Jamie Hewlett: 'My brain is like a dried-out sponge, but I'm having ideas'

With the hugely successful Gorillaz out to grass, its artist co-creator is taking time off to see where his creative juices lead, hears Genevieve Roberts

Jamie Hewlett is taking a couple of years off. The artist, who
was one half of Gorillaz, is turning down almost every offer of
work to concentrate on his own projects.

This article features Listen with Spotify

After a decade of working on Gorillaz, without "a free week to contemplate anything else", he's enjoying the space. "I got tired of all the stuff I had been doing – working on computers and doing animation and the endless conveyor belt of drawings required for a project like the Gorillaz," he says.

His exhaustion with the musical-visual project is timely. Damon Albarn, his collaborator, announced last week that the project was unlikely to continue. He said had fallen out with Hewlett, explaining the pair were "at cross purposes somewhat" on their last record, released in 2011, and while not being on friendly terms "sounds very juvenile", he said, "It happens. It's a shame."

Hewlett is more sanguine about the split. He believes that while Gorillaz has "run its course for now, it doesn't mean it's packed away for good", though if the two collaborate again he would like it to be on something "completely different". There are projects that they worked on between Gorillaz albums which never saw the light of day that he thinks could be dusted off in the future.

As for his relationship with Albarn, he thinks it's natural to spend time apart. "We've lived in each other's pockets for the last 13 years: we shared an apartment, our kids have grown up together, we've been inseparable for a long time, and sometimes it's good to have a break," he says. "We haven't fallen out, I just want to do some of my own stuff, and Damon has many projects – he's always doing 10 things at once – so it's all right to separate for a bit and try different things." But he's adamant he likes working with Albarn, that, when they collaborate, "the ideas come thick and fast, and it's an enjoyable process".

Hewlett was first introduced to Albarn as Blur's first album was released, as his former partner Jane Olliver, originally a member of Elastica, was friends with – and formerly girlfriend of – Blur's lead guitarist, Graham Coxon. But it was not friendship at first sight with Albarn. "He didn't like me at all, and I didn't like him. We spent 10 years, every time we saw each other being a bit rude to each other, not talking to each other," he remembers. He claims to have never understood why, putting it down to similarities that can cause a clash. Others have speculated it was due to friction over Olliver, previously Coxon's girlfriend, before her relationship and two children with Hewlett. But after a decade of mutual mistrust, something changed. "One day, we suddenly clicked, became very good friends, it was the complete reverse. So, yeah, strange," he remembers.

In contrast with his manic work schedule of the past decade, Hewlett is relaxing in the Normandy sunshine when we chat. Even his voice is laid-back, in time with the pace of rural French life. He is writing a story, though declines to share details as he expects it to take a long time to come to fruition, and teaching himself to paint in oils. "It's wonderful, like learning to draw from scratch all over again – I've been painting lots of really terrible pictures, but they're slowly getting better." So far, he is unsure whether it is for personal pleasure, or whether, in a couple of years, there may be enough work he is proud of that he would like to exhibit.

France is now his part-time home, and he's learning the language. "I'm 44, my brain is a bit like a dried-out sponge. I understand most of what people say now," he says. Last year, he married Emma de Caunes, a presenter on the French music programme La Musicale, who also played Zoé in The Science of Sleep. They met while she was researching Gorillaz, and it was, he says, "love at first sight". They now live in Bastille with de Caune's nine-year-old daughter, while Hewlett returns to London most weekends to see his "grown-up" children, aged 16 and 12. He raised them on a diet of Studio Ghibli films, ignoring Disney. "Most animated kids films nowadays are pretty awful," he says. Now his elder son introduces him to new music.

One recent job Hewlett did not decline was designing special edition Absolut vodka bottles – in supermarkets now – following Andy Warhol, David Shrigley and Damien Hirst, who have also made their mark on the spirit. He created characters epitomising high points of London fashion, taking in the 18th-century and a Dickensian dandy, a pinstriped gent, Sixties chick, punk, ska and 1980s casual. An accompanying game will be launched through Facebook. "I identify with the ska guy – I tried to adopt the look myself but my parents wouldn't buy me the necessary clobber," he says. He remembers his teenage years with relief that they are over. "I grew up doubting myself. It was a very spotty, frustrating, worrying time."

He went to art college, before being rejected from Kingston Polytechnic by an interviewer who thought graphic art inferior to other genres. He thinks snobbery towards graphic art remains strong. "Some comic artists I've known are better than most contemporary artists with work hanging in Tate Modern. But then, there are a lot of crappy artists around now." He thinks it's easy to fake – "the market is flooded with charlatans" – and while he admires the stencil artist Banksy, he finds the "army of copiers" in his wake "ridiculous". "And they're all considered legitimate artists," he says, baffled.

Hewlett took a job on a computer magazine, drawing one illustration a month for £50, inspired by artists including Ronald Searle, who died last December, and Chuck Jones, creator of Daffy Duck and Wile E Coyote. His work proved popular, and he created the counter-culture Tank Girl comic strips for the now-defunct magazine Deadline. The comic strips were so popular they were published internationally, and Tank Girl caught the eye of Hollywood. Hewlett, then 22, was dazzled by movie-machine star treatment, and agreed to a feature film starring Lori Petty in the lead role. But he disliked the end result; a feeling shared by cinema audiences. "Hollywood buys into this cool character, but ultimately didn't want to do it the way I wanted," he says. "I wasn't aware until too late I was losing control."

The experience was so unsatisfying that while directing a film is one of Hewlett's ambitions, he's hesitant to see work diluted into disappointment. "I need to find a way of retaining creative control," he says. That wariness led to Hewlett and Albarn meeting three major Hollywood studios in Gorillaz's heyday, and writing two scripts, yet pulling out when studios said their vision was too dark.

Instead the pair made Monkey: Journey to the West, in 2006, which played at the Royal Opera House and is the project of which Hewlett is most proud. "I never intended to do stage designs or design costumes, but I really enjoyed it," he says.

Equally, he never intended to direct videos, as he did with Gorillaz. But, while drawing is his speciality, he says he has no fear of exploring different media to bring ideas to life. "I'm always having ideas," he says. "I'd like to continue being able to realise the ideas I have."

His time off, working on his own projects, marks a new chapter. "I'm not bothered about doing something as successful as Gorillaz because I doubt that will happen. I want to do stuff that excites me and is enjoyable," he says. At the moment he is enjoying writing. "I'm lost in my own little world, but eventually it will have to be shaped."

It will be interesting to see what form Hewlett's "couple of years off" takes.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices