Shaggy-haired, canine-baring musicians, amps, guitars and juicy steaks define the mainly monochrome visions of French illustrator Matthieu Bessudo, aka McBess.
With a book coming out at the end of the month, published by Nobrow, and an exhibition at London’s The Book Club in August as well as projects for Volkswagen and Orange the feral grins of McBess’ nightmarish characters will be hard to avoid.
Inspired by the black-and-white vintage feel of Fleischer Studios and contemporary cartoonists Dave Cooper and Chris Ware, as well as by street artist Kid Acne, McBess began developing his distinctive style during his degree at prestigious French computer graphics school Supinfocom.
In 2006, he moved to London, drawn by ’the mood, the money and the possibility’, and was promptly snapped up by Soho-based production company The Mill. Moving up the ladder from 3D animator to director, McBess now directs a combination of animation and live-action commissions, preferring the creativity of direction to the minutiae of animation. ’The thing with animation is that it requires a lot of time and a lot of concentration two things I don’t have,’ he laughs.
For someone who professes to have a short attention span, McBess creates sprawling, intricate works that boast of hours spent. In a recent commission for Volkswagen, an engineer reaches under a car bonnet into a world populated by tongue-bearing seatbelts, beret-clad painters, moustachioed engineers and manic power tools, for a campaign for the brand’s servicing offer. The tagline reads, ’From today, you no longer have to imagine’.
As well as working on client projects directly for The Mill, McBess is also supported by the production company in his personal projects, switching between the two. McBess says The Mill’s enlightened approach stems from the desire to nurture talented members of the team in the expectation that their success will attract more clients.
To these ends, McBess has collaborated with The Mill on a couple of self-initiated music videos that showcase the studio. The five-minute animation Wood tells the dark tale of a skier who drops his Walkman in a snowy, Brothers Grimm-like forest, set to the music of McBess’ own garage rock band The Dead Pirates. The Walkman is retrieved by McBess’ bearded alter ego, who, along with his bandmates, begins to play new tunes, inspired by the music he hears on the gadget. The video begins with a casual, almost homely depiction of the band jamming, before surrealism takes over and the band is pursued by rock zombies and gyrating groupie giants.
McBess says, ’It’s like Cloverfield, that’s made with a home video camera and then you have these big-ass monsters that are way too unbelievable for the setting. I quite enjoy that more than making everything incredible right from the off. What you have there is a frame of reference.’
Just as in Wood, many of McBess’ illustrations are populated with versions of real people. He says, ’My illustration acts as a journal. The main guy is me and the one with the long hair is my brother, and my mates are in there too.’
Whether depicting bandmates lounging about in well-worn armchairs, or creating sexy and sinister giants, McBess’ imaginative worlds are penned straight into the digital realm using a tablet. However, the illustrator is similarly at home working in the analogue world. In February, Orange invited McBess and four other illustrators to Paris to produce 100 bespoke iPhone cases each, live, as part of its Orange Design Happening installation and exhibition. Similarly, last November McBess took over art collective Jaguar Shoes’ Old Shoreditch Fire Station space with hand-drawn murals, suspended steaks and axes, as well as monochrome McBess wallpaper and bunting, creating a black-and-white chamber dedicated to McBess’ great passion in life meat.
’I eat loads of meat. It’s a big part of who I am,’ explains McBess. ’I’m not really into the philosophical stuff, so when I was getting tattoos, instead of “love” or “hate”, I got “meat”. Why not?’