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.
To celebrate Milan's menswear offerings this season, SHOWstudio and Nick Knight invited the illustrator Cliff Warner to reimagine his favourite fashion looks. The results transform them into profound works that convey a deep sense of solitude and reflection. Crammed with emotion, Warner's smeared and often monochrome illustrations ooze a hauntingly beautiful tone that's magnified by splashes of ochre and other rich colours.
Inspired by the paintings and compositions of social realist painter Ben Shahn, Warner's work mirrors similar melancholic tones. Detail is applied before being rubbed off and reapplied, creating purposeful smears that make you question each figure's facial expressions - if there is any expression at all. Monochrome colours are punctuated with random splodges of ochre, bringing each mysterious piece to life in the process. Intrigued by Warner's distinct way of mark-making, SHOWstudio's Christina Donoghue sent Warner a few questions via email regarding the artist's illustrative style, inspiration and working process.
View Warner's illustrations in full here.
Christina Donoghue: How would you describe your illustrative style in three words?
Cliff Warner: Eclectic, moody, expressionistic.
CD: Your style is quite hauntingly beautiful, would you agree?
CW: A lot of my work explores the theme of solitude and reflection, so I can understand how these themes may evoke a perception of haunted beauty, especially when painting figures in certain positions. I also consider the style I use to add impetus as an emotional response to beauty in my work when referencing particular models & fashion imagery.
CD: How do you decide on your colour palette?
CW: I prefer to use a limited colour palette. The colours used at the moment are mainly ochre shades mixed in with darker colours. I also like to use a lot of Prussian blue, especially when outlining a figure to obtain more definition and resonance.
CD: Your colours are often quite moody; why?
CW: I am influenced by Tonalism, where colours and tones are emphasised to express a mood or poetic feeling. The colours I choose are intended to assist in resonating a type of mood and atmosphere, creating an overall feel of solitude.
CD: The amount of detail you paint your figures with changes depending on the part of the body. For example, although smudged, the faces you paint almost have a photographic-like quality to them. How do you decide where to add more detail in certain areas?
CW: Initially, some of the composition around the figure - and especially around the face - is built up more detailed. Afterwards, part or all of the figure is then deliberately smudged. This may include areas where I have decided to overlay paint onto detailed areas as well. I will then try to ascertain which smudge areas are best to be left alone. In other areas, the smudge will be removed before drying. The process involves an element of chance, and I often remove the whole smear and begin the process again.
CD: The brushstrokes and texture created in your paintings evoke an emotive response, would you agree?
CW: Most definitely. I often create my compositions by building up brushstroke after brushstroke, creating a textured feel and a certain ambience that evokes an emotive response. There is plenty of internal dialogue going on when I go through this process.
CD: How do you want your works to make people feel?
CW: I would hope the works give an emotive response that leaves people intrigued. I intend with all my works to convey solitude; I aim to promote a sense of stillness and introspection towards the viewer.
CD: Any illustrators you particularly look up to? Dead or alive?
CW: There are so many. Ben Shahn was a formative influence, as was Egon Schiele; both had an illustrative quality to their paintings. I also heavily admire the fashion illustration work of Antonio Lopez. Other contemporary illustrators and artists whose work I admire are: Barbara Mancini, Marco Rea, Joanna Layla, Rosie McGuinness, Ian Hodgson, Jorunn Mulen, Corinna Wagner, Bill Donovan, David Downton, Caroline Riches.
CD: What relevance do you think illustration has in today's world?
I believe illustration will always be relevant as it allows the visualisation and expression of ideas that might not be possible in other stand-alone art genres. I believe the internet is allowing illustration to show its relevance and stand on its own merit. It has become more alive than ever with the abundance of illustrators and artists uploading work to a global audience on sites such as Instagram.