A few weeks ago, I received an email from Zach Gilyard at Popular Science about a project that I jumped at the opportunity to work on: the burgeoning market for insects. As food. For people.
I love eating—it's one of life's great pleasures, and I've always considered myself a daring culinary explorer when it comes to trying new dishes. But bugs have never really had that much... personal appeal. I guess everyone has their limitations. But as a subject for painting, insects are terrific—few things are as fantastic in form—and bridging the cultural divide regarding their edible allure was too tempting to pass up.
After a little online research, I dug up some appropriate historical prototypes for the image: nothing says food to a Texan like cow! With a quick sketch approval, I got busy turning this crunchy little guy into, well, something you could imagine biting in to.
No sooner did I send the final off than I hopped on a plane for a two week trip across Thailand for a little R&R. And on my sixth day into the trip—one for each leg, appropriately enough—I came across this at a street fair in Chiang Mai:
The Age of the Unicorn | acrylic & oil on panel | 10" x 13"
The unicorn has existed—if only in the imagination—through most of written history and in almost every culture, and as a symbol it's been associated with everything from virginity to Jesus Christ. So it's no surprise that in our modern world the unicorn continues to symbolize rare and mythic things (no offense to virgins everywhere).
So when I got the call from Mike Solita at Fortune to illustrate an article title "The Age of Unicorns", about highly valued startup companies that are supposedly rare but may be indicative of a new tech bubble, I jumped at the chance to work with this historic character.
The inspiration for my approach was the final panel of the stunning Unicorn Tapestries located in the Cloisters, one of my favorite collections of medieval art. With only a few days to turn around the piece, I quickly did a rough to show the composition and give a feel for direction; this was a bit looser than my usual approach, but given that we had a relatively clear point of reference, it was enough to sign off for finish. A few days later, the creature in my imagination came to life on the pages of Fortune's latest issue.
The Age of the Unicorn, detail
I love the use of historic imagery to convey ideas about the modern world we live in, and to give a sense of timelessness to subjects that we confront in our everyday lives. I'm often called on to "quote" images like the tapestries to trigger associations viewers have with that historical language, but I also use the technical device to imbue a piece with a broader sense of history, and even myth. I'll be in NYC next week for the opening of the Society of Illustrators 57th Annual, so it seemed like the right time to post some examples of the range of possibilities historical archetypes provide me by previewing the six pieces I'm honored to have in this year's exhibition. I look forward to seeing many of you there.
Friday, February 6, 2015
The Museum of American Illustration
Society of Illustrators
128 East 63rd Street New York, NY 10065
Begins at 6pm | Awards Presentation 7:00pm
Folk music legend Guy Clark for Oxford American | AD: Tom Martin | SI57 Editorial
New York Times Book Review cover | AD: Rex Bonomelli | SI57 Editorial
Boy, Snow, Bird | acrylic & oil on paper | 13.5" x 8"
I was recently contacted by Rex Bonomelli at the New York Times Book Review to create cover art to accompany an article on 29-year old British-born novelist Helen Oyeyemi's latest, "Boy, Snow, Bird", which uses the fairy tale "Snow White" as a departure point for an exploration of post-race ideology; it runs as today's cover.
From the Review:
"Set in the 1950s, the story opens in the Lower East Side of New York City with a young white woman named Boy Novak running away from her violent “rat catcher” father. She soon meets a widower, a former history professor and now-craftsman named Arturo Whitman, from Flax Hill, Mass. She marries Whitman and becomes consumed by his daughter Snow. All seems well until they have their own daughter, Bird, who is born visibly “colored.” Whitman’s family are light skinned African Americans who have been passing as white, and the revelation becomes a turning point. The Snow White tropes take over, with the Wicked Stepmother and the mirror motifs, and the fairy tale rewrites itself in startling ways."
The mother, Boy, sends Snow away to live with Arturo's dark-skinned sister Clara, who was herself sent away many years before by her own mother. Snow and Bird grow up apart, experiencing very different realities. It was this "parallel universe" the sisters existed in that interested me most, and the visual device of the mirror—so bound to the story of Snow White—that seemed the best vehicle to convey that idea.
Many thanks to Rex for thinking of me—a picture perfect fit.