Israel-born Yoni Alter studied Visual Communication in Jerusalem’s Bezalel school, before doing a Masters in Graphic Design at the LCC. Since moving to London eight years ago, he has become best known for the idents he created for the London Live TV channel, an exhibition of London-inspired prints at Kemistry gallery and for his colourful ‘Shapes of Cities’ series. Aged 33, he lives in Ealing with his wife, who is expecting their first child.
Hi Yoni! How did you begin capturing London in all its architectural glory?
I was working in Hyde Park, and all of a sudden I saw The Shard with the London Eye behind it - it looked like a work of art, a perfect circle and a triangle. I love graphics and shapes, and I like to collect stuff, so here I guess I’m collecting shapes. I’ve done 35 cities in the series now but I still think London works best, each one of the shapes is so unique and interesting. You get this great classic and modern architecture together.
Go London! How do you go about ‘collecting’ the buildings?
Sometimes I know the city, or ask friends or contacts about the important buildings, then I research online. I draw them to scale with no perspective or stylising, so if I can find a blueprint I just trace it in Illustrator. Once I have collected all the shapes, I start overlaying and playing with them. What’s interesting for me is to get to a point where it’s semi-abstract. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and I have to leave buildings out or collect new ones.
Has your version of a city ever upset its citizens? What did you leave out in London?
In the original the Shapes of Cities London, I didn’t include Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the O2 Arena, St Paul’s… But I got to add some of the missing ones in the range for the Tate shop. In Chicago I left out the Sears Tower in Chicago and some people got very angry online.
How do you choose your signature array of colours?
This is the fun part. With the Shapes of Cities, once I have the shapes, something just tells me what colour it should be. I like strong, bright colour justbecause it’s so impactful - I love the bright magentas, the bright blues. I’m just drawn to these ones, but I’m sure some people think it’s childish or garish. It’s not considered sophisticated but for me, if something is available why not use it? With some artists or illustrators, you could immediately recognise that it’s them because of their palette, but I never restricted myself.
It also depends on how the work is being produced. Neons and fluoros can’t be printed digitally, so it’s a matter of screen-printing or press-printing. With work that goes on screens, like the London Live idents, you could use brighter, more vibrant colours, because the screen has a different spectrum [RGB, compared with CMYK for print].
Are your drawings digital all the way? Do you ever use pen and paper?
As a kid, I was always drawing. I used to fill areas with markers - so when I found out you can fill an area with a click it was mind-blowing for me! I remember working on an early version of CorelDraw when I was teenager. I still see my work as drawing, only why not do it on a computer? You can be much more accurate, you can be cleaner, you can make variations much more quickly. I use drawing at the concept stage, but I am hooked on digital drawing.
What have been your greatest influences?
My father was an architect, so that’s always been an influence - even though I wasn’t really interested at the time. He is a great art lover, but I used to resent being dragged to galleries! Not any more of course. Tate Modern’s Lichtenstein exhibition last year blew me away. I follow a lot of graphic arts on Tumblr too.
Winning the London Live commission saw your work on TV and across the Evening Standard - was that a big break for you?
Other people say that, but for me the big deal was the exhibition at Kemistry Gallery. They exhibit all my favourite graphic artists or street artists from around the world so I was very chuffed. Intersection was one of my favourite works - I covered the wall with it to make it even more abstract. The visitor who’s entered the gallery can first see those geometric shapes and then areas of colours, and then they kind of realise that it’s an aerial view of a skyscraper.
So what’s next, Yoni?
I’m exhibiting a range at an outdoor exhibition at BOXPARK in Shoreditch - this range is going to be big canvases; and only from a distance can you see what each one is.
One work is going to be an LED matrix, where each light can be assigned changing colours, so it can rotate between images.
Yoni Alter’s London range is available in the Tate Shop.His exhibition at BOXPARK opens on 3 July 2014.