Out of the ordinary

Christine Berrie’s observational sketches focus on mundane, commonplace objects – but does this, paradoxically, make her work remarkable? John Stones plugs into her style

Gas meters, dials, wires and cables, buttons and switches, electrical objects and structures – these are the unlikely objects of illustrator Christine Berrie’s desire. Displaying an almost evangelical zeal for these ordinary and overlooked objects of everyday life, Berrie appears genuinely delighted that people tell her that they have begun to notice them as a result of her drawings.

Why exactly these mundane objects should exert such an obsessional, even fetishistic, attraction is something that Berrie struggles to explain. ‘Perhaps it had something to do with living in London and going on the Tube. I saw all these electrical contraptions which made interesting drawings,’ she says. ‘It is something about the way that they are not designed to look good, but to be purely functional that appeals to me.’ Berrie also recalls being enthralled as a child in Glasgow by the technical drawings her father – a draughtsman for ICI – brought home from work.

While the objects Berrie draws may have been overlooked, the same could hardly be said of her. After specialising in illustration at Glasgow School of Art, she went on to the Royal College of Art, from where she graduated in 2002. Pentagram partner Angus Hyland came to her degree show and bought one of her books. Finding the tension between her ‘sweet, sensitive drawing style’ and the subject matter of the unsung industrial heroes of the office appealing, Hyland invited her to contribute to his book Hand to Eye: Contemporary Illustration. He then instigated the forthcoming exhibition of her work at Pentagram’s London offices – a display of drawings of functional office paraphernalia found on site. Hyland says: ‘As a show it’s conceptually quite strong – there will be a map of the location of the objects as much for the interest of our staff as anything else.’

So is her work art about design? Berrie is not sure, but says: ‘It seems to be designers who really like the drawings.’ As one of the designers who has bitten the bait, Hyland contends: ‘If something has no commercial use, it may as well be art.’

However, Hyland’s advocacy has already resulted in a major, as yet undisclosed, packaging commission from Cass Art, which is sponsoring the show. And Berrie has carried out assignments for The Guardian, The Big Issue, and German magazine Form.

Will Berrie ever tire of drawing light switches and the like? With a steely, almost trainspotterish, glint in the eye, she says: ‘No, I don’t think I will ever get bored – there are so many different ones to draw.’ The only thing that will change is that the drawings are set to become bigger, and Berrie might set aside the pencil for oil crayons and paint. Or that commercial success will get in the way.

Christine Berrie: Off the Wall runs from 31 January to 4 March at Pentagram Design, 11 Needham Road, London W11

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