It could be said that in the day of the image and ‘15 minutes of fame’, the term ‘iconic’ has been severely overused. In what used to be a term that traditionally referred to a religious work of art, the word ‘icon’ has recently crossed over into celebrity culture, morphing into a title that fittingly describes our fascination with fame and the celebrity image. In our elevation of celebrities to a somewhat divine dimension, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that fame has taken on an almost religious-like status of its own where our former cultural references have been replaced with those now magnified under the celebrity spotlight. However, in an era where ordinary people can now become stars literally overnight, how do we actually define a true icon? In his celebrity-centred series ‘ICONIC’, Greek-English visual artist Alexis Marcou flirts with this idea, through looking at the new-age icons that shape the life and mentality of our fame-obsessed society.
Beginning in 2007, Alexis Marcou has been steadily emerging as a successful commercial illustrator, ever since. In developing his own distinctive minimal yet highly expressive visual language, he has freelanced for a wide range of clients including powerhouses such as Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Endeavor Snowboards, Mutabor Design, Atomic Skis and Nike.
‘ICONIC’ is his own self initiated project which he began working on two years ago. Through a series of vibrant drawings, the project presents portraits of music superstars Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Steven Tyler and Rihanna meticulously reproduced through concert stills and further re-imagined by the artist. Inspired by a quote by British film director Tom Hooper that perfectly clarifies the scope and essence of the project, Marcou sets to explore the reason why we are indeed drawn to iconic characters and what they reflect back to our cultures through a series of mixed-media drawing. Having already proven their worth by transcending the realm of the music industry to become established cultural icons, the four stars certainly embody the title ‘iconic’. Immortalised on paper as icons, they have become symbols of a new-age ‘religion’, one might dare to say, as well as highly influential points of reference with the power to dramatically shape our lives.
Keeping the colour scheme strictly monochromatic, Marcou creates mixed media fine arts pieces complemented by a delicate digital touch-up where the drawing process begins with mood boarding and the creation of draft sketches. His primary choice of medium is graphite, which he inventively applies in a rigorous manner using blending stumps, tortillons and makeup brushes to create an expressive tonal scale. Paying attention to fine detail, he combines the use of twenty different types of pencils and numerous reductive tools for the creation of the drawings. Different parts of photos carefully sourced from various magazines are further added to the drawings, after being manually distorted during the scanning process, to give a vibrant edge. The final images are complete with a set of dynamic shattered and distorted lines, the influence of which can arguably be traced back to cubism, which is a regular point of reference for Marcou’s work.
Alexis Marcou admits that the biggest challenge, in technical terms, was to preserve a unified visual language throughout the series, despite the fact that the four artists that he depicts are so very different to one another. ''The whole idea behind this project was to create a style bold enough to fit any music artist without distorting his or her identity'', he further points out. The development of this style is evident in pictures taken during the drawing process, where we see how a draft sketch gradually starts to morph into what ultimately becomes an elaborate multi-layered art piece. In fact, to him sharing the process of his work is as equally important as presenting the final piece. And this provides us with a rare chance to understand the amount of work that goes behind each drawing in all the stages involved by decoding each artwork layer by layer.
Musical tastes may vary and the idea of what constitutes a cultural icon may be open for discussion. One thing however is certain; through our obsession with celebrity image, Alexis Marcou manages to interpret the image of fame, capturing, with his pencil, the quintessence of an icon in vibrantly re-imagined performance stills that perfectly illustrate and correspond to the distinctive trademark image we have fabricated for each one of them. Paired with their most famous lyric, Marcou’s icons invite us to embrace their iconic status and join them on stage, surrendering to the much-aspired power of fame with very little hesitation indeed.