How We Met: Ricky Wilson & Sarah Graham


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The Independent Online

Ricky Wilson, 34

Wilson formed the band Kaiser Chiefs with his schoolfriends in 1996; they released five albums and had hit singles including 'I Predict a Riot' and 'Ruby'. He lives in north London.

Me and my band were making our third album [Off With Their Heads], and when it got to the artwork I felt like it should be a life-like painting of an orange. I typed "photo-realistic fruit" into Google and Sarah's name came up, so I emailed her to see if she was interested. What I didn't realise was how much cover art went for – it's £10,000 or something, which at the time was too much. I was so embarrassed I didn't email her again for six months.

Now I'm always getting her on to guest lists and backstage. She always has loads of people with her and they form a line to meet us; it's like being the Queen. She's kind of used me, too, to get to Gary [Barlow], who's on the same label as us – she's a massive fan. At one charity concert I did with him, I took her to the side when [Barlow] was about to go on. She was properly shaking when I said, "Gary, I'd like you to meet Sarah." I couldn't get any words out of her she was shaking so much. Though I reckon it went a long way to her doing one of her 10k paintings for our new album.

She's totally different to me; she's ditzy and loud and from Hitchin – which she doesn't stop talking about; every word she says is followed by "Bitchin in Hitchin". But she's also funny and down-to-earth; if I could paint like she can I'd be showing off about it, yet she's so unassuming about her talent.

People say, "Photorealism: why don't you just take a photo of it?" But it's about taking something mundane, like the lollies she paints, and elevating it to the status of something more. It's not the kind of art I'm into personally – I'm more into abstract stuff than figurative – but there's something about the way she does it which is fun and brings the object alive. And in that respect it matches our band totally; it's hyper-real, enjoying itself.

You can get used to doing anything – painting an amazing picture of sweets, being in a rock band – and you get to the point that you don't realise what you're doing is amazing any more. Until, that is, someone like Sarah points it out, and then you realise what you are capable of. She helps me take a step back from it all.

Sarah Graham, 34

A painter specialising in photorealism, Graham reproduces everyday objects, particularly confectionery, in minute detail, in her work. She lives in Hitchin with her husband.

Ricky sent me an email in the spring of 2008 about producing an album cover. It was potentially huge for me, as I'd only just had my first piece of work published. But after that first email I didn't hear back from him, and I was really disappointed. Six months after the album came out, Ricky came into the gallery where my work was showing, got hold of my contact details and arranged to meet in a pub in Leeds – I think he felt guilty.

He's a visual person with a quirky style and I remember sitting down and seeing all these badges on his long coat, which I've since added to – he's a badge nut. I had the album with me at the time and I said, "Sign this for me, please – at least I'll be getting something [from the album]!" And he said, "What do you think of it?" All I could think was that it could have been my work on there. It turns out it was his design. We got on really well, though, and he began inviting me to loads of gigs. He'd take me backstage and big me up to people. He was like, "This is Sarah Graham and I've got to get her work out there." It only took him four years!

After art, my second passion in life is music and I see a lot of bands. But Ricky in particular has an insane stage presence. He's always climbing on stuff or running out to the audience to sing among them. My friend Lisa once asked him after a gig, "What is it you're thinking when you're on stage?" and he replied, "I want every single person in the audience to be enjoying themselves and if I see one person with a miserable face I will deliberately sing at them to get them cheered up."

The idea of featuring a stick of rock on the album cover [of new album Souvenir] was Ricky's, but he thought of me to paint it as my speciality is painting photorealistic sweets. Doing an album cover is the sort of thing I've always dreamt about.

How has he managed to keep his feet on the ground? It's his personality. He does come out with some [showbiz] stuff occasionally – though mostly he's joking. I was taking some portrait shots of him the other day – in torrential rain – and I put some sunglasses on him and said, "Do you normally wear sunglasses in the rain?" and he said, " Je suis un rock star – I wear them in the bath!"

The Kaiser Chiefs' new album, 'Souvenir: The Singles 2004 -2012', with cover artwork by Sarah Graham, is out on 4 June on Fiction Records (