KN/PC Presents: Inside Look at Garrett Vander Leun

For our final interview from the Kitsune Noir Poster Club we have Garrett Vander Leun, a Los Angeles based illustrator who chose The Road for his poster. Garrett has been drawing since he was a little kid, influenced by his father’s illustrations and comic books growing up. Garrett’s artwork has been featured on music packaging and t-shirts and he is currently working on several series of portraits.

Why did you choose The Road?
The book hit me very hard when I read it, unlike any book has before or since.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say I’ve had some amazing women in my life, and both my mother and grandmother have had a profound influence on me – but there’s something about the relationship between father and son that is almost indescribable, a kind of shorthand where words are often exercised in light of an unspoken understanding. That bond, and that relationship, is so strong in this book and it reminded me very much of the relationship I have with my father. Even without the father thing, the parental instinct in this novel, the need to blindly do anything for your child’s well-being, has never been captured so elegantly and pure. These two characters live in spite of their grim surroundings, live only for each other really, for as the book progresses you’re overwhelmed by hopelessness and despair. At one point, the boy talks with his father:

What would you do if I died?

If you died, I would want to die too.

So you could be with me?

Yes, so I could be with you.


That’s it right there, the subtext of the entire book. Two people trying to survive in spite of the ever-changing times, a world where love and kindness is endangered, if not already extinct. Cormac McCarthy is a modern master, and the beauty of his words are very subtle, they’re all just-so deliberate and perfect. No quotation marks, no dialogue modifiers, no excessive flourishes of any kind. It’s like a novelized poem or something. Cormac McCarthy operates on this other level – he reminds me of Terrence Malick, the filmmaker, in a lot of ways.

What did you choose the images in the poster to represent the novel?
I know it looks as though I simply illustrated a scene from the book. You could make a damn good case for it, especially because I site a specific passage on the Society 6 page. Even so, I feel like the image speaks for the entire novel. A father and son against the world. Cormac McCarthy writes a world where every glimmer of light is overshadowed by the evils that befall man in moments of weakness or hardships. Certainly this cannibal with the knife exemplifies that. As you read the book, there’s this cloud of dread that hangs over everything, just this incredible darkness. It’s such a heavy, heavy read. McCarthy paints such a grim picture of the world, and the one image I always saw so vividly was the sky grey and dark, filled with smoke from the constant, steady fires across the horizon. There’s not a moment where the sun breaks through, it’s just rain and fire.

What was the process of making the poster like?
Insane. Absolutely insane. This poster became the focal point of my bid to take myself seriously as an artist. I’m guilty of taking shortcuts in a lot of my work, skipping a forth or fifth pass on something in favor of getting it done and moving onto the next big thing – it’s always GO GO GO with me. I’m not trying to cheat anyone, it’s just a compulsion I have to always want to work on my next project. It’s an easy habit to succumb to when all you’re doing essentially, you know, is putting your art on the fridge, the lay person’s art gallery. All you get is a “wow, that’s really cool!” over and over from the average person, but as an artist? To fellow artist? You can smell bullshit a mile away, and mine stinks. Putting this poster up for sale and on your blog was going to be the biggest “fridge” I’d ever encountered, and I decided to go all-in. The book mattered, the project mattered, and so too does my career going forward.

Instead of combing the internet or my books for references photos that kind-of-sort-of worked, I put on costumes and took photos of myself in my room. They don’t match perfectly with the final product, but I wouldn’t want them too anyways. What was important was the intent, the emotion when I did it. I wanted to feel my painting the same way I felt the book. I did so many color layers on the Father and the Son and the Cannibal. Stuff you can’t even see any more, it makes me laugh thinking about all the “invisible time” on this thing. I pretty much painted the clothing new and then over the course of several sessions, beat them to hell, covered them with all dirt and grime needed to honor the images that Cormac invoked. That being said, with all the effort I put in, there’s still a few little things that bother me, but I suppose we’re all our own worst enemy. I look at the company I’m in on this project, and it’s violently humbling. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that all artists with any sort of schooling can jump through the hoops. We can all do a still life, you know? It’s what you do from there that really matters. Where do you take all those basics? I think as long as you do it whole-heartedly, you commit to what you’re doing and you respect it, you’re going to land somewhere in that broad spectrum of “good art” by default. I think. I hope. It’s like Stephen King says in his book On Writing, “Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” In the end, I’m just happy I can look back at this piece and know I went to this blank page very, very heavy.

Thanks again my friend, this is beautiful stuff.
To purchase Garrett’s print click here.

December 18, 2009