11 Visual Artists Who Enlighten, Inspire and Bring the Impossible to Life

From posters and logos to theater stages and comics

Stage designer Es Devlin has created mind-bending backdrops for Beyonce, Adele and many more. Via EsDevlin.com

Whether it’s designing theater stages, logos, comics, posters or images, the visual artists in Adweek’s list display an innovation and artistry that both inspires and challenges.

Photo: Jasper Clarke

Es Devlin
Stage Designer

At the start of the Netflix documentary Abstract: The Art of Design, Es Devlin, speaking about her art, says: “Over the last two decades of working, one of the things I’ve discovered is often, things are made to fill voids.” Indeed, Devlin, known for her kinetic sculptures, has filled just about every space put in front of her.

Devlin has designed for a number of England’s major theater companies including the Royal Shakespeare Co. as well as for TV, films, operas, fashion shows and rock stars. Her elaborate stage sets have graced the concert tours of  Beyoncé, Kanye West, U2, Lady Gaga and Adele. For The Weeknd’s Starboy: Legend of the Fall tour, Devlin created a giant, luminous paper plane-type structure to hover above the stage. In 2012, she designed the Closing Ceremony of the London Olympics and the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics, four years later.

Es Devlin's stage design for The Weeknd at Coachella

British-born Devlin, who originally studied music at the Royal Academy of Music as a child, has had her works exhibited in a number of solo gallery shows and installations, including the recent Mask at Somerset House in 2018, The Singing Tree (described as an audio-visual Christmas tree) at The Victoria and Albert Museum in 2017 and Room 2022 at Art Basel Miami in 2017.

Hailed by the New Yorker as “the world’s foremost stage designer,” Devlin has received three Olivier Awards for set and costume design. In 2017, she was awarded the London Design Medal and in 2015 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Katie Richards

Paul Fuentes
Artist, Photographer, Paul Fuentes Design

Juan Pablo Fuentes, known as Paul Fuentes by friends and family, is a graphic designer and content curator. He began his professional career as a junior designer at Universidad Anahuac Mexico City in 2012. Over the next four years he worked as a senior designer at Vida Anahuac Social Magazine, quitting the publication to create his own studio. Fuentes began posting images of food on Instagram just as the whole food porn was trending, earning him instant notice. His Instagram account now has 224,000 followers.

Fuentes’ playful, colorful designs attracted the attention of advertisers and brands alike. He has done work for 20th Century Fox, Dior, Swatch and Cup Noodles. “I want to make people happy,” he says. “With a sushi cat or a juicy hamburger, it’s my goal to break your boring Instagram feed and to get a smile on your face. I like to remind people how fascinating the world is by producing images of food, animals and objects. These images are minimalistic mashups with pastel backgrounds.”

Some of Paul Fuentes' creations on Instagram

Adds Fuentes: “My main inspiration is happiness and simplicity. Simple is beautiful. I wanted to bring a new way of humor, so what I try to provoke is the feeling of not taking life too serious.”
Cara Anderson

Jessica Hische
Letterist

Letter artist and logo designer Jessica Hische’s work is everywhere you turn and even where you pose. At the Color Factory last year, the wildly popular pop-up experience in San Francisco, she created the Paint the Town mural in a secret alleyway, which no selfie-loving Instagrammer could resist. Moviegoers, meanwhile, know Hische from the film titles she created for Wes Anderson’s Oscar-nominated Moonrise Kingdom. Coming soon: her logo redesign for Squier, a budget-friendly guitar line from Fender.

Speaking of logo redesigns, Hische has become something of a specialist in this arena, executing exquisitely subtle updates for Southern Living, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Eventbrite, among others. The projects indulge the letter-art geek inside her but also are her stealth way of teaching clients the valuable nuances of her craft. “I really like helping to justify hiring a professional,” she says, citing the proliferation of aggregate websites that offer anonymous design services on the cheap.

Jessica Hische's 'survival kit' design for John Hodgman's Ragnarok DVD

This October, Penguin Workshop will publish Hische’s first children’s book, Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. In an aspirational era when kids are told they can do and be whatever they want, she aims to deliver a message of reassurance that she feels is missing: It’s OK if you don’t succeed at every single thing you do. “Not everyone is capable of winning,” she says, “but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.”
Kristina Feliciano

Olivia Jaimes
Comic Creator

You won’t find much information about innovative cartoonist Olivia Jaimes, and that’s by design.

The pseudonym-cloaked artist and writer made history on April 9, 2018, becoming the first woman to ever draw the 80-year-old syndicated comic strip Nancy. From her inaugural frame, Jaimes’ creative influence brought the precocious protagonist a newly acquired modern commentary. Suddenly, Nancy went from adorable snow-day shenanigans to griping about internet trolling at the hands of “bots” alongside her best buddy, Sluggo. Though met with protests from certain fans who took issue with the obvious changes, readership has nearly doubled since her debut, according to the strip’s distributor, Andrews McMeel Syndication.

But don’t expect the woman behind the comic’s newfound vitality to step into the limelight anytime soon. Jaimes prefers to let her work speak entirely for itself. “It’s been extremely freeing,” says Jaimes. “It keeps things quiet, which is one of the things I value most when I’m trying to make creativity happen.”

In other words, to understand the artist, see the art. “Like me, Nancy is navigating this space where her technology has changed the way she interacts with the world in strange, funny ways,” she explains. “I try to reckon with my own baggage by making jokes about it through her.”
Shannon Miller

Dan Mumford
Poster Artist

Freelance illustrator Dan Mumford developed his unique style from his love of comic books. Not surprisingly, superheroes, Star Wars and other pop culture items are well represented in his portfolio.

“To me, I like to draw things that have a complexity to them,” Mumford says of his bold, ink-heavy style. It’s that very style that has attracted such clients as media giants Disney, Sony and CBS, as well as bands like The Grateful Dead, Queens of the Stone Age, Pearl Jam and others.

A few of Dan Mumford's poster creations

Working on multiple Star Wars projects—including creating Imax exclusive poster art for the releases of both The Force Awakens in 2015 and The Last Jedi in 2017—have helped earn Mumford a reputation for instantly memorable artwork.

But he describes his solo exhibition at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles last year, Chroma, his most memorable project to date. “I created all the artwork in small bursts amongst a lot of traveling,” he recalls. “I didn’t get much time to really stop and look at the work as I went along. When the show opened and I finally got to see all the work on the walls, it was quite an amazing feeling. I was exhausted, but very happy.”
Chris Thilk

Laurence Philomène
Photographer and Director

Since age 14, Laurence Philomène has been taking photos, beginning with images of dolls, later evolving into photos of friends, who remain largely the subject of personal and commercial pieces. Many of the Montreal native’s photos deal with identity, queerness and color theory, which is particularly evident in their ongoing series: Non-Binary Portraits.

“The idea behind it is to showcase a different side of the trans community than what was being shown in the mainstream media,” says Philomène, who identifies as non-binary and has photographed friends and others in the community who also identify as non-binary.

The series challenges perceptions of beauty and gender. “A main goal of mine is to make people feel calm and loved and included as much as possible,” Philomène says.

“I’ve had so many people reach out to me and tell me that my photography has helped them to cope with their identities,” Philomène shares. “I’ve also had people reach out to me and tell me that it’s made them think about what can be beautiful and what is beautiful and things like that. And that’s something that I really love and am really glad that I’m able to do.”

Philomène, who directed a touching “13 Reasons Why You Matter” video for Netflix and photographed for VSCO and Converse, developed the Artist Interview Series on Adolescent.net that features emerging artists in various fields. —Nicole Ortiz

Amy Reeder and Natacha Bustos
Creators of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur has flourished as an example of a more inclusive future in comics thanks, in large part, to the the distinct artistry of Natacha Bustos and the work of multitalented Amy Reeder, who writes for the series and created its early cover designs.

Since 2015, the creative team behind the hit comic has chronicled the adventures of Lunella Lafayette—a quick-witted 9-year-old girl, heralded as the smartest person in the Marvel Universe—and her mentally linked, gargantuan partner in heroics, Devil Dinosaur. Co-created with writer Brandon Montclare and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, the comic is a look at Lunella’s cosmic battle to save the world from evil while fighting a genetic mutation that is destined to morph her into something inhuman.

Though the comic succeeds in taking the reader on a boisterous, action-packed ride, it manages to do something even more iconic: It centers the dynamic story of a young, brilliant black girl who excels in invention and openly embraces her intellect. “She’s a genius, she’s young, she roller skates, she’s black, she wears glasses, she likes science, she has difficulty relating to other people,” Reeder says of the award-winning character. “Just one of those things could align with you, and I think it makes you as a reader have more stake in the character.”

In February, Marvel TV announced plans to develop Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur into an animated television series, opening up the comic to a brand-new audience. “From the outset, this comic had the potential to make a difference,” says Bustos, “and it’s great to see that three years down the line it continues to exceed those expectations.”
Shannon Miller

Darryl Sharp Jr.
Digital Artist and Graphic Designer

Whether it’s turning music artists like Migos into weekly Instagram animations for Laundry Service client Beats by Dre as part of his day job or colorfully reimagining his hip-hop idols’ album covers on his own time, Darryl Sharp Jr. is constantly creating culturally relevant projects aimed at making “a really big splash.” Sharp says he finds inspiration everywhere. In Los Angeles, where he resides, he spends most of his downtime going to free events to “people watch” and strike up conversations with strangers.

“I love capturing different experiences,” Sharp notes, because they could lead to a viral moment. That’s what Sharp says he loves most about advertising—it can be used to tap into trending topics and even push cultural conversations to virality.

Recognizing that he is part of a group of “few and far between” black graphic designers, Sharp says it’s always important for him to highlight voices not often heard.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BbHkcu_lG00/?utm_source=ig_embed

One personal project he produced was a series of motion animations that saw his favorite hip-hop artists as Marvel superheroes including Childish Gambino—his utmost idol—as Gambit, aka “Childish Gambito.” As a child, Sharp says he used to visit record stores weekly just to study album covers. Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) is one artist Sharp is dying to work with; specifically, doing the artwork for his upcoming album and the last under the Gambino moniker. Sharp posted his own version of Childish Gambino’s video for his single, “This is America,” to his Instagram, featuring an animated Glover head—which captured the artist’s persona to a T. “But make no mistake,” says Sharp; his work is always “100 percent me.”
Lindsay Rittenhouse

Ray ‘Neutron’ Spears
Photographer

A former factory and janitorial worker, Ray “Neutron” Spears (he earned the nickname from “a girl in high school for his nerdy tendencies and large cranium”) broke into professional photography as a wedding photo editor in Los Angeles in 2013. Over the years he’s expanded his artistry through mixed media, documentary filming and portraiture.

The work of the now New York-based photographer and Typical Magazine co-founder reflects a singular interest: to capture the intrinsic beauty of every person’s most human moments. “I hope to make everyday citizens appear larger than life and the celebrity feel relatable,” says Spears. “My dream job is to photograph Jay-Z frying an egg, Beyoncé taking out the trash and their security guard Julius sipping D’ussé in a Maybach. That kind of imagery will be important in 30 years.”

These days Spears maintains a career that allows him to take on multiple projects ranging from commercial work to public speaking. With an impressive roster of clients that includes the likes of Apple, Heineken, Lecrae and Zoë Kravitz, Spears has established a sort of signature, unaffected vibe that makes his body of work feel intimate and genuine. Many of the images can be found on his Instagram page and the magazine that he co-founded with his wife, who just so happens to be the same young woman who gifted him his nickname way back when.
Shannon Miller

Alex Trochut
Visual Artist

Alex Trochut’s innovative typography, logos and illustrations have made him the go-to artist for clients who don’t want business as usual. Anomaly New York hired him to interpret Johnnie Walker’s striding equestrian as a female rider, “Jane Walker.” For TBWA, he designed 10 wildly creative posters for McDonald’s “10 Years of Big Mac” campaign, variously inspired by vintage video games, mixtapes, circuit boards and Bitcoin. For DDB Barcelona, Trochut made financial services look cool for Volkswagen, designing a logo that would fit right in on a music festival poster.

“It’s part of my job to present content in a surprising and seductive way,” explains Trochut, whose work has been recognized by the Art Directors Club, Type Directors Club and the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, among others. “I try to be as chameleonic as I can.”

Trochut was born in Barcelona, Spain, where he ran his own design studio after college before moving to New York. Working with a mix of analog (photography, paint, pencil, brushes) and digital tools, he constantly tests the limits of his creativity.

He recently collaborated with electronic musicians including LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on an enigmatic portrait series called “Binary Prints.” He’s also added 3-D to his arsenal. “Working with 3-D space, light, form and movement has definitely opened a door to incredible possibilities and results,” he says. “My final objective is to grab people’s attention for as long as I can.”
Kristina Feliciano

Get to know the rest of Adweek’s Creative 100 for 2018:
13 Global Agency Leaders Whose Ideas Go Beyond Borders and Transcend Boundaries
27 Senior Agency Leaders Who Are Charting a New Course for the Creative Industry
29 Rising Agency Stars Who Are Keeping Advertising Relevant, Fresh and Fascinating
13 Celebrities Who Are Making Pop Culture More Innovative, Inclusive and Interesting
15 Ad, Film and TV Directors Who Are Raising the Standard for Storytelling
11 Branded Content Masterminds Who Are Elevating the Art of Marketing
10 Writers and Editors Who Are Changing the National Conversation
• Cover Story: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay on the Creative Process, and the Intersection of Art and Activism

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.


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