Si Maclennan channels Sol Lewitt

For his first solo show, "Geometcentricity", Cape Town illustrator Si Maclennan was inspired by the American artist famous for his geometric minimalism.

Like many independent illustrators, Si Maclennan’s career started in advertising where he worked as a junior digital art director at one of Cape Town's most successful digital marketing agencies. He raked in a slew of awards at the Loeries and Bookmark Awards but yearned for more creative freedom.

“I've always considered myself an illustrator but having time to focus on the briefs that interested me allowed me to develop my style to a point where I felt comfortable calling my design work graphic art,” he says.

His clients include Virgin Active, Samsung, Santam, T-shirt design label Mingo Lamberti and local music acts Cards on Spoke and Blush 'n Bass.

A versatile illustrator, Maclennan exhibits his latest work at the Field Office in Woodstock in his first solo show titled Geometcentricity from 21 May to 12 July.

Here he gives us a quick preview of the work he plans to show and tells us how he developed his graphic style.

How would you describe your style?

I beat myself up a lot about the range of styles that satisfy me creatively. Sometimes I think if I had one style it would be a blessing, but then I also could not get a through a week doing the same type of work. Geometcentricity is best described as geometric minimalism. Colourful, energetic and stark. Urban.

What is the best thing about illustration as a medium? What can it do that other art forms cannot?

Illustration is a very diverse medium, and I don't consider it to be an exclusive art form. It continuously feeds into other art forms in ways that surprise me. I think the best thing about illustration is the fact that it seems to collaborate with a huge range of other disciplines such as architecture, product design, fashion...

Talk us through your process – hand-drawn or digital, where your ideas come from, whether you work quickly or slowly and meticulously…

I have always worked primarily in digital. Most of my ideas pass briefly through a notebook that follows me everywhere I go. Some of my best new ideas for colour and compositions come to me in flashes in the few seconds before I fall asleep. Because of the digitally manufactured nature of my artwork, I go through many revisions of an artwork or style before I arrive at the final product that I am happy with. Creating and then recreating an artwork several times over, experimenting with slight variations to produce different results.

Who or what are your biggest creative influences?

A visit to New York City in February this year has had a huge influence on my work. Both the graphic and architectural design of the city pushed me into a very geometric space with my work. Before I left South Africa, the illustrations I was producing had a very delicate and intricate feeling, relying on floral organic motifs as subject matter. I think being in New York for a second time allowed me time to be less overwhelmed by the vastness and bustle, and let some of the city’s design influences sink in.

Sol Lewitt’s minimalist style has also been a huge influence on my art. I think being in a technologically advanced age removes us somewhat from the process that artists such as Lewitt endured, but conceptually there is still a huge amount of relevance in this style of design.

I'm definitely influenced a lot by local graphic designers and illustrators. Maybe “influenced” is the wrong word. I have always tried to look beyond what other designers are doing for inspiration, but the guys and girls hustling in the South African creative industry really motivate me to believe in my own work. Success stories of local guys who came from the same place as myself are what get me into the studio every day. That, and having to eat

What do you do when you’re stuck creatively?

I spoke earlier about the range of disciplines and styles that satisfy me. I think the biggest blessing about this is the fact that I will always be hungry for a certain style - whether it is my primary undertaking or something on the fringe. Graphically, I juggle several styles moving between client and personal work and when I can't get myself in front of Illustrator or Photoshop, I do a lot of photography and experiment a bit with music.

Whose work do you admire – any genre, any industry?

Without music I would really struggle. It provides such a massive influence and motivation for me. Outside of the obvious design icons and heroes, I admire musicians from all walks of life for the energy, expertise and patience that it takes to create this art form.