The Prints of Things to Come

Artist Leo Boyd predicts the fate of mankind in new retro-futurist graphic exhibition at the Belfast Print Workshop

Leo Boyd has got it in for Belfast. As teeming locals flee, giant pigeons with laser eyes strafe a beleaguered Europa Hotel. City Hall is strangled by the coiling tentacles of a newly woken and palpably grumpy Kraken. Luckily all the police vans have been cross-pollinated with X-fighters.

This is the wonderful and frightening world of Leo Boyd: print-maker extraordinaire. His graphic universe is one where Japanese monster movies clash, often violently, with Filmation cartoons and romance comics, generally set against a recognisably realistic Northern Irish setting. It’s a post-modern potpourri of ray-guns; goldfish bowl helmets and sites of specific local interest.

I meet up with him in the Black Box, site of his previous show, and it becomes obvious, very quickly, that Boyd doesn’t hail from Northern Ireland. Yet his work is a skewed celebration of Belfast and certainly the most Belfast obsessed work I’ve seen that hasn’t been conjured up by a cross-community focus group. Why is this?

'I’ve always made work about where I am and that is probably to do with not being from the place that I’m living in. I think you see things that perhaps other people don’t.'

Does that mean you’re doomed to be constantly wandering the globe like a restless spirit, searching for inspiration?

'Only if that was the only thing I could do! I hope that I can do more than just “stuff that’s set in a place". But there is some really nice architecture here. You hear this stuff about "the place up North that nobody ever talks about", like the uncle they hide in the attic. But when you come here you find it’s just a city and it’s actually quite fascinating. But I’ve been here two years now and after two years you become more sophisticated.

'I think, initially, I made some quite obvious work, like, "Oh, here’s City Hall and here’s something smashing the crap out of it". After a while you learn more about the place and you start to tell better stories about the place.'

Boyd originally trained as a painter and there is a painterly quality to some of his work – the spidery lines, the sudden bold strokes, the inconsistencies of colour. There is a textural presence in his work not usually associated with the flat tonal planes of screen-printing.

'I always wanted to be a painter. I thought it would be a great idea. It’s sexy – but it takes a really long time to do a painting. When I was at Art College I was doing an oil painting for three years and it was just getting worse and worse but I knew there was something great in there so I just kept going at it. Eventually it ended up in a skip.'

'When I first started printing I had this sort of arrogance where I thought I knew what I was doing. I did two courses in Cork and a course in Berlin and I thought that’s it: I’m a genius printer! And then I came to the Belfast Print Workshop and did six months here and for all of that six months I basically made just crap work and I was getting more and more frustrated and it was getting worse and worse because I was on my own, just doing it, there was no one to ask.

'But after six months of pretty intensive, frustrating work I got to know what I was doing. A few months after that I had a show in the Black Box and those pieces were quite traditional prints, in the processing at any rate: nice colour overlays, nice paper, all cut to one size. And I thought I clearly know what I’m doing; I can show them to people. Now, of course they’re slightly embarrassing, they look flat and dead. And that’s good, by the very act of doing things you learn, and now I feel that I’ve reached the point where I’m not printing like a traditional printer but more like a painter.'

Boyd’s new show, The Prints of Things to Come, doesn’t lack for ambition – its premise is a prediction of the whole future of the world from now to some far flung unspecified date! That’s the imagination of mankind’s entire future history in twenty prints! How did he arrive at the idea?

'For the last 800 years there has been a tradition of telling the future in visual arts: the 1950s was classic for it – visions of people flying about in hover cars and living on the moon. I’m using these retro-futurist ideas to remix into new ideas of what the future could be like.'

Indeed it’s this retro-futurist construct that is the spine of Boyd’s work, the dislocation between imagined future worlds and the unpredictable realities of our lives today: no hover cars but the internet. Silver lame onesies with bolted on booties are not regularly seen on the streets of Northern Ireland but everybody has a phone that can take photographs and tell your car how to get you home when you’re lost.

Boyd’s Fisher Price fables occupy a space between the incredible technology that we all take for granted (wi-fi might as well be wizardry as far as I’m concerned) and the fanciful futurist notions of the past. His work is also extremely funny.

'The last show was entirely Belfast, this one is not going to be that so much – it’s more the entire history of the Western world. With most of my work I tend towards a dystopian vision but with this one I’m looking at utopias too. I think if you were to try and actually predict the future you would go a hundred years and there would be no more humans. But I’d like to keep it light, y’know? Prints of Things to Come – but with people still alive!'

The Prints of Things to Come exhibition runs at the Belfast Print Workshop from May 7 - 30.