There is an incoherent interconnectedness between fine art and graphic design. Although art is built upon principles of freedom of expression and graphic design is often commissioned, both practices utilise visual experience, using colour and form to stir emotions and reaction. From Georges Braque’s Fauvist arrangements to Barbara Kruger’s text-based masterpieces, fine art and graphic design have intersected for years. In light of this, we look at six contemporary artists working today, that are further closing the gap between the two practices.
Julian Opie is a British visual artist known for his involvement in the pop art movement as well as the New British sculpture movement. His style is distinct and impactful, with the artist depicting figures in flat colours with bold black outlines. His style is undoubtedly influenced by the work of Michael Craig-Martin, who taught Opie at Goldsmiths in in the early 1980s.
For many years Opie’s work has been considered controversial and avant-garde, due to his simple but effective style. In 2003, Graphics International even published an article on the artists’ work stating that “Julian Opie is very definite about not mixing terminology when it comes to mixing art and graphic design. His work sits in a precarious place between the two”. However, Opie’s work can be found in prestigious public art collections across the globe including the British Museum, Tate, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Takamatsu City Museum of Art in Japan, cementing his place as a prominent and important fine artist.
First launching his career as a commercial designer, it is clear from Mikael B’s energetic works that he is inspired by graphic design. Both studying the subject at university and then setting up a design agency with his twin brother, Mikael B combines his graphic design knowledge with a natural and instinctive flair for creation in his artwork. Utilising his skills beyond the confines of commissioned jobs, Mikael B rose to fame as a fine artist in 2014 when his work, Vibrant World, went viral and received over one million views on Facebook in a matter of days.
Influenced by Surrealism and geometric abstraction, Mikael B employs design skills to create immersive canvases that transport the viewer into an infinite universe where colour and composition reign supreme.
Born in Spain in 1989, Coco Dávez is a passionate and prolific contemporary artist known for her faceless portraits of iconic celebrities. Stumbling across her signature style by accident when painting over a depiction of Patti Smith in frustration, Dávez has become renowned for her portraits that, through distinctive features and colour palette alone, portray some of the world’s most famous faces.
Her clean linework and vivid use of colour mean that her accomplished canvases have inspired designers around the world, whilst the unique form of her work has led her to collaborate with many prestigious brands to design unique posters and products. In 2019, for example, Netflix commissioned Dávez to reinterpret a chapter of Stranger Things, with the creation of an original poster, entitled Holly Jolly.
KAWS’ role as art world provocateur is no secret. His illustrious career has ruffled the feathers of many traditionalists in the industry due to his artwork falling within an indefinable genre, and blurring the lines between art, commerce and design.
Born in 1974 in New Jersey, Brian Donnelly, known widely as KAWS, first worked as an animator for Disney before trying his hand at street art, urban art and design. KAWS gained recognition in the late 1990s with his Companion collectable toys and since then has designed toys and clothes for a range of well-known brands like Comme des Garcons, Nike, Supreme, Medicom Toy and A Bathing Ape. He is also known for his vibrant screen prints that champion line and colour, drawing direct inspiration from both geometric abstraction and graphic design.
Ed Ruscha is an American artist associated with the pop art movement, best known for his distinctly graphic style that marries image and text. His artwork breaks down artistic traditions by merging technical categories like graphic design, fine art and text.
As a child, Ruscha wanted to be a cartoonist but eventually enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute, now known as the California Institute of the Arts, to study commercial art. Ironically, it was reportedly a black and white reproduction of Jasper Johns’ Target With Four Faces that first inspired Ruscha to become an artist rather than pursuing graphic design. However, his commercial training is still evident in his work today with his use of bold typefaces and block colours.
Influenced both by art history and pop culture, Graceland London is a visual artist and illustrator known for her unique depiction of contemporary society. Interrogating the darker side of the human ego, her work paints a dystopian future where narcissism and consumerism have taken over.
Inspired by the precision of Italian and Flemish Renaissance painting but studying 3D Digital Design and Animation at Hampstead Fine Arts, Graceland London’s art fuses the past, present and future of art with a humorous flair. Using flat swathes of colour that lack tonal modelling, the artist masterfully uses compositional layering alone to create a convincing sense of depth and space.