Artist Spotlight: Borg – “I use macabre imagery to show human nature in a way that’s hopefully striking and memorable”
Exposed caught up with Sheffield-based illustrator Borg (real name Daniel Waters) to talk drawing, existential peril and the ASMR of certain pens!
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into creating art?
At 12 I realised I probably wouldn’t make it as a professional footballer, so I picked up the guitar. At university I made a bit of a go at playing gigs as a singer/songwriter. I buzzed off the performances, but I came to realise that, professionally, my personality was much more suited to drawing. When I moved to Sheffield six years ago, I started making art in earnest. For me, drawing is a mindful process; I can sit and practice while at the same time the ideas and narratives emerge in my head and on the page. The length of time it takes to do a pencil drawing allows for a proper maturation of the idea. Then I’m ready to make the pen and ink drawing.
Tell us about the significance of your alter ego, Borg. Why did you choose to use a pseudonym?
I have a few different things that I do as well as visual art. I still make music and write creatively too. It suits me that the visual outlet should have its own name; it’s a very natural way for me to think about my practice. And the name itself is part of the creative expression: when someone buys a screen-print, or a t-shirt, or sees my work in person I want them to feel like they’re sharing something that they have ownership of too. It feels right that should have its own name, separate from me as a person. The meaning of the name itself? I just think it sounds cool. Mythical, nondescript but not at all sunshiny.
A lot of your work is in black and white. What attracts you to working in monochrome?
There’s nothing more binary than life and death, and the aesthetic of black and white is so visually appealing to me. I also get a bit paralysed with too much choice, so the thought of using colour is a bit of a mindfuck. When I first started, I had some black fineliners and a Bristol board. Anyone who’s ever used this medium will understand just how ASMR it is to make a stroke with that pen, on that paper. As my practice developed, I fell in love with monochrome for all kinds of other reasons but that simple pleasure is still there.
Your work often depicts quite macabre imagery. Is this the kind of subject matter you’ve always been drawn to?
Absolutely. I use macabre imagery to show human nature in a way that’s hopefully striking and memorable. For example, a lot of my work has environmental overtones. Showing human skulls and skeletons underground while animals and plants thrive above is one way of showing the existential peril we face as a species. I also want to portray the even bigger problem of human-caused habitat destruction and animal extinction. For me, the imagery of death doesn’t have to be a negative, though. I’ve always found the cycle of life and death fascinating. Dead things nourish living things. For that reason, there is inherent meaning to corpses and skulls and stuff like that. Funnily enough, some people have been surprised when they meet me that I’m generally an upbeat and happy person. I think they think because my work can be dark and moody, I’d be that way too. That always makes me smile.
Who inspires you and your work?
When a friend sent me the Album Frames by Oceansize, I lost my shit, threw myself around the kitchen. Sometimes it’s Fionn Regan that does it. Or reading Brian Bilston. Anything with a bit of something to it, that makes you feel or learn something. These peak experiences are great, and they’re necessary, but in truth, I have no idea where inspiration comes from. Sometimes you have it, most of the time you don’t. One thing that always gets me is seeing people being good people. I’m a sucker for wholesomeness: careworkers, nurses, good neighbours. That gives me a lump in my throat. Those people are inspiring.
How do you find being a creative in Sheffield?
Motivating. A few months back I was in the city centre and saw an image of Edward Carpenter on the front of the museum. Later on, I walked past a Phlegm mural. Great people and great work. It keeps you honest.
Is there anything coming up for Borg that we should be looking out for?
Print and craft fairs around Sheffield and further afield throughout autumn and winter. Look out for me, come and say hi. I’m always working on new drawings, screenprints, and T-shirts. All of which are available on my website.