Introducing Kevin Lucbert: The Pickle Factory's Artist In Residence

After the lighting technician, the security and the bar staff, poster designers are among the more under-appreciated figures in the sphere of clubbing. A club’s visual identity can keep an audience coming back, and in more subtle variations, influence the feel and sound of an event. Just as Oval Space have prioritised resident DJs such as Dr Rubinstein and DJ Nobu to lead the charge musically, they have similarly left the art direction for The Pickle Factory in the capable hands of cult French artist, Kevin Lucbert.

2008 from the National School of Decorative Arts in Paris, where he was also born. Working these days between his home city and Berlin, he is known for his work with a series of seriously impressive corporate clients, including Starbucks, The New York Times and BIC. However, he’s equally in tune with the outright absurd, thanks to his long-time association with the illustration collective, ‘The Ensaders’, reflected in his comical and distinctive style.

Speaking to John Thorp from his Berlin studio, Lucbert reflected on the influence of music on his work, the power of building a universe, keeping it weird while leaning corporate, and more.

For those uninitiated by your collective, ‘The Ensaders’, how does it influence your own work?

The collective is now a long story. We started when we were studying together in Paris, around 2004. We started to draw collectively, on the same sheet of paper, and we have continued to have this practise. It’s very important to me, as it’s a completely different process, working with other people on the same paper; it gives me a lot of energy. It really is a collective process. We have a good time, we draw spontaneously, share ideas and drawings and everyone shares, so the main drawing evolves. It’s time I share with friends, and a good counterpart to working alone.

You can read the manifesto in French on the collective website. This manifesto is complete nonsense. It’s more in a Monty Python spirit. We are kind of having fun, working together and making jokes. We also have a style in which we draw many characters, many cartoon figures, and create these very busy pictures.

Working with larger corporations and companies. Are you ever worried about being defined by one style or idea when working as Kevin Lucbert, separate from The Ensaders?

I don’t try to avoid that all the time. If I am commissioned to work, then something is expected from me. So I don’t try to fight so much against it. So I give, most of the time, what the client wants. It’s very practical, it’s a commission. In my personal time, I try to experiment with new things. But if I had to do that with each commissioned work, that would take a long time. But that’s something I find interesting; to have a time for personal research, and another in which I have to deliver this graphic universe that I have created. I try to deliver a picture from this universe. It also depends on the commission. I have commission where I am more free, when I have more liberty. Such as with Oval Space. I feel very free, and not that I have to produce specific pictures. So I’m experimenting also.

Clubs in general? How much influence does music have on your work overall?

I don’t go to clubs a lot. But I do listen to a lot of music. Not especially electronic or club music, but that’s part of it. I listen to a bit of everything.

Who have you been listening to in the studio recently?

I’ve been listening to a lot of new wave music. I like to listen to this right now, as it’s also a universe. It’s funny, and it gives me a lot of visions.

Would you say ‘universe building’ is how you would describe your work? Looking through your work, there’s a lot of detail, a lot of aquatic sensibilities, marine references, lots of blue…

It’s a good term, ‘building a universe’, because I like to draw in a certain world.

For me, a drawing, is like being able to step into a new world. Like watching a movie, or reading a book. A specific world to that artist.

I like to develop these parallel worlds, which is for example, this blue dreamy space world. And for this, I use these graphical elements that I tend to repeat. The houses, the stars, the very straight lines, the patterns… I want the viewer to step into a singular world.

Having been in Berlin for five years, do you miss Paris? The art scene there seems very different. Is there anything about Paris you miss?

Well, I travel to Paris every two or three months to work with the collective. I spent many, many years in Paris, so I cannot see it as a new place for me. I don’t feel that energy. So I did an erasmus exchange when I was studying, in Berlin, and really fell in love. There are a lot of broad streets, a lot of nature, a lot of parks. In Paris, it’s overcrowded, narrow and it’s very expensive. And the connection with nature is not there. The government cut trees into squares!

On your Pickle Factory posters so far, most of your characters seem to be dancing and enjoying themselves. Do these guys all live in one specific Pickle Factory universe?

We decided between us, that I would work in series, producing five drawings a month after deciding what the theme is each month.

So, for this series I wanted to work with the ‘Danse Macabre’, so that’s the idea behind this series. They have masks, and the idea is, when you are dancing like crazy, you are wearing a mask; you are someone different.

Some are inspired by ideas of the future from the 19th century. I send around eight pictures, and they pick five. But once they’ve chosen, they don’t modify it. So I’m very free to try very absurd ideas. As someone who leans towards the absurd, do you relish the challenge of having to work within a more specific remit, while still representing your vision?

Completely; it involves a lot of change, and sure, I enjoy it, but it’s also part of the work. I wouldn’t like to only produce personal work. I’m also happy, from time to time, to work on a specific project with other people and adapt my style. Of course, it’s not the same, and I really need to have part of my time doing personal work, and a part on commission.