Q&A: Tony Cribb

Christchurch artist Tony Cribb tells What’s Hot New Zealand how his hugely popular Tin Man creation was a happy accident that now has a life of its own.

Is Tin Man based on anyone you know? For around the first 200 paintings (currently there are 935) Tin Man was very much my alter ego. A lot of the paintings are random silly things, but some things that happened to me personally would end up in a painting. For example, one day I went for a run in the Port Hills and everything was bliss, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was feeling great. Then a small bug flew into my mouth. This became the painting Tin Man 331 The Day He Filled His Lungs With Love, Freedom, And A Small Bug. Then I realised that Tin Man reminded other people of their own memories – they believed they were him, so I let that happen. Tin Man became his own person, one who could evoke memories for other people.

Did you ever anticipate the popularity of Tin Man? Tin Man was very much a beautiful accident when he started, padding out an exhibition in 2004 when I quickly needed more work, so I was completely surprised when the first three I made all sold straight away (none of my other paintings sold!). So I made a few more. That was 15 years ago, and he’s still going strong! I’m very surprised (and thankful) that Tin Man was cute and quirky enough to become popular with people of all ages.

Where do you source inspiration for your artworks? Ideas are varied and come from many sources. There are random conversations that I have with people, ideas that I really want to focus on and make a point with, and often as I’m drifting off to sleep my brain loses itself to creativity. So I always have a pen and paper by the bed. Plus there are so many ridiculous paintings too, often from sleep deprivation.

Do you have one favourite piece of artwork you’ve created? There are so many, but one in particular that stands out is Tin Man Loses Hope. Tin Man is busy looking through his drawers in search of Hope – when in fact the word was left under his bed. I love creating artworks where there is an element of hope, and in this case Tin Man was simply looking in the wrong place. This was from my own adventures with depression, and I think the following sentence will sum things up nicely: “Inevitably we will on occasion misplace a sock, or the can opener, or hope. When this happens – remember to stay calm, make a cuppa tea, and look under the bed.”

Your work has been described as “quirky with a dark sense of humour”. How would you describe it? Yes, definitely quirky with a dark sense of humour. However it’s grown more than that now. I love pushing different styles of artwork, whether they be illustrative, realistic or abstract – the common thread is that hope is ever present, and doing it with a bit of humour makes it more satisfying. If I can put a smile on someone’s face, then my job is done.

Have you ever been star-struck by another artist? I have many friends whose work I admire and respect. But if I were ever to meet Oliver Jeffers, then you wouldn’t wipe the smile off me for infinity.

On Sundays you’ll find me… Hanging out with my wife and two boys, wherever and whatever that may be!

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing? Without a doubt I’d be a Professional Crastinator. I’d like to think I’m well suited for that job. When I was a kid I thought being a TV presenter on What Nowwould have been cool. Back in the real world, I’m not sure – hopefully I’d be doing something that made a difference!

Who is your favourite artist? I might blend these people into one if that’s allowed – Oliver Jeffers, Jim Henson, Gary Larson, Colin McCahon and Michael Leunig.

If you could hold an exhibition of your work anywhere in the world, where would it be? I guess the moon is out of the question then. Which makes sense, as all my artworks would float away…