Portrait of Al Gore for The New York Times
More Information— lives in London, England
Portraiture is notoriously difficult. Like impersonation, it requires an almost unearthly talent for occupying another person and shining out their likeness from a neutral canvas. Von, a one-named phenom from Kent, England, does just that as he channels people on the page—from Ronald Reagan to British bass guitarist Jah Wobble—with intensely detailed, boldly humanist renderings that demonstrate his affinity for the idioms of music, fashion, politics, and design. He’s versatile, too: He’s also a typographer and painter. So far, he’s assembled an impressive alphabet of clients, including The Guardian, Nike, Oglivy & Mather, Ted Baker, and Wallpaper, as well as private commissions. His work has appeared in shows all over London, in Glasgow, Paris, and Hong Kong, and at Brooklyn’s Espeis Gallery. Von also runs an online store for limited-edition artwork on a section of his website called Shopvon. (His blog? Blogvon.) Von, who attended London’s Kingston University, now lives in the city’s Brick Lane neighborhood, where he seems to be creating work nonstop. He’s already drawn a self-portrait or two, but if he keeps going at this rate, other artists are going to start doing portraits of him.
Where do you usually draw?Almost always in my studio, although in the summer I try to go and draw in the park when I can—or, if I go back to my parents’ place, their garden is great for working in.
What’s your most essential tool?If you can count it as a tool, I’d say my left hand.
Who first taught you to make art, and what do you first remember drawing? What do you most like drawing now?I remember sitting at the dining room table drawing a picture of our garden or something, having drawn the sky in the image as a strip of blue on the top of the page in the way that all kids do. My dad explained to me that the strip wasn’t good enough, that the sky doesn’t actually look like that and that I should try harder. I guess, without my knowing it, he was the one that made me start really looking deeply at the things I was drawing. Right now I have become really interested in drawing animals. I’ve always loved those meticulously rendered ornithology books, and the self-initiated work I’m producing now is my own slightly abstracted take on that kind of imagery. The most recent example is a series of original bird drawings on antique paper.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?I had my eyes set on being a stuntman at the age of 7. Maybe it’s a little too late to pick that up now?
What is the strangest job you’ve had?I was an ice-cream man for a while.
What do you like about being an illustrator? What do you like least?I like most the fact that I can make a career out of the one thing I’ve loved doing most since I was a kid. What I like least . . . the tax return.
Where would you most like to see your art?Ultimately, I would love for my work to be collected or on permanent exhibition in a museum. Now, whether that is ever likely to happen is another story.
If you could collaborate with one other artist—in any discipline—who would it be? Also, if you could illustrate any text, what would you pick?Radiohead or Björk, and the text would be selected lyrics from the back catalogs of those musicians, made into a graphic novel, and beautifully bound and printed.
What’s the last music you played?Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Wim Wenders’s film Paris, Texas.
Do you have a motto or favorite quotation?“You can do better than that.”