Where the war things are: An interview with Schoony

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By Arseny Vesnin (Twitter: @designercollector), founder of Designcollector Network

Editorial is open for submissions: [email protected]

Schoony’s background is rooted in special effects and prosthetics for the film industry. His career spans over 30 years. Since the age of fifteen he has worked on over a hundred films. His work and reputation for high quality and pioneering techniques has reached far corners of the world thanks to the representation of Maddox Gallery. Schoony uses 3D technologies alongside the more traditional methods in his art pieces. He continually pushes boundaries within this discipline.

Hi, I’m Schoony a London based sculptural artist exploring 3D technologies such as 3D scanning, digital modelling and 3D printing to create my works physically and digitally. My work pursues themes of commercialism, violence, and contemporary Western society’s detached relationship to warfare.

What was your path to doing what you’re doing now?

Growing up my father, John Schoonraad, worked in film special effects. He brought my brother Robin and I on set and into the workshops a number of times as kids which used to blow us away. At the age of 15 I started working with my dad on films in the special effects prosthetics and specialty props departments. It took me on some fantastic adventures globally, working on films and like Back Hawk Down, Rambo, Harry Potter and Star Wars.

I was introduced to the art scene by Joe Rush and Nic Reynolds with Mutate Britain. My first work that I created for the show was called Rope Trick, which was a take on the Indian rope trick. The main figure for the work was eventually reimagined as the Boy Soldier, one of my longest running motifs.

The progression of my execution was originally influenced from my work in special effects, predominantly life casting, sculpting and model making. I have always had a keen eye for technology however and when Artec 3D scanners became available I got my hands on one. Through 3D scanning and sculpting I then began to utilise 3D printing, cnc milling and now animation.

When you were growing up, was creativity part of your life, and how did you decide to focus on sculpture and arts?

Working with my father and brothers in the film industry, creativity has always played a big role in my life. I worked alongside some very talented people in the industry, inspired by the likes of Chris Cunningham and Dave Elsey. I was forever surrounded by art.

The workshops I visited would have shelves of books and sculptures throughout. I would also draw  inspiration from the comic books I read, collecting the incredible artwork of Jim Lee, SImon Bizley and Frank Miller.

My transition from working on film to focusing my energy on art was a slow one. Initially I was doing both, finishing work on a film in the early evening and going back to my workshop to create my art till late into the night. Eventually I let go of the films and concentrated my full energy into my sculptures and I haven’t looked back. I have always wanted the freedom to pursue my own creative impulses and I take full advantage of that.

Did you feel different at the time you realised yourself as an artist?

Selling my first works was an incredible experience. I was anxious about the Mutate Britain show and was concerned none of my work would sell. Little did I know that I would sell everything I exhibited. It left me feeling accomplished and self assured that I was making the right choice to pursue my creative passions.

Did you have an “Aha!” moment when you knew that direction and animation was what you wanted to do?

It stemmed from my passion in pushing digital technologies to realise my art. For a long time now I have wanted to produce an animation but I wasn’t sure of how to release it to a market or platform. NFT’s are a brilliant way to enter the world of animation and bring my work to a new audience with an art lens.

I’d been told to have a look into NFT’s by an old friend of mine and it all just clicked from there. I’ve been collecting and following cryptocurrencies for a while and I am very excited about it as a technology. To find that art was then being produced using the same networks and technologies, I wanted to jump straight on it.

How does that move influence your way of doing work now?

By continually seeking to push boundaries, my work and reputation for high quality and pioneering techniques has reached far and wide, gaining a substantial list of high-profile clients such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Rita Ora and Celia Sawyer.

During pandemics you helped a lot NHS (UK) by refocusing your workshop to produce face masks. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

When the pandemic first hit I was feeling anxious as I think most people were. I was watching the news where there were constant reports about the shortage of PPE to our emergency workers. My wife Gracie showed me a movement online to 3D print face shields to aid in the shortage. I thought if I could contribute in any way it was worthwhile. I started using my 3D printers to produce face shields and made some posts to Instagram to encourage others to do the same.

I had previously sold some of my work to the production company, SunnyMarch, run by Adam Ackland and Benedict Cumberbatch. Adam had seen the work that I was doing on Instagram and got in touch with Benedict who then kindly donated £5000 to purchase more 3D printers and ramp up the production of face shields. I was then able to produce far more face shields which were then distributed by Scrub and Face Protection Hub.  

Do you collaborate with other artists?

I’ve collaborated with a number of artists over the years whether it be shared concepts or using my sculptures as a canvas. One of my earliest shows was a series of Boy Soldier panels that I gave to over 30 artists to paint and decorate in their styling. I had the likes of Goldie, Dot Master and Inkie painting my work.

I collaborated with Chemical X to produce The Spirit of Ecstacy. I 3D scanned the model Cara Delevigne and recreated her in a hyper realistic silicone finish. She was then mounted into an acrylic pane which had 7000 ecstacy tablets laminated within it.

Another large collaboration I did was for Iris Van Herpen. We were asked to produce a hyper realistic oversized head of the model Iekeliene Stange. The final sculpture, Lucid Dreams, was several metres in length and was transported to Austria where it was displayed by Swarovski in their Biomorphism exhibition, celebrating the work of Iris Van Herpen.

As a creative person, do you ever have those moments where you feel like everything you create is just shit?

Whenever I finish a piece of work I have a period of self doubt. My work takes significant time and effort to produce which means you have to maintain enthusiasm the whole way through. If you lose that drive you can find a piece being left to the wayside.

I have a lot of admiration for film producers because they have to keep up that enthusiasm for years. The trouble is, the longer you work on something, the longer you self critique and the doubt grows.

Have you taken any big risks to move forward?

Giving up the security of film work was a big leap for me. Art can be fickle and you never know when you are going to sell, particularly starting out. Once I was committed though I found my productivity could significantly increase and with that hard work came reward.

I’ve also tried to move with technology and explore new methods of creation. This has meant the investment in expensive 3D scanning and 3D printing equipment which were a risk at the time.

Are your family and friends supportive of what you do? Who has encouraged you the most?

Of course they are, my wife and daughter have been both encouraging and an influence in my work. They have both been muses for my sculptures many a time over.

Growing up working in the film industry with my father and brothers I learned a lot of the foundation skills that I apply frequently today.

I also have a terrific management team with Maddox Gallery who have been able to promote and travel my work globally.

Did you have a mentor? Who was it and how did they inspire you?

Working in the film industry you were constantly creating somebody else’s creative vision.  You were surrounded by talented craftsmen who would help to grow and develop your skill set. Working to create someone else’s vision through the day meant that I had to find my own ways to be inspired and think of original concepts. I was constantly playing with ideas and concepts during my breaks.

Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community of people?

Definitely, I’ve always participated in group shows like Unit London, Woodbury House, Westbank Gallery , Art Below, Moniker Art Fair and Art Car Boot Fair. It’s a great way to network with other artists and share ideas and talents.

Maddox Gallery has been another great avenue to discuss concepts and ideas with a team who have been a powerhouse in the creative scene. 

Social media, particularly Instagram have been another great outlet to be introduced to so many great artists and discuss our works, even promoting the trading of work at times.  

You’re already a successful and well established artist, what made you pursue NFT art as a medium?

I’m always wanting to push new boundaries and pursue 3D technologies. It seemed like a logical transition as I have a library now of digital work. I like new technologies and exploring how I can use them. It’s how I initially began investing in cryptocurrencies a while back. To then see an interest in utilising the technologies associated to mint digital art was a very exciting thing for me. What’s great about it is that it is another platform to share my work and be distributed globally. I’m always wanting to reach as many people as possible with my art.

What inspired the work in your first NFT drop?

For the first drop with SuperRare I thought I would go back to one of my early works. Where The War Things Are is a variation on my Boy Soldier that has been a motif that has stuck with my work over the years and been very symbolic. Where the War Things Are is a throwback to my time spent in Melbourne, Australia where I was working on the film Where the Wild Things Are. I thought I would celebrate my first drop on SuperRare by recreating the piece digitally.

What are your short plans for the next NFT drop?

NFT’s are an exciting new platform for my portfolio of work to be realised and distributed in a way that it never has before. I’m looking to bring to life pieces from my body of work, both early and some of my latest creations, in a way that would be difficult to replicate in real life.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

You have just got to have the mind set that you can be the best, you have to persevere and try not to talk yourself down. Having a creative network to support you and give you advice is a big help.

If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?

If I could buy Bitcoin back when it was valued at mere cents I don’t think I would have many regrets! Jokes aside, I truly wouldn’t change a thing, I’ve been a very lucky boy.

Do you have any unrealised or unfinished projects?

Due to the time and investment into realizing my projects there have been plenty of pieces that have lost momentum over time and not been realized. This is usually caused by having more confidence in a new idea and leaping on the opportunity to produce that before it is lost. I believe it’s impossible to create great work without failure along the way.

Author profile
designcollector

Arseny Vesnin (Twitter: @designercollector), founder of Designcollector Network (2003) and curator of the Digital Decade initiatives, exhibitions and online collaborations. Interdisciplinary mediator guiding artists and communicating the future of art. Based in St.Petersburg, Russia.

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