Specialising within illustration is a good way to create a brand. It positions your work and your style, and someone commissioning you for a particular project knows exactly what you are offering. Ego Rodríguez is a self-taught Spanish designer, based in London for the last 20 years, whose strokes express his concerns, his external influences, his personal tastes, and all the learning he has behind him since he started doing his first drawings in his sketchbook as a child.
. He recognises that, thanks to his parents training, both of them in the arts, his path into this activity was fairly predictable. His work, clean and with very well-defined aesthetics, basically explores the portrait, for which he is especially well known. It is also surprising that many of the protagonists of his illustrations are male and his aesthetics, with contrasting colours and bold strokes, are reminiscent of the fashionable illustrator of the 1940s, René Gruau.
“Gruau is big influence on my work. Several fashionable illustrators like Antonio López, Erté and Stefano Canulli have inspired me. Apart from his simplicity, what I like about Gruau is how his work leans towards comics and Pop Art. I love dynamic strokes and bright colours. I was born in the 1970s, I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and there is a certain graphic nostalgia in what I do”, says the illustrator.
He arrived at portraits by chance. He started with commissions for friends and it became the house brand. “They served as a platform to introduce people into other dimensions and new scenarios. It’s like creating a virtual makeover. It started as part of a game and, gradually, it grew through commissions until I added it as something permanent in my portfolio”, says Ego.
And what do the homoerotic aesthetics that are hinted at in many of these portraits have to do with all of this? “I started to do them without a specific personal aspiration and curiously they began to turn into commissions. Now it’s a central part of my work. I must say that 88% of my audience and clientele are currently gays, professionals, people who also have an interest in art and in the LGBT community. It’s something that’s reflected in my work”, he says.
The same thing happens with his fascination with figures from the film world. Film will always be a big point of reference for me. Most of the people I sketch are influences from when I was growing up. Figures who made a mark on me in one way or another. I have a series of “Hollywood Femmes”, actresses and their roles. I never knew how they could work and now, with platforms like Instagram, I see that they have many admirers, whether because they were figures that didn’t fit into society, because they were anti-heroes or even LGBT icons”, he says.
And it is precisely in the online world where his ideas for the next step to take are formed. “The T-shirts with my illustrations on them emerged from comments on social media, as did other kinds of products like postcards, engravings, limited-edition boxes… They currently account for 95% of my work and they originate on Instagram. It’s like giving a new meaning to illustration, taking it to other kinds of less common objects to get them out there” says the illustrator.
And how do you get by in the illustration world in London? “I’ve been in London longer than I’ve lived in Spain. Creatively it’s a good place to encompass many aspects and most of my customers are from here or the United States. A big difference is that in London an illustrator is sought for their specific style. My customers want what I do; in Spain, creatives are treated like a box of tricks. Illustrators do logos, websites and wall painting. Here it’s respected a lot more”, he says emphatically.
And are you not attracted to the idea of moving your characters to the world of comics? “I come from a home filled with comics. My father was a great collector and my brother, Javi Rodríguez, is a Marvel artist. Once in a while I do a mini-story, but the language of the comic is very different to the language of illustration. I always compare it to the narrative of film. Telling a visual story, transmitting characters or actions, is different to the impact of an illustration when it is first visualised, they are always complements and they must be descriptive in themselves”.
Fotos: Eivind Hansen.
This article is also available in Español