Painter - and lookbook collaborator - Benjamin Deakin tells us about his history with Drake's, his "Brideshead Period" and how his work relates to the natural world.
Growing up in my family it was difficult to avoid the arts, as both my parents are musicians and their pupils and colleagues were a big presence in the house. I developed a love of drawing at a young age and this was a creative outlet that was different to the musical world I lived in, although I played a lot of music myself too. We moved to Cumbria when I was four. Growing up in such a remarkable landscape definitely had an impact on my imagination and kindled a love of rugged mountains and wild places.
At art school I went through what I call my “Brideshead Phase” and tweed jackets, waistcoats and brogues became my daily attire. When you spend all day in paint splattered clothes in a freezing studio a beautifully tailored jacket and shirt is very appealing! Years later I was introduced to [Drake’s Creative Director] Michael Hill through an artist colleague and have helped him over the years with various exhibitions of artworks at the Clifford Street. There are several artists I know who are fond of Drake’s and have worked with them. Particularly as an artist, I love the fact that Drake’s keeps artisanal skills alive whilst engaging with contemporary designers and artists to give traditional materials an extra twist.
I developed a strong wanderlust growing up, and I have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places in the world like the Himalayas, Tanzania and Vietnam. All these experiences made me realise that our relationship with places like the Lake District are very culturally defined and that the very idea of a natural landscape is influenced by ideas in our society and the media. I did a residency in the Yukon, in Canada. The Klondike region was the site of the last great gold rush and has all of the romantic connotations that go with that era. This sort of frontier culture, steeped in glorified heroism and romantic derring-do. I was interested in that being placed in this very remote region where, even now, there is very little infrastructure and very few people. You have this weird mixture of abandoned industrial detritus and incredibly wild landscape.
As an art form landscape painting is mostly associated with pretty watercolours (often of the Lake District!), the Impressionists and the grand romantic paintings of Turner and Constable. The way nature is marketed to us is that you’re going to a place of spectacular natural beauty, but the very nature of the landscape looks the way it does because of human intervention. It’s a constructed idea of what nature should look like. I’m interested in on the one hand what we’re told nature is and on the other hand what the reality of nature is, and how people are engaging with or thinking about the landscape.
I hope that my work makes people reflect on their own preconceptions about the nature and the environment around them. I feel that as an increasingly urban civilisation, our understanding about nature and the rural landscape is becoming mythologised, and often only serve as fodder for politicians, advertising agencies and travel companies. My challenge is to represent landscape in a way that articulates the cultural history and influences on our perception of landscape and of nature itself without falling back into well trodden paths of the picturesque and the sublime.