Having created both Gorillaz and Tank Girl during almost 30 years as a graphic artist, Jamie Hewlett has finally been tempted into a gallery for his debut art show. He was inspired, like so many before him, by Googling "tramp sex".
"I was talking to someone in my studio about online pornography," explains Hewlett. "I said to him, jokingly, "Whatever you tap in, it will be there". He didn't believe me. I said, "Ok, let's think of something... tramp sex". Sure enough, he tapped it in and there was a website about that. I didn't really want to see that, and I'm not sure many people do, but my point was that it's all there. Nothing is left to the imagination at all. I don't like that. I prefer the power of suggestion."
So "The Suggestionists" – his first gallery exhibition – was born. The show brings together three different styles of Hewlett's work. Fans of his cartoons will immediately recognise the "Tarot" pictures, inspired by magical-realist Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky's reconstruction of the original Tarot de Marseille. Hewlett's wife Emma de Caunes stars as "Honey" in his tribute to 70s sexploitation movie posters and "Pines", a series of drawings he did in the south of France, provides a bucolic counterpoint.
"They're very different in style and medium, yet they're connected by the idea of the power of suggestion," says Hewlett. "Having taken so long to do an exhibition, I wanted to show three different sides of what I do." Here, he talks us through some of the images from the collection...
"These posters are my tribute to people like Saul Bass, Russ Meyer and Oz magazine. I'd had the idea for a long time but I was apprehensive about hiring a model and asking her to pose for me, so my wife agreed to do it. It meant there was an instant connection that we could play around with. It also meant I had to be respectful towards her. These are the new works that have thrown people the most, especially my friends. I guess that's the English thing of being uncomfortable about nudity."
"The titles had to be a little cheesy, because a lot of them were back in the day. My wife is an actress, so she said she'd only pose if she could be a character. That's why we created Honey, a forgotten erotic star from the 70s who did a bunch of films that all had these stupid titles, like "Double Honey", "Honey La Douce" and "A Taste Of Honey". That was my wife's way of stepping into character, instead of just taking her clothes off and being naked in front of me. We had fun with the credits too, which are all based on sex toys and positions from the Karma Sutra: Ben Wa Balls and Ananga Ranga."
"The posters are my homage to erotica, which is kinda kitsch and cheesy, but I remember it quite fondly. Posters like these were outrageous at the time. Today, whatever you want is online. I prefer that period where things were left up to your imagination. I think that's far sexier and more arousing. Online pornography worried me when my kids were young. They stumbled across all kinds of unpleasant shit just by tapping in "puppies" or whatever and then having a giant cock appear on the screen. That sort of thing gives people the wrong idea about sex and love."
"Le Mat – The Fool – is supposed to have a dog pulling on his shirttails, but in Jodorowsky's interpretation he talks about the fact that sometimes there's a monkey there. I drew the monkey, because I like monkeys. The Fool is related to Card Number 13, which everyone calls the "death card" but is actually nothing to do with death – it's supposed to be the skeleton of The Fool so they're connected. There are so many hidden meanings within those cards, you can find yourself in all of them. I wanted people to have a favourite character, like having a favourite Pokémon."
"L'Amoureaux – The Lovers – is complicated because it has so many meanings. There's a hand in there that could be coming from the man in the middle or from the woman to his left. The scene can be interpreted in many different ways. It could be a madam offering a prostitute to a man. It could be a young man introducing his bride to his mother. It could be a three-way relationship involving an older and younger woman and a man. It's ambiguous. It's like a Rorschach test. You take from it what you will."
"The pines tell stories. When I was drawing them I was pointing out to people the little characters that I could see in them and the stories they were playing out. The people I was showing them to were in turn pointing out things I hadn't seen in them that they could see. I started to realise that everybody could see something different in them, and that excited me. It fits into the idea of suggestion, just as tarot and the movie posters are about suggestion. I like the idea of people using their imagination and trying to figure out what they can see in them."
"There's a lot of sex in the trees. I did an interview with a German programme that syndicates in Arabic countries, and there were certain tree pictures they wouldn't shoot in front of. I asked why and they said: "Look, that's obviously a penis" and, "There's a large breast in the side of that tree". I said, "I didn't see that, but you've seen it. That's your dirty mind." There's a lot in there that I didn't notice at first."
"I drew the pines in Cap Ferret, a peninsula in the south-west of France. They were all drawn at eight o'clock in the evening when the sun was very low and they were covering themselves in shadows. It was an obsession I had for about three months. I just couldn't stop drawing fucking pine trees. It got to the point where I was dreaming about the texture of the bark, so then I stopped. I'm not going to start drawing oak trees or anything now. I think I'm done with trees now."