would like. It didn’t work and I wasn’t enjoying what I was producing.

Since then all of my work is true to my experience of the world around me. Humour is an important factor of my work, and some people get it and others don’t. I’m being more honest with my work and it’s proving a success. What is life when you can’t have a laugh?

What’s next for you?

Well, for now it’s the Christmas season, so you will see me bringing festive cheer at markets and pop-ups across Sheffield. In the New Year, I will release a new body of work, including a series of screen prints and animations. Watch this space.

Next article in issue 61

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