The clear line of Jan Van Der Veken

A new book of illustrator Jan Van Der Veken’s work is a welcome examination of a contemporary artist who manages to bridge the past and present

A new book of illustrator Jan Van Der Veken’s work is a welcome examination of a contemporary artist who manages to bridge the past and present…

It’s refereshing when an illustrator’s work first comes to you through print alone. Considering the ease with which one can look through a collection of work online, Van Der Veken has remained a relatively hard-to-find artist.

He prefers a simple though well-stocked Tumblr to show off his new work, as British writer James Cartwright noted last year in a small feature on Van Der Veken’s on It’s Nice That.

Since that article, Cartwright has gotten closer to the artist and has written the introduction to Van Der Veken’s first book, Fabrica Grafica. It’s published by Gestalten next month, and situates the Belgian artist’s work within contemporary illustration and comics art.

And a vital introduction it is – as Van Der Veken’s work is often difficult to place in time if the reader is unaware of the context. His work certainly has a classic ‘clear-line’ look, but it’s one reworked with new energy and new concerns. In the UK he has been particuarly championed by NoBrow press.

Influenced by both Hergé and the later ‘atoomstijl’ (atomic style) of Joost Swarte, Van Der Veken’s aesthetic will be familiar to fans of those artists, but his work is not strictly a part of a comics lineage.

He admits to having never wanted to write a comic strip or book – instead, he is more at home in the world of spot and feature illustrations and magazine covers, exemplified by his work for The New Yorker.

The clever thing is that Van Der Veken’s single panel pieces still manage to tell stories; there is less ‘sequential’ art here than one might expect, but plenty of character and story within the frames.

In fact, Van Der Veken has a background in graphic design – and his sense of spatial awareness comes through his drawn work. It has a precision to it not unlike the work of Chris Ware, who, having seen Van Der Veken’s first exhibition in 2001 actually became an early champion of his work.

And like Ware, Van Der Veken’s art can be very funny, too. “Without looking at the work,” suggests Cartwright in his text, “all this talk of structure and rigidity comes across as overly serious for an illustrator, but alongside his geometric precision is an undeniable humour. Jan’s images exude a playfulness that’s tangible and infectious.” (Interestingly, Van Der Veken also cites Jacques Tati as another influence on his art.)

Perhaps his Tumblr does gives more away than it seems at first glance. “Floating between design and illustration, present and past,” reads the text above his pictures. This great new book has successfully managed to pin down his timeless work on the page.

Fabrica Grafica is published by Gestalten; £22.50. See gestalten.com. More of Van Der Veken’s work at fabricagrafica.tumblr.com.


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