In late 2012 the Mondo Gallery had their show ‘Universal Monsters.’ The gallery was packed with inspired takes on some of cinema’s greatest creatures and monsters. This is where I found the work of Laurent Durieux. I had never heard the name and when I tried to find more about him online not much came up. Earlier this month Collectors Weekly posted a great article on Durieux that also acts as the bio on his website. The article acts as a strong summary of Laurent Durieux’s career to date — an illustrator and graphic artist from Brussels who has found a huge audience in America in the last few years, thanks to commissions from places like Mondo and Dark Hall Mansion.
There’s an inherent sophistication to his work — each design has its own heart, a reason for existing. Nothing out of place. Nothing irrelevant on the canvas. His compositions feel endless, you can sense the world beyond the page. His designs are like that of a filmmaker, except Durieux creates a story in one image, rather than thousands.
CJ: I first saw your work at the Mondo Gallery in Austin for ‘Universal Monsters’ show. ‘The Wolf Man’ is one and my favorite films and your ‘Wolf Man’ poster got to the heart of that film perfectly – a kind-hearted gentleman’s struggle to deal with something that’s destroying his life, yet he doesn’t understand what it is. There’s a sadness to The Wolf Man as a classic ‘monster.’ Your other posters for ‘Universal Monsters’ were equally as striking at their ability to beautifully sum up the characters that were at the core of the films. None of them took the usual ‘horror’ route in their design but went more for the heart. How familiar do like to be with your subjects before you begin working? Did you need to spend time with each film before you felt comfortable with beginning?
LD : I don’t really need to be that familiar with any of the movies I work on, for the Universal Monsters series, I watched them once and trusted my first impression and first emotions. However, I do need to like the movie to be able to come up with something good, I need to relate to it somehow.
A lot of your work has an epic quality – there’s a great vastness to them. In ‘Felix the Cat’ and ‘The Iron Giant’ you can feel the enormous size of the world you created. They’re very cinematic in their scope. Have you done work in graphic novels or comics?
Not really, I did some comics in my early days but nothing really came out of this. The famous publishing companies such as Humanoïdes Associés (the publishing company founded by Mœbius among others) and Casterman (Tintin’s publishing company) did offer me a deal, but I passed on both as I thought it was just slavery. You have no idea the amount of work making a comic book involves and how little money there is on the table at the end of the day. You basically work a whole year (that’s a minimum) for peanuts. Anyway, I decided this was not for me, but I still LOVE comic books and perhaps it shows in my work, I can’t say, I don’t have the distance to judge this.
I was going to ask you about animation, but then I saw the trailer for your short film ‘Hellville,’ and saw how it brought the retro-future of your posters to life. What was the inspiration behind making that film? Is animation something that you plan on doing more of in the future? Is the film going to be available to order or view in its entirety at some point?
The inspiration behind this film was the retro-futuristic world which I’m so enamoured with. I wanted the movie to feature all the key elements you find in my early posters, great urban architecture, fantastic streamlined vehicles, Sunset lighting, great perspectives, etc. I wanted my film to be like a moving illustration of mine. I am not really planning on doing more films in the future but I certainly don’t want to burn any bridges or anything, I guess I was very frustrated and disappointed with the outcome of the movie (students made this movie and they only had 8 weeks to do it). ‘Hellville’ is available as part of an iPad application available on iTunes, ‘Le Laboratoire d’images 2.’
How much sketching do you do for your designs? Do you do a lot of thumbnail sketches or is it fully formed in your head before you put a line on paper?
I don’t draw that many sketches, I usually know very quickly what I want to do and where I want to go with it.
You do the bulk of your work in the digital realm – have you ever done completely analog work? A piece finished in paint, ink, or pencil?
I used to do that before the computers were powerful enough to be able to do what I am doing now. I have plenty of acrylic tubes and they’ve all dried out, they have been for a few years now, I should really throw them away and make space in my drawers. 🙂
Is Illustrator your main software, or do you use Photoshop for portions of your work?
I don’t use Illustrator at all, I only use Photoshop.
You were written up by Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly. The article was incredibly in-depth and revealed something that I hadn’t known – your popularity in the States is relatively new. I just assumed I was late to the party in finding your incredible work. Were you looking to break into the art world in America or did it find you?
I wasn’t trying to break into the US art world, and it really did find me. I did send a couple of my illustrations to a reknown American illustrator; Jose Cruz, because I not only like his work but his blog is filled with the sort of things I happen to love and his reaction was very positive. That’s when I had the confirmation that the U.S. market would be sensitive to my work. Yet nothing more really happened after that, until I was contacted by the good folks of Dark Hall Mansion. It all started from there and I must say, to this day, I was fortunate enough not to have to call anyone to ask them to work with me, not even Mondo.
The Collectors Weekly article mentioned you teach graphic design. I can’t help but ask this since I spent quite a few years in the fine arts program at an art school and it never really clicked for me. Does a student need raw talent to begin with, or can illustration and design be a craft taught to anyone interested?
It depends on where you set your goals I suppose, but I really think a student not only needs talent but a lot of motivation and hard work as well as being ‘open’ to what is existing out there, in other words, image culture.
When doing work for a client like Mondo, Dark Hall Mansion, or Hero Complex Gallery how much input do they have in your designs? What’s the relationship like, in terms of their collaboration?
Very little input if not at all, the guys at Mondo really trust their artists and I have, to this day, never had to change a single thing on any of my pieces. I am my own judge, I am very hard with myself and also, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so…
Between doing commissioned work and teaching, do you have time to work on illustrations for yourself? Projects without a deadline or a client waiting?
Sadly, I don’t have the time for that anymore…but I’ve done that for many years and it finally paid off, so I’m not going to cry over this. 🙂
Is there such a thing as a ‘typical’ workday for you? How do you balance your family life with teaching and your design work?
I teach only 6 hours a week, so that’s not too much commitment. As for my family life, I have a wonderful and patient wife…but it’s not easy, for sure.
Your ‘Jaws’ poster for Mondo really exploded, even Steven Spielberg bought up a few prints. You took an interesting approach with that design, ignoring the shark altogether. How did you land on the image of the peaceful beach-goers?
Well, I thought, there was no way to top the original poster of the movie, there was no likeness license either except for Robert Shaw, so I wanted to go the exact opposite way, no gory image, no shark, etc, so it seemed obvious to go for a sunny, innocent, Holiday postcard looking image that would contrast strongly with the actual story.
Is there a film, book, or character that you’re dying to do next?
Not really, many films, books or characters I wouldn’t even think of could end up being great to work on and some titles I love could end up being disastrous. Plus, I really have the fortune to be asked by Mondo and other galleries to work on amazing licenses and projects.
But if I had to make a list, on top of my head I guess these movies would have to be in there:
It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th street
Any Hitchcock films
H.G. Wells’ Things to Come
Jules Verne’s books
Laura and many film noir
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Back to The Future
Batman (any from Nolan)