“Variety is the spice of life,” says illustrator Adrian Forrow. His vibrant, variously textured works, which flit between detailed patterning and block shapes, contain multiple narratives in their numerous playful elements and visual puns.
Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, Adrian turned to picture-making and comics as an alternative, visually-centred means of communication and comprehension, having struggled with reading in his early years. He tells us that “as a teen, I was into punk-rock, DIY culture and skateboarding. I was obsessed with all the skate brands and their unique irreverent design sensibilities. I loved the idea of graphics adorning objects like skateboards and clothing. These interests were definitely a gateway to understanding that design and illustration were viable career paths.”
After attending art school and being introduced to various visual forms, methods and channels for creative expression, Adrian says that he was “hooked on this idea of being an illustrator. I became obsessed with bringing my ideas to life on paper through a variety of mediums until I found my groove.” His “groove” lies in bold colours, simple shapes and a handmade, cutout aesthetic that lends a charming naivety to the works, often undercut by the gravity of the messages they convey.
Adrian’s series Things to do When You’re Blue acts as an impetus for encouraging conversations around mental health while using humour to combat the stigma around a potentially daunting and bleak topic. As he describes it: “This series touches on the topic of mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, and its relation to the current digital landscape. Each image depicts an exaggerated narrative, which brings to life various fictional and bizarre ways of coping. The topic of mental health affects us all in different ways and these silly images aim to make light of a heavy subject, allowing some possible relief from the doldrums.”
And what does Adrian suggest doing if you’re feeling blue? In the images, a dog wearing clothes and huge, heeled boots boils a sock in a saucepan; an armless figure wraps their ridiculously long torso around a window and between their legs; a character in ripped jeans zig-zags on the floor while a white-gloved admiral peers through the window; a figure in a skate shirt and a beret sprays something pink onto a cooker-fire, hovering their butt precariously over a potted cactus on a stool behind them. Everyone’s got their own coping mechanisms, right?
When it comes to defining the concepts behind his illustrations, Adrian says: “I find inspiration in the little moments in life that are overlooked and often absurd. I generally like to make positive images that are cheeky or bizarre to remind us to look for the silver lining in our lives.” That cheekiness and absurdity is deeply ingrained in Adrian’s artistic style and the visual personality of his work. “I’m interested in printmaking and heavily inspired by folk art," he points out. "These influences come through in my use of limited colours and the way I overlap shapes. I get stoked on the small, imperfect nuances and what might look like a mistake or oddity, is likely quite intentional.”
Speaking of his artistic influences, Adrian states: “I have a lot of respect for the classic masters that were almost equal parts designers and illustrators, people like Paul Rand, Bruno Munari, Alexander Girard and Seymour Chwast. I’m also inspired by artists that I was introduced to through skateboarding and music: Mike Mills, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton, Chris Johanson, and Geoff McFetridge. More recently, I’ve been admiring the work of Nina Chanel Abney, Stuart Davis and Vanessa Maltese. They’re all so talented. But one of my all time favourite artists is my mom. She draws really random but amazing stuff. I’ve never told her because I’m worried it could change the way she draws, so hopefully she’s not reading this.”