Known for his hand-drawn illustrations of diverse babes covered in tattoos, Australian artist Rik Lee has accrued a massive following over the years. In honour of our latest N/C issue Almost Famous, we spoke to Rik to find out more about the ‘iconic’ project he’s currently working on.
WORDS: NIKKI RUSSIAN
There’s been little details to the quiet hype around the celeb portraits of Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain – to name only very few – that Rik has been churning out over the past few weeks. The project, commissioned by UK publishing house Laurence King, is a deck of 54 playing cards featuring some of the most iconic music artists and performers.
“Before seeing who made the cut, I gave some thought into who I’d include and man, that in itself is a really tough job!” Rik says. “I was choosing artists based on personal musical taste as well as people who I thought would be great illustrative subjects.
“I’m bummed these artists were not included: Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Morrissey, Lauren Hill, Erykah Badu, MF DOOM, Missy Elliot, RZA, Lou Reed, Ian Curtis, Robert Smith, any of The Ronettes… I could go on. Fortunately, Laurence King built a non-bias, excellent list, representing a broad range of genres both past and present and saved me days of headaches in the process.”
“When I started, each portrait was taking me three to four full working days to complete. To meet my deadline, I’ve had to complete one portrait every two days which included working weekends, Christmas and New Year’s Day.”
For each portrait, Rik researches reference material and photos of each artist, looking at facial expressions, hairstyles and outfits before sketching a single image inspired by these. “Some artists, David Bowie for example, have careers that span many eras, each with their own iconic looks.” Rik explains, “For these artists, I’d choose a favourite era and roll with that. So I drew Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Michael Jackson in his Thriller era and so on.”
Despite the stage of famous names begging to come to life on paper, Rik took a levelled approach. “There were artists I was more excited to illustrate than others and those who I felt more confident drawing. Then of course, there are artists who I thought would be a real challenge. I tried to spread out the workload and mix it up, so I didn’t just focus on illustrating all the easy ones first, leaving myself with weeks of difficult portraits.”
The most challenging aspect of the project has been the time Rik has had to cram to complete the 54 A4-sized portraits to a deadline. “When I started, each portrait was taking me three to four full working days to complete. To meet my deadline, I’ve had to complete one portrait every two days which included working weekends, Christmas, New Year’s Day etc.,” Rik explains. “Not to mention I still have my other work going on, a life to lead and sleep to get. The biggest challenge has been time and trying to complete a portrait every couple of days, while doing each subject justice and creating a piece I’m proud of.”
“...can you imagine a world where David Bowie never existed? Fuck that. Legends like Bowie and his creativity have made this world a better place.”
It’s rare to see a guy among the bold-coloured illustrations in Rik’s portfolio, with women and fierce animals often paired and dominating the spotlight. “It's funny, if you think of art over time, the majority of artists whether male or female have focused on women and the female form over men,” Rik ponders. “Women are more interesting to me than men; maybe being a guy, it's the alluring, mystery thing. I [also] find women easier to draw.
“I’m actually happy with a lot of the male portraits: Michael Jackson, Kanye, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, because I so rarely illustrate men; this has been yet another big challenge for me. Stepping outside my comfort zone and succeeding in making a piece I’m happy with – I’m quite pleased about that.”
With a massive 900k+ Facebook following and a successful repertoire to make a living drawing what he loves, Rik’s had his fair share of 15 seconds of fame. When asked what fame means to Rik as an artist, he maintains a modest profile, “I wouldn’t know!” He laughs. “Fame comes in a range of forms, many of which, personally, I’m not interested in, but I do think it’s great when good work is acknowledged.
“I think we put too much weight on the idea of fame and celebrity. However, I do like popular culture in general, and many of these icons have made wonderful art. I mean, can you imagine a world where David Bowie never existed? Fuck that. Legends like Bowie and his creativity have made this world a better place.”