2006 saw the launch of Illustrative, a new festival/exhibition in Berlin that celebrates illustration and graphic art. Having taken place this year in Zurich between the 18th and 26th of October, it drew 35 different artists, and showcased over 400 works.
Its main thrust is described as “documenting the influence of illustration and graphic arts on other disciplines like book illustration, fashion and textile-arts, pottery, and animated movies.” The point is to trace how illustration and graphic art feature in, or are essential parts of, the many facets of ‘contemporary art’.
What this really means is you’re getting a ton of great illustration gathered all in one place. And as an excellent sideline, the exhibition hosts a Young Illustrators Award, in three separate categories that include Illustration, Book Art, and Animation.
A funny thing: even though I’m writing on design all the time, I’m still often in the dark when it comes to the genre terms “illustration” and “graphic art”. That’s fine: part of the point of their recent resurgence is the inability to pin contemporary illustration down into one, specific category, as was possible 100 years ago.
Take a look at this interview with Pascal Johanssen, one of the two Berlin-based curators of Illustrative, who outlines what “contemporary illustrative art” means to him:
It’s a new art movement. Unlike classic illustration it is a mix of influences from comic art, graffiti, fashion, advertisement, set design for computer games or animation. This form of illustrative art is marked by very different creative impulses and thus can be design or art.
He also describes the fundamental differences between what he sees as the previous generation of illustrators and today’s. I’ve never really thought about things in these terms before:
The parent generation for me is represented by illustrators like Tomi Ungerer. These have been willful, charismatic drawers. They were close to political caricatures, which was in accordance with the common operational fields of illustration back then. Today´s illustrators are mainly avant-garde regarding innovative means of design.
And finally, he’s asked in which direction illustration is moving at the moment. His answer is probably prescient, but it’s strange–I’ve been hearing a version of this answer, across several disciplines, for some time now. Read on:
Game Art will come up. This will be an art genre which will not only copy the aesthetics of computer games, like Eboy, but uses the graphical, narrative and technological means emerging from computer games and making them possible. Something new will develop in this field.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that games are the new, growing, soon-to-be-fundamental frontier for: advertising, literature, interactive experience, socialization, social networking, and entertainment in general. No one actually knows if it’ll happen, but for the moment I see games as still, essentially, games.
Yeah, there are massive networks like World of Warcraft. There are games everyone in the world plays, like Grand Theft Auto 4. There are games like The Sims 2. But they’re still just games. There are still stores that sell only video games, all staffed by the same 5 dudes that ran them when I was 10. Or at least it seems that way.
I’ll save a further exploration of that subject for another day, but it strikes me that Johannson’s answer here is actually not overblown like many of the video-games-are-taking-over-all-media claims: the area in which games and art will strongly converge might indeed be one where the very facility of young designers with video games (and the technologial means that bring them about) could actually create an entirely new field of art, and a big one at that. Just a prediction.
One can’t miss event during the exhibiton–especially for anyone interested in vintage art or just wonderfully detailed design–was Roman Bittner’s talk on his “Ancient Cities of Tomorrow” series. These are e-boy like illustrations taken to another level and really, really captivating. Check out his studio here.
Anyway, if you were lucky enough to be wandering around Zurich in October, staring at mountains and drinking their water straight from the clean, fresh rivers, hopefully you caught up with Illustrative.
For some reason I’ve been seeing a lot of mention of Miroslav Sasek around various websites recently. What he’s primarily known for is the series of books called This Is…, which provide a children’s introduction to various cities, but also work as charming guidebooks/introductions to readers of any age.
His idea came from noticing that parents, when on various trips with their children, tended to stay absorbed in their various surroundings, leaving the kids to figure out exactly what the hell is going on for themselves. Writing from a child’s point of view, his books please everyone through sheer charm alone. The illustrations explain, from the first time you see them, exactly why these books aren’t just pedestrian stuff for your kids, but rather bewitching illustrative glimpses of each city they profile.
Some thoughts from his official website:
This is London is the second This is book and undoubtedly one of the best. Sasek concentrates on the things he likes best: people, costume, transport and local details that somehow come together to form a whole impression of the city that still seems quite accurate today.
Here’s a review of one of his titles from no less than the Times Literary Supplement:
The pattern of M. Sasek’s books is now firmly established. It would be difficult for him to introduce innovations, and these would not be welcomed by his admirers, who delight in the fixed conventions of his unconventional portraits. It is the more remarkable that each book is pure Sasek and at the same time each catches the characteristic atmosphere of his subject…
This is Venice has many of the artist’s gentle digs at tourists and at the vendors who feed on them. It shows, too, that M. Sasek is primarily an architectural draughtsman. His drawings of churches, palaces and odd corners are brilliant simplifications which never depart from the essential truths of building. That he draws buildings not in noble isolation but surrounded by the mess and muddle of a living city — washing on the line, telly-aerials on the roof — endears him more deeply to the reader.
His art style renders the cities immensely appealing to every reader, and these are some books that you’d do fine getting any kids or travelers in your family this year. His images are funny, and poke at the gawking tourists and the general things touristy families like to do (or feel terribly obligated to do) in each city.
He also did some other books not entirely focused on cities but sites, including This is the United Nations and This is Cape Canaveral (now called Kennedy), which are gold mines. Check out his great UN book here, and the Cape Canaveral image below.
While it’s only November, it’s always useful to collect various links in the endless lead-up to Christmas, in case you need some ideas for thoughtful, interesting gifts. As each Christmas passes, I always find myself increasingly obliged to find gifts for various kids in my extended family, and since I don’t have much experience with toy stores any more, and can’t buy children’s clothes to save my life, I generally try to find gifts that seem timelessly appealing and unique enough to mean something. Sasek’s books fit perfectly into this category. They’ll thrill any parent too.
Ever wander into your spam folder, just for a laugh? I remember when a certain strain of spam was getting through GMail’s filter on an almost daily-basis, and I actually liked it, becuase the titles were ridiculous. I’ve kept a few of my favorites. I particularly liked the ones that kept beating GMail because of an extra, strange word placed after the main spam pitch. The body text was usually filled with a piece from a Tennesse Williams play or an extract from Dickens, which just made it all the better. The top ones:
Subject: It’s easy to spice up your sex life. stinkpot
Subject: Wow! Won’t she be impressed. mucilage
From: Shortfall M. Twinge
Subject: If you need software, we’ve probably got it. embalm
Subject: Ambiguous Stench
Body: prodding of! children polymer was curry powder sat firefly reckon tapeworm closely,
Body: Hey, How have you been, Your situation doesnt matter to us!
Body: Kids are the result of great love.
But if you have any problems with that, Spermamax can help you.
Subject: Discreet way to jazz up your love life. piracy
Subject: Be the man that your wife wants you to be. indigent
Linzie Hunter had the same idea, but she took it to a great new level. She started illustrating prints of the best spam messages she would get, and made a flickr set out of it. After getting some big notice online some months back, she eventually made 12 prints of the best ones.
There’s something great about seeing these useless, hilarious, easily ignored lines done up as nice typography by a talented illustrator. I’m always a sucker for when an artist takes a bunch of useless crap out of a useless context and makes it into something good, and Linzie has done it here with just about the most useless, annoying corner of the internet.
And even better news now, as she’s about to publish a book of postcards, featuring 30 separate hand-painted spam lines you can now send to your cherished loved ones. And it’s got an awesome title, too. Technically it’s just “Secret Weapon”, but really it’s “This Secret Weapon Will Give More Power to Your Little Soldier”, which is a work of art in itself. It’ll be out in November, allowing you to “move spam from the inbox to the mailbox where it belongs”, which is a commendable idea in itself.
This time instead of designing entirely new film posters, the artists were given the actual vinyl copy of a classic album and asked to paint, draw, or somehow design over top of it. Over 50 records were altered as as result.
What differentiates this exhibition from any silly old online gallery of photoshop fun is the basic use of physical materials. Designing directly onto the LP meant no software tricks could be (reasonably) employed, and real art equipment could be used. Some of the results even have three dimensional elements to them, like the cover for Tom Waits’ Mule Variations, which has a miniature window sculpted onto the front of it.
Not every cover is a bona fide winner–there are some that just seem like routine pieces of trendy illustration tacked on, and others for which I’m at a loss to understand how the illustration fits (or contrasts with, or does anything useful with) the original album art. But there are a lot of covers, and among them are several worth mentioning:
This Velvet Underground LP reminds me of those Penguin Deluxe comic-book editions I love so much. Sure, you can whine about altering Andy Warhol’s classic cover, but then none of us would have any fun.
Here, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme gets that nautical treatment it’s always been crying out for.
Ah, Simon & Garfunkel. While it’s not perfect, any cover that features an elegant looking bird in a trenchcoat and collared shirt standing in front of Paul Simon is a cover that speaks to me.
Not content with Morrissey being just a plain old quarry, he’s now several additional things. I really like this one–it’s a full transformation of the original cover that works entirely on its own. This one is actually done by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy.
His art evokes the spirit of Japanese toy design, implanting its imaginary creatures into a surreal context, using photoshopped photographs that retain enough reality to be off-putting and familiar at once.
The other reason this evoked a Japanese aesthetic for me is Maksimov’s usage of tilt-shift effects, which mimic miniature photography on a grand scale. He’s just taken it one step further, and actually inserted his own “miniatures” into the landscapes. The double-take we all did when we first saw those amazing Japanese tilt-shift photos is carried to its logical end here.
It immediately made me think of what a live-action Hayao Miyazaki film would be like, marrying his blob-like designs with realistic backgrounds. Although a large part of Miyazaki’s charm comes from the fully animated realization of his world, it made me wonder how well his aesthetic could translate into a live action feature.
Imagine Studio Ghibli and Pixar teaming up to create an animated feature with near photo-realistic backgrounds and a perfect CG integration of Miyazaki’s patented style. Disastrous or wonderful? Would their two approaches be compatible? Pixar’s debt to Miyazaki’s storytelling chops is well-documented, but I wonder if each studio’s visuals could ever be brought together. Maybe one day.