Interview with Raphaël Vicenzi (aka Mydeadpony)

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Brussels-based artist Mydeadpony (born Raphaël Vicenzi) is a self-taught digital illustrator who incorporates watercolour, women and words into his pieces, in a style equally influenced by fashion, commercial design and graffiti. As a selection of his works goes on display at Vue Privée’s October Artist of the Month exhibition, he tells Berwin Song about his craft

First published on 4 Oct 2011. Updated on 4 Oct 2011.

You’re a self-taught illustrator — how did you get into it?
‘I got into it because I was looking for something that allowed me to be creative. I tried music and cinematography, but it wasn’t working that well. Then I discovered that you could be creative with digital art and I started from there. It was a long road though, because I had to learn all the tools by myself, and learn how to have an eye for what’s working and what’s not.’

And now you’re fully dedicated to being an artist?
‘I seized the opportunity to become a full-time illustrator because I was laid off from an office job, and didn’t know what else I could do anyway. I haven’t got any degree; and it was either that or going back to being some low-level data-entry clerk. It was a leap of faith, and I landed very hard because it’s a tough business. But thankfully a few years later I joined my illustrator agency Colagene, which allows me to keep on doing what I do.’

How did you develop your style? What was the catalyst or inspiration for combining images of women and words in the pieces?
‘I think the early works of [New York commercial design collective] Vault49 triggered these ideas. It also has a lot to do with how I try to mix my different influences into something more personal. ‘I really loved fashion illustration and watercolours, but I thought that it was missing something to off-balance the first layer of interpretation, so naturally I added words which would start to tell something else about the image. It’s a way to add layers to my illustrations, but everyone can pick out what they see or not in my image. It’s also a very subconscious thing, really.’

So how do you start your pieces? Where do the images come from, and do they inspire the words, or vice versa?
‘I look at many sources to find the right pose or attitude, then I start from there. I build my illustrations by adding elements, touch by touch – it’s a very intuitive process. I am always experimenting while working; sometimes it doesn’t work, I can't find the right element or colour to push it further, so it takes time. But then there is always a tipping point or idea that almost makes the rest happen by itself.

‘Usually, but not always, I have the idea written down, a few words or a phrase which give me direction for the whole illustration – it’s just a way for me to vector the process into a definite direction. But I always leave the door open for new influences which can enrich the basic idea I had. For the moment, I really let what comes through my mind go into the illustration; I think I need to clean up some [of the shadowy, darker] parts of myself, so I let them out in the open.’

Are the images drawn free-hand with pencil and paper, or do you do everything on the computer?
‘It's all done in Photoshop, but I [incorporate] scanned watercolours, acrylic paints, drips, doodles and mistakes that I’ve done into it.’

How long does it take you to complete a piece?
‘Some ideas take months to coagulate into a finished illustration, others are done faster. But they just seem to be done really quickly – I need my ideas to slowly trickle down into a finished illustration. Of course I break my own rules all the time when I suddenly make a digital collage in one hour without thinking too much about it.

‘I start many new illustrations which I give up for a while. Some survive the process, others are left behind. I’ve written down so many ideas and concepts, but only a small percentage of it will ever be done.’

Can you explain the story behind a few specific pieces? How did you come up with ‘I am not worthy of my shoes’, for example?
‘Well for “I am not worthy of my shoes”, people sometimes have more respect for the things they buy than for themselves or other people. So it’s a funny way to say, “Look, this consumerist attitude is a new god for you – you’re not worthy of it, think about it, wake up.”’

What about ‘There is hope in you’? The woman in that one has an interesting hairdo – is there a specific connection between the images and words?
‘This one wasn’t planned in advance, for once. I started to work on the “There is hope in you” illustration feeling lost and depressed, so I thought that I would make the hair a bit like waves with the word “hope” floating on it. Then I think I didn’t work on it for a while, but I wanted to complete it and say something more positive in the end, because everybody can feel blue sometimes, and we forget that there is indeed hope in us. Not everything is lost; even if it’s just a faint glimmer of light, that’s the thing you need to catch on to even if you’re in the middle of the tempest.

‘So, yes, there is always a strong connection between the words and image. Maybe it’s not always obvious for an external observer, but I try to put my feelings into the image as much as I can – snapshots of my reality at that particular moment in time.’

Vue Privée’s October Artist of the Month exhibition, featuring Mydeadpony, will be on display from 6-30 Oct.

By Berwin Song
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