Written by Joanna Neary


The Unsolved Pencil Case: Adam Buxton

Welcome to the first instalment of Joanna Neary’s adventures with people in the arts and their associated materials. Including pencil cases. This week, we meet the comedian, writer, broadcaster, actor and art school graduate, Adam Buxton.

Pages from Adam Buxton’s sketchbooks, kindly supplied by him.

I love meeting other people who went to art school and who are still being creative.

Firstly, we can have fun comparing far-fetched and yet familiar stories about students’ work, how shallow yet intense we all were, and the stress we put the tutors under. Secondly, lots of puzzle pieces fall into place.

When Adam Buxton told me he’d studied sculpture and proved it by producing a brilliantly executed cardboard robot helmet thing, his comedy, recording, filming and writing suddenly made sense, possibly for the first time to anyone, anywhere, ever.

Buxton’s work is so unmistakably his. It’s his art, isn’t it? Also he was sitting in his studio, surrounded by art materials, including TV screens, musical equipment and 500 corks (just in case of creative need) and with a number of labour-intensive projects on the go. ‘That’s pretty art school, that is,’ I deduced.

Hello Adam. What made you choose to go to art college?

I was doing an English Lit degree at Warwick and it turned out not to be what I was hoping for, plus for various complicated reasons I wasn’t eligible for a grant so I couldn’t really afford to be there and I left after one term.

Up to that point I’d never been encouraged to take art seriously, but I was going out with a girl I met at work (a restaurant in the West End of London) and she was applying and so I applied too because I wanted to be with her. Unfortunately I failed to get into the place she applied for so I ended up somewhere else. I was gutted. She was relieved.

What was your degree in and would you choose that course again?

I did sculpture because where I studied you could do more or less anything (performance, video, installation, whatever) and you could call it sculpture.

If I could choose again I’d do a course in which I could draw all the time. I’d love to get really good at that. I used to be quite good, but I stopped after a while and I regret it. Sculpture was fun though and probably just right for a silly person like me. I was introduced to a lot of artists and ideas that are still important to me today.

What one thing did you learn about yourself at art college that’s been useful in your post-grad life?

Steer clear of the Fashion department.

Did your comedy or creative work that you do now resemble your work at college at all?

It was very similar. One of the tutors assessing my degree said they were worried I was using the course as a stepping stone to get into TV. I think they meant I was a little egomaniac who didn’t care about art.

They were half right, I think. I do care about art. Back then (in the 90s) the world of fine art was still suspicious of work that had a humorous aspect to it. Humour and fine art were considered mutually exclusive.

I think a lot of people still hold that prejudice. Being funny is not high art, it’s an appeal to something base. Sometimes I think that’s true and other times I think it’s balls.

Yes, I remember funny work being held in very low regard on my performing arts degree. People laughed at my gurning face when I was trying to be poignant. After a few years I thought, sod this, I’m doing comedy.

adam buxtonWhat single bit of advice would you give to a young person wanting to go to art college now?

Do it, if you can, but don’t be a flake! Fill as many sketchbooks with ideas and doodles as you can, then keep them safe. Then you can spend the rest of your life figuring out what to do with the good ideas and try to avoid acting on the bad ones.

That is brilliant advice. Thank you Adam Buxton. And thanks for the sketchbook pages you sent through, too. You can find more of his comedy and art here.


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Written by Joanna Neary

One of Standard Issue’s super-talented bunch of illustrators. www.joneary.com @MsJoNeary