At the time of this interview, photojournalist and artist Stephen Ignacio was well beyond his seventh week of lockdown, as he begun with self-isolation at home because of early symptoms, which fortunately resolved themselves. “Now, when they say ‘self-isolate’, they don’t take into account that doing so in a small flat with kids around is not as easy as it seems. I was never tested at the time, but I certainly adhered to the isolation: sixteen days at home until even the cough was gone,” he says. “Finding time to do my own work from home – in my case looking for sports stories where and when sport does not exist – has been hard, especially with my five-year-old kid clinging about! I hear there are many artists finding the time and filling it by producing artwork. For me it’s been the opposite. I have spent more time looking for time than having it. From educating children at home, to entertaining them, to working remotely, often it was ten at night when I found the time.”
Night is the best time for those creative juices to flow, according to many artists and writers. Stephen is no exception, as he produced a series of ink drawings that depict a surreal world populated by snails, elves, dwarfs and mushrooms, crumbling castles and boats dangling from hot air balloons. “My work, though serious – and somewhat dark, I’m told – is actually quite light-hearted. I don’t try realism nor do I wish to.”
“I have spent more time looking for time than having it.”
The result is a fantasy landscape where light is to be sought between the black lines, marred by nightmarish loneliness and emptiness, the impression of being the sole survivor in a silent, or silenced, land after a major natural disaster or savage ransacking, longing to either seek sanctuary underground through molehills disturbingly shaped as arabesque neurons, or to flee skywards on board of the Flying Dutch galleon.
In keeping with his childhood aspirations of becoming a cartoonist and comics’ illustrator, Stephen also indulged in full-colour cartoons about the tragic present and the bizarre future of self-isolation. “During the lockdown I have fallen foul of my wish to express my opinions but not being able to do so openly. As a sports journalist working for a newspaper, my opinions can be misconstrued as representing who I work for, so I try to steer clear from expressing my views, unless it’s really clear it’s my view only.”
His cartoons focus on society, and he utilises humour as ‘a good release of tensions’. “Being a social animal, whilst I don’t chase the limelight, I do like showing my work and letting people react to it. But I am my worst critic. Today I will love my work, tomorrow I will want to burn it.”
A few of the pieces he’s showing on his social media pages are mainly executed on an iPad. “Luckily for me the one thing I do have in stock is ink. But as I started to run out of paper the iPad has become my saviour.”
The hi-res large images use techniques which can be described as traditional, according to him: “Stroke by stroke, black on white, keeping to the same tool and the same line depth. Most of my ink drawings have started with a line on a piece of paper. Bit by bit, they have been built up and created into a final piece; I had no clue about how it was going to come out.”
“But I am my worst critic. Today I will love my work, tomorrow I will want to burn it.”
He reckons that broadcasting a message in his work is ‘inescapable’, whether or not it was consciously placed there: “Because my work is created as if I were writing a journal. Today I’m doing this section, tomorrow I decide on the next section, and things are like a jigsaw coming together. A jigsaw of thoughts transposed into my fantasy worlds and imaginary scenes. My latest piece features candy, derelict buildings, and pathways leading nowhere.” The one thing that steadily dwindled in his artwork as the lockdown progressed was the presence of people, or traces of them.
The lockdown gave Stephen a chance to explore the media at his disposal, because there was no pressure on him to meet deadlines. “I tried out some animation, and completed a few short videos/films. In some cases, like the more arty work, it included creating my sounds which is another aspect I find so amazing with the iPad. You can literally do everything you need on it when it comes to creating videos and interactive presentations.”
If he had to pick a colour to paint a post-Covid19 landscape, he would go for a colour scheme: “Unfortunately I’m certain we have not seen the end of this yet, and many things will be changing. But if and when we come out of this with a ‘new normality’, I hope life returns to yellows, greens and earthy browns merging with cobalt skies.”
He admits however he will probably end up painting it in black and white. Inked.
Visit Stephen’s website stephenignacio.smugmug.com, view his works at stephenignacioart.wordpress.com, or find him on Facebook – Stephen Ignacio Photography. Order his original design merchandise from stephenignacio.redbubble.com.