April 25, 2015

The portraits of My Dead Pony, or Raphaël Vicenzi as his parents probably know him, are a haunting affair. Blending hand-drawn figure studies with echoing words and ghostly graffiti, the portraits immerse their glamourous subjects in layers of urban imagery, as if they were being transformed by the projected thoughts of a city. We caught up with the Brussels-based artist to talk about illustration, the qualities of a great muse, and his living 3D illustration dreams of the future…

UO: Hi Raphaël! First things first, how did you get into illustration?

Raphaël: I always wanted to do something artistic when I was younger but I didn’t really know how to go about it and my parents weren’t really supportive of this career path either. It’s only that much later in my life, the internet made me realize the potential of working with Photoshop, so I started learning it all by myself. Nowadays there are tons of YouTube tutorials and websites but back then I struggled a lot. It wasn’t a conscious plan on my part and I didn’t really know that I was doing illustrations until someone pointed it out to me. What a revelation that was for me! I never stopped and I am still learning how to become a better artist.

UO: What ideas would you most like your work to talk about?

Raphaël:A love of beauty and mindfulness of our mortality.

Your use a lot of fashion iconography – what is it that draws you to it?

Raphaël: The sense of timeless beauty, the poses, the shapes and colours. I also really love fashion illustration even if I don’t consider my works in this manner. I borrow inspiration from this seemingly glittery world and put my own gritty spin on it.

UO: That blend of portraiture and graffiti styles is really unique- which part of the process comes first to you? Do you see an image or a word?

Raphaël: When an idea takes shape in my mind it is multi-layered. I’d see an image with a fleeting feeling and a few words that are very personal to me. From there I can start building a personal narrative about the image where one shape will lead to some colour palette, where broken words will attracts different textures and so on. The image has its own idea of where to go and I am merely the tool to make it happen. I work in bursts of creativity. Sometimes all I do is experimenting with different colours, shapes, textures until it starts to make sense. That is the most painful part, when I have the sense that I haven’t found the right way to build the image yet. My way of working is quite chaotic, and I do work better when I have got something on my chest and I’m bit angry. Sometimes the whole illustration just happens when I didn’t really expect it to work, so I just pretend that I know what I’m doing.

What do you look for in a muse for a portrait?

UO: What do you look for in a muse for a portrait?

Raphaël: Presence, character and the feeling that there is so much more beneath the skin than what I see. An ache and nostalgia, as well.

Perhaps I am just looking for a part of myself in these portraits.

UO: What about artists – are there any others than particular inspire you at the moment?

Raphaël: They are all on my Tumblr. There are so many talented people that it’s really hard to name just a few. I’m always looking out for new artists, new bands, videos… I do believe that as an artist, you must be open to everything else because that is the main source for your future projects or ideas. I am so glad that the internet made all these discoveries possible.

UO: What do you think will be possible in illustration in ten years’ time that isn’t at the moment?

Raphaël: I had a dream once where I was drawing life-like pandas, but on some kind of high-tech computer where you could rotate the 3D image in the air and build it there. Then you could just put the image you created on your table and it would be animated by itself. All kind of crazy, live, 3D stuff would take shape and run around the streets and climb buildings.