Gareth is originally from the UK, with Welsh routes and heritage. He originally trained as a designer and then, over thirty years ago, he found his passion for education, both teaching shared ideas and learning new things every day.
He worked in Kazakhstan for nearly nine years in a wide variety of educational settings; from new government initiatives, universities and international schools through to volunteering with young people and adults in the regions and in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. In 2018 he was awarded a gold medal for his contribution to Design Education in Kazakhstan.
He is a well-respected photographer and writer, documenting his travels and encounters He regularly exhibits his art work, contributes articles to journals and online publications and has recently been able to focus on writing and illustrating children’s books – the first of which will be published in the Summer of 2020.
Following his heart means that he is shortly heading back to the region and new adventures in Uzbekistan, where he is looking forward to meeting new people and hopes to continue to develop and share his experiences.
OCA: Tell us about yourself and your activity / work?
GS: When you are asked to tell people about yourself and what you do it should be easy to answer but as I get older, I find my life has so many facets that there is no simple answer. Technically I am a teacher, which I have been doing all over the world for over thirty years. Initially I trained as a designer – solving problems and developing creative solutions. I suppose that is what I do in my teaching too, only I get to do it with open minded and ingenious young people. I am also a writer, artist and entrepreneur, encouraging other people to develop their own work and ideas. The confidence to do these things only really came about after moving to Central Asia. I felt I could really make a difference and the people’s enthusiasm and positivity was infectious and really got under my skin. I was able to set up my own company and move away from a traditional 9 to 5 existence. With the support of amazing colleagues, I was able to undertake projects training teachers, developing older students, even some acting and voice over work and supporting traditional artists in expanding their work. For the past two years I carried out similar work (on a smaller scale) in India and I am sure that where ever I go, I will focus on helping others. I have grand plans for the future so watch this space!
OCA:What is “Eurasianism” for you?
GS: I have always considered myself as European, but it was only when I moved to Kazakhstan nearly ten years ago that I realised how insular even that label was. Central Asia is an amazing place with stunning landscapes, untapped culture and history and the warmest people. I also found the amazing connections that exist linking east and west. Whether it is the history of nomadic tribes, the artistic culture or agriculture there is so much to link us. Central Asia is almost the common glue that holds it together. I am ashamed to say how little I knew about the region but the more I learnt the more I realised the commonality and the opportunities there are culturally.
OCA: What are your favourite artists?
GS: Art has always been in my blood, I remember winning a drawing competition when I was about five years old and my work being put on the wall at school – its lovely being praised for something I enjoy doing. Through my formal training I studied Art History and visited some of the great museums, but it was coming across artists unexpectedly that have made their biggest mark on me. An exhibition of Japanese Art in London in the 1980s introduced me to print makers, an exhibition of Hundertwasser’s work, Picasso’s paintings done as a child, Raoul Dufy’s amazing theatre work all have their influence, but it is often the little-known book illustrators who have had the most influence. Everyday pictures held in your hand rather than on a gallery wall, the graphic novel or even the familiar ladybird book and also the film poster or vinyl LP cover, these have been the real inspiration to me. I am now able to bring together experiences and techniques in a much more confident and complete manner – it’s only taken me fifty years!
OCA:Have you taken part in the events of the Eurasian Creative Guild (London)?
GS: I always seem to be working or travelling when the London events are on – It is a poor excuse as I follow the extensive calendar of events that ECG deliver and this year I intend to be at a number of the events – I am particularly looking forward to the Literary Festival and the Film festival. That is a promise!
OCA:What does the Eurasian Creative Guild mean to you, and how did it affect your creativity / activity?
GS: The Eurasian Creative Guild has been a great support and encouragement to me in my work. It has also been a great way to meet authors and other creative people in the Central Asian region. In Kazakhstan we regularly held meetings to discuss the work of the group and to share the work of individuals. It also gave me an excuse to read new works when I was asked to proof read translations or to review works. The insight this has given me into the publishing word has spurred me on to analyse my ideas and complete my own works. Getting the novel out of one’s head is the hardest thing but meeting other ECG members has been a real catalyst for me.
OCA:Do you have any personal project that you would like to talk about?
GS: As an artist I have always been fascinated by the link between the visual work and the story that the artist is trying to tell. As I have already mentioned I love the book illustrators bringing works to life and so I decided to produce a number of illustrated children’s books – these are recent, and I have had to put my short stories and the novel on the back burner for the time being. They are all based around the relationship between nature and man and the relationships between different animals. They have been produced during my time in India and have a more ‘tropical’ feel but I hope to continue the series when I move back to Central Asia later in the year. The first one will be published this summer and is about the relationship between an Egret and a Cow! Although I am a teacher, I had to test the books out on a new younger audience, including my nephew in the UK, and I had to rethink what I wanted to get across in the illustrations without destroying the readers own imagination.
OCA:What projects have you participated in and in which do you plan to participate?
GS: Over the coming twelve months I plan to set up an arts centre and gallery where students can come and learn new techniques and display their work. I am also determined to reinstate a number of exhibitions of my own that were cancelled due to the global situation. These include a series of portraits of everyday people I have met in my travels – each has a story to go with it and I am using a number of traditional techniques in a modern way. I also hope to continue writing, there are a number of other children’s books in the pipe line and the ‘novel’ is itching to be released from my mind too!
OCA:What would you wish the members of the Guild, just starting their career?
GS: We are entering a very different world, where I hope that the value of creativity and particularly writing will be seen as more important. The last few months have made people revisit their old record collections, view art in virtual galleries and share their favourite classic books. These people are now looking for their new classic book – an inspiration or a gripping tale that they can share in the future. Now is the perfect time to get your story into print, your film script polished or your art exhibition ready . I know how hard it is to take that leap of faith but with the help and support of the Guild you will find it is not as scary as you think. We are all rethinking our lives and if now is not the time when is?