Ignasi Monreal’s artworks are colourful, bold and delightfully surreal. For his vivid illustrations, the 27-year-old Spanish artist draws inspiration from an eclectic range of references – from Japanese Manga to Renaissance art, 20th-century fashion photography to science fiction. The result are his signature fantastical landscapes, inhabited with deliciously incongruous, but inevitably likeable, characters. It is little wonder that his illustrations have struck a chord with fashion’s notorious dreamer Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci, who Monreal has collaborated with for over two years now, creating numerous illustrations for the Italian house’s campaigns.
“Gucci first approached me in 2015 for their #GucciGram project,” remembers Monreal. #GucciGram was a series of 15 illustrations by 15 creatives, launched shortly after Michele’s arrival at the brand, and published on the brand’s Instagram. Between an unsettling photograph by Ren Hang and a surreally enigmatic work by Amalia Ulman sat Monreal’s warmly coloured illustration depicting a bespectacled weather girl. Memorable and imaginative, that illustration would mark the start of Monreal’s many fashion collaborations – going on to work with Dior, J.W. Anderson, Louis Vuitton and, of course, Gucci, for which the artist has created numerous illustrations since.
What makes Monreal’s style so unique is his ability to mix the mundane and the extraordinary, the dreamy and the everyday – delivered with a sense of humour and keen eye for detail. For Dior, he created an image of a narcissistic high-heeled shoe looking at itself in a round rotating mirror. Monreal was invited to work with Dior just before designer Maria Grazia Chiuri arrived, and the label was “going back to the roots”, as Monreal puts it, hence the pastel hues, reminiscent of the Dior palette of the 1940s. Working on J.W. Anderson’s digital campaign he looked towards Japanese Manga for inspiration, producing an animated scene of an alien invasion, enlivened with designer Jonathan Anderson’s Pierce bags, which hovered in the air. Similarly, the artworks he contributed to Louis Vuitton’s current exhibition Volez, Voguez, Voyagez in New York are surreally cheeky – the monogrammed suitcases are dissected and set apart to reveal an almost human structure beneath.
Monreal’s quick wit stands out in the #GucciGift campaign he recently created for the Italian brand. “I was given absolute creative freedom with the project,” he says. “The cruise show that I had been invited to see took place at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, so first I turned to Renaissance art for inspiration.” Michele’s Resort 2018 collection, initially meant to be presented at the Greek Parthenon, brimmed with allusions to classical Greek art – flowing, draped silhouettes evoked togas and many of the looks were accessorised with gilded wreaths and sparkling tiaras. Accordingly, Monreal’s work revolves around themes of Greek mythology, reinterpreting it in a refreshingly eccentric manner. Atlas, the legendary Titan, is turned into a hipster-like figure in slouchy socks; Diana, the goddess of hunting, wears a bejewelled hat and oversized glasses, whilst Orpheus sports a heavily patterned 1970s-inspired suit.
What Monreal likes about Michele is his “humour and eclecticism” – both characteristic of his own works, too. For Gucci’s S/S18 campaign he has referenced Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, invading the dreamy landscape with a plethora of Gucci products. Bosch’s painting, unsurprisingly, is one of the artist’s all-time favourite artworks. “It’s extraordinary,” he says. “And I love this story about it: when King Philip II was dying he asked to put it next to his bed, it made him reconcile with the thought of afterlife. It’s such a powerful painting.”
And why does he think that illustration currently has so much momentum? Marni and Acne Studios have recently incorporated illustrations in their collections, and Gucci works with illustrators as often as with photographers for their campaigns. “I think it’s because everyone can take a photograph nowadays,” says Monreal. “I personally take so many pictures I don’t remember most of them. It’s only those images I have painted that remain special.”