Gavin Reece - Artist Spotlight
Gavin Reece is one of the agency's original artists, joining New Division in its first year of business. Famed for staying at the cutting edge of fashion, the glamour of Gavin's work belies the fact that he started his career creating architectural drawings.
As a life long subscriber to Vogue, Gavin has taken inspiration from the National Portrait Gallery's 'Vogue100: A Century of Style' exhibition and produced his version of some of the magazines iconic photographs. We spoke with Gavin about his career and how fashion has influenced his work.
How did you become a professional illustrator?
I originally studied painting. I did my degree at the Edinburgh college of art and then came down to London and did a post graduate at St Martins; it wasn't even Central St Martins then, that's how long ago it was! It was essentially a fine art course where I ended up doing a lot of sculpture and paintings, there wasn't really a commercial side to it. The thing with a fine arts degree is that you're essentially trained for nothing. So after leaving college I trod the well-worn path of doing odd jobs whilst I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. I worked as a landscape gardener and then I started doing architectural renderings of proposed buildings and shop interiors for pitches and then it kind of gradually moved into more general illustration. When I first started I did collage paper cut outs, these were completely different to the architectural work I was doing at the time, which was quite tight and very realistic. This was pre-digital, so it was purely hand cut, looking back some of things I did were just nuts. I started off doing mainly editorial illustrations - I hawked my portfolio around magazines and started to pick up a little bit of work. I approached a few agents and joined New Division in 1991.
Although your work has transformed style wise over the years, one thing that has remained the same is that your work is always on trend and features life's beautiful people. Is this something that comes naturally to you or do you have to work at it?
When I started illustrating professionally I was doing a lot of editorial work. If you're working for fashion magazines, your illustrations have to be fashionable - clients want women who are aspirational. So it was something I had to think about at first, but it feels natural now. I gravitate towards figurative work, I find working out ways to draw different people interesting. My characters tend to be long limbed, if I draw people how they are meant to look, I think they look wrong, so I suppose I do deliberately make them look glam. Sometimes I get a brief where the person is meant to look like a housewife and she ends up looking like a seven foot Amazonian, so I have to keep my tendency to glamorise in check.
Your characters are always at the height of fashion, where do you find your references?
I still find a lot of reference material in magazines, but Google and Pinterest have become all encompassing. In some ways there is so much material out there now, you almost have too much choice, you can spend hours agonising over a pair of earrings for a character. I'm guilty of collecting stuff, I tear things out of magazines and keep them, every few months I have to have a big cull of all the little bits and bobs I've gathered and stuck in various files.
These images are inspired by classic Vogue photo shoots, what else influences your work?
A big influence has always been comic book art. When I first applied to art college I wanted to do graphics, to draw comics but I ended up doing painting. I guess this hasn't always been such an obvious influence, but my work now is referencing comic books more than anything I've done before. The use of the thick black line work comes directly from that. I also like a lot of the 50's fashion illustrators too, I like the general ethos of it and hopefully try and absorb some of that feel and put it into my work. Rene Gruau is one illustrator in particular whose style I like, he worked with Dior back in the 40's and 50's and I really like the painterly feel of his work.
Strangely the tools I work with inspire me too. Back when I first started using computers, the technology was so limiting. I had a first generation iMac and tiny wacom tablet which were really primitive compared to what they are now. Using better tools and being better at using those tools brings changes and you can do more, you learn new tricks and it inspires you to develop your style. Which is what I want to be doing, although there will always be echoes of the past in what I do, I want my work to feel new.
To see Gavin's full portfolio, please click here.