Urban geometry: the colourful work of Yoni Alter

Graphic artist Yoni Alter’s solo show at London’s Kemistry Gallery presents a colourful series of artworks inspired by urban geometry. We spoke to Alter about the exhibition, his creative influences and his recent idents for TV channel London Live…

Graphic artist Yoni Alter’s solo show at London’s Kemistry Gallery presents a colourful series of artworks inspired by urban geometry. We spoke to Alter about the exhibition, his creative influences and his recent idents for TV channel London Live…

Yoni Alter likes interesting shapes. He is inspired by Heatherwick’s new London buses, by skyscrapers that defy convention, and crowded cityscapes like London’s and New York’s that contain a mix of old and new.

This passion for urban architecture, and London’s in particular, forms the basis of Alter’s solo show at Kemistry Gallery. Through screen prints, sculpture and a striking mural, he explores some of the capital’s most iconic structures in bold multicolour.

Exhibition photography by Sam Scott-Hunter

A creative at JWT, Alter studied visual communications in Jerusalem and worked as an intern at Barnbrook studio before completing an MA in graphic design at LCC. He moved to London permanently in 2006.

While working at JWT, Alter was struck by the view from nearby Hyde Park. “At a certain point, you can see the London Eye interesecting with the Shard, and you can see the BT tower. The geometry is very interesting, and I thought it would be fun to play around with it,” he adds.

This gave Alter the idea for Shapes of Cities, a series of prints in which structures are reduced to simple shapes and overlaid on top of one another to give a sense of scale. He has created 35 prints so far, some of which are on display at the exhibition.

Some prints in the series depict cities that Alter knows well. For others, he researches skylines by finding photographs and blueprints, and asks residents about their favourite buildings.

“The research is one of the things that excites me most. It’s like exploring a new city without actually going there,” says Alter. “I gather all the interesting shapes I can find, then I contact people who live there and ask for their favourite buildings, or ask online.

“The next step is deciding on the most interesting arrangement – if you have too many skyscrapers it just looks like rectangular blocks, which is what I try to avoid,” he adds.

Alter’s work features a striking use of colour. Selecting them is an intuitive process, he says, as he often knows what shade a building will be before he is finished drawing it. Overlaying graphics creates some unusual combinations, a technique Alter previously experimented with for The World Coming Together, an artwork inspired by London 2012.

Alongside his cityscapes at Kemistry are prints depicting various modes of London transport, including the Routemaster buses and London Underground cars. “I travel on the Picadilly Line everyday and the cars are so iconic. Like the Routemaster, the front is almost flat so they work perfectly for posters,” he says.

There is also a perspex sculpture featuring models of the Shard, the Gherkin, Big Ben and Battersea Power Station which can be taken apart and re-arranged. The structure has been lit from underneath to show etchings on each model.

It is Alter’s fascination for urban architecture and his distinct visual style that first caught the attention of Kemistry’s Graham McCallum and Ricky Churchill. As well as hosting his work at the agency’s gallery, the pair recently commissioned Alter to design a series of idents for London Live, a TV channel launched last month by newspaper the Evening Standard.

The channel itself has received mixed reviews but Alter’s cityscapes have featured in cover wraps, on the walls of the channel’s office and on London buses, as well as in the idents. Five have been released so far, and another five will launch later this year.

“Both Kemistry and the client had seen a lot of my work and really liked it, like my aerial and isometric views of New York. It was really a case of ‘just do your stuff’,” he explains. “I went about finding interesting compositions in different London areas, and the client picked the most recognisable ones. It had to be immediately obvious which area it is,” he adds.

Alter is now working on a project for the Tate group, which will see his art used on merchandise and shop installations. He is still working on his Shapes of Cities series, but says the list of requests he’s received is growing by the day.

“I’m not able to do it so often now but I add to it once a while and I’m always on the lookout for unique buildings. In London and New York especially, there seems to be a growing awareness that new additions to the skyline need to be original – that’s why we’re seeing things like the Cheesegrater, the Shard and the Walkie Talkie – and it’s exciting, because I can make new versions of my work.”

City is on display at Kemistry Gallery, 43 Charlotte Road London EC2A 3PD until May 3. See kemistrygallery.co.uk for details or see more of Alter’s work at yoniishappy.com


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