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tea & biscuits with richard kilroy

tea & biscuits with richard kilroy

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We sit on the couch in front of the TV, with the volume turned down low. Richard Kilroy is wearing tracksuit bottoms and a white t-shirt. He’s dressed like it’s Sunday morning, and it looks good on him. We drink tea and eat chocolate chip biscuits from the package, which he offers with apologies.

“I didn’t know they were reduced-fat,” he says, grimacing.

I spent two hours in Richard’s living room in his flat in East London, and in those two hours I learned a lot about him. As much as you can learn about a stranger wearing tracksuit bottoms in their flat, sharing a package of reduced-fat biscuits. Which is a good start.


In those two hours, Richard and I talked about Celebrity Big Brother, video games, P.E. class, relationships (lovers, friends, family), hockey, Grindr, social media (“MySpace; R.I.P.”) and the upper-class women of Chelsea.

We talked about Sex and the City (Richard considers himself “a Miranda”), East London’s gay scene, Dubai (he calls it “a plastic Legoland for the rich”) and Grayson Perry. It was a Saturday night kind of conversation. The kind that makes you feel like you’re holding onto the tail of a boozy jet stream, speeding towards sunrise.

For the most part, we talked about fashion illustration, which is what Richard does for a living, most of the time.

Some of the time, Richard is tutoring students at LCF or UCA or Epsom; previously at Central St Martins. Other times he is exhibiting his work; in London, or sometimes in Paris. He has written a book called Menswear Illustration, and published a fashion illustration magazine called Decoy. But mostly, he is illustrating.

“I ramble, sometimes,” he says, after I press record on the iPhone. “I prefer to spout my thoughts immediately.”

Have you seen The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross? Well, Richard has. And his rambling is a lot like that.

An episode begins with a blank canvas. Bob Ross is going to create some Mystic Mountain, or Evening Waterfall. He starts dabbing the canvas with a natural colour, maybe blue (probably called a Phthalo Blue), which we can assume will be the sky. This is the first layer — the foundation — on which our Mystic Mountain will exist. The fan brush propels Sap Green tiny trees into the skyline; we think: probably, we could recreate this.

So, Bob Ross paints and paints. Suddenly, we don’t know where Bob Ross is going anymore; like, there is Midnight Black and Titanium White getting splashed all over the place. We’re not too sure where we’re going to end up, but we’re sure as hell not going to change the channel. We are invested.

We are invested in Bob Ross — a man who has fooled us into thinking that with a few gentle brush strokes we can all create a painting of a Mystic Mountain in the time it takes to watch an episode of Friends. We are invested in Richard’s rambling, which is not really rambling at all, just like Bob Ross is not All Of Us At Home; us non-artists, eating pizza hungover, watching reruns of his show on Netflix on our couch.

In the end, we cannot paint Mystic Mountains, or Evening Waterfalls, or Frozen Solitudes like Bob Ross can. In the end, most of us do not ramble like Richard, who can sketch out a conversation with a beginning, middle and twist final scene that loops it all back to the start. With moments of frankness, hilarity and self-reflection. With quotable ‘soundbites’ you can put on the back cover.

“See if you can make that a soundbite,” says Richard, who is so conscientious in conversation that he’s making editorial suggestions as he talks. Concluding a six paragraph monologue with a summary; marking his words instructively, like he can hear his own voice playing back in his head.

“Okay, now we’re back on the record,” he says, when he talks about an unreleased commission or industry battle. And then he distills the off the record part of the conversation into a perfectly packaged on the record soundbite like it’s a Christmas gift.

At one point, he recalls a childhood memory of sitting in the corner of the playground alone, feeling sorry for himself.

“It was a bit weird. Actually,” he says abruptly, “I hate using the word weird. People who use the word weird show a lack of capacity for trying to understand difference.

“Try to fit that in as a soundbite, if you can,” he adds, laughing.

••

Richard tries to remember his earliest memories of drawing; a question he’s been asked before. What he remembers is: Sonic the Hedgehog, Bart Simpson, waterfalls.

“I was always drawing in school,” he says. “I remember kids would say, ‘Richard, draw me a waterfall!’

“And characters in fighting games, usually the women,” he says, laughing. “Looking back, they were really tartly dressed.”

And then later, CD covers. “I remember drawing Madonna’s Ray of Light, which is still one of my favourite albums.”

He tells me about growing up in Liverpool; hating football, hating A-Levels, hating any criticism of his art, which he was good at. He tells me about a friend in school, who was obsessed with Garfield. “She had this big shrine to Garfield, so I read all of her Garfield books and just became a bit of a shut in,” he says.

“And I kept on drawing.”

Richard tells me about summers indoors playing Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. Finishing high school, working for two years, coming out, finding friends and living for the weekend.

“Always knowing that eventually, I’ll go back and do an art foundation, which I did,” he says.

Richard applied for illustration courses at Middlesex and Brighton; he got rejected from both. They suggested he apply for graphic design instead.

“It’s funny,” he says, “now that I’m on the other side as a tutor, I probably would have said the exact same thing.”

He discovered illustration at sixteen, the same way many of us discover alcohol and cigarettes and secret plots of grass — through a friend.

“I remember always watching Fashion TV on Sky and cable,” he says. “You get that dream in your head where you want to be a model; you want to look like a model!

“I don’t think I had any real interest in fashion until I was sixteen. I thought fashion was all Vogue, Elle, Cosmo and high heels. My best friend was really into fashion, and I started buying fashion magazines.

“I remember buying The Face because it had an illustrated cover, although I didn’t like the illustration. It was of Ozzy Osbourne,” he grimaces, “very cartoony and graphic. But it had Julie Verhoeven and Jasper Goodall and all the others in it. I got addicted.”

By 2007, Richard was ready to take things seriously. He was accepted to Leeds College of Art for Visual Communication. Three years of fashion illustration and he would have gone crazy, he says.

“It was important for me to learn how to do my own website and how to promote and market myself a bit. That’s not to say I’m one of those cold networking people,” he adds, “because you can just smell them a mile away. You’ve got to have the passion and knowledge to back it up.”

Passion and knowledge are the colour palette behind Richard’s strangely succinct way of rambling; the loudest, observable elements of his character that have taken over the apartment in the form of books, magazines, illustrations, sketches. Stacked along the walls, stored in boxes and framed.

“You know Charles Jeffrey?” he asks, gesturing to a set of framed drawings resting on his books. “Those are Charles’s drawings. I’ve got a bit of a collection from various illustrators.

“I don’t want my flat to become some ode to illustrators,” he adds, “but it’s so nice to have original drawings that I love by other illustrators. Including a nude I did posing for Richard Haines. I’m kind of tempted to frame that one though.”

During Richard’s second year he was offered his first commission by Richard Mortimer for Ponystep.com. It was a looser, inky style. Being his own worst critic, he wasn’t entirely happy with them, but Richard Mortimer was. They commissioned him again in his third year. He had been studying HD images of the catwalk online and experimenting with a photorealist style.

“And that kind of blew up,” he says. His worked was covered on HypeBeast, “which I’d never heard of. And people started knowing me for menswear drawings from that.”

That year he also self-published Decoy — a fashion illustration magazine and ode to the illustrators he loved. Issue two featured two of his favourites: Jasper Goodall and Julie Verhoeven.

Richard moved back to Liverpool; back into his parents’ house. He signed on to Job Seekers. And then he got a call from Dior.

“I panicked, because it was really overwhelming,” says Richard. “It was Somerset House. It was this Christian Dior, René Gruau thing. I was an illustrator from Leeds. I wasn’t really involved in the fashion industry.”

Richard was one of five illustrators chosen for an exhibition called Dior Illustrated, celebrating René Gruau’s work as an art director with Dior. A few months later, he attended one of Dior’s red carpet events in London, dressed in an “overly smart suit” that he got on sale.

“A really lovely strong-shouldered Margiela number,” he says. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in now.

He laughs. “Suits are creative death for me to draw.”

••

It is summer in East London, and so through the window the weather vacillates. Richard shows me new work — small studies of body parts, made into collages. He shows me old illustrations stored in boxes — the ones that haven’t been sold, sent to clients, or acquired by the V&A for their permanent collection. He also shows me some recently commissioned work, (“which has to be off the record”) but I can say it’s a musician. And I can say you will know it when you see it, which you will, someday. Maybe soon.

Most of the time, Richard works from his own photographs of models. He loves drawing men for their shapes; their noses, their hands, ears and Adam’s Apples. He tells me he can recognise a face from anywhere, from long ago.

“Maybe because I draw faces,” he says. “I recognised one guy who was at a festival next to me about ten years ago.

He laughs, “Probably because I thought he was hot.”

This summer is a new start for Richard. He is experimenting with his work; fighting the perception of what people understand to be his style. The style that got him to where he is now, a freelance fashion illustrator, an author and a part-time tutor at one of the best fashion schools in the world.

“People just want you to do more of the same, if they like your work already,” he says. “You probably will lose fans and followers, with the newer stuff. It’s the same with anything creative. You have to have that confidence to take that step. You have to do what will make you happy and keep things fresh.

“Because in fashion,” he adds, “you’re in one minute and out the next.”

••

Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion, Vol. 2

Illustrations by: Richard Kilroy
Written by: Jennifer Lee O’Brien


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