Parisian il­lus­tra­tor Ugo Gattoni spends months craft­ing fan­tas­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ments for his gi­ant hand-drawn art­works, which fully im­merse the viewer in his imag­i­na­tion...

Computer Arts - - In Conversation - WORDS: Nick Car­son SELF POR­TRAIT: Ugo Gattoni

UGO GATTONI_ Ugo Gattoni is a Parisian artist and art di­rec­tor, whose sur­real and exquisitely de­tailed por­traits, de­pic­tions of cityscapes, and strange, oth­er­worldly ob­jects and arte­facts are renowned world­wide for their un­par­al­leled level of skill. Work­ing pre­dom­i­nantly with graphite and ink, Ugo cre­ates pieces that are a whirl­wind of minute de­tails, ethe­real char­ac­ters and ty­pog­ra­phy. www.ugogat­toni.fr

S pend­ing months and months hon­ing a piece to per­fec­tion by hand may sound more akin to the life of a fine artist than a com­mer­cial il­lus­tra­tor, where tight briefs and dead­line pres­sures may some­times risk put­ting a strait­jacket on cre­ativ­ity and craft.

Not so for renowned French il­lus­tra­tor Ugo Gattoni, who uses a unique blend of pa­tience and skill to fill large can­vases with in­cred­i­bly in­tri­cate de­tail, pop­u­lat­ing whole worlds with the many crea­tures of his imag­i­na­tion.

Ar­guably his break­through project, a 2011 mu­ral in Paris – some 33 feet wide – helped pave the way for Gattoni’s large-scale work, which has been ap­plied across ev­ery­thing from wall­pa­per for Pierre Frey to silk scarves for Her­mès; pro­jec­tion mapped onto the walls of London’s Saatchi Gallery; graced the cov­ers of books for No­brow and al­bum art­work for Car­a­van Palace; and also made the tran­si­tion into an­i­mated form for the lat­ter’s mu­sic video.

In our third and fi­nal in­ter­view con­ducted at OFFF By Night fes­ti­val in An­twerp back in Septem­ber, we caught up with Gattoni to dis­cuss his pas­sion for fine de­tail, his love of hand­crafted tech­niques, and his rare skill for bring­ing these things to­gether on a large scale...

Talk us through your in­ter­est in sur­re­al­ism and fan­tasy worlds. Who are your main in­flu­ences?

It’s hard to give some­one as an in­flu­ence. Of course, I’m cer­tainly in­flu­enced by great masters of sur­re­al­ism like Dalí, but I don’t know his en­tire body of work that well.

Mostly, my phan­tas­magoric worlds come from my dreams, which I write down when I wake up. From that, I com­plete the sto­ries by writ­ing a lot – that step is re­ally im­por­tant, be­fore creating this uni­verse by draw­ing.

But also, since I was a child I’ve been crazy about le­gends, mythol­ogy and other sto­ries of gods, tem­ples and so on. I’m also crazy about ar­chi­tec­ture, and I like to play with it, trans­form it and de­con­struct it.

Do all your char­ac­ters in­habit the same fan­tasy world, or does each new piece ex­ist in a new uni­verse?

I want all my art­work to be dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers. It’s re­ally im­por­tant for me, firstly, be­cause I get tired quickly of what I’m draw­ing, and also to ex­per­i­ment with new things.

How much time do you spend on things like back­sto­ries when de­vel­op­ing a new en­vi­ron­ment?

Back­sto­ries are the ba­sis of each uni­verse I draw, but they can be re­ally open. When I’m work­ing on a big piece, I en­joy hav­ing the free­dom of im­pro­vis­ing, on lit­tle scenes for ex­am­ple. I don’t want to have the whole thing planned in ad­vance.

How im­por­tant are sto­ry­telling skills for large-scale, com­plex, char­ac­ter-driven work like yours? Do you plan lit­tle scenes and then find ways to in­te­grate them, or does the whole thing evolve as a whole?

It’s a big work of com­po­si­tion at the be­gin­ning – to con­struct a whole world, while pro­vid­ing the place for the small­est sto­ries.

I work on big-scale draw­ings to im­merse peo­ple into worlds by pre­sent­ing some­thing big­ger than them in front of them. It’s a game of scale be­tween peo­ple and the art­work, with sev­eral lev­els of read­ing, which is a way of mak­ing them en­ter into the piece.

Firstly, when we are far from the draw­ing, we see a big city, for ex­am­ple – big ar­chi­tec­ture in a gen­eral mood. Then we get closer and we can see things that we couldn’t be­fore. We have our own walk through it, tak­ing the way we want to ex­plore that world.

And then, we come even closer, to see the re­ally lit­tle de­tails and hid­den scenes. It’s like a in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship. We can’t see

the frame any­more – we are sur­rounded by the draw­ing, as if we’re in­side it.

Does it help to have sense of hu­mour with your style of work?

Yes, I guess hu­mour is a nice breath of fresh air amongst this huge amount of de­tail and in­for­ma­tion. A laugh is the best thing in the world, it’s so im­por­tant to me.

Year af­ter year the dose of hu­mour that I put in my draw­ings is dif­fer­ent, maybe more sub­tle, I hope. Some­times it’s not a joke as such, but just the de­sign of an ob­ject – adding rounded curves, for ex­am­ple – that can make me smile.

Do you ever in­tro­duce per­sonal ref­er­ences and in-jokes into scenes?

Yes, in most of my draw­ings there are a few lit­tle pri­vate jokes for my close friends. I used to do it a lot, adding a par­tic­u­lar lit­tle bi­cy­cle or some­thing, but now it’s a bit dif­fer­ent. I’m less into sim­ple jokes, but the work of writ­ing sto­ries is quite im­por­tant now. I’d like that part of my work to take a big­ger part; hav­ing some text to have with the draw­ing. Less jokes; not se­ri­ous, but maybe more fan­tas­ti­cal.

Do you pre­fer to sketch the en­tire piece out first to de­ter­mine the com­po­si­tion, and then add de­tail, or work a sec­tion at a time?

My process is ac­tu­ally re­ally ba­sic. I start by rough­ing out the main com­po­si­tion with pen­cil, fo­cus­ing of the con­struc­tion and per­spec­tive. I climb on my perch sev­eral times to gain height, and check progress.

Once this im­por­tant step is okay, I use my Rotring pens for out­lines. This is a pleas­ant step, in which I add all the el­e­ments and de­tails like rocks, cracks on build­ings, and so on. At the end of this stage, it looks like a com­plex ar­chi­tec­tural plan.

Then comes the most en­joy­able step: the shad­ing or colour, when ev­ery­thing comes to life.

Work­ing by hand on such com­plex, large-scale pieces must re­quire a huge in­vest­ment of time...

Yes, it does take a lot of time to cre­ate these pieces, but to cre­ate by hand is re­ally im­por­tant for me, be­cause of how it looks with the ma­te­ri­als I’m us­ing, and the er­rors I can make with my hands. That makes it to­tally dif­fer­ent from dig­i­tal. An orig­i­nal is some­thing more po­etic; there is only one.

How do you keep fo­cus work­ing on the same piece for so long?

I can spend six months on one draw­ing, and my mind does go a bit weird, work­ing on some­thing ev­ery day for sev­eral months. I might get a bit tired of that draw­ing, but I al­ways find new sto­ries and new ways to con­tinue it. Maybe we could com­pare it with a [the­atri­cal] per­for­mance.

What do you do if you make a mis­take? It must hap­pen...

Yes. But due to the amount of de­tail, I can work around it. That’s why I like to do it by hand. There’s a charm to hav­ing lit­tle er­rors and mis­takes, and I’m happy with that. Some­times it’s like, ‘Oh shit, I missed my line,’ but when you see it as the charm of the orig­i­nal… that’s im­por­tant to me.

You made your first move into an­i­ma­tion with a mu­sic video for Car­a­van Palace – did you find it dif­fi­cult strip­ping back the de­tail in your work to be an­i­mated?

No, I was happy to do less de­tail. I learned a lot about com­po­si­tion be­cause it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent. What I do cur­rently with il­lus­tra­tion is

the main mood of a world – one point of view – but the an­i­ma­tion shows what’s it like to walk into that street, not see it from the sky.

It’s go­ing deeper into the story, im­mers­ing peo­ple into my world through an­i­ma­tion. We show the full mood. I spend a lot of time writ­ing about how things should move, how char­ac­ters should feel. I like work­ing in that way; there’s a lot of dis­cus­sion with an­i­ma­tors.

How does the col­lab­o­ra­tion work be­tween you and your an­i­ma­tors?

I just do the land­scape, back­ground, decor and the di­rec­tion. Once I’ve writ­ten the sto­ry­board, I hand over to the an­i­ma­tors – firstly it was just some friends in London, but now I’ve signed to a pro­duc­tion com­pany.

What’s the most chal­leng­ing project you’ve ever worked on, and why?

I would say Hip­popo­lis, my first Her­mès scarf. Maybe be­cause I had no real brief, and some pres­sure be­cause it was my first art­work in colour. I’d never tried it be­fore.

It def­i­nitely changed my work. Now, I love work­ing in colour. I’m ex­per­i­ment­ing with paint­ing, so let’s see where that’ll take me.

How do you se­lect your colour pal­ettes, hav­ing worked ex­clu­sively in black and white for so long?

That’s a big ques­tion. I’m still at the be­gin­ning with colour, I do the out­lines by hand all the time, and then I scan the piece and do the colours dig­i­tally, just to be able to switch and find the right colours.

I know where the shad­ows are go­ing to be, so I add colour and then switch in other colours to change the mood. I would like to be able to do so by hand one day, maybe with paint.

The colour pal­ettes you’ve cho­sen so far are very dis­tinc­tive and sur­real, al­most psy­che­delic in places…

That’s a good word. I’m cur­rently do­ing a re­ally psy­che­delic project with crazy colours, as it hap­pens.

I love sur­re­al­is­tic things, but I know that I’m draw­ing re­al­is­tic por­traits – all of my sketches are re­al­is­tic, but with a twist. I guess with the colours it’s about bring­ing some­thing event more crazy or dif­fer­ent to the brief. Next month: Mu­ral spe­cial­ist Florence Blanchard dis­cusses how a back­ground in graf­fiti and train­ing as a sci­en­tist in­flu­enced her style.

This al­bum cover, Al­bert, was cre­ated with pen­cil on pa­per in 2015.

Right: Walk­ing Stick is a se­ries of draw­ings of hy­brid ob­jects made with walk­ing sticks and other ob­jects.

Above: This wall­pa­per for Pierre Frey is named Rise, and de­picts a king and queen who are re­built as giants af­ter a pe­riod of mis­for­tune.

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