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
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
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.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?