Posts in Artist Profile
Rik Lee - Iconic

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.”

-Rik Lee


 

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.” 

-Rik Lee


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.” 

www.riklee.bigcartel.com

N/C ARTIST PROFILE - JORDAN DEBNEY
Jelly and Bean.jpg

PSYCHEDELIC FLORA BLOOMING FROM THE MOUTHS OF CRYSTAL-EYED SKULLS AND GOOEY, NEON MONSTERS ARE SOME OF THE DRAWING FORCES BEHIND NEW ZEALAND-BASED SELF-TAUGHT ARTIST, JORDAN DEBNEY. JORDAN CREATES HIS PASTEL TRIPS USING A FUSION OF MIXED MEDIUMS OF PRISMATIC COLOURS, HOLOGRAPHIC PAPER AND UV ACRYLIC PAINTS TO MAKE HIS CREATURES COME TO LIFE IN THE DARK.

INTERVIEW: NIKKI RUSSIAN


You describe your style as ‘lilac infused prismatic death’. Could you expand on what that means, and what it means to you?
I was quite a fearful child. I was constantly convinced something terrible was seconds away from happening. Over time, my mind naturally found ways to cope with this, and after my teenage years, I was considered a pro and artwork helped me a lot with this too. You (and I) could see it as an overcompensation with colour from all the madness in my mind. If I had any say in the way I die, I would like it to be a spectacle.

What inspires or influences your unique style?
I like to play with the idea of visual contradiction. I take elements that are considered ‘dark’ or ‘macabre’ and flip it in a way that you can’t stop staring at it. Bright, comforting colours with hints of opposing, offensive hues, almost as if you can see the moment that I got carried away and took it too far. Floral-framed, pastel pink skulls show you the hidden elegance in death or something just as ominous, like it’s luring you in, telling you there’s nothing to be afraid of. I like my work to be distasteful, but like you can’t stop going back for more because it feels so good in your mouth.

How has your style changed over time?
Around this time a couple of years ago I was drawing in mostly black and white. I wasn’t really a fan of colour, and on the off chance that I did use colour it would be heavily desaturated. I didn’t have much direction and I just drew whatever I felt like drawing as if I had a lot to say and didn’t know how to say it, so the artwork repeatedly ended up being stories that had no end and half-truths. Today I like to challenge myself. I like to find possibilities in the ‘impossible’ to literally give weight to whatever I come up with in my head. I still have a lot to say but I’m still inventing the language I will one day say it with.

 

“Bright, comforting colours with hints of opposing, offensive hues, almost as if you can see the moment that I got carried away and took it too far.”

-JORDAN DEBNEY


Some of your paintings are on custom cut wood, could you run us through that process?
I forced myself into the habit of planning an entire painting perfectly at each stage of the creation process. I begin with a sketch that I work on again and again until its lines and shapes are fluid, then sketch it up onto the piece of wood. Before I even touch a power tool I make sure that I know exactly where I am going to cut. By the time I am good to go, my adrenaline is so pumped I’m not even thinking and the whole process is automatic. Once the first line is laid the thing pretty much paints itself. Most of the time I don’t remember doing it, which is a good thing seeing how tough it is on the back.


"I like my work to be distasteful, but like you can’t stop going back for more because it feels so good in your mouth."

- JORDAN DEBNEY


How did your use of UV paint and holographic paper come about?
Because I live in the dead-middle of New Zealand, our winters can get quite dark. I will leave for the day while its overcast, and I’ll come home and it’s pitch black. This always has a serious impact on my work and therefore my mental health. I needed to find a way to paint in the dark and not be reliant on natural light. The holographic idea came around about the same time to give my work that extra contradicting angle. Using new colours and mediums was challenging and frustrating and I loved it.

What are some challenges you face as an artist, in your career, or when creating your art?
The hardest thing I find personally is getting my hands on the right tools and mediums. Wellington does have its own art community and many shops that have a large amount of stock, but sometimes it still isn’t enough. I’m trying to do things I haven’t seen a lot of people do, if any, so finding the right equipment in the area is a challenge, and everyone knows the nightmares involved with purchasing art supplies online, as well as the self-inflicted bankruptcy.

What’s next for the future?
I’m currently working towards my first solo show in Wellington. Not to give away any secrets, but it will include playing with an interactive use of ultraviolet light.

www.jordandebney.com