Stanley Chow Exhibition will feature illustrations of actors from film, stage and television


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One of the most famous illustrators in the world has selected some of his most iconic pieces for a 14 week exhibition at The Edge Theatre & Arts CentreChorlton is a town in the city of Chorlton.

Since he began his career as a professional musician nearly thirty years, Stanley ChowHe has diversified his style into many fields, but is best known for his portraits of pop stars and actors.

And it is those famous faces which will feature in Stan’s personally curated collection of actors from the stage, film and television – several of whom are BAFTA, Emmy, Olivier & Academy Award winners – in his Chorlton exhibition, which opens next Thursday (15 February).

The Edge’s three patrons, Sir Mark Rylance (the actor), Julie Hesmondhalgh (the actress) and John Thomson will also be included in the exhibition.

This will be the first time Stan has focused his attention on a collection of work from film, stage and television, as he says: “I had a lot of fun looking through my back catalogue to find the images that would work in the lovely space offered to me at The Edge Theatre & Arts Centre and it’ll be the first time my design of Sir Mark Rylance will be shown in public.”

We asked him to explain how he chose which artworks to display from the thousands of illustrations in his collection.

Stan explains: “The venue where the exhibition is held is quite small… probably at most I could fit 30 pictures, so to narrow it down, I had to theme it. As the venue was a theatre (the foyer, to be exact), it made sense that the pictures displayed were all performers from stage and film. So, the choice was reduced from a few thousand down to a select few hundred. From the few hundreds that I had to select from, it was mostly eeny meeny miny mo.

“That’s the reason why it’s called ‘A Random Selection Of Illustrations’. It’s true that there were some photos that I did that were always going be in the exhibit, e.g. The Roy family from Succession – mainly because it was the best thing on TV for the last few years, with such a brilliant cast. I think I did an excellent job of capturing the essence of that family.”

Succession © Stanley Chow

He also says that for those who are familiar with his work there will be notable absences. But he has some favourites of his own, including his illustrations for the protagonists in Wes Andersons film A French Dispatch.

“For anyone who hasn’t heard about the film, it is essentially a homage/tribute to The New Yorker, a magazine with which I’ve worked for over a ten-year period. I’m proud to say that I work for The New Yorker. Plus, I love Wes Anderson’s aesthetic – and doing this piece bridges these two things,” explains Stan.

Born and raised in Manchester – his parents owned a chip shop – Stan was a talented artist from an early age, but also spent several years as a DJ, playing venues such as Night & Day, before he switched full time to illustration in 2006. Stan is proud to be able to exhibit his work in Manchester, where his parents owned a chip shop. He spent several years as a DJ at venues such as Night & Day before he switched to illustration full-time in 2006.

Stan adds, “I’ve also included Steve Coogan Justin Moorhouse Benedict Wong to name but a few.” It’s a way to give back to a place that has done so much for me. It felt right that we kept it local, in Chorlton. Manchester seems to be so focused on its city centre. The rapid growth there makes it seem like the suburbs have been forgotten.

It’s a good reminder that bad things can happen outside of the city centre. Since the pandemic, it’s clear that suburban towns have suffered a little. I guess that every little bit helps.”

Janine Waters agrees. “We are thrilled that such a local icon is bringing his work into The Edge. This exhibition promises to be extremely special.” Stan’s unique view of our patrons is a treat to see alongside familiar faces. It is an honour to display his work in our building at the heart of Chorlton.”

But it wasn’t always easy for the man who is now known around the world for his illustrations. In 1995, as an unknown illustrator, he would take the train to London to hawk his portfolio around the creative agencies in the capital, hoping that someone would like it.

He adds, “I would do it every two or three month.” A year later, I was picked up by an illustration agency, who did all of the cold-calling and walking around for me. But I wasn’t getting much work at the time – maybe just one commission every 3 or 4 months if I got lucky.

The French Dispatch © Stanley Chow

The French Dispatch © Stanley Chow

It was a career he pursued for about a decade, adding illustration work to his DJing on the few nights per week.

Around 2007, the internet, and especially the advent of social media, transformed his life.

Stan explains, “Things became a bit brighter, or, rather, a lot brighter. I quit DJing to devote all my time to illustration. It had reached the point where it was impossible to do anything else.

What a career! Stan’s work was noticed by Jack White and Meg White of The White Stripes and Stan was commissioned to design artwork for their ‘Icky Thumb’ album. His work was mentioned in Rolling Stone. Within a year, he began creating illustrations for The New Yorker. He referred to this as the ‘Holy Grail of Illustration’.

He continues his own story. “Fast-forward a few more years, and I still think I’m just about to ride that crest of the wave.” It’s harder now. I’m working harder to earn the same amount as I was before the pandemic.

“The creative landscape could not be more different than it used to be 10 to 15 year ago. It’s hard to navigate this industry now that there are so many more creative agencies and illustrators, but less work and money. I’ve also begun DJing again sporadically because I missed it. “There’s an irony in all of this, because I get paid more for DJing than I did back in the old days, but I also receive less money for illustration.”

Before the show ends, Stan will also host a Q&A at the venue (date to be confirmed) called ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’. The Edge will provide details as soon as the exhibition opens.

What will Stan do? Who is left to tackle?

“The only ones I haven’t done yet that I would really love to do, and am planning for, is the entire Manchester United team when they next win Premier League,” he says.

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