Constrained by an academic path laid down by his parents, Achraf Amiri – a Belgium-born illustrator – knew from a young age that it was time to break free from these artistic boundaries. With the use of his alter ego, named Bambi, he was able to liberate himself as an illustrator and fully depict what he thinks of the world. It’s creepy, it’s dark, it’s sarcastic and it’s humorous; these are the factors that form the structure to his work and have accompanied him on the road to great succession. Self- proclaimed as the ‘hidden son of the Adamms family’, this illustrator uses his morbidly playful interpretations of fashion and art to portray a sensationally blurred love affair between the surreal and the real. Despite his childhood academic pressures, Achraf Amiri has truly blossomed into a mischievous character and we were lucky enough to chat to him to find out more about his alter ego and how he got to where he is today.
How did you get into illustration? Tell us a bit about your background.
Drawing in itself is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid; it all came very naturally. I was very mischievous – this contrasted with the plans and education my parents wished for me and created quite a dramatic clash. Just before I started secondary school, I told my parents that I was a creative guy and that I really wanted to study art. I wanted to express myself and discover more of what pushed me into my emotions. They were very accepting about this, so from there I studied graphic design and it was very organic; everything went smoothly and the fact that I was expressing myself made me really happy. Then when I became a graphic designer I was in my emancipation period – I started partying and meeting fancy people. I became friends with the Editor-in-Chief of Elle Belgium Magazine and she somehow discovered that I could draw. She got me little illustrative jobs and was very happy with what I produced at the time. That is how I actually started a name in the illustration world, from a true coincidence. It all started from a party!
How did you develop your own distinct illustrative style?
Well, it started from my emancipation period. After my studies, I had a strong desire to move myself and leave Belgium as it’s a very conservative country. I then started travelling to Barcelona and spent a year in Nepal where I met people from all over the world. This opened my horizons and it was what I really wanted for myself; to be more of a global citizen instead of being just one individual in a particular environment. I like being open-minded and somehow my art reflects a very nonchalant, anarchist and punkish behaviour. It’s very sexy and dirty; I use bad words…whatever. You have to feed yourself into whatever your state of mind is. My aesthetics therefore somehow meet the open- mindedness of being an anarchist but then there’s also the discipline of the choice of colour or the line. It’s just a quick sketch but it’s still a discipline, so my style reflects an alliance between those two contrasts. I also carry a sketch book with me at all times and use it as a way to express myself on a daily basis. So this is where my discipline comes from: carrying a book and throwing whatever comes into my mind.
Who is ‘Bambi’ and how did you come up with the pseudonym?
Well that’s the name I gave to my alter ego. I’m a good guy, let’s face it. I try to be good, educated, always laughing and always smiling, but somehow I’ve created a personage who is allowed to be whoever he wants to be. When I was 19, I was very prude about sexuality. But Bambi is allowed to have orgies and experience all the ‘bad’ things…he’s very rock ‘n’ roll. He’s definitely the opposite of what I am, so that’s the reason why I call him my alter ego; just to be free!
Would you ever like to be more like your alter ego?
If the world was very free…Why not? That’s the question. But I like to be reserved; I’d rather be backstage and see what Bambi is doing rather than do the stuff and then pay the price for it. I’m happy with my lifestyle but there’s always the curiosity pushing you to the ‘what ifs’. People have to decide what they want to be and the funny thing with drawing is that anything is possible because you can just draw it. So that makes it easy.
Describe the process behind your illustrations.
If I was doing somebody’s portrait I would like to play with the emotions. I like to exaggerate the relationship we might have, the ideal of that person or their personality. Also, a lot comes from the body language; the body is so important in my drawings as the body is a language in itself. I’m also a very articulated person; I’m very skinny and slim, so maybe my mind refers to my own physique or appearance. Everything also happens very quickly and I don’t spend more than an hour on an illustration. It’s very sketchy, but I like to keep it under control. I will see an object or project and the first idea that I throw in will be the final work.
What’s the inspiration behind the reoccurring long eyelashes in your illustrations?
A lot of people mention the eye lashes and the crazy arms – it all came from an accident! I was sitting on the tube in Belgium and, whilst I was sat down sketching, the movement of the train stopping and accelerating pulled my hand accidentally and I just continued. It’s just a sketch book and I like to keep it with all its mistakes and with all its faults – I don’t use erasers at all. Anyway, I liked it and continued making lines and weirdness around it. Since then I have adopted it as my personal style because I liked the idea behind it.
Are there any favourite magazines or clients that you have illustrated for?
IDOL, of course! IDOL was one of the first magazines who actually supported me when I came to London. I also like to work with photographers, for instance Daniel Lorch who’s a New York-based photographer. We once did a fashion story inspired by Where the Wild Things Are – it was the story of a nonchalant child, of a boy pretending he’s fierce like an animal. I specifically like to work with photographers to create a situation where 2D meets 3D, as I like to include my drawings in a real environment. Fashion is always a good way to express my creativity, and I’m very inspired by Victor and Ralph, Margiela, Christian Dior and vintage Thierry Mulger. Fashion as an art form is a big question, but for me those designers have a specific vision for themselves and they are visioners. I like to tell the story of the clothes and put them as protagonists, as actors, and that’s the reason why I like to create weird compositions. The illustrations become a portrait of the object.
You’ve mentioned on your Facebook page that you “like to break the image of the ‘superficial world’ and make it accessible to everyone, with a critical view and some touch of dark humour.”
Do you believe that all beauty has a dark side? Why?
Of course – that’s very clear for me. Again, what is beauty? It’s not simply someone liking that pot of flowers, as someone else might hate it. So where is the balance? You might see a fancy girl wearing tonnes of makeup and she will believe she’s pretty and on top of the world. Whereas others will say she’s just a pot of paint. Again it’s that boundary – it’s that exploration of those two poles, those two extremes. It’s still a working progress of course; I don’t pretend I am the artist or the established one. The drawings I do now are in fact completely different to what I used to do five years ago, so I am definitely still growing. But whatever I do, I do it for myself. It’s also very self-critical and it’s kind of my therapy. It’s very organic. I don’t have a diary but this is like my diary – it’s what I do every day. To then make it accessible to everyone is to visualise it and to create it on paper.
Tell us about Illustrashion Magazine, what inspired you to kick-start this creation?
Illustrashion is an independent magazine and it’s basically what I do: it’s illustration, it’s fashion and it’s also trashy. That’s the idea behind it and I like to call my drawings Illustrashions. The idea was to have every single page illustrated and there would be no use of photographs – so returning back to the traditional magazine where everything was drawn because they didn’t have photography. It’s a very collaborative idea. I’m very happy about the first issue; the theme is ‘Mythology’ because it’s something that has inspired me since I was a kid.
Again it’s the philosophy behind it. It’s the idea of putting the spiritual in every single object or element on this earth. So it’s very narrative as well; I like to tell stories that have a meaning and tell you the purpose of life. It’s deep. It’s what I like.
Does Illustrashion mimic the archetypal fashion magazine?
Well, of course. Originally I wanted it to be a magazine, but the idea was to have a magazine where everything is illustrated. I’m not that much of an easy person; nothing will look like something that exists already. There are interviews and there are fashion stories, but it’s very creative and it’s not commercial at all. Everything tells a story, everything is linked to mythology. It’s very deep and it’s very heavy in its content. I like to think it’s more of a coffee table book as there’s even a prologue and an introduction – it’s very thorough. That’s the zero issue, and I’m now working on issue one which will be about the Woman in itself.
How would you define surrealism? Is it reflected in your work?
Definitely. For me, surrealism is just the freedom of speaking your mind and sharing your world. That’s the thing: to not have boundaries, just be free and to kill the superficial. Who knows; what we might think is real could actually be false. Maybe dreams are real? Surrealism is the research of the deeper thoughts – that’s my meaning. Maybe in my drawings I’m not that surrealistic but in my ideas and how it is in my mind…definitely. Surrealism is an aesthetic or a style that I use.
Do you think that surrealism breaks down certain boundaries?
It’s just that everything is done already. There’s no more authenticity. They like to look back to recycle previous ideas instead of focusing on themselves and their own experiences to create something new. I don’t presume what I do is totally original, but it might be inspired. I like to think that at least what I do is authentic because it comes from my own experiences. People need to be more focussed on themselves – to get inspired, to have culture, to learn. You need to experience stuff!
Are there any particular surrealist artists or designers that inspire you?
Dali of course! For fashion, I’ll say Sorapol. The reason why is because Sorapol is not perceived for his collection but more for his personality and his way of thinking. He’s really similar to me and we are like two contrasting people: he’s bald, I’m skinny etc. That’s the funny thing. Also Daniel Lismore – he’s a performance artist in himself, and he is definitely beyond whatever we could do. So that’s why I feel like I’m converted to London, because you meet those extraordinary people who are very talented and very punk behaving!
Finally, who is your idol?
For me, everyone’s on the same level. It’s just a question of time and experience; we are all totally on the same line. But, I would have to say my parents of course!