WORDS BY : GEORGIA RAWSON
From a very young age it seems we’re all taught that we must never judge things from what we see with the naked eye but delve further. Whether it’s a judgement of people, assessing a situation, or choosing how we live our lives, the concept and ideology of connecting a multi-faceted, and deeply layered sight with thought isn’t one that stems far from the usual human psyche.
But for The Amity Affliction vocalist, seeing the world differently, based from a visual standpoint has been ingrained into even his earliest memories.
“It’s hard for me to pinpoint as I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember,” reminisces Joel Birch when asked about the moment he saw the world shift. “I remember drawing with charcoal from under my house, straight up charcoal.”
It’s always happening in my mind (being creative), I just can’t seem to ever switch it off
Today Joel’s creativity extends further than just the earthly component and format. Having taken the leap into the world of 35mm film photography after an extensive collection of years working with illustration and graffiti, it seems that his creativity, and means of noting it down knows no bounds.
“It’s always happening in my mind (being creative), I just can’t seem to ever switch it off.” He muses.
Moments before the interview Joel presented to us his most recent body of work. As he walked into London’s Roundhouse carrying his Leica camera, discussing with us the varying ways in which to shoot film before sitting down to create a new body of work using a pen based dot work technique, a technique that both Joel and ourselves noted being almost hypnotic, it seems that he is more at ease when an artistic component is in his hand.
“Painting and doing this is a form of meditation,” he smiles. “But it’s not therapy.”
Every artist is fucked up in some way. There’s no “normal” artist, it’s not “normal” in the broader sense of the word in society
If you were to delve into the back catalogue of The Amity Affliction, you would find that Joel has always taken a very honest approach when openly discussing mental health, both through his music and through his art. But much like the stigma surrounding mental health, for a lot of true artists art is a form of rebelling against the silencing of such matters.
“Every artist is fucked up in some way. There’s no “normal” artist, it’s not “normal” in the broader sense of the word in society”. Explains Joel. Reflecting on the more conformist educational system of Australia, he continues, “They try and squeeze all your creativity out of you when you’re in primary school, and then send you on a different path. I never cared much for that path, just my own one.”
As our conversation continues that afternoon in London it becomes apparent that Joel’s ability to fluctuate between formats, and embrace both their trials and errors, is “something that comes naturally to him,” just as much as it is a part of his rebellious spirit. His attitude towards his art is one of confidence, but a confidence built on embracing the bad, and finding a way to celebrate the imperfections of both the artist just as much of that as the artwork itself.
“I think poverty drives art…so does depression and anxiety…drug addiction and alcoholism…anything disastrous or self-destructive drives all forms of art, it’s fantastic” He beams.
However earlier this year it seemed that as the literal world was alight, the art world began burning with it. In Melbourne, Australia, the government’s conformist attempt to capitalise on street art as a means of tourism quickly backfired once it tried to inform the world of what had been going on. In the early hours of the morning as Australia’s bush fires raged on three artists took to Brunswick street and whited out the walls, before blemishing it with three red fire extinguishers.
“They were used as an example about how Australia really treats artists.” Scowls Joel. “Some paedophiles in Australia have gotten lighter sentences than graffiti writers. Happy to use it to market their products; unhappy to see it in its natural habitat. I fucking hate marketing firms using graffiti.”
Tonight The Amity Affliction are just a week into the release of their fifth record, Everyone Loves You Once You Leave Them, and so it seems that Joel’s journey as an artist has not only been a long one, but one of triumphs and tribulations across varying artistic formats. But it all had to start somewhere.
“I got into graffiti when I was 17. Graffiti is the one thing that has probably informed me the most about everything.” Reminisces Joel. “When you’re into graffiti you look around a lot more. I suppose you see more of the world that way.”
This consistent curiosity, and view of the world has been the driving force behind Joel’s journey as an artist. Touring the globe came from creating music which came from a creative streak birthed from graffiti and drawing, wanting to “capture his band” lead to his work as a photographer, and even now as we sit against the glass windows of the Roundhouse the paper and ink isn’t too far from his hands.
“I like putting my life to paper.” He smiles as the pen begins to take it’s final strokes. “I don’t switch mindsets. It’s like a constant idea factory. I think anyone that’s creative is like that, you can’t turn it off. It’s why 70-year-old musicians are still putting out records.”
Joel walks a line between what it is to be a creative and artist, he’s at times just as introverted as he is flamboyant in his work and mannerisms. He’s not afraid to pass onto other’s his technique and doesn’t believe in the concept of “having your own style,” but rather creativity being something we should all be tapping into.
With one final stroke of the pen he stops almost as if something has finally struck him himself. “You know, I’ve been drawing my entire life!” He laughs. “And I still think I’m shit.”