Boris Pelcer’s portraits are surreal, strange and beautiful

We chat to Boris Pelcer about his artwork, including the next Little White Lies cover for Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film The Neon Demon.

I first discovered Boris Pelcer as this illustration based on Drive-director Nicolas Winding Refn's new film (shown) went viral across Twitter – after that, I never really looked away. With its sultry stare, dangerous edge and strange twists, The Neon Demon illustration is hypnotic, rich, compellingly detailed and loaded with emotion, but just a tippy toe into the depths of an eye-grabbing portfolio.

With clients including The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Newsweek and Bloomberg, it seems the rest of the world hasn’t taken their eyes off Boris either. And that’s not to mention his buzzing, brilliant personal work, just as incredible as his editorial and commercial commissions.

It was movie magazine Little White Lies who commissioned Boris to celebrate the upcoming film The Neon Demon on their front cover. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s films are always highly stylised, divisive films - the 2011 thriller Drive being particularly well-received - and, from what we can tall, The Neon Demon - a racy horror about an aspiring model - will be no different.

Here, we’ve caught up with Boris to learn how he created such a eye-popping illustration for The Neon Demon, as well a look at the rest of his work, what inspires him and what’s he’s looking to in the future.

Mimi Launder: What was you process behind The Neon Demon piece?

Boris Pelcer: “The overall composition was predetermined by Little White Lies’ (LWL) Creative Director Timba Smits. He wanted to be sure that the main character, Jesse, was in the centre of the composition. The rest of the piece - such as the background elements and lighting - was, to a degree, up to me.

“The piece had to communicate the strange dynamic of the high-end elite fashion world, where innocence and corruption clash. Thus, my solution to communicate such was through the use of blue and red colours which represent light versus dark, innocence versus corruption, beauty versus beast.

“Fragmented face elements in the background represent Jesse’s psychological breaking point caused by chasing fame at all costs in the high-end fashion world.”

ML: How did you end up working on the Neon Demon project?

BP: “Prior to working on the Neon Demon cover art for LWL, Timba Smits offered me an opportunity to create a portrait of a famous film sound designer Walter Murch for LWL’s movie book titled What I Love About Movies. I love what they do, so I accepted the offer and created the portrait.

“Since then I’ve worked on a lot of different projects. One of those projects included creating a cover art for the February 27th 2015 issue of Newsweek [shown].” 

Image: The Dark Web for Newsweek

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ML: How did you create the Neon Demon piece?

BP: “The entire piece was create digitally, with the use of Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Cintiq 24HD. I had about five days to complete it. Such time frame is standard for most editorials pieces.”

Image: Stills of Boris' process shots, which also appeared on LWL’s Instagram.

ML: How would you sum up your style? 

BP: “Realism and surrealism.”

Image: Walter White for The New Republic

ML: What inspires or influences you?

BP: “I’d say that my biggest influence has been life itself. I like to question the unknown, even if at times I find myself staring right into the overwhelming heaviness of the void. However, I enjoy thinking about cosmos and I appreciate the humbling perspective that it provides.”

Image: Map To The Stars for The New Yorker

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BP: “When I think about my existence from a cosmic perspective, it’s rather fascinating that we as human beings exist on this pale blue dot, among millions of other living organisms. There is so much that seems vague and perplexing about human existence, but the fact that I exist here, now, on this planet, creating artwork that I enjoy making and is there for others to appreciate - that fact alone makes me feel both incredibly grateful and in some strange way, very perplexed.”

Image: Nebula (personal work)

ML: Tell us about your creative process.

BP: “My creative process starts with a simple written brief that strives to answer the ‘Why?’ of the project, as in ‘Why am I creating this work?’. Once I know the ‘Why?’ than I start thinking about how exactly I’ll realise the project, which is when I figure out the media, technique and style that is best suited for that particular concept. If I have some clear ideas, I might jump right into the project. If there is not much there to start with, I usually take some time to experiment.”

Image: A Perfect Nothing (personal work)

ML: How has your style developed over time, and where would you like to take it in the future? 

BP: “I didn’t have a set style for years. It wasn’t until half way into my MFA that I realised what I needed to do to define my work: if I wanted my work to hold some weight, I had to open myself up, be vulnerable and let the work reflect my thoughts and emotions.

“Once I allowed that particular content to guide my work, I also realised that I didn’t have to worry too much about the style, but rather let the content inform what style I should use for that particular piece or series.”

Image: Byronic II

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BP: “For example, my Beyond Limits series dealt with the obsessive and overwhelming nature of being in love, thus I chose a technique that seemed the most reflective of that - stippling. Each piece is a combination of realism and abstraction which was done to point out that love is neither fully rooted in reality nor in fantasy, but exists somewhere in-between the two.

“The same sort of thinking was applied to each of my many personal projects. It is also why they aren’t all the same in terms of media or colour use. But what seems to be consistent with all of my work is that they all deal with things that are half way between reality and fantasy. It is why I combine realism with surrealism.

“Currently I have about dozen personal projects that I’m working on and the main aim of these projects is to further explore different styles, while still exploring personal themes. Some of these projects will embrace vibrant colours, some will fully embrace surrealism, while others will combine playfulness with absurdity.”

Image: Awe (personal work)

ML: Who’s the artist or illustrator working today that you admire the most? 

BP: “One of my biggest creative sources of inspiration is James Jean. I am truly inspired by his ability to switch between styles and still create work that feels authentically his. I see freedom in the way he switches styles. It allows him to keep his love affair with creativity fresh, new, and ever-evolving.

“I am also inspired by his ability to tap into his subconsciousness and create work that is both cryptic and somehow honest, authentic. Most of the time his work is layered with meaning and, even when I’m not certain I get what he is depicting, the essence of his thoughts and who he is still seems to come through. That is what I want to be able to do with anything that I create.”

Image: Franz Kafka for The New Republic

ML: What’s next for you?

BP: “A lot of exploration - but what comes out of it, well, you will have to wait and see. I will also be exhibiting some of my new paintings at the “Suggestivism” Resonance exhibition curated by Nathan Spoor at Spoke Art, San Francisco, USA, Sept. 3-24, 2016.”

Image: Milan Kundera for The Atlantic

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