Having worked across the disciplines of illustration, painting and writing since the 1980’s, renowned artist Jean-Philippe Delhomme is featured in publications worldwide ranging from Vogue Paris to The New Yorker, among many others, documenting contemporary culture and city life.
Switching regularly between Paris and New York City, Delhomme’s work is influenced by the urban environment. “In New York, I’m very much inspired by the surroundings and things I see. In Paris, I work more with memories and things from the past”, he says. Whether the illustrator is referring to one of his landscape paintings or a sociological drawing, he describes his work as “minimal, but expressive”. Having been influenced by photography from an early age, Delhomme often frames his pieces like “imaginative photographs”. Aiming to comment on contemporary trends, he sees working for print as a way of sending out messages: “It goes everywhere and you don’t know where it goes, but it’s seen by people and in that way, you communicate with people you don’t know. Maybe it goes somewhere, maybe not, maybe it goes into the trash or maybe it’s used to pack fish or meat or whatever, but I love this idea.”
Growing up in a creative family, with a father who drew in his free time and a grandfather who was an art director for Lancôme in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Delhomme was always surrounded by paintings. When thinking back to the special moments in his career, he recalls his first assignment for then-avant garde magazine Glamour, which left him complete creative freedom while combining writing with drawing. What followed were illustrations for British Vogue and exhibitions in Japan until Delhomme decided to move to New York City, where he was commissioned to illustrate an advertising campaign for Barney’s New York, turning it into a huge success and making breakthrough for himself. “We did the whole campaign with drawings, which was completely new and nobody was doing that at that time.”
Many exhibitions, books and features later, Delhomme still doesn’t like the idea of calling himself an illustrator. “You can do different things. It’s a way of living. I think we don’t have to specialize, but instead, I feel it’s more natural to go from one thing to another and experiment with different means of expression”, he says. Thinking back to how he first started out and launched his career, Delhomme recalls: “When I was at art school, I saw people respecting certain rules about colors etc. and I wasn’t feeling comfortable with these rules at all. One day, I just realized that there are in fact no rules. Just start doing things.”
"One day, I just realized that there are in fact no rules. Just start doing things."
On the topic of making art for a living and the meaning of success, Delhomme shares his insights in the following paragraphs: “I think it’s a wrong start to think about being successful, that’s for sure. Some people do it, but I don’t think it’s something that you enjoy from the outside. I think you just start with the things you like, or things you want to say, or if you feel you’re different, just say that you’re different and what’s different in you – then some people might response to it.
And the thing about thinking about being successful is to think like a marketing student when you have the idea of like ‘Ok, I’m doing this start-up and I’m going to sell this stuff because nobody is doing it’ – it’s completely something else and if it’s about writing or painting or drawing, that’s something you’re doing within yourself, alone – and you really get to spend a lot of time alone – without really knowing what you do and being insecure 85 % of the time. If you want to make something successful, yeah, it’s better to work for a big luxury brand and working in marketing and then you have certain keys so you know what is good and what is not. In drawing and painting, there’re no statistics.
"Writing or painting or drawing, that’s something you’re doing within yourself, alone – and you really get to spend a lot of time alone – without really knowing what you do and being insecure 85 % of the time."
When I see drawings by people that are sincere and genuine and not trying to be this or that, it’s great. And doing something that is a bit insecure is more interesting. There’s enough big machinery, big brands, and big TV shows and we don’t need more of that.”
All images © Jean-Philippe Delhomme