An interview with Von
Illustrator Von's latest solo exhibition, Elsewhere, opens at KK Outlet in London next week. We spoke to the artist about the show, his creative influences and balancing commercial and personal work...
Based in London, Von studied illustration and animation at Kingston University and set up his own studio, HelloVon, in 2006. He's since produced work for Nike, Selfridges, Penguin, the New Yorker and the Paralympic Games and has exhibited fine art work in London, New York and Los Angeles, including the beautiful graphite and pencil series Animals and Semblance, a collection of portraits combining traditional and digital image-making techniques.
For his latest exhibition, Elsewhere, Von has created another series of graphite and pencil drawings, this time depicting subjects who are lost in thought. The show includes both large and small-scale artworks and Von has collaborated with Non-Format, HORT, David Pearson and Darren Firth on a set of limited edition exhibition posters, available to buy on his website.
CR: Tell us a little more about Elsewhere…
V: The 22 originals created for the exhibition explore that involuntary process of slipping away from our surroundings, appearing to others to be completely elsewhere.
The show’s concept all stems from walking into central London and increasingly catching sight of someone in a cafe or office window, totally enveloped in their own world. It was such a rare, momentary and, on some level, personal thing to witness, it really stuck in my mind. Moments to ourselves seem to be becoming rarer, particularly living in a city, as we are advertised at practically everywhere, we seem to reach for our smart phones whenever there's a few seconds to kill as a natural reaction now and online, sharing our day-to-day events is almost a pressure. All this made witnessing those people's lost moments such a fantastic and fragile thing.
CR: How does it relate to or build on your previous series, such as Semblance?
V: It's a development of my Semblance series which also focused on abstract portraiture but more than that, it’s a culmination of a year or so of experiments, mistakes, research and figuring out ways to push what I had established with Semblance, both technically and conceptually.
It is also the first time I have exhibited the smaller, quicker studies alongside larger, more considered pieces. The large pieces are often worked out compositionally in advance but with the studies it's much more off the cuff and instinctive. Naturally, it doesn't always work out but there are twelve of my favourites in the show.
CR: Who are the subjects in your portraits?
V: This show is the first time I've worked with a photographer, in this case the very talented Dan Sully (who is primarily a director) to create my reference images entirely from scratch. It's definitely a key turning point in my fine art work and a process I'd be keen to repeat. The subjects are a mixture of friends and acquaintances: an actor, model, musician, writer and choreographer.
CR: You said all of the works were created with graphite and pencil. What is it you enjoy about working with this medium?
V: Figuring out new ways to push such a simple and limited medium is half the joy for me. In preparation for the show there was lot of experimentation, most of which has made it through to the final pieces to one degree or another. As for divulging what the techniques are, though, people will have to just try and figure it out for themselves…
CR: And what about the collaborative posters? How did they come about?
V: When I had my first solo show in NY back in 2008 I collaborated with Non-Format to create a screen printed show poster which, as well as selling out before the show opened, is still one of my favourite folio pieces.
When this opportunity came along with KK Outlet, I really wanted to do something similar but up the game, which led me to inviting four of my favourite designers, not just one. The only stipulations were that certain basic information and the lead image needed to appear on the design, [but] how and where was entirely up to them. They could crop the artwork, mess with it or totally leave it alone. Whatever suited them. I'm really happy with the results, not to mention totally humbled to have such a talented and well respected set of designers be involved.
CR: Your work has a very distinctive style. How would you describe it, and who (or what) are your biggest creative influences?
V: I guess a mix of documentary portraiture and surrealism. There's a lot of fascination with structure. I’d say [my biggest influence] is music — the atmospheres, juxtapositions of different sounds, the transition from one note into another, textures, etc. All of those things conjure up very strong visuals to me.
Another major influence is nature - for a long time at the beginning of the process with Elsewhere, I'd walk laps of Dulwich park each morning listening to one album on repeat, which really helped a lot of ideas I've used in the show come out. If I had to pick some visual artists I really like, I’d say Jonathan Glazer, Bernhard Edmaier, Chris Cunningham, Tokujin Yoshioka and Takenobu Igarashi.
CR: You also run a busy studio. Have you been focusing more on your personal work in the run up to the show?
V: When I was approached about doing this show I jumped at the chance. It felt like an age since I had done a solo exhibition due to the last few years being so busy with commercial work. I've had the chance to work with some amazing clients and I've loved it, but working on Elsewhere has been a much relished opportunity to take some time away from that, refine the ideas and experiments I'd been doing alongside day to day work and really push myself again. The past few months working on this have been pretty intense but now I'm coming out the other side I can safely say, through somewhat tired eyes, it has been a really satisfying experience.
CR: How would you say the dynamic between these two elements of your work has changed over the past few years?
V: I've consciously made much more effort with the fine art side of thing, in terms setting up shopvon.com to specifically house that output. [It's] a place for me to release originals, limited edition prints and collector's box sets. I've been really lucky with the reception it's had so far with a number of editions selling out, and it’s definitely helped balance out the commercial and fine art side of things.
CR: Would you ever consider moving solely into fine art?
V: Who knows. All I can say is alongside my commercial work, I will be doing more exhibitions both in the States and here over the next few years, as well as continuing to explore more printing processes through ShopVon and other galleries. At the moment I'm in talks about a solo show in LA early next year and have a print release lined up with a US gallery in the next few months, which is great. Where all that will put me in three to five years I have no clue, but I'm looking forward to finding out.
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