Illustrator in New York City
Illustration by William Godwin
July 18 2016
It only takes Richard a few flourishes of the brush to lay an image down on a page. Despite its outwardly simple style‚ his work is rigorous and technically sophisticated and has helped make him into one of the best-known illustrators working today. He is part of a new guard of fashion nobility‚ and over the course of his career has worked prolifically for the likes of Prada‚ Dries van Noten‚ GQ‚ The New York Times and many others. Cooler still‚ he cut his artistic teeth in just down the street from our studio‚ back in Richmond’s “groovy” days.
How do you manage to keep your output up with such intensity?
That gets tricky. Last year was super busy—I did a print collaboration with Dries Van Noten‚ I was in Korea‚ Tokyo‚ Antwerp‚ Milan and Paris twice all for commissioned work‚ and that took up a lot of time and energy. I usually try to draw for myself a few times a week‚ even if it’s at a fashion show or a drawing I impulsively want to do late at night—I work very hard at keeping all the balls in the air.
How many drawings would you say you make in a given week? What do you do to clear your mind when not drawing?
It’s hard to quantify because I have different ways of drawing that take different amounts of time. I do know that I draw daily and if I do one drawing I’ll do five. I draw to clear my mind—it’s a kind of meditation for me—I go into a zone. I’ve tried to meditate‚ but I’m not very good at it‚ so hanging out with my daughter or friends is a really good way to get out of my head and relax. Lately I’ve been going to this after hours club here in Brooklyn. It’s pretty crazy and so much fun to watch—I’ve always felt like I can disappear in places like that‚ kind of get lost and that’s very freeing and liberating.
If you had to boil it down to its most essential‚ what makes for a stylish guy?
It’s certainly not about money or designer labels. I live in Bushwick and I see these kids put themselves together with no money and they look amazing. So I think style is not trying too hard‚ it’s the way a guy carries himself—with confidence and a bit of swagger. That’s real style. And a good haircut doesn’t hurt either!
Will your daughter Ji Tan be following in your footsteps as an artist?
Ji Tan has an amazing eye. Her drawing skills and photography are extraordinary. She was accepted into the art program at VCU‚ but I’m not sure what paths she will take long term future. Whatever she chooses to do I have total confidence in her. Ji Tan is an amazing person‚ I’m lucky to be her father…
What will you be doing in 2025?
Oh fuck I’ll be 73! Naturally as I get older my role models change. Right now I look at Diana Vreeland‚ Bill Cunningham‚ Picasso—people who were vital and creating all their lives. There’s a joy I get in observing and recording it on paper that I believe keeps me going—I don’t see that ever changing.
What was Richmond like when you were in college here?
Richmond was different but it’s the same in some ways. I graduated from VCU in ’73—the downtown was beginning to collapse. There were great locally owned department stores like Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes but they would be swallowed into corporate giants and disappear. There was no Carytown—there were blue haired ladies wearing white gloves who ate in a restaurant in that big hotel off Franklin Street.
When I started in 1969 we were the first class that didn’t have to wear jackets and ties. But I always thought Richmond was a great town to be young in—just enough city to expand and experience the freedom of moving away from home. It was for me‚ and it seems like it is for my daughter too! I love Richmond. It’s good to be back.
You get to choose the U.S. president next year. Who would it be?
Whose work do you look to for inspiration?
So many great artists: I grew up loving Lautrec‚ Matisse‚ Picasso‚ Aubrey Beardsley. The illustrations of Antonio Lopez and Christian Berard‚ and‚ of course‚ Cocteau. I just saw a show by Wolfgang Tillmans that was great. And David Shrigley‚ Raymond Pettibon‚ David Hockney‚ Alice Neal… I could go on.