Graham Atwell, known in the art world as ATTY, was a policeman in London and was in the corporate world in Australia before he got inspired by an elderly cat he and his partner, Romana, adopted.
Harvey, the 18-year-old feline, won a battle with a much younger cat, which impressed and also inspired Atwell to tackle his first art piece: a lion he of course named Harvey. It took Atwell approximately 150 hours to painstakingly finish the digital piece using a Wacom pad that cost him $100. Now his pieces are sold across the globe and at his gallery in Sydney, Australia, near the city's famed Opera House.
“He's a bit of a boss cat,” said Atwell of Harvey.
Atwell brings his “Animal Explosion USA Tour” to Suite 6, a gallery shared with Two Guns Espresso in Manhattan Beach, Thursday, Sept. 6, with a grand opening that he will attend from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 1.
When Atwell sells one of his pieces, he calls it the “adoption process,” never using the term sale. For each piece, he writes a short story about the animal, whether it's Theodore the hare, Harold the koala or George the American bald eagle. In essence, he treats his animal art pieces as if they're living beings.
“I always say you must be 100 percent sure if you want to adopt,” Atwell said. “If they are 90 percent, 'Don't do it. Save your money. Only do it if you know the animal is going to fit with you and your family's lifestyle'... I have refused to adopt three times in the past.'”
One of his clients is a CFO, a German man who makes his home with his family in China. A few months after the CFO adopted some of Atwell's animals, he emailed “Harold is Dead.”
The piece had been damaged by adhesive fluid when it was placed on a matte board. Eventually, Harold was returned to the family and found a prominent place in his penthouse. Atwell then received the message “Harold is Resurrected.” But in between, the two were exchanging messages such as “Harold has been shipped. He's in hibernation, he's on his way to you now. I put a few eucalyptus leaves in there to keep him going.”
After closely reading the email thread, the CFO wrote to Atwell: “If any of my staff could read this email, no one would take an order from me again... two grown men talking about an imaginary koala bear... but that's why you sell so many.”
Career before art
Atwell was based at the Paddington Green Police Station, a major holding center for suspected terrorists, when London was bombed by four terrorists, killing 52. Soon after his five-plus years with the police, he left for Australia where he was in the corporate world, consulting for eight years, when he got the art bug.
He first started “doodling” with acrylics until he put that Wacom pad to use. He uses photos that he buys from photographers to help outline his animals and get the correct proportions. Once he gets the outline he uses his technique he calls “scriggles and wiggles” to make the animals come to life with their own personalities.
He set up a pop-up shop for a month with seven animals and sold 66 prints in just four weeks. He was becoming so successful that he opened his own gallery in September 2016, and has sold more than 1,400 pieces with him working there alone.
On average it takes around 200 hours per piece, but his elephant took nearly 700 hours. He hopes to tackle a peacock in the future which he estimates could take 2 to 2,500 hours.
“Each work seems to be more detailed as I go along,” he said.
While Atwell has benefited financially from his newfound talent, it's also put him in the hospital. He suffers from embolisms in his lungs as a result of not moving for hours.
“Once you get into a zone it's kind of like, it sounds really weird, but it's quit hypnotic and you lose track of time because your sort of immersed in it,” he said. “You look down at your watch and you haven't moved for 12 hours.”
Atwell hopes to remedy that by hiring a full-time manager for his gallery and look into getting healthy again.
“I realized it's no point of having all this money if I'm going to be dead in five years time,” Atwell said.
Atwell's works will be for sale at Suite 6.
For more information, visit atty.com.au.