"Unpretentious and Good Craic" - We chat Northern Irish Craft Beer and Art with Boundary's John Robinson
I work in hospitality (actually I work in a BrewDog bar) and run this during my free time. Recently we had an Irish showcase with beers from Boundary, Yellowbelly and Wicklow Wolf. I was almost completely ignorant to these awesome breweries who were producing beautiful IPA's, Sours, and Stouts. Boundary really stood out for me with hand painted abstract artwork on each bottle. They were seriously good to look at, the beers complimenting the artwork really well. I looked up Boundary, and am a huge fan of what I saw.
Boundary is a cooperative brewery run by it's members, coming together to create modern US styles as well as Belgian/French beers. I wanted to chat to the artist John Robinson about how he hand paints each label, and he was kind enough to respond.
Who are you and what is your occupation?
I’m John, I’m 30yo and living in Belfast with my wife Anna. I’m a visual artist focusing on painting. I’m the artist for Boundary Brewery, which means I make a painting for every new beer, which then becomes the label on the bottle.
When did your interest in graphic design/art begin?
I first started doing art at age 11- little landscapes in oil pastel, while on holiday by the sea. We have a family friend who is an artist, he used to take me out painting into forests or up on mountains. Even at that early stage I remember being more interested in using texture and colour to create something, than capturing the scene in detail. I think this intuitive approach carries through to the paintings I make for boundary.
Did you study an artistic qualification?
I did a degree in Fine Art, then came back 2 years later and did an MFA. Studying art has opened my mind to the many different aspects of making images- I’m a better artist than I was before, for sure. The challenge though was to not start overthinking my work- one thing I love about making the Boundary paintings is that they are so immediate and instinctive.
How do you feel the craft beer community is developing in Northern Ireland?
When I look at the art on the bottles of Northern Irish beer i see some cool things happening; there are some creative beers out there. I also see quite a lot of beers that seem to be playing it safe and blending in. I would love to see more experimental craft beer in more of our bars. The craft beer community here is great- unpretentious and good craic.
Is there any piece you’re particularly proud of?
I’m proud of them all because each one has a story. Push and Pull is a series beer, a fresh, punchy IPA that profiles different hops each time it’s brewed. The story behind the painting comes from an artist called Hans Hoffman- he developed a theory called Push and Pull- the idea that you can use overlapping blocks of colour in a painting to create a sense of receding and advancing space.
What is your approach to a new project?
I get together with the brewer Matthew and we taste the beer and talk about it’s character. As a painter I often think ‘What kind of landscape does this beer belong in? What time of day and weather does it remind me of?’. Sometimes I will use landscape photographs as a starting point. Other times I want to experiment with a different style of painting, so I’ll open an Art book and choose something that reminds me of the beer and I’ll do my own version of a modernist painting.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in graphic design or as a professional artist?
If you’re going to study art at university, use that time to develop as many contacts as you can and try to have several creative ways to earn money as an artist when you leave. If you’re doing it as a hobby and want to go pro, get connected to a scene and find out what’s already happening in your area.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I’ve had some people say the art really drew them into the beer and added a layer to their experience of drinking it. I’ve had people contact me and commission a painting because they like the art on the bottle so much. Best of all I’ve had some great conversations about art while drinking beer.
How do you feel Art and Beer are interconnected?
When I make a painting it normally comes from nature- the experience of a certain landscape inspires the painting. When I make a boundary piece, the process is the same but the beer replaces the landscape. Craft beer is made to be enjoyed and discussed- the brewer has an idea in mind when making the beer, people will bring their own taste to it. Not all art is super serious- it also is made to be enjoyed, discussed and interpreted.
Check out more from John Robinson (including his website) here: