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Enliven Brighton Art Trail: Meet the artist, Josef Cabey

Brilliant Brighton (a not-for-profit organisation formed of 517 of your favourite city centre stores, cafes, salons, restaurants and bars) has teamed up with Brighton cultural organisations, artists and creatives from the ABCD Cultural Recovery Plan to showcase Brighton’s vibrant art scene with a colourful art trail with work by local artists encompassing walls, bus stops, lampposts and street furniture throughout Brilliant Brighton, under the theme ‘community and kindness’.

One artist whose works we’re delighted to have on bus shelters, as part of the Enliven Brighton Art Trail is Josef Cabey.

Josef’s visual art practice is primarily painting and digital based, often incorporating text, a reflection of his graphic design sensibility. He has always been concerned with depicting human relationships, framed by his own experience of intersectional identities. He is inspired by those who came before him. He often pays artistic tribute to historical figures, from activists to performers, or his own family, people who carved out a space and achieved something, often in the face of adversity.

We chatted to Josef to hear about inspiration behind his latest body of work ‘Just some guy thinking’ which features in the trail, his processes and his love for Brilliant Brighton…

Hi Josef, how long have you lived in Brighton?

I moved here with my partner John in 2003. We moved down from Hackney in London where I grew up and went to school.

How did you become an artist? 

Well, I guess I was one of those folks who literally popped out the womb with a pencil. As a kiddie I spent hours drawing, painting and reading. My earliest pride and joy at the age of 8 was my little project where I created a 3D paper construction of Hell Hall from my favourite book at the time 101 Dalmatians. Rather than going out to play with my mates after school, each day for months I slowly worked on that project and drew and cut out all 101 different dalmatians. My mother was quite perplexed, but I think she admired my commitment! I have no clue what eventually became of it. Later on for a long time Dalmatians often snuck into my work and I think there may still be one or two currently lurking on my website.

Long story short after running screaming from our school careers officer’s idea that as someone who liked creating stuff with their hands I might like to do a course in butchery, I pitched up at art school. I completed a diploma in art and design, then a BA(Hons) in graphic design at Central St Martins. After graduating and working for a bit I eventually decided I preferred to make work that was initiated by myself and started to develop my visual art practice. Alongside that I maintain a part time career in libraries to pay the bills.

Can you tell us a little about the process/es behind your work?

I work in a few different ways to be honest. My main practice is painting based, but I like cutting and layering so I often paint on cut mount board working with a mixture of flat shapes and heavy textures. It is all figurative. My favourite paint is acrylic because contrary to earlier tales of me as a very patient 8 year old, as an adult I can be just a little less so and acrylic dries nice and quickly! I also use collage in much of the work and it often features handwritten or printed text. I’ve started making work digitally, and in fact the work in the trail was created this way. That said it’s also a bit of a hybrid with my acrylic work because all the colours and textures in the faces were actually grabbed from existing physical paintings that I had made, and then manipulated and re-collaged into the new digital pieces.

Image by Bip Mistry

Where do you work from?

I currently work from home as we have created a new space in our loft that allows this. It’s not a huge space though but suits me presently. I sometimes think it might be nice to work around other artists in a group studio setting.

What was the inspiration behind your work for the Enliven Brighton Art Trail?

‘Just some guy thinking’ is a series of illustrations that on one level depicts just that, some guys thinking about various topics. However, in their simplicity the illustrations speak directly to how routinely black men experience projections of negative intent when going about their daily activities. Mostly though they are simply what they are, ‘Just some guy thinking’.

How did it feel to know your work had been put forward for the trail?

It was fantastic to be approached and a lovely surprise. Some of the pieces had previously been seen in a very different guise as part of the Urbanflo curated exhibition BreathTaking that was shown at Phoenix Art Space last summer.

… And how does it feel to see it in situ in the city centre?

It’s really thrilling to have work so publicly visible. The way the images have now been re-interpreted on the glass panels of the bus stops give them a fantastic stained glass quality. This makes them look different to the original versions. It is particularly good to see that aspect of them, because many years ago my illustration style was very influenced by stained glass windows. I had to get a bus the other day and got to see one of the works from the top of the bus which was nice.

Does living in Brighton inspire your work at all?

Yes, but not like painting landmarks etc, many of the themes that I interrogate in my work are basically in response to living here and navigating spaces.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

It has always felt like such a privilege to have that ability to be able to create stuff, to just have ideas and interpret them visually in some shape or form and put them out into the world (or not). But can be scary too when it is super personal stuff. It’s naturally always great when people want to buy the work but also just a little emotional waving goodbye to that work too. My creative self has served me well when working out very complex experiences and feelings, and can sometimes be somewhat therapeutic.

Finally… what do love most about living in Brilliant Brighton?

I love being sandwiched between the sea and the Downs. I love that I can leave the house go for a walk through my local park to visit the Geese and Swans, go down to the seafront and cross through so many environs, walking from the Kemptown end, right through the middle touristy zone with all that brings, and the meandering up into Hove which is a different seafront vibe again. There is always something super interesting to come across. I like easily running into friends and acquaintances, then I can be back in my house again within a couple of hours or so. I do miss London sometimes, but I used to travel miles and miles to do stuff when I lived there and love that everything is so close here.

Find Josef’s work on bus shelters on East Street, North Street and Western Road, and see more on Instagram: @zefsconet.