Artists dream of landing a coveted assignment to illustrate a story for the New Yorker, a publication that’s been setting the standard for excellence for 95 years! I just chatted with Aart-Jan Venema about his process for depicting utopian worlds for the article, “What Can We Learn from Utopians of the Past?”
To start, editors sent him the article, a book review about nineteenth-century utopians, and Aart-Jan did some research to find relevant pictures and drawings as references. “My first thought was that I’d do a portrait, as I’ve done before for the New Yorker, but in this case that wasn’t the best idea.”
He also thought the article was a bit too complicated to sum it up in one conceptual image. “So, I chose to do what I do best: Organize a busy scene with lots of things to discover,” he explained. “I implemented some other utopians, made some stuff up myself, and sneaked in references to illustrators that I like.”
Aart-Jan did a perfect job of mixing all these concepts into one image. “The composition I used is based on the famous oil painting, ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ by Caspar David Friedrich, who, in my opinion, fits this topic very well.”
“I chose not to go too conceptual on this, so that made it easier. I just had to get the right atmosphere. Apart from that, it was just really fun to do the research and glue everything together.”
The pure white land and salmon-color sky are wonderful choices for giving the scene a fantastical vibe. Notice how Aart-Jan includes an artist working under the palm trees with a nude subject. Very clever! Didn’t someone say Utopia cannot include boredom?
Thank you, Aart, for sharing some inside info with us!