John Booth is a London-based artist celebrated for his bold, instantly-recognisable use of colour, and to mark Sunspel’s 160th anniversary we invited him to reimagine our archives for a special collection.
In this podcast, John talks to journalist Terry Stiastny about his art, his love of colour and how he approached the Sunspel collaboration.
Words and interview by Terry Stiastny
It was a grey, rainy day in Hackney when I went to meet John Booth. Inside his east London home, however, colour was bursting out everywhere. On John’s kitchen table there’s a vase of red and orange tulips; next to his sofa, another ceramic vase, itself painted with stripes of blue, yellow, pink and orange, holds red lilies and orange grasses as well as flowers in blues and pinks. Beneath the vase, there’s a basketball in a rainbow of colours, and on the wall behind, a bright red Vitra organiser full of trinkets.
John Booth says that colour is hugely important to his life as well as his work. ‘I like playing round with stuff that you live with,’ he says of his love of colour and texture. ‘I do think it has such a direct link with how you feel.’
John first came to London to study fashion design with print at Central St Martin’s. He now has a studio near his home where he works on illustrations and ceramics. John’s always working in a variety of media. As is clear from his home, he has a collector’s eye — his wall organiser holds some of the keyrings and carabiners that he loves to acquire.
For his collaboration with Sunspel, John explored the colours and the images that he found in the archive at the company’s factory in Long Eaton. Sunspel’s historic ‘Sun and Clouds’ logo forms the basis of his designs. What appealed to him about those images?
John says he’s used a sun and cloud motif in his own work before. ‘When you stylise that cloud shape it’s a really satisfying thing to work with — it can look very pop looking and it almost feels quite nostalgic, childlike, retro even.’ After looking through the different versions of Sunspel’s own sun and clouds, the new images that John has designed are, he says, ‘really simplified to a cartoonesque version with the sun.’ He’s also drawn on the different colours that he found in the archive, including turquoise, red, purple and mustard.
As well as appearing on sweatshirts, T-shirts and shorts, John has created a set of patches that can be added to customers’ own clothes. Was he the kind of child who had patches that he ironed on to his jeans, I guessed? ‘I was that kid,’ John acknowledges. ‘From an early age I really liked customising things, so I was always adding to things or sewing on things.’
His multidisciplinary approach shows itself in a set of designs that John showed me for merchandising the product range, incorporating bright sun and cloud shapes into a set of display shelves.
What’s next for his own work? Again, the fascination with colour shines through: in the studio, John is testing out thirty-six new colours for his ceramics. In particular, he’s ‘really keen to get a good green’. It’s a colour he enjoys, but hasn’t used much in his work until now. And what is the perfect green? John indicates the bright emerald mug from which he’s been drinking tea. One darker than that, but not as dark as the shade on his basketball, he tells me. His experiments with colour draw on his cheerful and inspiring surroundings, whatever the weather outside.
SUNSPEL AND JOHN BOOTH
Sunspel’s classic Sun and Cloud logo dates back to the 1950s – an association with the company’s famous use of luxury Sea Island cotton, harvested in the Caribbean sun. After visiting the Sunspel archive, John collated six distinct colour tones and developed a playful interpretation of the vintage logo.
John’s Sun and Cloud print has been executed on our camp collar shirt, swim shorts and boxers. John also joined our design team to create a limited edition reworked Sun and Cloud patch collection, specifying the placement of the patch embroidery on a range of T-shirts and sweatshirts. Patches are also available separately. As well as selecting core colours and stripes, Booth handpicked colour combinations for a colour block version of our classic Made in England T-Shirt.
“Kerri and Alexis are friends of mine, and I love how they dress and what
they are into, so they seemed like the perfect people to shoot the stuff on,
and they are so cute as a couple, cos they are the same height. I chose Kuba
cos he’s my mate and I really like his photographs, as they are humorous
and honest and tender. Basically, I chose my mates.”
John Booth on the Sunspel collection photoshoot. Images by Kuba.