Illustrator Owen Gent reinvests the remains of literature

Articles’ illustrations, novel covers or personal experimentations, the illustrator Owen Gent, based in Bristol in the United Kingdom, creates images with dense storytelling. For his editorial projects commissioned by magazines, such as The New York Times, he illustrates the reality of sudden death experiences. For his book covers, such as Coat with Long Sleeves written by Geoff Duck, he creates visual stories where readers have room to fit in and identify with.

How would you describe your aesthetic and artistic sensitivity ?
I try to explore the delicate place where beauty and melancholy meet.

Why do you mix brush work and digital art ?
This is partly because of the time restrictions that are a big part of working as an illustrator, especially with editorial work, but also because of the freedom that editing a painting digitally gives me. I will always paint a whole piece in watercolour to retain the feeling of flow and movement which I can only achieve through putting brush to paper.

Coat with long sleeves, Geoff Duck, published by Matador, march 2020

Why mental health, isolation and death are important subject in your editorial work with magazines ?
These aren’t theme’s which I have deliberately explored in my personal work, but perhaps are subjects which can be related to it or projected onto it by the viewer. I get approached to react to those sorts of subject matters I think because my work is subtle, and subtlety is so important when exploring something like death, issues with mental health and isolation.

Your faceless characters contribute to the ghostly moods of your images.
I suppose it could be seen in that way. The main reason I rarely show specific characters in my work is so the audience can put themselves or their own situation into an illustration. I like it when a piece of work leaves room for the viewer to fit their life into it.

What your creative process looks like when you design a book cover, like Coat With Long Sleeves by Geoff Duck or The Outsider by Albert Camus ?
When working on a book cover the first thing I’ll do is read the book if at all possible. It’s a luxury to have the duration of a whole novel to consider how it might be visually represented and what the reader is gong to hold in the their hands as they absorb the book.

Can you talk to us about your “Sappho Fragments” project ? Why do you love so much to work with litterature and give to it a new interpretation ?
For me the really beautiful thing about Saphho’s poetry is that we only have small parts of it as most of her words have literally been worn away over time, in a way all that is left of her work are ghosts. The way in which I interpret her words is similar to how I hope people might interpret my artwork, by filling in the gaps and making it there own. I love working with literature as it gives me the chance to connect with it on a deeper level and visually explore my relationship with it, I feel very lucky that part of my job as an illustrator is to sit and read the work of incredible writers.

SOMA SOMA, Saudade, Mintaka Records, 2019
Soppho ]Fragment, ongoing personal project, interpreting the remaining fragments of ancient Greek poet Sappho’s poetry
Soppho ]Fragment, ongoing personal project, interpreting the remaining fragments of ancient Greek poet Sappho’s poetry
Are ‘Near-Death Experiences’ Real? – Editorial for The New York Times Opinions Section, february 2020
Murmur n°5
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy – Published by Vintage – Penguin Random House

Owen Gent’s website:
Images © Owen Gent