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Idealog's Most Creative: Artist Andrew J. Steel talks creativity

Andrew J. Steel was the People's Choice winner for Most Creative in Art/Photography in Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. Steel’s quirky illustrations can be seen in offices, on walls, on doors, on cars, on bodies, on airplane windows and many other places. He’s prolific and brilliant and, whether it’s to create magic for big brands like Air New Zealand, or for shops like I Love Ugly, he’s in hot demand (check out his recent personal project, BodyLandscape). Here, he discusses what inspiration looks like, why exercise is so important and New Zealand's innovative culture.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is viewing the world slightly different and transcending that into producing different or new things that haven't been seen or done before. There’s a thinking and a doing part.

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

I try to do a variety of different things and channel it into what I do. I run, read, travel, hit some yoga, push myself in different directions then make some art. I try to approach arts how others don’t, which helps me think and produce differently.

What first drew you to your chosen field?

I grew up skateboarding and saw the world as a playground. From here, I took this view of playing with and adding to the environment, into the arts and gravitated towards street based artworks. I love how quickly art on walls can send messages and change a space.

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

I’m from small town New Zealand, from a working class family. My parents did their best, but my childhood was shaped by house fires, adultery and suicide, which really impacted what material goods, relationships and mental health meant to me. I see silver linings and lessons in all of these experiences.

Where do your best ideas come from?

Ideas are worthless until actioned.

What does inspiration look like for you?

Someone who's healthy, wealthy and wise; and always has time to take calls from close friends and family.



Steel's recent BodyLandscape series with photographer Matt Quérée

Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

You are what you repeatably do - Aristotle.

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

From what I see around me, hard work, creative thinking and success seem to correlate.

Creativity is viewing the world slightly different and transcending that into producing different or new things that haven't been seen or done before. There’s a thinking and a doing part.

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?

Everything’s a lesson. I think I cared too much what people thought and was too held back by this. Now, I like to listen and get feedback, but don't hold back on my ideas.

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

I’m very obsessive. I’m all in with everything I do, and I work too hard all the time. I'm looking a smarter and healthier ways to conduct my arts practice for 2018. I want to leave a legacy, but don’t want to die trying.

What’s the secret to resilience?  

Talking to people, physical exercise, being realistic what your thoughts and feelings and how things are going. You cant fake that.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

I’ve worked with some of the world's best brands, painted some of the largest scale artworks in New Zealand and painted private commissions for our counties most forward thinking home owners. My project with BoConcept this year was a high for 2017; it helped raise some money for Life Line charity, I got to align with a leading design brand so it was both commercially and socially a winner.


Andrew Steel x BoConcept

What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

I think we have a highly innovative culture. Being small, we need to be resourceful, work with what we’ve got and this drives diversity. In biology, we see similar patterns and correlations with island biogeography. Conversely, we can be a bit limited by lingering tall-poppy syndrome and people can be quick to critique rather than support.

What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?

Dreams don’t work unless you do.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Health is wealth and happiness is the best currency.

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?

Work less, travel more, see my friends more, create more valuable and meaningful artwork.

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