“Don’t try hard to be what you are not. It’s not about impressing the rest…” That’s artist Ego Rodriguez’s wise philosophy when it comes to creating his bold art. And while he may not be setting out purely to “impress the rest”, with a style that’s been described as “Tom of Finland meets Warhol”, his work certainly does impress. This Spain-born, London-living artist has had his work showcased in magazines like The Advocate and Gay Times and featured in art shows in London and Pride events worldwide. And as one of the four selectees for our Artist Shops Accelerator program, we couldn’t be more excited to see where he takes his creations next.
We talked to Ego Rodriguez all about how he got his start, how he learned to create his realistic portrait-style art, and about what pop culture staples inspire his pop culture designs.
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First things first, tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am a freelance illustrator based in London, UK. I’ve been always drawing since I was a kid but only moved it from being a side project to a full-time job in the last years.
I love the pop culture emphasis your work has – what kinds of movies and shows are you inspired by?
I was born in the ‘70s, raised on the ‘80s, and a teen on the ‘90s. I’d been exposed to and absorbed lots of cinema and pop culture that it’s having a comeback now. Since I was a kid, I was a fan of horror, fantasy, adventure, camp, and everything that combines that. From Frankenstein to Cabaret, Gremlins to Hellraiser, Priscilla, Little Shop of Horrors, Ed Wood, Beetlegeuse, Batman, you name it.
How did you get started in the illustration business?
It was natural for me to sketch people since an early age. At some point, it created an interest and I got requests and job offers. Then, I decided to organize the whole idea and think of it more under a business approach. Create products, market a brand, and work on a clear style that defined that brand.
It’s my style that makes me recognizable and appealing to different companies and publications I have worked with. I can do something with a swimwear brand but also a men’s grooming brand.
Your art is so realistic – are you self-taught or did you go to school for art?
I grew up in an artistic household. I had tools and reference to support my interest since an early age. I never studied arts but I’d been always practicing and learning on my own.
Tell us a little bit about your show, “Macho”! What was the core theme of the show?
Macho was the first attempt to work with something more than a personal commission. The idea of bringing portraiture into a public appeal. I wanted to do something pop and powerful, something that attracted a wide array of people. The main theme was inspired from Playgirl centerfold models. All in bright colourful sets, but nothing explicitly sexual. I always called it “Hairy Hello Kitty”. People loved them and that was the intention.
You’ve worked with some huge magazines and brands – how did you first start marketing your art when you were first getting started? What have been some of your favorite projects so far?
It has been a natural path of growth. My social media presence has been my main fuel and business card. Brands, companies, clients approached me because they have seen my work online, so in that sense, it’s very organic. I’ve never needed an agent or someone to get me going. I’d been pretty lucky with clients; I think there’s always an instinctive communication and ideas came as conceived. My last work for The Advocate drawing LGBTQ+ athletes was really fun to do and I love the final result.
What are some of your main goals now that you’ve been selected for the Accelerator program! What can we look forward to seeing?
I am interested in creating a brand that talks about an individual lifestyle. I don’t want to create ideas that make people pretend to be a name, logo or signature. I will like that the designs are ways to express their own ideas and how to be the self you would like to be. Pop imagery is always open to personal interpretation and always ready for re-appropriation. I want to use this project to work deeper on this ideal and create a series of products that speak this language.
Is there something you’re particularly excited about that you can try out now that you’re in the Accelerator program?
My all-over print POP heads was something I’d been after for more than a year. Now that I have them, I can only wait to be able to evolve into more than just t-shirts. People love these.
Who are some of your inspirations and influences as an artist?
I love artists like Gruau, Leyendecker & Antonio Lopez. Avedon, Newton, Horst, Pierre & Gilles. McQueen, Mugler & Gaultier. Music gives me inspiration and I listen to so many different styles of music from ‘80s pop, ‘90s grunge to old-school house, opera or German electronica…everything has its time. Movies are always inspiring.
What’s your artistic philosophy?
Don’t try hard to be what you are not. It’s not about impressing the rest but learn from what you do.
Your About page says that you can be found reading “some encyclopedia of pointless information” – can you give us a random fact?
Sure: Elephants are the only animals apart from humans taught to use a sword. Giraffes can’t cough. And Romans thought that wrapping fox testicles on your forehead will alleviate a headache.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you enjoy what I do, keep an eye out for my book coming up very soon.