I made a trip to East London back in mid December 2017 to visit a few exhibitions, the main one being Olivier Kugler’s ‘Escaping Wars and Waves’ at Rich Mix in Shoreditch.
The exhibition’s subject matter was the refugee camp in Greece, the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, the Domiz refugee camp as well as locations in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Olivier had visited and documented these with interviews and photographs, which he then used for the source material for his illustrations.
Much of the work had been published in several magazines worldwide and his portrayal of Syrians at the Domiz refugee camp won the World Illustration Award in 2015, this was exhibited at Somerset House that year.
The work itself was commissioned by Doctors without Borders and the exhibition was supported by Arts Council England. On display were final illustrations, alongside his original pencil line drawings which he then scanned in and coloured digitally.
The sheer scale of these drawing was interesting to see, some being as large as three A2 sheets taped together. His original pencil line work is thick and solid. The finished illustrations are mainly small enough to fit on an A4 page, so to see that difference in scale is striking. Each final piece is full of hand written notes to communicate more the situation so many people have found themselves in due to conflict.
Having spoken to Olivier in 2015 at Somerset House, what struck me is his passion to communicate an individual's story.
His working method feels secondary when he discusses his work, at the heart if his work is the subject, in true reportage fashion. Be that in a war zone, during travels around the world and on the city streets.
I have been a fan of Olivier's work since first getting interested in reportage illustration* several years ago. I love his distinctive line work combined with digitally added flat colour, along with dense hand drawn text which adds context to his illustrations. He is originally from Germany, where he studied graphic design. He then studied ‘Illustration as Visual Essay’ at the School of Visual Arts in New York where he drew mainly on location. He is currently based in London.
*Reportage illustration is a tradition going back to the time before when photography was used to cover world events. So called ’Special Artists’ were sent to the front line to capture events literally first-hand. This was when illustration was the only way to communicate visually such subjects, and since the dawn of photography reportage illustration is relatively rare. Today people like Olivier, George Butler, Matthew Cook and Lucinda Rogers produce some fantastic work continuing this tradition into the 21st century.