Before fashion film, there was fashion photography, and before fashion photography, there was fashion illustration. Dazzling the pages of many of fashion's most revered publications, wondrous illustrations adorned the covers (and continued to decorate the inside pages) of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Flair, Tatler and many more throughout the first half of the 20th century, proving quite an asset to the quintessential style bible. Having always believed in the power of illustration, primarily when used to communicate a mood or palpable presence, SHOWstudio have long been inviting fashion's most talented illustrators, on and under the radar, to offer their unique talent in interpreting the latest season's collections.
Haute couture collections contain some of the most outré elements of fashion, an arena where the furthest reaches of a designer's imagination can take a tangible form. To capture the alchemical allure of couture, SHOWstudio and Nick Knight invited Los Angeles-based artist Glenn Sandoval to illustrate a selection of his favourite looks. Pulling inspiration from contemporary art, the Surrealists and old masters like Vermeer, Velazquez and Goya, Sandoval uses digital techniques to create work that is as texturally rich and mesmerising as the fashion it depicts.
The paintings Sandoval has produced for SHOWstudio this season not only portray the hand-crafted details of the garments with hyper-real and thrilling precision, but also convey the essence of what makes couture so compelling: the fantasy, the dreamscape, the reverie. Cyana Madsen got in touch with Sandoval over email to unpick his process and find out where exactly his vision comes from.
View Sandoval's illustrations in full here.
Cyana Madsen: How would you describe your illustrative style in three words?
Glenn Sandoval: Non sequitur, ambivert, and ominous
CM: Your academic studies were initially in linguistics and biochemistry, does this scholarly background inform your art practice?
GS: It actually does play a small part indirectly. After years of science courses I became conditioned to think in an objective manner. What surrealism does is allow me to forego control and look at things subjectively. It’s a battle of dominance and madness really. By default, I am a very analytical person, however I can only thrive in art when I don’t think logically. Oh dear, I am a bit mad, aren’t I?
CM: Body parts are a repeated motif in your work, but not necessarily how one might expect for fashion illustration. What can you tell us about your use of the body in your work?
GS: The body is the muse of fashion. I often think of the benefit and harm that fashion has on the body. It glorifies a shape of the body part and somehow discriminates against another. Legs are in season this year while arms were the focus of last season. It opens up the discourse as to why the body is the muse of fashion and why at times it has a toxic relationship with it.
CM: Your illustrations often include unfashionable objects from the natural world, how do you decide what references to include in your paintings?
GS: The funny thing is that I include things that I might have encountered in my day. I don’t really think too much about why it belongs, but rather why not?
CM: Your work is quite surreal, but is still grounded in a realistic depiction of the clothing you are painting – much like some of Leonora Carrington’s work. How do you maintain that balance?
GS: I try to be respectful of the garment as it is the art from another designer. I may alter a few things here and there but I maintain the integrity of it. My illustrations are a “collaboration” between their designs and my worlds.
CM: The background of your illustrations are often a ghostly amalgam of shades rather than an identifiable location- tell us more about this space you create.
GS: The backgrounds are hazy visions that one may experience in the semi awake state. When one is caught between the conscious and unconscious, both worlds blend together. Think of a lens that is out of focus. Our brain tries to identify it but it only comes up with ideas as to what it is. They could also be ‘90s grade school photo backdrops, hahaha.
CM: Your illustrations have a very painterly feel, is this opacity important to your practice?
GS: Yes! When I transitioned from traditional wet medium, I wanted to emulate that in a digital manner. I won’t lie and say it was an easy feat, unfortunately it took quite a few trial and errors. I’m still learning this craft and that will never change. In a way, I wanted to enchant the viewer into believing it was an actual oil painting rather than the digital piece. It’s all an illusion, just like the work itself.
CM: Have you worked with other mediums in your illustration work?
GS: I’m quite crafty and have experimented with the traditional and the atypical. My art professors in college would encourage us to step outside the norm and have fun with mixed media. I may not have had the greatest success with these experimentations but they did inspire or strengthen my current applications.
CM: Explain what sparks the focus of each illustration: is it the garment itself, the atmosphere of the show, or…?
GS: The garment sparks the focus of my illustration. I look at it as if it were a painting in a museum. What feelings does this piece bring to me? What mental state of mind was I in that day? What did I have for breakfast? Did I leave the oven on? These are some of the questions that run through my head subconsciously, and I begin to create a world for the garment. I also like to read what the designer had to say about the collection and try to get into their head. This will give me an idea or at the very least a starting point for the illustration.
CM: What feelings do you want to evoke in the viewer when they look at your illustrations?
GS: Any feelings! May it be happiness, disgust, euphoria, sadness, or even indigestion. The worst thing an illustrator can do is work very hard on their art piece and have the viewer not feel a single thing. Apathy is a horrible feeling to have, especially towards art.
CM: Do you feel that fashion illustration conveys something about clothing that photo or video cannot?
GS: I pondered over this question many times. I know the answer may be quite simple but somehow I’m overthinking it. In all honesty, fashion illustration is the oldest form of recording fashion. It is the way that Vogue started. The way we can see how ancient Egyptians dressed. I suppose we are not limited by technology the way that photos and videos are. We simply grab a piece of paper and record what we see and alter it in a way described in our imagination. Oh geez, I’m still overthinking it.
CM: What apart from the world of fashion inspires your practice?
GS: The world around us inspires me. You see that I can include a tree, a chair, a flower, a stare and they are all part of the world that surrounds us. Inspiration is everywhere, my mother often told me. One has to just really open their eyes to see it.