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Hunter French

Work / Illustration

Hunter French packs movement and meaning into his almost-innocent illustrations

Hunter French, the New York City-based illustrator originally from Connecticut, didn’t really wrap his head around illustration as a concept before university. “I got into illustration because it was the only thing I felt I could do at the time,” Hunter says. “For a while, I wasn’t committed to the field and was trying other avenues of study in school, all the way to getting a degree in graphic design,” he continues. After a few years away from his incessant sketchbook doodling, Hunter returned seriously to illustration about three years ago. His illustrations are brightly coloured, featuring characters with cartoon eyes that look like they jumped out of a children’s book and into the hectic scenarios that Hunter imagines them in.

In a recent video essay for Tate Exchange, CGI artist Alan Warburton talks about how painters and illustrators create a visual language of motion in a static two-dimensional image, using “mannered and contorted poses with bodies overloaded with significance” and “impossible tableaus where crucial events seemed to happen at the same time.” The same classical techniques reappear in Hunter’s illustrations. In a Bloomberg Businessweek illustration, two men in shiny suits play a contorted game of twister over a children’s road map rug. In another, he draws a chaotic railroad scene, littered with stray smoke and anthropomorphised train carriages that come to an abrupt halt. The visual interest in the illustrations seems to be layered and dense with ideas, all in eye-catching primary colours. A certain kind of anarchic innocence of an all-too-observant illustrator plays out in Hunter’s scenes.

“I usually sketch things throughout the day at my desk as more of a compulsion than anything else,” Hunter says. “I try to either expand upon these ideas in my sketchbook or carry the energy of that sketch to a more final, larger drawing,” he continues, adding that he uses this improvisational approach to keep building on the ideas, in a maximalist manner, “until it goes awry or is somewhat satisfying.”

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He lets us in a little on this process when discussing Construction Pigs, an illustration depicting a group of pigs building a brick house together, planting flowers, paving roads, and having sandwiches on a ledge reminiscent of Lunch atop a Skyscraper_. “_Construction Pigs started as a drawing exercise in my sketchbook, a riff on the idea of one of the three little pigs building his house out of bricks,” Hunter describes, “I thought: what does the union job version of the three little pigs look like?” The wholesome tone of the image, complete with smiling trees, shifty-eyed buckets and even a piggy project manager, came from Hunter’s aim to depict “a sense of contentment” in the scene.

“There is also a big amount of anthropomorphised characters in my real world, and they always make me laugh when I see them on a bumper sticker or on a company’s mascot,” Hunter says. “People identify with characters, whether it’s love and repulsion,” he elaborates. For instance, for a commissioned comic strip for the headphone company Nurasound, Hunter received a relatively open-ended brief that asked him for “a visual representation of what it feels like to use its headphones.” Hunter used this opportunity to try out a comic strip, after finding a reference image of large musical notes. “From there, the note became a character that gently lifts a boy into the sky. I enjoyed seeing the music note as a character instead of a garnish within the illustration,” Hunter elaborates.

Currently illustrating editorials for Vice amongst other freelance work, Hunter is planning to continue to evolve his style. “I’m interested in incorporating drawn symbols into my work, using more visual research and limiting my colour palette,” he concludes. We can’t wait to see more of his absurd, light-hearted scenes in the future.

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