Releasing emotions through art in tragicomic times

May 29, 2023

‘Two sides of the same coin – tragicomic times’ by Sean Bates-Fox

Sean Bates-Fox shares his love of image-making and explores the benefits to wellbeing through creativity

There has been a Kandinsky print in my living room since I can remember, and it definitely influenced my love of colour, line and intricate detail, which I try to emulate in my own work.

Feeling safe and secure in your environment is a priority for all of us; something I became more aware of during the pandemic. Contrasting colour, dynamic shapes and bold forms help me feel relaxed and calm.

It’s complicated though; what makes one person motivated or content can make for another’s hell.

While some people get inspired by graffiti, others can’t get beyond the opinion that it’s an act of vandalism.

I’m a big fan of graffiti, not only can it be a liberating personal expression, but it is often used to give a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of my favourite artists, initially gained recognition as a graffiti artist in New York City during the early 1980s. Some of the prominent dichotomies explored in his work is the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, power and oppression, inner versus outer experience.

‘Synesthesia’ and ‘Chronos’ by Sean Bates-Fox

Basquiat’s paintings often combined abstract and figurative elements. He employed a distinctive visual language that featured vibrant colours, bold brushstrokes, and a mix of text and imagery that referenced pop culture, history, and African, Aztec, and street art influences.

Although Basquiat sadly died very young, aged 27, in 1988, his ability to convey complex ideas and emotions through his art, while embracing contradictions, continues to inspire and resonate with many artists and art enthusiasts today. You can read more about Basquiat here.

Currently I’m experimenting with abstract contrasts and inversions. I often start my illustrations with a random shape and just see what ideas develop or what facial features could fit into the space I’ve created.

I think that the space not covered is just as important as the marks made. The white space becomes a shape in itself.

I love photography and find it creates a way for an important moment to be immortalised.

Taking a snapshot of life is exciting and part of the joy of taking pictures is the synchrony of the subject and the camera, and the different feelings this can evoke by changing one or the other.

Black Lives Matter, US Embassy demonstration London. Photographed by Sean Bates-Fox

I also take photos purely for fun, but often these playful slices of life can inspire something greater. I feel it’s important to document everything you find interesting, as well as preserving particular parts of history.

Learning to develop and print film solidified my love for photography and made me more connected to the photos I take.

Image-making helps me express and explore emotions, although I’m not always fully conscious of what I’m exploring.

Art can be a healthy outlet for feelings, particularly when it’s difficult to put them into words.

I sometimes start an image as a distraction from how I’m feeling, but the fact that I feel better, calmer and happier after a few hours of drawing, can only be a good thing.

Ideas for ‘The Moon Waxes and Wanes’ (below) came out of a conversation with a friend about album covers, and the tropes and conventions that they bring. I was inspired to create something soft and appealing, juxtaposed with frenetic, chaotic shapes and patterns.

‘The Moon Waxes and Wanes’ by Sean Bates-Fox

How music relates to visual stimuli is a concept I’ve been interested in for a while. Synesthesia is the sound to colour boundary, which I’ve kept in mind with some of my images.

Do you see music in shapes and colours? Before you say that you don’t, take five minutes to try it out!

With many of my illustrations, there is a recurring theme, two sides of the same coin, exploring how tragedy and comedy arouse opposite emotions.

I believe everyone creating an image, or any art form, will project how they feel onto their work. Instead of the emotion being buried in your brain, through the creation, it can be released into an external form.

Many people struggle to be aware of and to communicate how they feel. If we don’t stop and acknowledge the emotions we’re experiencing, we can’t help ourselves; although I know from experience it’s easier said than done.

Often just recognising and communicating your thoughts is the beginning of feeling better.

Sean is studying graphic design at Birmingham City University. He enjoys listening to a diverse range of music, creating digital and hand drawn artwork, and learning about more about society.

Other work

Donate via PayPal

Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice.

Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.