The Art of Ping Pong is now in its fifth year, continuing to conjoin the worlds of illustrative art and table tennis bats to raise money for various charities. This year’s line up of artists features names such as Mr. Bingo, Alison Carmichael, Mr. Doodle, Kev Monday and Saskia Pomeroy amongst others. We met with the founder and creative director of this charity-led campaign, Algy Batten, to discuss the beginning of TOAPP, why he has chosen Trekstock as this year’s charity partner and the this year’s added extra of using Everpress to create a series of collaborative tees.
What gave you the idea for the project originally?
I’ve always loved ping pong. When running Fivefootsix – the design agency I founded with Mark McConnachie – we were invited to enter a battle of the agencies tournament and we won! Turns out a few of the Fivefootsix crew were keen on ping pong too, so I bought a table for us at work and we all got pretty hooked on our ping pong.
Around the same time, I was running with Run Dem Crew and good friends with the founder Charlie Dark. We met each Tuesday evening in the Nike 1948 space in Shoreditch. Charlie knew I was a ping pong fan, as I’d often invite mates round to Fivefootsix after hours for ping pong and pizza. We had the idea to approach Nike to use the 1948 space for a ping pong tournament. The proposal, naturally, had to have an artistic twist so I suggested we had artists work on each of the four tables used to then be auctioned at the end of the evening for charity.
Sadly, Nike didn’t bite, but we decided to hold our own tournament at Fivefootsix for all the neighbouring companies to enter and to get to know each other. Some of the team thought it would be good if the event raised money for BBC Children in Need, as they were a client, and that’s when the illustrative bat idea came into play. And here we are four years later!
What is your background in terms of design?
I graduated about 20 years ago with a degree in graphic design and moved to London where I worked for a design agency called Browns. I’ve worked my way around the London design scene ever since. The most significant part of my career was setting up Fivefootsix in 2005 with Mark, which we ran until the end of 2015. I also worked in Switzerland for a couple of years, helping to set up an in-house design studio for Unicef.
What made you decide to partner with Trekstock as this year’s charity beneficiary?
I was introduced to Trekstock earlier this year by a friend of mine and it instantly resonated with me as, soon after we closed Fivefootsix, one of our project managers was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am very happy to say that she has come through that and is doing super well!
What is you favourite part of running such a well received project?
The creative freedom, the opportunity to build something free of client demands, the fact that our auctions give something back. It has allowed me to work with some brilliant artists!
How much of the process is curated by you?
When we ran it at Fivefootsix we all contributed towards the project, but since then it’s been just myself. In terms of delivering the whole project, I have great partners each year who contribute their bits, most importantly Roll who produce the amazing website for me.
How do you pick the designers for each campaign?
I tend to start with a core group of 10 that I would love to get involved, then I build up the list with artists that complement the initial selection and add variety.
This year you’re bringing t-shirts into the mix with a selection of artists. What made you decide to add this extra dimension to the campaign?
The exhibition needs to keep fresh each year, so I’m always looking at ways I can add a few layers. It was Kelly at Trekstock that actually put me onto you guys. So glad she did, the tees look ace!
How many of the artists over the years have you actually played ping pong with?
We did an event a few weeks ago for Protein Studios and a few of the artists came down then, so I got a few games with Nigel Howlett, Mister Phil and Charlie Oscar Patterson.
It ended up with me and Mr. Bingo hogging the table, being drunkenly competitive…
Lastly, on a scale of 1-10, where do you see your ping pong skills?
If we’re playing in a pub I’m about an 8. I joined the England Table Tennis Association leagues a few years back and played with the pros… in there I’m more like a 3!