I recently met up with Simon Watkins, AKA Vietname the movie; a digital artist and illustrator whose project on John’s gospel provided a creative example of evangelism. We chatted about his art, influences and future projects…
First off, tell me a little about Vietnamthemovie. Where did the name come from? And what’s the main aim of your work?
The name comes from one of my favorite films, Full Metal Jacket; some illustrators have cool or stupid names when they work and this happened to be mine. The name is completely random and when I started out so was my work, random colors, subjects & styles. I am now focusing on what I call ‘Christian Art’ not that I actually know what that is! I am trying to bring my ‘randomness’ into what I create, using robots, skateboards and till receipts to get my message across.
Why did you choose John’s gospel as the basis for a project? (find out more here)
I’m a born again Christian, which means that somebody or something brought me to God. For me it was a somebody, a friend called John. So I suppose that’s how I became connected with this certain book of The Bible. I’ve since found it’s many people’s favorite gospel. It’s been great to work with because it’s brilliant material and very inspiring, making it easy to illustrate. Funnily enough, when ‘John’ saw the project, he looked embarrassed and showed no real connection. I think his artistic tastes are very different but this was tough to take at the time.
When creating projects based on the Bible, what particular elements of scripture do you pull out to use as inspiration?
This is what I’m trying to change about Christian art. I will read a page or passage from The Bible and just create. That’s it! Whatever sticks or inspires me is what I focus on. ”Does it make sense?”, “Will this bring people to God?” – They’re questions I don’t concern myself with. I wish more people would just read and create!
Do you draw inspiration from elsewhere too?
I never studied art at school or university and I’m completely self taught. My style is very much Andy Warhol with a bit of Banksy. I love Damien Hirst, although every other artist seems to hate him! As for inspiration, I love fashion. If I am stuck for ideas I will search fashion blogs and sometimes visit some of the big clothing chains to look at colors and design. Fashion and the Bible seems to work for me!
There’s also a lot of abstract and eccentric elements to your illustrations. Is that a glimpse of your personality shining through?
Don’t know really. When starting as an artist I had a 3 year plan. During the first year I tried lots of different styles, although they were mostly digital. The second year was spent concentrating on cementing a style I liked. That’s when I began to focus on the eyes in pictures and splats around my work. I still have this style and like to focus on head, face or shoulders and not full body work. I also enjoyed creating digital collages but this can seemed quite lazy and cliched. The third year of my plan was to take over the world…. I’m still working on that in year five!
What has been the general response from Christians and non-Christians alike?
Do you know what, it has been hard. I speak to God a lot and I am very proud of the project and what I’ve created. But my ego longs for success like every other artist. Some people really understand the project and where I am coming from but others don’t and this can be hard when trying to promote my work in the Christian world. If I am honest I think that non-Christians like my work more but I think they are turned off by the biblical text. If it had been a raging success I would now be creating biblical art for my second project but as it stands I am working the normal life! I think this is where faith comes in, right?
What role do projects like John’s gospel have in ‘modern day’ evangelism?
I think they should be playing a major role. Art is powerful and can’t be ignored, which draws people in. Some say the message is hidden in my work but I want to connect to the audience first. This is me evangelising:
Them: Cool picture!
Them: Who is it?
Me: You know…Mary Magdalene…from The Bible.
Me: So are you an artist?
No pressure. Engage and maybe one day they may pick up a Bible or look at my work. It is a long shot but better than asking a stranger if they have Jesus in their life as a ‘getting to know you’ line.
So what’s in the pipeline for you, any new projects coming up?
When I get back on the ‘art’ horse I am working on the Stations of the Cross. – I didn’t even know what they were until about a year ago. Some Christians will think my lack of knowledge is lame but I see it as a strength, through fresh eyes. I’ll be creating 14 images based around the stations and produce another book and exhibition.
Do you have any advice for any creative types who are looking to start projects for the Church?
Don’t bother! Wow, that was an firm reply! Take your work out on the streets, to the galleries, to the public. Spread the word in new and interesting ways. Just paint a red square and call it Joseph! Get people talking!
You can buy ‘John’ by Vietnam the Movie at: http://thechristianillustrator.com