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GARY CARD: ABANDONED AMUSEMENT PARK ATTRACTION

Gary Card’s name seems too good to be true. A bit like Penny Crayon really. Remember her? That after school cartoon character who conjured whatever her heart desired with the quick scribble of a pencil stowed handily behind her ear. Hello-Card! Do you see where I’m going with this? In the face of plasticine, wires, a pile of Pentonville Rubbers and you guessed it- cardboard boxes, the set designer cum illustrator seems capable of equally magical feats.

After six years of working in the industry on everything, from editorial set design to store interiors and print for actual garments, Card has developed a style that’s immediately identifiable. The characters he creates, from gurning tragedy to snarling comedy are so vivid they aren’t so much of a certain style as species. The world they inhabit seems tangible, and with the help of trusted assistants it’s been trapped in Dalston’s Eternal Youth art space, or at least a microcosm of it, for his first solo show Abandoned Amusement Park Attraction. Ten headed down for an in progress peak yesterday afternoon, and strongly recommend hitting it’s opening this evening for a full on gawp at the final product. 

Vincent Levy: “As we’re in ‘Eternal Youth’, I wanted to start by asking you about your own. Have you always made things? Were you a big Bitsa fan? Did you ever build a Tracey Island?”

Gary Card: “Everything like that. I was addicted to action figures and had every franchise. Whatever it was, I was obsessed with it. I had a collection of Beetlejuice toys and I remember when I was a kid doing little fashion shows with them. I had to make a little runway and I had a Beetlejuice going down, with little Beetlejuices sitting either side. Or the Alien franchise. I would never play with them just set them up meticulously.”

Vincent Levy: “So you’d literally build sets for them?”

Gary Card: “Absolutely. As a kid all I wanted to do was design toys, and this is in a way what I’ve done.”

“Do you still have a large collection?”

Gary Card: “I do, yes. My mum and dad are getting very annoyed because I can’t part with it. I get very annoyed when they open up the chest of my old toys and let my nephews go mad in there. I see pictures on Facebook.”

Vincent Levy: “So you’re a hoarder?”

Gary Card: “I am a hoarder. But I have to be more sensible now because I end up drowning in stuff.”

Vincent Levy: “Does it spill into your home too?”

Gary Card: “I’m not allowed to do that. My partner gets really annoyed when I bring everything home so actually the house, apart from my book collection, is still ok.”

Vincent Levy: “Because the books are educational?”

Gary Card: “Yes. I have to be very careful, with what I bring back, because I used to live in the same spaces that I worked, build things and then drown in them. So it’s very important to separate that now.”

Vincent Levy: “Do people expect a lot when they come and visit you at home?”

Gary Card: “Yes. The Selby came over a few years ago and shot us at home. And people expect that now. But that was the old Gary. That was just horrible. It looks fun in photos, but the reality of it…”

Vincent Levy: “The dust!”

Gary Card: “The dust, exactly!”

Vincent Levy: “Do you consider yourself a craftsman or a designer? Is there a distinction for you?”

Gary Card: “A bit of both. I consider myself a designer because that’s the easiest way to describe what I do, whether it’s prop design, headdress design, costume design or illustration.”

Vincent Levy: “How much do you have to see your own hand in what you create?”

“Well something like this [exhibit], it’s very much sculpted. It’s incredibly important to for me to keep hands on. With this stuff especially. I’m very particular. Things like the space between the eyes. The placement is important to me. Watching my assistant pour stuff over everything, I just want to grab the brush off everybody!”

Vincent Levy: “So can you be a scary boss?”

Gary Card: “No, no. I’m super nice.”

Vincent Levy: “Moving away from the sculpture, I’ve read that you’ve been wanting to push your illustration more. Do you think we’ll ever see a full resurgence in fashion magazines?

Gary Card: “I’d hope so. It would be lovely to see that, but I don’t think so. Although I think there’s a space for everything now, which is exciting, particularly digitally. The last thing I did was a collection of fashion drawings for a gallery. But what I’ve really enjoyed is then taking that into Photoshop and playing with the liquefying tools and fucking them up a little bit.”

Vincent Levy: “And you’re a big comics fan? They’re quite similar mediums in a way with narrative, costume, dynamic layouts. Did one lead naturally to the other for you?”

Gary Card: “I think so. The Face was really important to me growing up and I really wanted to be a part of that I think. I remember seeing Mike Mignola who did Hellboy in The Face when I was a kid, and to me that meant it was ok for all culture to exist together and be one fantastic thing. You could like comics and you could like fashion.”

Vincent Levy: “Do you envisage your own comic or graphic novel eventually?”

Gary Card: “I’d love that. I think a children’s comic or book is more realistic. I experimented with it a couple of years ago with Visionaire, and it’s something I’d really love to do again properly and on my own terms. I think that would be really exciting.”

Vincent Levy: “And with comics comes the inevitable question of film. What are the films that have really informed your style?”

Gary Card: “David Cronenberg is still a huge influence. All of the fantasy people, Terry Gilliam. It’s a cliché but David Lynch, of course is amazing. Beetlejuice is brilliant. Even the sculptures. The wife in it is a sculptor and she makes these ridiculous things, and she’s supposed to be a bit of a hack, but I love her sculptures in that movie!”

Vincent Levy: “Having your work captured in film and photography offers them a permanence which isn’t necessarily there in reality because of the nature of the materials you use. Will you eventually want to work in more permanent mediums? Do you foresee Gary Card bronzes?”

Gary Card: “Yes, I think so. The heartbreaking thing about what I do and make, is that it has a shelf life. You shoot it, and then you’ve got to think about disposing of it. The thing about this stuff and the thing I did with LN-CC, is that is does have some permanence. It isn’t something to be chucked away ten minutes after the editorial or the shoot.”

Vincent Levy: “Talking of different mediums, you designed your Fixed Stare range of Tees for Other shop recently, and I was wondering how far you’d like to take your design of actual garments? Are you content with remaining at the peripheries? Designing around fashion?”

Gary Card: “If I were to explore it, I’d definitely do print design. I started my career as a print designer actually. I used to work for Speedo, designing prints for swimming costumes and stuff. I used to be a print designer for Red or Dead as well. So it’s been part of my life for years. Never say never. The great thing I love about what I do now is the variety of stuff that I get to experiment with. I did some watches for Swatch a few years ago. Those kinds of projects really excite me.”

Vincent Levy: “Do you think theatricality is lacking in fashion at the moment? Has everything become a bit subdued?”

Gary Card: “I think fashion as a whole takes itself far too seriously. The kind of thing that I do and the stuff I tend to be involved with is more theatrical. But yeah, of course I get a bit frustrated when it’s not all singing all dancing bonkers stuff.”

Vincent Levy: “Was it important to have your first solo show in East London? How much do you feel a product of the area?”

Gary Card: “Absolutely. I think there was definitely a big London boom about six years ago. It was a really exciting period. For a certain amount of time it felt like the centre of the world. I think a lot of my contemporaries came out of that period and a lot of my friends now who work in the industry all met clubbing or from going out to all sorts of things.” 

Vincent Levy: “And six years is the period the show commemorates?”

Gary Card: “Exactly, yes, that’s right. That whole period of going out and meeting people and being part of that was exactly the same period as I was starting to explore things. So yeah it’s almost a bit of a retrospective. A focus on things I would do if I’d been left to my own devices when I was a lot younger. Masking tape [as used in the show] has been a huge part of my making process since I started. It’s an incredibly immediate material and I love how raw it is. Also the subject matter is something that I’m really fond of. I really like this kind of comedy-tragedy idea.”

Vincent Levy: “Going back to that love of toys, are we ever going to be able to buy Gary Card in Forbidden Planet?”

Gary Card: “Yes, that’s been an ambition of mine for ages. I thought I’d make tiny versions of what’s in the show. Everything’s very large and I can’t imagine it having a life after this, so to have something that people can covet themselves would be a really nice idea.”

Film stills: Will Johns

Until August 21, Abandoned Amusement Park Attractions, Eternal Youth, 378 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA

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