Wallpaper* editor-at-large and Briliant Britain curator Henrietta Thompson discusses craftsmanship, technique and London with British illustrator Von.
Find out more about Von >
Illustration is so in vogue right now. Actually it’s not just in Vogue, but in every other magazine too. And on every other billboard. It’s on wallpaper and in fashion. It’s taking over art galleries. What’s happened? After years during which art directors would consistently choose photography for all their advertising and editorial needs, over the past decade illustration has been experiencing an unstoppable resurgence. The result of course is that there’s also a lot more to choose from, many more fantastically creative styles, in every media you can think of. While Britain is considered worldwide to be home to some of the best, and London is widely held up as a melting pot of astonishing creative talent, some are still able to stand out head and shoulders above the others.
Von is one such illustrator, inching by the day towards dizzying heights of commercial and creative success, Von’s work makes people stop and go ‘wow’.
This is proper drawing in the old fashioned realist sense, a craft requiring huge stores of both talent and dedication. Then polished to a high shine with the help of some modern technology it’s as dynamic as an action movie. Commissioned by big brands and collected by gallerists, Von’s publicist even had one of his drawings tattooed (and you can’t blame her, it’s stunning).
Henrietta Thompson: Hello Von! How did this all start for you?
Von: I studied illustration and animation at Kingston University in London and after a few years of figuring out how and what I wanted to do via various jobs I set up studio HelloVon in 2006 as a freelance illustrator. Since then I have also set up ShopVon through which I can explore the more fine art side of my work selling special releases, limited editions and originals. My work has always been created primarily by drawing or painting so coming into the commercial art scene in a period where vector work was king really helped me stand out once the work started appearing in print. The craftsmanship involved began to attract associations with fine art and as a consequence I was encouraged to exhibit in small slots in various design and illustration based exhibitions and I soon began to seek out as many shows as I could exhibit in to get my work seen.
HT: How would you describe your work?
Von: 80% analogue, 20% digital.
HT: What was your first big break?
Von: Whilst not being a big break in terms of exposure or money my first commission, a fashion editorial for Russian Esquire, in retrospect was pretty important — it came at a point where I was still working as an unhappy junior designer at a small agency contemplating leaving to set up on my own. Being approached out of the blue for the commission helped give me that little bit of extra confidence to set up HelloVon.
HT: And your proudest moment?
Von: It’s a close call between my first solo show in New York back in 2008 at the then Espeis Gallery and seeing every window of Selfridges on Oxford Street covered in the work I did for Nike as part of their 2010 World Cup celebrations.
HT: Why do you think people have such a strong reaction to your work?
Von: That’s something I couldn’t tell you but I suppose it could be that within an image you can see an equal fascination with the process of image making itself as you can with the content being portrayed.
HT: Who are your heroes in the industry and why?
Von: George Louis for the way he tells his endless, amazing stories and his astounding work on the Esquire covers from ’62—’72. Jams Jean for so successfully navigating the route from illustration to gallery artist. David Pearson for his ingenious design work with Penguin, no doubt inspiring a devout love for the books for a new generation. And Peter Blake for being Peter Blake and still working at 80. I recently got to see a lot of his original paintings at a retrospective at the Pallant House Gallery and was bowled over.
HT: Do you think Britain/London provides a good environment for illustrators and artists?
Von: Perhaps it’s our infamous weather and all those rained off weekends forcing us to stay inside and create that’s given us such a creative legacy. Or perhaps as a comparatively tiny island we have a touch of short man syndrome and that’s how it’s manifested. Who knows? Whatever it is we seemed to have done well out it over the centuries.
HT: What’s next for you?
I’m in the early stages of a new project which will be my next collaboration with film maker Andrew Telling. It’ll be a development of my ongoing “Semblance” series. I’m really excited about this as we’ll be creating everything together from scratch. I can’t really say much about it now other than it’s going to be a large, fairly long term project with the final outcome being exhibited here in London and hopefully in LA too. I love Andrew’s work so getting to work with him on something again, and this time in a much more in-depth way, is such a pleasure. After the past few years being so manic with commercial work it’s so nice to make time to get out of my comfort zone like this, in fact it’s totally integral to my keeping sane.
I’m also itching to research other analogue printing techniques outside of screen printing that compliment my method of working — experimenting more to really push forward what limited editions I can release in the next year through ShopVon.