Illustrator Roberts Rurans on taking a deep dive into the mysterious appeal of medievalism
We catch up with the Riga-based illustrator to find out how he’s attracting major commercial clients with his very specific medieval-inspired style.
- Elfie Thomas
- 29 April 2022
Watching Roberts Rurans’ style develop over the past few years has been a delight to behold, having caught our eye back in 2018 with his playful figures composed of bright colours and simple shapes. Back then, his big influences were in street art and graphic design. Last time we spoke, Roberts’ style had evolved considerably and we discussed the little embellishments inspired by medieval art that were appearing in his work. Parting with a promise that we would see more of the medieval influence in future work, Roberts did not disappoint.
A trip through Roberts portfolio today is like walking slap bang into the Middle Ages. Works like the Lure of Music summon the sumptuous colours and intricate detail of a medieval illuminated manuscript, while The New Jerusalem looks like a gilded altarpiece. There are some things that have remained constant though: Roberts still hand-paints every commission he makes and the simple, dynamic figures in his new work are direct descendants from those that caught our attention back in 2018. But compared to his earlier work, Roberts’ compositions are much more complex, crammed with intricate details and embellishments, the new illustrations are impossible to tear your eyes from. He’s also taken to experimenting with more peaceful colour palettes, “where primaries are combined with neutral and earth tones”, he says.
For inspiration, Roberts goes straight to the source. He’s been getting his teeth stuck into 14th Century manuscripts like Dante’s Paradiso and richly illustrated alchemical guides like Splendor Solis. But he hasn’t stopped at visual references. Wanting to get inside the minds of the ancients, he’s been following the YouTube channel of Jonathan Pageau. The work of this Canadian icon carver and symbolic thinker has been “a gateway to explore the immense heritage of both Eastern and Western traditional faith and arts”, says Roberts.
One might expect that taking this deep dive into ancient thinking and medievalism might make Roberts’ style a little too antiquarian for more commercial commissions. Unsurprisingly, it’s been attracting various religious clients, like QTM, a Christian magazine based in Korea. But it appears that Roberts is part of a recent wave of illustrators that are making medievalism totally “in” right now. This year we’ve spoken to Océane Muller and Pia Mélissa-Laroche about the mysterious appeal of medievalism in their work. Roberts is setting the precedent for attracting major commercial clients with this archaic trend. Since we last spoke, the illustrator has reeled in a roster of major commercial clients including Coca Cola and Hermés. He’s also been doing a roaring trade with the New York Times, who have shortlisted him twice for their Year in Illustration, and last year he saw his work plastered on billboards across his hometown when he designed a Christmas card for the Riga City Council. “In short, I’ve been doing well,” says the illustrator.
Last year Roberts got the chance to work with Coca Cola, an “unrealistic dream client”, and the Tokyo Olympic Games. For their #IBelongHere campaign, Roberts, along with four other artists, was asked to create a flag that reflects an Olympic value – he was assigned “excellence”. Roberts set to work on dreaming up a flag which interpreted “excellence” in full medieval splendour, with a sprinkling of Ancient Greek references. The iconic Olympic ring has been imagined as an ornate gilded wooden frame which encircles the athletic body of Latvian javelin thrower Janis Lusis. Laurel wreaths either side of the ring held by two angelic personifications of Arete – the Ancient Greek concept of “moral virtue” or “excellence”.
While he’s grateful for all the clients that have been “brave enough” to commission works in his new, very specific style, Roberts tells us that he is always looking for braver clients “that won’t shy away from depicting mythical creatures when commissioning me, such as dragons, harpies, centaurs and others, as I think that would be a lot of fun to paint them. So far the dragons have been rejected.”
Copyright © Roberts Rurans, 2022
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.