Picture this! Christine’s art gets personal

HELEN McGURK catches up with Ulster artist and designer Christine Gorman to hear why her latest bespoke art and furniture venture is garnering a global fanbase

Friday, 19th October 2012, 10:03 am

OFF-ONE Designs, the brainchild of Christine Gorman, had its first incarnation as a shop selling one-off fashion, jewellery and original arts and crafts on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.

The concept is essentially the same for her latest venture, which retains the Off-One name, and aims to create bespoke art for everyone. The difference is this time it really is personal.

Working from her home studio, Christine now creates artworks for the individual - although that individual could be an organisation or club - personalised collages that stand alone as pieces of art and a visual record documenting someone’s life.

If you think back over your life and try to picture the major and minor events that have shaped it, the people you have met, the places you have been, the things you love and that inspire you, the images evoked will be present in some form in the artwork that Christine will make for you.

She also designs pieces of furniture, tables, lamps and bookshelves fashioned from old books, anything that she can customise and will look good in the home.

So why did she bow out from the shop that had caught the discerning eye of those after something a little quirky and unique?

“I was always designing for friends and family decided to take the risk and open up the shop, which was very successful, people liked coming into it, it was a wee oasis. I loved the time there, it gave me a chance to concentrate on artwork, which I really enjoy.

“But the shop was all about other designers and other people making things, this work that I do now is all about me and my vision and things that I like. I have complete control over everything I do.”

The initial ideas for Off-One’s latest designs evolved organically and demand has burgeoned through word of mouth.

“I started to do some for family. I know I have a good eye for colour and print and pattern. They became very popular and people started to commission me to make particular pieces for individual members of their family.”

As well as her talent for assemblage, Christine also has a good nose for a bargain and this is especially useful when it comes to finding the raw material for her artworks. She will regularly trawl antique shops, auctions and charity shops, on the hunt for sources for her pieces.

“I like the ethos of taking something very old and making it look very modern; recycling, using old things, because there are enough old things to use up without having to buy lots of new stuff.

“I like to use vintage material because it feels authentic to me if I use old colours and tones. I get images from everywhere and anywhere I go I see things that would fit a piece. I love old children’s books, old hand-painted books are inspiring”

Christine’s favourite era for inspiration is the 1950s.

“The colours and tones from the mid-century, that pared-down look”.

Scandinavian and Japanese design are also big influences.

“I love the clean lines and architectural look of Japanese design. Some 50s and older Danish design still looks modern today.”

Humour also plays a big role in her pieces; the quirky and edgy is always prevalent in her work.

The majority of Christine’s work is commissioned. People will see her designs at exhibitions or vintage fairs and decide that they want a piece for themselves.

They are usually given as gifts for friends and family, for birthdays, weddings and christenings.

As Christine explains: “If I’m doing a picture for a particular birthday, for example, the buyer will email me words that connect the person to the piece.

“They could be anything - words that are in the history of his life. Say the person was into football, or golf or photography, I find the images that I think connect these words.

“So it’s not about someone giving me images, it’s about me sourcing everything and making the picture very non-traditional and not at all twee.

“The picture has to work with pattern and print and text. So the first thing the recipient would see in the piece would be the pattern, then they would see their name, or for example their children’s names.

“They will find hidden things within it, it’s about large scale and the minute as well”.

From commission to completion takes about four weeks and primarily the gift will be presented as a piece of art, but gradually the recipient will realise it’s an artwork all about themselves.

“When they look closely they will discover, of course, the big picture of their lives and then, on closer inspection, the tiny things that connect them to the picture. They might only see it the fourth or fifth time they look. I’ve had people come back to me and mention that they never noticed a particular aspect of the picture until a month or two later. I like to put little secrets in it for them to find.”

This idiosyncratic approach was something that was really consolidated for her by Paul Smith, the famous fashion designer.

She met him once and when asked for advice, his tip was “always have secrets in your work.”

“Usually when I make a table I’ll put a hidden collage in it. Or on a framed picture I’ll do a collage on the back, usually it’s about the person who has commissioned the piece, just a little extra something for them also.”

Christine now has a global client base, from the US to Europe and Australia. She recently completed a piece for a couple getting married in Copenhagen.

Christine also teaches her craft, doing community work within deprived areas.

“People think art is just oils and paints and something they couldn’t do, but that is not the case at all.”

These are four or six week workshops and Christine relishes the opportunity to work with other people.

“I work from home and my work is very insular so I really like the workshops, meeting people and seeing the enjoyment they get from creating something.

“Most people are pleased with the pieces mainly because it’s about them, about their whole lives.”

Christine Gorman is Belfast’s own Peter Blake, for those of you unfamiliar with that name he designed the cover for The Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in which he asked the band to compile a list of those people and things that inspire them and then designed a collage of images of those chosen for that famous crowd scene around the band.

Christine does a localised version of the same thing, immortalising people’s ordinary lives in a timeless work of art.

She creates their own personal time capsules but these are not for burying in your garden for some future generation to dig up, they are identities that you can hang on your wall and look at any time. Individual bespoke and like us all, unique.

For further information contact Christine on: 07713572220, email [email protected] or visit www.off-one.co.uk

Win a specially commissioned Off-One Design artwork

Christine Gorman is offering one lucky News Letter reader the chance to win a bespoke work of art for themselves, friend or family member.

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic original artwork please email: [email protected], telling us in 20 words or less, why you would like to win this prize. The closing date for entries is 5pm, October 19.