Let's Talk About
By Ancilla Quena
This week I jumped on a call with one of my favourite artist/illustrator, Scotty Gillespie (@scotty.gillespie) and we got to discuss all things authenticity - how to find it within yourself, navigate your inner voice and stand true to what's authentic to you.
Originally from Manchester, Scotty moved down to Exeter in search of a bit of quiet. He was at his home studio, sitting in front of his kiln staring blankly ahead. I took a moment for him to realise I was on the call and once he did, he greeted me with the loveliest outburst of laughter. He had an aura of openness, so it didn't take long for me to dig in and began to ask how his experience growing up in Manchester had been.
He told me primary school and high school were really difficult “I was severely bullied to the point of maybe taking my own life. It was really severe. If you meet me in person I'm quite a bubbly and loud character, which is the absolute opposite of when I was younger. I was really subdued, I hardly talked at all or to anybody.” he shared.
"The culture of bullying needs to stop. I’m really sorry to hear that you had to face that. I’m curious, how did you get through such tough times?" I asked.
Scotty found solace in toys, books, computer games and tv shows “That stuff really saved my life they were my company when I was younger”. Unsurprisingly, his work is an amalgamation of things that he consumed when he was a child. It is where he goes to find inspiration and still does today. “I have a real soft spot for Polly Pockets - everything about it for me is really magical. You’re sort of creating your own little world and almost looking after something. I used to get bullied a lot about my collection, but now it’s probably worth millions.”
I related, I too find drawing a way to express my emotions and a great way to make sense of what I'm feeling.
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Did you always know that you wanted to be an illustrator?
It wasn’t a straight road for Scotty. He went to study an Interactive Arts course at university but then dropped out shortly after. “I feel like when you’re coming out of college, there's so much pressure to kind of figure out your life. Plus, it's £9k a year of tuition, living costs, etc. It was so much to take on. In the first year I found out it wasn’t for me at all, I wasn’t ready for it” he says.
It took him 15 years to realise what he wanted to do and how to get there. In between those years, there was a time when he became a tattooist in Manchester.
“Unfortunately, the industry at that time was a very difficult environment to be in. Being openly gay in the tattoo industry in the early 2000s was unheard of. It was very much a testosterone-ey and manly type of thing. People would not want me touching them, because being gay had this stigma of being unhealthy and blablabla. A lot of people didn't want me near them and I was tired of being told people would get AIDS off me, so I just left.” Scotty shared.
Tattoo culture has long been predominantly linked to white, cisgender, and heteronormative men due to the common associations between masculinity and pain right off the bat. In contrast, we believe tattooing is actually an intimate process that requires softness and space to be vulnerable, listened and heard.
That is shocking to hear. I’m so glad to hear you stood up for yourself and left a toxic environment you didn't deserve.
The good news is the tattoo industry is changing, LGBTQ+ friendly tattoo parlours and artists are making changes in the industry - paving the way to an equal and open environment for all.
Ink The Diaspora
A tattooing platform that was created by Tann Parker, to challenge colorism in the tattoo industry. Giving priority to documenting tattoos on Black and Indigenous queer womxn, trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people.@inkthediaspora
Sacred Art Tattoos
Based in Stoke Newington, London, their goal is to create an environment that encourages the respect and dignity of the clients and artists, whilst promoting a zero tolerance policy towards any form of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism or any other forms of discrimination.@sacredart.tattos
What are your thoughts on authenticity? Is it important for you to carry an authentic voice throughout your work?
Scotty gave us a metaphor; Imagine you go into your friend’s distant uncle’s bathroom and see the classic ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ sign.
“I absolutely hate it because I think the quote is supposed to relate to every single person on this planet and that’s impossible. The message becomes diluted because it’s created for everybody and so it loses its meaning.”
Scotty’s work on the other hand is optimistic representations are drawn from himself and his experiences - a safe bubble he created for himself to have a little breather from the world for a little bit.
A big trap a lot of artists get into is to create pieces based on what they think people would like rather than creating work based on their own authentic voice and belief. Scotty reminds himself to create work that he genuinely enjoys and loves “And I think if you’re just creating for yourself you’re just being your authentic self. This is the thing with authenticity - you’re not going to please everybody. But as long as the intention is positive, I believe there‘s always a learning curve you can take."
“I would rather connect to one person that really gets what I'm saying than connect to a thousand people that are just like “okay”. It just makes better work that way.
I totally agree, I don’t think art can be relatable to all. That’s the beauty of it - it’s so refreshing when you find someone who completely does. It makes you feel connected and less alone. Could you tell us a piece you’re most proud of?
During the first lockdown, Scotty was approached to create a placard for Pride. He created this piece:
“I'm not trans, but I do have a lot of trans friends and I’m around the trans people in the community. It was really important for me to contribute something, a positive message to that community. That was when my morals, my voice and the way I create work meshed together and created something I was really proud of.”
What does Pride mean to you?
Scotty says he has a very tumultuous relationship with the corporation and the consumeristic element of Pride. He reminded us that the extravagant aspects of Pride are a small part of the whole picture. He reminded us that at the core of it Pride is a protest. We must remember the past and fight for the future of equality. He would like to focus on pushing the conversations and minorities and vulnerable voices to be heard. At the moment, he believes the transgender community in the UK needs our attention. “I also try to learn as much as possible, even though I’m part of the community, I’m not trans and I want to be a positive ally.”
Do you have any material that you’d like to share with us and the readers?
"'Beyond the Gender Binary - Pocket Change Collective' by Alok Viad-Menon is a great place to start. It talks about gender fluidity and the importance of pronouns and their history. They’re just a really aspirational person, they’ve got a really great way of articulating things." You can purchase the book here.
Thank you for sharing Scotty - we honour this space and opportunity as a learning period for us to become the best ally we could be for the community.