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Alex Machin - Illustrator

Whilst in Cambodia on our 2019 trip, Steven - later to become the co-founder of Bopha School - wore an interesting t-shirt.

It was an illustration of his face (yes he’s the embodiment of a shrinking violet) and underneath it read “Alcoholypse Now”.

Please see picture below.

“Nice t-shirt,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied.

“Who did it?” I asked.

“Al Machin,” he said.

He then relayed the story of Alex Machin, the creator of the original Kraken drawing, commissioned by Stranger and Stranger, whose art became the iconic label image that wraps its tentacles around Kraken Dark Rum.

Alex had joined one of Steve’s cycling tours in Cambodia a few years earlier and having found inspiration in Steve’s quietly humble personality, created the piece of art.

Alex wearing the t.shirt he designed.

Since then, on various trips, that t-shirt would pop up. Mainly on The Shrinking Violet but more often than not, on our Cambodian Bopha lead, Phea, as you can see in the picture he has modelled below.

Anyway, when sourcing my artists for the Bopha School of Art Night, it was a no-brainier to contact Alex and ask if he’d consider donating a piece.

And Alex did better than that.

He kindly donated a framed print (as he works predominantly with digital imagery these days) called “Flamenco”:

And a collage that he made especially for us called “Reasons To be Cheerful”:

And finally the actual - Original - drawn - by - his - very - Own - hand ——- - -… Kraken!!!

This illustration he framed next to a print of the Kraken Dark Rum Label.

Then to top it off, Alex came all the way to the Isle of Wight to deliver it.

This is the sort of amazing people that the Bopha School Project seems to attract.

Alex, who had grown up with a love of drawing, attended Medway College of Design. He specialised in illustration, then went to London where he got a job at Saatchi & Saatchi.

“It was a learning curve for me,” Alex said when I asked him what it was like. “All this money was swooshing around and I wasn’t ready for it. If I’m honest, I found it all a bit distasteful, arrogant and wasteful. I stayed for a while, gained as much experience as I could then left.”

At this point Alex left advertising for good and instead moved into the world of design. Here, where his art could flourish, he found his feet. “I joined a lovely design company and made some brilliant friends,” he tells me. “It was in Shoreditch, round the back of Old Street. It was the early 80s, buzzy and really authentic.”

Later Alex decided to go freelance and that’s what he’s been doing ever since. Here is just a TINy Selection of his work.

“What makes you feel inspired?” I asked.

“All sorts of things,” he replied.

“Landscapes, mountains, the sea. Beautiful trees. Sheer craftsmanship. Beautiful brickwork. The other day I was watching these bricklayers putting a wall together. The pleasure in watching them – the craft of making a fantastic wall! I loved it.

I watch my friend Bob playing his sax and that simplicity really inspires me. Medieval paintings, the geniuses of illustration, the late 18th and 19th Century period with the American artists and 20th century Picasso. This is what inspires me. It's like a drug to me. I soak it in.”

To me, Alex’s description of his inspiration sounds like poetry itself. He literally sees the world through eyes of Art. It’s beautiful.

“What words of wisdom would you share with would-be artists and creatives?” I was interested to know.

He replied, “You’ve been given a gift – so share it. You’re given what you’re given so use it for good. Don’t cloud it with ego. Don’t big it up too much because people aren’t always interested.”

“Enjoy your life and keep looking and watching. Keep looking at great art because it’s the only way you’ll learn. Go and look at beautiful paintings. Buy beautiful books. If you are into cartoons, go and find cartoons that make you laugh. Go and study what makes a drawing work. Unpick it. What’s it saying to you? Find out what you love about what you love. Enjoy it. Keep learning always.”

On November 12th 2022, it was the Bopha School of Arts Auction night. We had commission bids in on Flamenco and the Kraken and a bidding war for both. “Reasons to be Cheerful sold for a good price. All three pieces raised a grand total of £1320.00

Kraken was won by The True Food Kitchen in Ventnor.

And do you know what’s kind of nice about this?

Firstly it means that anyone visiting the restaurant can get to see Alex’s famous artwork right there on the wall.

But secondly, they’re going to design a special cocktail using Kraken Dark Rum in celebration of the icon, without whom, one of the most famous rum labels in the world would not exist -the poetic and artful - Alex Machin.

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