You may have come across images of renowned page-filler McBess drawing insanely complicated, and seemingly endless, monochrome scenes straight on to a wall. Well, if you were wondering who the smiley man drawing on the wall next to him was, it’s Ugo Gattoni – extraordinary artist and creator of jaw-dropping new publication for NoBrow. We chatted with Ugo about the making of Bicycle, his love for cycling, and his ping-pong style of collaboration with his good friend McBess.
When did NoBrow approach you to do this piece? How did it come about?
Firstly, I met Nobrow at the book club, where my friend Mcbess invited me for an exhibition in August 2011. Nobrow saw my illustration Highways at this occasion. I then showed them my huge drawing Ultra Copains, and a couple of months later, they contacted me about the book Bicycle with a very simple concept – the city of London, with a crowd of bikes, for the 2012 Olympics.
Since the summer of 2011, I came to London almost every month. The city inspired me a lot, the architecture, the open-mindedness of people, it’s a really cool city! Between that, I came in January to do a live-painting with my mate Mc Bess at the Hayward Gallery for Nobrow’s pop up store, it was my first collaboration with them! You can see the video here.
Are you a cyclist yourself?
Yes! I’m totally crazy about cycling! I’m the proud owner of a fixed gear that I built myself, and for me, London is a bicycle paradise. I didn’t want to illustrate the fashion and hipster aspect of bicycles (it’s already been seen too much) but I really wanted to put in bold all the aspects of the cyclists – elite athletes to cycle couriers, commuters, bankers, delivery boys, mums with kids, youths on stolen mountain bikes to fashionistas and hipsters on fixed gear bikes.
When starting a picture, how do you decide where to begin?
The original of this drawing is a paper roll which measure five meters long, so I began, most simply, at the beginning of the roller!
I move forward one metre at a time, imagining as I go a composition of streets and elements. I then do a fast sketch of that, after I do the layout and then finish the shading! I spend around two weeks per metre, then I unwind the paper up to the following metre, etc, etc…
Your other similar drawings seem to have an element of destruction or apocalypse in them, could you tell us a little about that?
Destruction is not important for me, I used that in two or three of my drawings just because it’s a cool way to tell stories and interactions between characters. Also, for the graphism, I really like to decompose or to cut things, to play with materials like rock or smoke. It’s maybe an unconscious pretext.
You once covered a 33ft long wall in minuscule, black pen drawing. What is it about the trusty black pen that you love?
Yes, I’m keen on these pens, very pleasant to draw with, they slide on the paper and I can draw fast with a lot of precision. Of course for a drawing like that, I kill many fine black fine-liner pens! But I alternate with graphite or pencil, both of which I also hold dear to my heart. They allow me to use different levels of grey. For example my piece Sa Majeste.
What do you do if you make a mistake? Do you use Tippex?
Haha no, I never cheat! The trick is to draw a huge fresco or drawing with lots of little details. Thanks to the details surrounding the mistake, you can’t see it anymore as it is embedded. It’s such a clever technique, I should really patent it…
You work with the artist McBess, tell us a little about your system of working together.
Mcbess is a very close friend, we have some similar features in ours drawings. We draw in black and white, we often draw food and various jokes. A collaboration with him is like a game of ping pong – one of us draws something and the other completes it, etc, etc… No constraints, just pure fun!