The works of illustrator Rui Pu are ones he himself describes as slightly absurd. A mix of illustrative texture, photographic collage and abstract forms, within a portrait frame Rui piles in tons of artistic character – the result of a few years of navigating the creative industry.
Originally from Chengdu, China, and now living in London, Rui first decided to study digital media, moving to Guangzhou at 18 for university. Finding he had little interest in his course “in my spare time, I created portrait illustrations of my friends, but they were mostly unaware of it,” he explains. Elongating, stretching and widening the form of his friends humorously to magnify their features and movements, the act of illustrating not only excited Rui, but “what I look forward to more is their reaction,” he tells It’s Nice That. Hooked on the feeling, he scrapped digital media to become an illustrator, first working as a commercial illustrator at an internet company, and now studying his MA in illustration at Camberwell College of Arts.
But while Rui’s work still links back to those early days of drawing his nearest and dearest, the specific stylistic attributes of his work have taken some twists and turns. Developing this style for the past two years, at first he focused on flat illustration, spending time “constantly observing other artist’s works on Instagram or websites,” he explains. “The final result was that my work did not ‘belong to me’ in a certain sense, and was gradually homogenised.” Taking time out to really look inward to discover his personal visual style, Rui opened up his phone photos to find those early sketches, as well as some experiments when he was first learning Photoshop. “A lot of absurd and funny collage elements had been added and then I thought… Why can’t I combine illustration with collage when I’m creating something?”
Gradually combining these two methods, now Rui’s practice is a balancing act of illustrative and collage elements. Avoiding the collage part until the last step, as despite being small they “appear in the most critical places in my works: the face and hands”. In turn, the drawn details in Rui’s illustrations add character and humour, but it’s the collage which represents the “emotions I want to express in my works,” he says. “Therefore, collage elements occupy a small part of my work, but it is also the most crucial part. A small amount of collage can make the audience’s gaze instantly gather on this. I want the audience to feel the emotion in my works quickly.”
Other considerations, like realistic tendencies or “correct” representations of people are mostly ignored also, with Rui adding: “I don’t particularly care if perspective is correct (or sometimes even deliberately ignored). It may even seem that sometimes the elements in my works are vulgar or irrelevant to the arts. But this is precisely what I want. I want what I create to be free of all constraints.”
The results are pieces which feel like an entirely new addition to the illustration scene. There are elements of exaggerated figures, a style many of Rui’s peers adopt, but when combined with an almost Xerox style print in his collage, a fresh merging of styles and references emerges. To continually apply a new perspective, Rui now also feeds his inspirations away from screens or the work of others, taking the “time to walk aimlessly everyday, which makes me feel relaxed,” he describes. “The surrounding scenery, what’s happening on the street and all the different kinds of people on the road are the source of my ideas, recording them with my camera.” Back at his desk a process of combining different thick and thin lines with a collision in colour takes place, all working towards his final goal of wanting “to make my work exaggerated, engaging, and full of vitality” – an aim he is certainly achieving.
Rui Pu: HongHongHong (Copyright © Rui Pu, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.