Cover Artist Gallery: Neil Doshi

An interview with the creator of The Walrus’s June 2011 cover
June 2011

SubjectArrival of the Fittest” by Rachel Giese
Artist ’s

One of the best developments in visual culture in recent years has been the blending of fields, such as photography and illustration, that were previously kept separate by cultural and technological constraints. Of course, photos and illustrations were never too far apart. To cite but two examples, during the US Civil War, wood engravers used specially commissioned photographs to create their newspaper illustrations, and the average studio portrait from the ’30s or ’50s was touched up enough to become a sort of painting. But combining these art forms used to require careful planning and copy camera work. Now, effective and easy computer software is widely available to designers, photographers, and illustrators.

That’s the technology. Changes to the culture of image production have been profound as well. The effect of reasonably priced scanners and high-quality digital cameras has been to reduce every image in the world to pixels — and pixels can be (in fact, beg to be) modified. Scores of photographers and illustrators still work in very traditional veins, but the past decade or so has seen the rise of visual producers for whom ideas come first, and the articulation follows; photography and illustration are deployed and mixed together as needed. Neil Doshi, the creator of our June 2011 cover, is such a worker. So are regular contributors Tamara Shopsin, Robin Cameron, Jennifer Daniel, and Kate O’Connor. It’s interesting how each of them have come to incorporate photography into practices that are rooted in fine art, illustration, and graphic design.

Neil’s work happens to be exceptionally focused, to the point that it calls to mind a figure like Sol LeWitt. For what we needed for the June cover, simple and direct — but very smart — was mandatory.

The problem was this: what image would explain an immigration and crime story that upended expectations? No one person or community could be singled out. Such a strategy would tie a Gordian Knot of issues of representation which would obscure and misrepresent the story. For the piece’s central thesis is a generalized one: immigration forces down crime rates; or, immigrants make neighbourhoods safer. The seedy, furtive undercurrent of political discourse on immigration in this country (and elsewhere) has things entirely upside down.

What Neil did was brilliant. His intertwined fabric suggests everyone, both as individuals and as the society we’re all a part of. It’s not preachy or simplistic. It is beautiful.

And yes, those are physical ribbons.

Brian Morgan: After we spoke, what were your initial thoughts about the story?

Neil Doshi: It’s a very interesting and timely premise.

Brian Morgan: What is your typical process for generating ideas?

Neil Doshi: I don’t really have a rational or procedural approach to making work.

Brian Morgan: In general terms, how do you create your work? For example, how much do you rely on Photoshop?

Neil Doshi: The idea usually informs the process.

Brian Morgan: What was your inspiration for this final image?

Neil Doshi: thread
the plane
warp & weft
personal architecture

Brian Morgan: Whose work has influenced you the most? And who or what has shaped your style?

Neil Doshi: friends
sparkling water
a moment

Brian Morgan: How has photography changed your relationship to the act of creating things? Your work has a strong conceptual core and could exist independently of its medium, and yet when one sees the work it seems very much embodied. It’s printed, it’s laid out, it’s folded. And yet photography has a tendency to change this, a sort of distancing by documentation.

Neil Doshi: I’d like to defer to my friend Steve Kado, a fellow CalArts alum: “If the success of a model depends on its resemblance to a source, then how much less than the thing itself does a model have to be? If a model is always something like its source, isn’t it always also something more, namely a model? The argument, I suppose, is that a model is more in total than anything it could represent: it has to be both an abstraction of another thing (½) and its own thing in its own right (1). That’s the math. A model of a thing is 1 ½ times more of a thing than the whole original thing. I’d like to show you all this new ¾ scale model of October 12 that I made.”

Brian Morgan is the art director of The Walrus.

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