“All artists are storytellers, and we need stories to understand who we were are in the world,” says Russell Tovey. “If you cut off funding to the arts, or dampen them in any way, you’re cutting off our ability to know what it is to be alive.”
The actor and art aficionado, who co-hosts the podcast Talk Art, is speaking to me ahead of the launch of his collaboration with Bombay Sapphire, which has seen him commission three emerging artists to design the labels for a trio of limited-edition bottles of Bombay Bramble gin, flavoured with autumnal blackberries and raspberries.
The three creative talents – Alfie Kungu, Charlotte McDonald and Rose Electra Harris, all selected as part of the brand’s ‘Ripe for Discovery’ campaign – struck Tovey as showing enormous potential to become household names. “I love discovering emerging artists at a point when a collaboration like this could be really fundamental to their practice – this kind of exposure really changes the game for them,” he explains.
Known for his vibrant, energetic works, often created using ink on silk to create a sense of fluidity, Kungu piqued Tovey’s interest with his ability to blur boundaries of both theme and medium. “The pieces are abstract but there is figuration in there,” says Tovey. “The way he connects with materiality is really exciting.”
McDonald’s paintings, which Tovey discovered while judging an emerging-artists prize in Derbyshire, are characterised by their heavy brushstrokes and skilful play on texture, colour and form. Her abstract works are, he explains, “imagined landscapes but rooted in her growing up in Scotland”.
Harris, whom Tovey describes as “one of the nicest and most creative people I’ve ever met”, is influenced by artists such as Henri Matisse, David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Jonas Wood and Betty Woodman. Having been brought up surrounded by an eclectic selection of furniture, ceramics and other household ephemera (her father was an antiques dealer), she now makes colourful prints featuring domestic interiors filled with diverse objects from her everyday life. “There’s no hierarchy in her work – it’s all a celebration, with nothing overlooked,” says Tovey.
A close collaborative process between Tovey and the artists (“I was there at every stage, seeing their work and giving my thoughts on the composition”) resulted in the creation of three original pieces of art that consumers will be able to admire in their entirety on specially created tote bags available at Selfridges. A section of each work was then chosen to appear on the labels of the Bombay Bramble bottles, also available at the department store and online as a limited-edition range that can be personalised with the recipient’s name.
As well as boosting the profile and visibility of three young creatives, Bombay Sapphire has made a £10,000 donation to the Artists’ Benevolent Fund – a charity dedicated to assisting new art graduates – and will contribute six per cent of proceeds from the first 3,000 bottles. For Tovey, this aspect of the project is particularly important. “If you can step in this point in an artist’s career, it can be fundamental. I had that myself when I was a young actor – you can’t underestimate the importance of positivity, encouragement and enthusiasm, not to mention financial support,” he says. “I feel proud to be a conduit for this kind of talent.”