Four Corners – an interview with Mark Culmer

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Boyee! Writing this piece has made me feel old. According to legend, hip-hop, born in the Bronx at a party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue on 11 August 1973, is fast approaching middle age and its 42nd birthday this year. It’s incredible to think back on the enormous impact this ghetto-borne, cultural phenomenon has had on our society and how influential it has become in music, culture and beyond. Like many powerful genres, it has its good and bad sides, and ups and downs, but certainly there are many who were inspired by the golden age of hip-hop in the 1980’s and 90s. Our profiled designer this month is one such person who found huge inspiration for his art and craft in the lyrics of the hip-hop legends, Public EnemyMost of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp” a sample taken from the lyrics of the group’s 1989 release “Fight The Power” proved to be the catalyst for his Golden Era poster and t-shirt designs and the foundation of his online merchandising platform. (It was also how I first became aware of his work, as I too was inspired  –albeit in a different manner – to design and petition Royal Mail with a range of stamps featuring Black historical figures and their contribution to Britain.) So without further ado, all you b-boys and b-girls in the house, please make some noise for Mark Culmer, aka Madina.

Madina (centre) with Public Enemy's Chuck D and S1W's James Bomb
Madina (centre) with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and S1W James Bomb

Profile: Mark Culmer aka Madina, graphic designer, entrepreneur

What’s your background?

I’m a designer and massive hip-hop fan. I grew up in Kent, UK and studied art and design in London. “Madina” was a nickname given to me by my friends after listening to Tone Loc’s Funky Cold Medina. The name stuck and eventually became my graff tag.

How did you get started in design?

I studied Fine Art, Design, Animation & Photography at college in London. After college I worked for a small local web design company, which gave me the opportunity to learn how to build and design websites. This led to me being able to create my own websites and eventually an online shop/outlet for my designs. 

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What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

One of the hardest things was getting my work seen and getting close to those circles of people who influenced me so much when I was younger. I held these people in such high esteem I was under the impression they were unapproachable. It wasn’t until more recent times that I realised that this was quite the opposite and that most of these musicians are eager to support other creatives. Twitter was massively helpful for me in terms of getting in contact with the artists that feature in the designs. 

Who and/or what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Hip-hop has heavily influenced me… the lyrics, the art/graffiti artists… I like colour and I like unique designs. I tried staying away from what was popular to avoid, in graff terms, “biting”.

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What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

The piece that got me noticed was the Golden Era stamps design, inspired by the Public Enemy quote. When Public Enemy’s Chuck D contacted me and complimented the design that was encouragement enough for me to continue with this venture. It was a real privilege to get his acknowledgment and approval and felt like a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

What would be your dream project?

My dream project would be to create an animated short – possibly for a music video. I studied Character Animation at London Animation Studios at Central Saint Martins in London. I thoroughly enjoyed the course but feel I have not used the skills I learnt as much as I’d like, to date.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Dan Lish, an amazing illustrator and friend who has been similarly interested in and influenced by hip-hop music and culture. Dan’s illustrations are inspiring and I hope we’ll have a chance to collaborate together on future projects.

Madina with Chuck D
Madina with Chuck D

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

In the words of KRS-One: “you must learn…” and that would be my advice too. Learn and get involved in all aspects of the creative process, really get to know your own style and, if that’s the way you want to go, learn about the business sides of things. For a long time I didn’t branch out or make contacts. This was partly because I was either working for a company and or didn’t have the means. However, there is a lot of technology out there which makes marketing and sales a lot easier than it used to be and which individuals can learn and use for themselves… Adding strings to the bow keeps things interesting. I never tire of the learning aspect of my work.

What’s next for you?

My hope for the future is that I will continue to do more collaborative work with other hip-hop artists and producers.

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For more information visit: www.madina.co.uk

Network:

EUROPE:

THE VIEW FROM HERE is a photography exhibition, which will open during Photo London at Tiwani Contemporary Art gallery. The View From Here will present works by seven emerging international artists from Africa and the diaspora, many of whom will be showing in London for the first time. Runs 22 May – 27 June. Private View: 21 May 2015, 6:30 – 8:30pm. Please RSVP to info@tiwani.co.uk  

MAKING AFRICA presents a plethora of work cutting across a wide variety of media, such as the eyewear sculptures by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, the furniture of Cheik Diallo from Mali and the photography of Mozambican Mário Macilau and Nigerian J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere. It shows the architecture of Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Kunlé Adeyemi, remarkable cardboard city models by Bodys Isek Kingelez and animation art by Robin Rhode, a South African based in Berlin. All of the works presented are underpinned by a quest to address questions of material culture and everyday aesthetics – in short, questions of design. The objects show that design in Africa is understood on a much more inclusive level than in Western societies – and they are proof that this understanding can produce innovative new approaches to design. Runs until 13 September 2015 at Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany

THE CARIBBEAN:

SPLIT ENDS is a solo exhibition of work by Jamaican-born artist Sharon Norwood from her fascinating new series of the same name. Hosted by the Kirk Ke Wang Art Space in Tampa and curated by Danny Olda, the exhibition is set to open Friday, May 1, 2015. Split Ends is a personal exploration of the politics of hair.

THE US:

KEHINDE WILEY: A NEW REPUBLIC The works presented raise questions about race, gender, and the politics of representation by portraying contemporary African American men and women using the conventions of traditional European portraiture. The exhibition includes an overview of the artist’s prolific fourteen-year career and features sixty paintings and sculptures. Runs until May 24, 2015. Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 5th Floor.

BKLYN DESIGNS is Brooklyn’s premier design event showcasing a cross section of design, architecture and art. Founded by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in 2003, it was one of the first design fairs to shine a spotlight on the creative economy in Brooklyn and serves as an incubator for emerging designers as well as a platform for established brands producing a range of creative products. May 8–10, 2015
Brooklyn Expo Center,
 Greenpoint.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.


Jon Daniel is a London-based Independent Creative Director, Designer and Curator. For more information visit his website at www.jon-daniel.com or his blog at www.visual-intellectual.com.

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