The OD - Issue 1 - page 7

2011 · issue 1
Did your love of art begin
at the Dragon?
It gave me my first appreciation of
subversion and joyful disruption. I say
that not out of disrespect – my memories
of the culture there are fond – rather
out of an urge to crown a trait that was
central to the place, which I liked then, and
like even more now. I’m thinking of the
slightly beaten up corduroys, the buildings
to match and the overarching earthy,
pioneering sense of camaraderie and liberty
which every Dragon knows. There was a
sense that the slightly rubbish and amusing
sides of life could be accommodated.
A great strength of the school was its
confidence in its own intrinsic qualities and
ability to flourish whatever the classroom
looked like or wherever the goalposts
had been moved. The Dragon never had
a stifling kind of rule of fear, so it never
bred resentment. It was far too engaged,
challengeable and playful to be patriarchal.
This culture gave me far more to draw
on than I ever picked up from the art
schools. While I was at the Dragon, I was
too busy disrupting Ma Molyneux’s classes
at the back with Ed Obolensky (OD 1992)
and Nick May (OD 1992) to be taking
painting seriously. She let the playground
in, which was like inviting sharks to dinner.
How did you get where you
are today?
I’ve been lucky that in taking on
inadvisable and difficult types of work,
the environment has so far been kind to
me. I work with fantastic people, I get to
be creative and travel; the work is diverse,
I have an amazing wife, and I take great
care in what I do. My parents thought
I was a bit of a car-crash earlier in my
career, and people would be mad to copy
me as a role model – but every now and
again opportunities come up that trump
everything else. I am a person with a strong
sense of what matters to me and I have the
determination to get it.
What are your main influences?
It changes from week to week. Broadly,
when looking back for answers, I tend to
revisit three unrelated influences.
The first, skip-diving in north Damascus
in 2003: I chanced upon a children’s drawing
book that is now one of my most treasured
possessions. It opened my eyes to drawing.
Second is narrowly avoiding death in
Baghdad. I trod too near an unexploded
rocket in a collapsed house and had jumpy
soldiers screaming at me behind a tank at a
military base, at gunpoint. This reinforced
the feeling of being on borrowed time,
and made me realize that it wasn’t normal
to disregard the basics of personal safety.
Third, reading A to B and Back Again by
Andy Warhol. There are things you just get,
and they become part of you (it feels like they
were always with you); they become part of
your philosophical furniture. These three are
like avalanches in the Braithwaite landscape.
How did you use your
Knatchbull Grant?
I packed my Oxford life into a truck –
named Yasmine – and went to work in
communities in the Middle East. This was
post-9/11 and it was while fellow Britons
were trying to invade, or protest at the
invasions of Iraq. I am grateful for the early
support the Knatchbull Fund provided for
this cross cultural project. My career hasn’t
looked back; I continue to be motivated by
multiple perspectives and social justice.
Left and above:
original works by
Al Braithwaite
For details of how to apply for a
Knatchbull Travel Grant please visit:
Al Braithwaite
(OD 1993) has been a prolific
artist since leaving the Dragon. His conceptual
art explores a range of materials and themes as
he represents geography, culture and identity
with a highly politicized approach. He recently
talked about the origins of his work with
The OD magazine.
Inviting Sharks to Dinner:
The Life and Art of Al Braithwaite
1,2,3,4,5,6 8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,...28
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