Interview: Louis Byrne on Analog and Abstraction

January 08, 2018

Louis Byrne is a British illustrator who makes work that explores the dialogue of analog and digital technologies as they're applied to illustration. Ranging from renderings to traditional prints, Byrne makes abstract and figurative representations in a wide array of styles and color palettes. We chatted with Byrne a bit about his prcoess, background, and inspirations, and found he is as articulate in words as he is in his art.

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Eben Benson: Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from and what was the first time you remember making an art piece?
Louis Byrne:
I'm from Leeds, in the North of England, and I'm currently studying Illustration in my final year at Leeds Arts University. My first memory of making a piece of art was when I was a kid at the Centre Pompidou, I remember quite happily ignoring most of the paintings in the gallery, and instead being engrossed In my sketchbook, drawing characters from Lord of the Rings.

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It feels like you're moving around a lot in terms of medium, all with fabulous results. What sparks this change when you go from making an illustration, to a print, to a 3d rendering etc. etc?
While I’ve been studying, I’ve tried not to limit myself by just sticking to one form of image making. I find it really helpful to explore a range of media as I find that the results of one process will directly inform how I approach another. For example, experimenting with overlapping monoprints changed how I went about integrating texture and dimension into my more three-dimensional work. 

A lot of my sketchbook work consists of collaging print and found ephemera, and I feel that this helps to keep my work grounded while also making it more energetic and lively.

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What is a central theme or concept that you like to explore in your work? Who are some of your favorite artists? and ones that inspire you?
Although I don't feel that a single concept underpins my work, I often return to the theme of effectively integrating analog and digital processes. I’m fascinated by the changing nature of Illustration and print, and I enjoy making work that relates to traditional processes, while embracing the range of modern tools that are available.

David Lemm and George Douglas are 2 artists who constantly inspire me. I love that they make such striking and identifiable work, while treading the line between illustration, fine art and graphic design, as this is something I want to emulate in my own practice. I've also been looking at a lot of old religious paintings and Dada collage recently, and I’ve been really inspired by their surreal imagery and their ability to tell evocative and clear stories, despite having so much going on in the frame.

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What are some things you think are gained and lost with art being shown online vs. in person? What about specifically with your work?
Showing art online can be a great way to reach a wider audience and I love how it can allow for fun things, like supplementing still images with animation or video. However, I feel that by displaying work online, the feeling of tangibility that may have come with a piece can be lost. Because the work also does not exist in one fixed place, and can be shared so easily, i feel that it can also risk becoming trivialised and this can result in a disconnect between the art and the audience.

Because so much of my work is finalised on Photoshop, I always try and incorporate some analog elements into each piece, so that when my work is viewed on a screen, it can communicate a sense of handcraftedness. 

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How did your collaboration with Hookworms come about? Have you done design for a music project before? How do you start working on this type of thing?
My collaboration with Hookworms started when I was contacted by Jonny, the band's guitarist, who'd formerly been my tutor at art school; he'd seen my work on Instagram and got in touch about designing the album cover. I’d played around a bit before making proposed covers for albums that I liked, but had never been approached directly by an artist, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with the band.

I started working on the project by listening to the album a few times, writing down my immediate thoughts about the music and any shapes and colours that came to mind. I tried to avoid anything that related directly to the lyrics and instead aimed to create something that embodied a more general feeling of the album. The project was a great exercise in communicating through abstract imagery.

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What's one direction you'd like to take your art?
I'd like to try to make more elaborate compositions and develop a greater sense of narrative and communication within my work. I'm currently trying to find a good way to combine characters and more abstract imagery as part of an ongoing project, that will hopefully lead to some more developed work later in the year.

Thanks Louis!