Artist, Illustrator, Instagram Sensation; London
Note: As a lover of fashion illustration and popular culture I thought I would share something a little special, it's especially cool when the former becomes visible in the latter. I had the pleasure of a phone interview a couple years ago with the then anonymous Instagram star, and Alessandro Michele era Gucci approved creative. Helen Downie the Unskilled Worker is now out in the open thanks to Vanity Fair, and has continued her relationship with Gucci, capturing their now solidified and very visible er- copied maximalist aesthetic. A limited edition Gucci collaboration of prints as well as a gorgeous and free digital download can be found on her website. A recent member of the BOF 500 with 262K IG followers and counting, I really did watch the rise of Unskilled Worker and am happy to have been an early adopter.
This article was first published as part of the content magazine of my online shop.
Who is behind the canvas and the presider over this amazing Instagram account? A self taught artist and illustrator captivating a rather large audience through their youthful style, strong lines, and the interpretation of fashion designs, resulting in emotive and vivid layered illustrations.
The artful Unskilled Worker is actually quite the contrary- they are very very talented, showing quite a high level of skill. With 179K followers on Instagram he or she is a bit of a phenomenon. The engaging and distinctive style has spread like wild fire through the power of social media. Outed by the fashion community, Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio is surely considered the stamp of approval, presenting the artist's work online in 2014, followed by the Unskilled Worker sitting in residence creating specific fashion show looks during the latest round of catwalk presentations. (The artist created 24 paintings in 5 days for Milan Fashion Week)
This nod has turned the untrained yet highly skilled image maker into a bone fide success both in the legions of Instagram fans that follow each post and each painting, but also in the commercial sense too. Wanting to remain anonymous- the age, name, and exact location of the artist will remain a mystery until later this season when they take on their first public gallery exhibition.
The quick rise of Unskilled Worker in the last 18 months is down to the fact that the social media platform Instagram and technology has played a starring role. The artist paints in square format because of Instagram, and knows an image is complete by how it appears in an iPhone picture. If it appears ready to be posted on Instagram then the canvas is complete. The technology is part of the artistic process, nicely marrying the new and old ways of artistic expression rather nicely. The work has grown alongside the Instagram account and it is all there in plain view to follow along. The first post on Instagram is the first work ever completed and the journey continues on. Post by post and painting by painting, charting the progress through digital iPhone pictures and capturing the evolution of each piece layer by layer, then used to determine whether to stop or carry on.
“The first painting was torn up with regret, on further reflection the image on the iPhone showed it was actually quite good and now only lives on in the digital sense in the iPhone picture.” — Unskilled Worker
An artist who came into this medium very late in life, Unskilled Worker began the journey by picking up some art supplies on an extended trip to Italy (the artist spends part of the year creating in the outdoors in Italy and the other in a city studio). Youth culture, punk, and football hooligans were initial inspirations, their different tribes and the sentiment behind the clothing they chose to wear, “there is freedom of expression through clothing” says the artist. Aiming to capture emotion and facial expressions has always been the attraction from the early days, and still holds true today. The current subjects are loaded with expressive faces as they were in the beginning, however now they are wearing designer clothing. Telling the story of the clothes through vivid portraiture, Unskilled Worker aims to capture the mood of the fashions and present it on the faces in the same vein as the early days capturing the youth culture.
To begin a piece, Unskilled Worker will scroll the shows via style.com until something in a collection speaks to them. A piece can take as little as three hours or up to two days, the style is instinctive and immediate, and the artists prefers strong lines, imperfections, and a bit of chaos, even preferring there to be imperfections in the paper itself. Using chalk, ink, markers, and black pen mostly, the pieces are a series of mixed layers.
Though the artist didn’t set out to soley create fashion images, the fashion community has certainly embraced the artist’s unique style. So much so, that it attracted Gucci to purchase a piece inspired by their AW/15 menswear collection for their newly appointed Creative Director Alessandro Michele. The designer who replaced Frida Giannini rather swiftly before their menswear presentation earlier this year. It was the most talked about exit and appointment making his first womenswear show for AW/15 the one to watch; and Unskilled Worker did go to Milan to watch as a guest of the house.
“What I really appreciated of Unskilledworker’s style is a sort of fabled ingenuity she injects in her illustrations. I was captured instantly upon seeing her Instagram. I love her and what she does. — Alessandro Michele - Creative Director - Gucci
There are no plans and no expectations for the future says the artist, preferring to make it up as they go along, one post and painting at a time. By capturing a global audience of those interested in art through the channel of social media the artist is bound to bring down barriers amongst the traditional art communities. Armed with talent, tools, and an iPhone, Unskilled Worker is skilled in the new social art form of sharing artfully.
“Where would I want to see a painting hanging? Anyone who loves a painting, then for me it is hanging on the right wall” — Unskilled Worker