Meet the Maker: Hamish Robertson of Vacation Days

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I recently spent an afternoon with publisher, proprietor, and bon vivant, Hamish Robertson, to discuss his affinity for his adopted city and how its diverse culture and layered landscape helped shape his most recent project, Future Desert...

Who (are you)?: My name is Hamish Robertson. I'm an artist and editor originally from York, in the North of England.

Where (do you work)?: Evenings and weekends in a studio in my apartment, in Los Feliz, and sometimes at the weekends from Broome Street General.

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What led you to start designing the Future Desert prints?
Honestly, I think I started the first series as a form of creative therapy. Los Angeles is pretty intense on the senses—in a really good way—especially for a recent transplant. As a maker, so much newness is heaven but it's also overwhelming. I set myself the project of isolating the shapes, found objects, and elements that were really interesting to me and composed them in stark isolation, so as to draw as much attention as possible to something that could otherwise have been overlooked.

I'm fascinated by that negative space. It was the theme of the first issue of Afterzine, an arts and culture journal I edit and publish (when I can). It featured a fascinating conversation with the designer Peter Saville about his cover art for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures LP, about how the black negative space around the now iconic radio pulsar waves in the middle are as important as the white lines so commonly mis-reproduced on countless knock-off t-shirts.

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Composing intentional, perhaps forced, simplicity is a really good creative workout—it brings a satisfied clarity to both your thoughts and your work. I try for my photo collage technique to be really subtle. Los Angeles is, in its own way, a city made by a collage of neighborhoods, and each one has a really clear, defined identity. I wanted the images to draw from that.

As a native Angeleno, I was very pleased to discover someone who only recently moved here immediately captured the spirit and aesthetic of Southern California in the detailed minutiae, more than hinting at the inverse vastness of where these natural elements can be found, alongside the architectural undercurrent throughout. Were the designs influenced by (a) place and experience, or more reflective of an outlining concept?
A little of both would be a fair answer.

You're a recent transplant. What's your take on the differences between how people live here vs "there" (wherever "there" may be).
For me there are two main differences, but they can probably be summed up with different interpretations of the same word: community. I moved here last year after a decade in New York City, living in Manhattan and then Brooklyn. For every amount that New York City is cut-throat and competitive, Los Angeles is encouraging and collaborative. I haven't met anyone here who feels Los Angeles competes with New York City, but there is still an eagerness and spirit to advance the city and its product.

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That's probably a good segue to my second point, architecture. I'm far from knowledgeable about architecture but even a casual observer spots the intention of so much California living to be "with" nature, rather than against it. Living is New York City is a struggle against nature—you're either keeping it out when it's cold and dirty or trying to neutralize it when it's stiflingly hot. Even the sidewalk weeds have a hard time of it. Central Park is okay, but it feels so man-made, groomed. Prospect Park would be better but for the litter.

California has embraced nature. Or it's just so beaten by it that it surrendered with a smile on its face. That open invitation to live with nature was another big inspiration for taking man-made textures and shapes and fusing them with natural forms in my Future Desert works.

Where in Los Angeles have you find yourself drawn to? Any secret spots?

I think I'm happiest playing tennis in Griffith Park, or wandering Huntington Gardens, or the Norton Simon Museum. I'm a huge Japanophile, so my favorite store is Tortoise on Abbot Kinney. I love Arcana in Culver City, too; it reminds me of Japan as much as Tortoise does. My favorite food is probably at Cafe Habana in Malibu—a nod to my old neighborhood regular spot in its NYC sister location.
Which other Los Angeles designers, artists or creatives do you admire or find inspiration from?
As a Yorkshireman I'd be remiss to not mention the inimitable David Hockney. Otherwise, Mike Mills, John Baldessari, Miranda July, David Lynch, Beck, and Barbara Bestor.

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My maker-friends are really inspiring to me too—Ben Jones (artist, ADHD), Rob Greene (Greene Exhibitions), Bobby Solomon and Kyle Fitzpatrick (The Fox Is Black & LA I'm Yours respectively)—all juggle commercial endeavors with their own personal practice which is something I really relate to since by day I am the digital design editor at Vanity Fair magazine.

What's on the horizon for Vacation Days?

I've just launched our first apparel item—a silk scarf depicting Griffith Park (below), on I collaborated with Karen Mabon from England’s Red Brick. I've been prototyping my own textiles for a year or so, too, which I expect to come together in the next few months.
I've more Future Desert prints, notecards, and wrapping paper in the works involving bark, marble, and natural dyes. I've penciled in a few more published book and unbound portfolios, too. Let's just say more things aren't checked off on my list than are!
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Where can we find your work?
Many of my artwork prints are available in the arts annex of Skylight Books here in Los Angeles, and I'm planning to contact other local stores in August. Some of my printed projects are available at the Tate Modern in London, Opening Ceremony in New York, Colette in Paris, and Playmountain in Tokyo.

Thank you, Hamish!

(Images: Gregory Han; Hamish Robertson)