I don’t draw trends. An interview with Anna Halarewicz
About fashion, luxury and art. About the neverending need to create and the post-German bunkers. Maja Wolniewska talks to Anna Halarewicz.
A new edition of “Gone with the Wind”, with your illustrations, has recently come out. I have to ask this, because I myself have a rather unhealthy approach to both the book and the film – I’ve read Mitchell’s novel probably three times now. And how do you approach them?
I have a very vivid image of the movie in my head, I remember watching it when I was a child… I knew the work had to be done quickly, I realised I wouldn’t be able to read the book again in such a short time, so I watched the film again. It turned out, that I had no sense of the passage of time, it seemed as if I had just watched it. It also shows that in a contemporary reality, when we are faced with a glut of Hollywood productions, the explosive growth of the film industry, this picture has not aged at all. The idea of illustration itself was also very cinematic – while watching “Gone with the Wind” I would often press the ‘pause’ button, wishing to literally transfer a particular frame into the language of illustration. So I guess, I have a more ‘pictorial’ attitude to “Gone with the Wind”, after all this movie is already so firmly embedded in the pop culture, that it is hard to dissociate from this picture. Frames, and images from the movie are with us virtually all the time, even in memes the famous “I’ll think about it tomorrow” appears. After all, apart from several stage adaptations, there has never been a remake. Directors would be faced with a very tough task, trying to tackle such a challenge in the context of the original.
When you work on illustrations for a book, do you work according to a different schedule than your regular one? Is working for a particular publishing house different from other assignments? I think not – after all, whether you’re drawing for a fashion show or doing a commission for a particular brand, you’re always trying to tell a story. Is that really the case?
I actually started out as a book illustrator, primarily illustrating children’s books. Yes, illustrating literature or fairy tales is storytelling… When Illustrating fairy tales or literature one sometimes creates more elaborate scenes or stories-in-pictures, in the case of fashion illustration it’s often a matter of depicting the effect of impressions. I don’t enjoy constructing scenes or allegories and I’m not good at it. I draw mainly in an impressionistic way – what matters to me is the character on whose face I depict a particular emotion, or the atmosphere of the whole, additionally reflected by colour. I like the understatement, the dynamism of the line that suggests a certain mood or atmosphere to the viewer. In book illustration, however, it is the plot, the specific scene, that matters. In the case of “Gone with the Wind”, when I decided to be inspired by frames from the movie, it was in order to simplify my creative work process. One of the reasons I decided to do it was because, as I said, the film has very firmly embedded itself in my consciousness – I can’t imagine the characters looking any different than they do in the film. When I think of Scarlett, I always see Vivien Leigh, and Rhett will always be Clark Gable. So I didn’t want to create my own new characters. This has made it easier for me to construct specific scenes – I’ve long been aiming for minimalism, so that a few lines convey a character and a mood. I try not to divide my work into “my own”, “book illustrations” or other projects, so even when reproducing specific frames from “Gone with the Wind”, I tried to give the illustrations very individual characteristics, which are in line with my own style.
When looking for information about you, one can often come across the term “Anna Halarewicz – fashion illustrator”. How does fashion illustration differ from other graphic or drawing works? Is such categorisation even necessary?
I do not think it is a good differentiation, but it stuck to me faster than me actually getting involved with work in this particular field. Just the mere act of drawing women in a certain convention, long-legged, light, idealised, immediately forced me into the category of “fashion illustrator”. Let us also remember that this term has different dimensions and categories. In general, I think there is more freedom and artistry when it comes to fashion illustration these days. Nowadays, illustrations of this type do not necessarily feature “long-legged beauties” or realistically rendered clothing – this is dealt with more detail in the genre of the fashion design journal drawing. For me, fashion illustration is a separate field of art, but this label makes me start to run away from it myself at times. Fashion itself is an accessory for me, the clothes that appear in my works, those created not as part of any collaboration, are a background element, complementing a certain character. I don’t paint nudes, so the figure would always be wearing something, but the fashion in this case is definitely in the background, it’s secondary element. I’m not someone who draws silhouettes from specific fashion seasons, I don’t draw trends, in my opinion, I approach the subject from a much broader perspective. What is important to me is the psychological aspect, the rendering of emotions and, as I said before, a particular mood.
Many brands and fashion designers invite illustrators to fashion shows. Why? We live at a time of extraordinary technological progress, and it is nowadays actually possible for anyone to take great quality photographs. Why do brands choose to collaborate with artists?
Here we get to the heart of what fashion illustration is – it is not an exaggeration of a photograph, much less a photographic rendering of reality. To think that an illustrator will act as a reporter, will capture reality 1:1, is wrong. Every illustrator should have their own distinctive drawing line, a mark, a characteristic style. Drawing at a fashion show, where one is also forced to create at an extremely fast pace, the illustrator captures the character of the event. Nowadays it works the other way round – we live in a world saturated with photography, plus we have access to tools that enable us to easily and quickly retouch any photograph. Fashion illustration is also starting to evolve, combining collage or spatial forms. This is not due to getting bored with this form of expression, but, especially in fashion, everyone is always striving to be more and more original. Even the show invitations themselves are getting fancier, three-dimensional, interactive Inviting an illustrator to work with you allows you to see the world through the eyes of the artist, and the dynamics of drawing from life provides an uncomparable experience. Of course, you can convey the character of the show in a photograph, but it will always be in some way re-creative. In the show we have a model walking down the catwalk for a few seconds – such drawings have an extraordinary value for me, capturing such a vision is very authentic, even though it may not be perfect.
Do you remember your first show, where you drew?
It was probably about 10 years ago, at one of the fashion weeks in Lodz. I used to draw without looking at the page. I used to do these exercises with students as well: quick drawings, without the cheating of looking down at the page. Artists are able to draw a human figure from memory, even with their eyes closed; they practice this for years. The idea is to look as much as possible at the object being drawn and as little as possible at the page. Such drawings for me are very important despite their imperfections, although without the right context they can be misinterpreted.
The brands you work for are often luxury brands, owned by global corporations. What is working in collaboration with a brand that has certain standards and defined benchmarks all about? Do brands like this easily open up to new experiences or seek out new content? Does it depend on the market (e.g. will the Omega’s division in Poland run a personalised campaign for a Polish audience, different from the French campaign, for example)?
When a brand decides to collaborate with an illustrator, it is aware of their particular style and the nature of their work. When I work on projects for companies, I count on being allowed the freedom when it comes to creative decisions. I respect the history of the specific brands, their aesthetics and coherence, in the same way a brand should decide to choose my work because of my specific unique mark and the original style. Of course, I also have to adapt to certain requirements of the brand and of the commission, but the most important thing is the creative freedom and the specific creative process. Sometimes even writing, if it is an essential part of the illustration, is subject to evaluation, to approval by the client. I need to be certain, that the brand decided to collaborate with me precisely because they liked my style. The brand can’t expect me to draw imitating an existing genre, that I won’t be myself; it’s not about an illustrator faking another artist’s style. Whether I’m drawing at a show, illustrating a slogan, or creating an illustration of specific objects at a special event – I always create everything in my own style. Working with large companies is all about respecting each other and taking the work that you’ve been commissioned to do seriously. By the same token, by deciding to go ahead with such initiatives, brands are also aware that the illustrator is there to provide ‘added value’, it’s not about an accurate representation of reality after all.
What is your definition of luxury items and luxury itself ? Can we even still speak of luxury items in this world of excess-of-everything?
Luxury in the sense that I can recognise a brand from a distance or the current “logomania” in fashion does not appeal to me at all. For me, luxury is primarily about quality. It’s an item – and I don’t just mean fashion – that in an era of overproduction and oversupply is able to last longer than one season. Trends, especially in fashion, are short-lived, so timelessness is luxury. Luxury means quality. When you asked the question, I first thought of brushes – I have a lot of them, they are tools that wear out quickly, but I have a weakness for the exceptionally well-made ones. I recently bought two brushes that are from a limited and numbered series, exactly like works of art. This kind of artisanal luxury, which is about quality, really works for me. These types of items are both beautiful and utilitarian. Of course, I can draw with a simple pencil on a piece of printer paper, but I enjoy creating with selected craft tools. This is the true meaning of luxury for me, far deeper than a handbag with a visible logo. I have a weakness for one designer, Rick Owens: in his clothes it’s hard to find the label at all, but on the other hand he has a very distinctive and coherent style that I always recognise despite the lack of a logo.
For a long time, illustration in Poland was a niche activity – big brands and publishing houses rarely used the services of artists specialising in traditional media. How does this look at present? What do you think is the reason behind brands beginning to slowly open up to new media, including the work of illustrators?
I look at it very differently. A dozen or so years ago, when I started illustrating, there was “Bluszcz”, a newspaper that was fully illustrated. It was the first magazine I collaborated with, and I was in shock at the time, that a magazine could be fully illustrated in such an artistic manner. Nowadays, when it comes to illustration in the press, in my opinion, it only functions as an accessory. Anyway, I see fewer illustrations and more illustrators on the market than even 10 years ago, for example. Once, there used to be more illustrations, at least when it comes to the press. Nowadays there is more illustration and animation, in campaigns of various brands it appears in association with advertising. Brands that are not associated with design or art often use illustration in various campaigns, but in the case of the press, which should quite naturally be associated with illustration – after all, there is text there that needs to be illustrated in some way – it is not a popular trend at the moment. Anyway, because of a lack of space I now buy fewer newspapers than I used to, so maybe that’s why I get this impression (laughs).
Self-portraiture and references to it often appear in your work. Why? How do you see yourself?
In the past, when I was still learning, I simply needed a face for drawing practice – my face was always with me, and also I could do anything I wanted with it. The easiest thing for me, is just to pose for myself. Although I am able to draw a fashion character from my head, when drawing some imagined scenes, with a more surreal approach, I sometimes need to see how the feet, hands, or facial expressions are arranged in a particular setting. It is a great convenience to have oneself on hand, always available. In any case, it’s not that I paint myself literally – I use my face and body, but I paint a completely different character. I often do these kind of painting-practice exercises, because I always keep thinking – That’s ‘not It’…and if I haven’t painted for two days, it seems to me, that I’m out of practice, because I can’t fully convey what’s in my head. The simplest thing then is to paint yourself. It is not about creating works which are all similar, although it is clear, that works where I use my own body will look similar in some way. Directly after my university studies I created a series about faces that are masks: black and stretched-out. My first self-portraits, from my student days, consisted of making prints of my face that I painted black on a stretched sheet, which was then stretched over a stretcher. That was the most honest form of self-portraiture for me. Without embellishment, we represent the face as it is. If I were to deal only with self-portraiture, it would probably go in the direction of Baudelaire’s naturalism, and during my studies I was strongly drawn to such areas of representation… Then came fashion illustration, which captivated me incredibly with the elegance of the line or a mark, a stain which is often the ultimate.
I know that you create virtually all the time. How does this process work? Do you listen to anything during such creative sessions? Any particular type of music, audiobooks, podcasts?
I can’t work in silence. I tried to change that this year, but I wasn’t able to. I am very much an audiobook person, although I also happen to listen to parliamentary sessions. These sessions last for eight hours at a time, and although this type of content does not ‘inflate’ me with any real positive energy, they are long, and I just like it when ‘something’ talks to me. I also like crime podcasts, I have some of my favourites, such as “Kryminatorium” or Tomasz Ławnicki’s podcast for “Na Temat”. Well, strange are the things that I enjoy while painting (laughs). Sometimes I also let footage made by various urbex groups run in the background, because I’m obsessed with ruins, and I’m fascinated by post-German bunkers.
Besides fashion and bunkers, what else inspires you?
In fact, I collect fashion albums and illustrated albums, although I sometimes buy one and won’t open it for a long time – I just have to own a title. On the other hand, I watch very little stuff on Instagram, the amount of content there simply terrifies me. Anyway, I don’t have a problem finding inspiration, the difficulty is finding the time to create things unrelated to any commissions, my own work. At all times my head is always full of tasks, that I set myself, and looking at other artists’ work can disrupt my approach. This is in fact often the case with young artists, who become enraptured by someone else’s style, which can often be seen precisely on Instagram. And when it comes to purely fashion inspirations, it is certainly Tim Walker, his misty-magical world was almost a ready-made picture for me. And of course Alexander McQueen, a theme that has been with me for many years. The worst is, when I feel the need to paint, but I don’t quite know what format to use in order to create a particular thing. On the one hand I enjoy line drawing, on the other I love the stain of watercolour and I also create monotypes. These worlds are a little different, as for example in the case of the drypoint, which suddenly came back to me after many years.