Illustrators We Love: Dylan Gordon

INTERVIEW BY Gina Dionisio PHOTOS Artists Own

Delving into surrealism and navigating themes from love to prejudice, self-taught artist Dylan Gordon discusses the intricate balance of diverse subjects within his work, fuelled by a trust in the subconscious.

We caught up with him to find out more about his artistic journey, signature style and plans for 2024.

Dylan Gordon

Can you elaborate on your journey as a self-taught artist and how you developed your unique style and thematic focus over the years?

As a child I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of art, as well as creatives who worked in the industry – my father being a designer and my mother an arts, culture and drama teacher. Naturally, I found myself gravitating towards art, drawing at any given opportunity, on any given surface. I was lucky to have parents who supported and encouraged this habit. From an early age, I remember having a fascination or more appropriately an obsession with cartoons, animations, movies and comic books, and I suppose my obsession with all things involving the arts arose from a need to express the crazy thoughts and concepts we have as children. Making art slowly became my way of making sense of the world, which I feel is closely associated with what it means to be a self-taught artist. I realised the power art has to be a catalyst for ideas and feelings. Throughout school, I would draw religiously, and found it brought me a lot of peace and calm in the turbulence of growing up. This being said, the process of making art became very personal, hence my reluctance to allow much outside influence to take the form of formal training or instruction. My journey as a self-taught artist has required a lot of self-discipline, and a lot of initiative to take it upon myself to remain curious about how art is made and how to obtain certain technical skills through observation and exposure to art. This path does not necessarily imply isolation and disconnection from other artists and what they have to offer in terms of training, advice etc, but rather just personalising that journey and taking the abundance of information that’s out there, and processing it in an individualistic manner. This process has a lot to do with thematic concern and style. I found that my style emerged from consistency and creating enough that you discover what works best for you technically to execute the initial idea or image in your mind. The thematic concerns in my work stem from the subconscious and my faith in dreams and what they have to say as well as just my personal experience moving through life.

Your work often delves into the realm of surrealism and tackles themes ranging from love to prejudice. How do you balance such diverse themes into your artwork, and what draws you to explore these particular subjects?

I found that this balance is best achieved when you relinquish control to some extent, and trust that the initial thought, dream or feeling will be powerful enough to see you through to a completed image. I am a stickler for detail, and I think that it’s because it allows you to discover more information on the surface, hence allowing you to incorporate more characters or objects which contain the symbolic potential to introduce another theme or aspect of the artwork. When it comes to balancing such diverse themes, I find the ability comes naturally. I am drawn to explore these subjects and themes because I feel they speak to our core as human beings and our relationship to the world around us, which is not always as it seems.

The mediums you work with, such as ink, watercolours, and charcoal, all have unique qualities. How do you decide which medium to use for a particular piece, and do you find that certain mediums lend themselves better to expressing certain emotions or concepts?

It is not so much a conscious choice. As you mentioned in the question I do feel certain mediums lend themselves better to certain emotions and so whenever I am working and feel a turn in the road so to speak, I will put away the ink or graphite and reach for my palette or my charcoals depending on where the artwork is leading me. It is mostly an intuitive process and again lends itself to the subconscious as a driving force behind the piece. For example, I might be rendering buildings or structures in painstaking detail with ink and feel that perhaps they need to be juxtaposed by something more freeing such as a field of grass or an open sky, in which case I’ll reach for my watercolours or charcoals which encapsulate the feeling of openness, freedom and looseness better than what tight cross-hatching with ink could do. These decisions are decided by the moment.

Tell us more about your participation in the Redbull Doodleart competition. How did this experience shape your artistic perspective and approach to your craft?

The Redbull Doodleart competition was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected by a panel of judges, after winning the regional and national legs of the competition to represent South Africa on the world stage in Amsterdam. It is a surreal moment when you find yourself in that position when you realise that your dreams are never as far out of reach as you think. It was an eye-opening experience, being my first time out of the country and meeting other artists from around the world. The competition taught me that the world values art and artists more than I thought, and that lit a fire in my belly to pursue my craft with more passion and more vigour. It was a wonderful opportunity and an inspiring experience.

You’ve received commissions from local collectors and restaurants in the past. How does the process of creating commissioned pieces differ from your personal projects? Do you find it challenging to maintain your artistic vision while fulfilling client expectations?

I’ve been fortunate in that if a client approaches me with a commission they are more often than not familiar with my work and their brief/commission aligns with my style and artistic vision. I always try to maintain artistic integrity when approaching a commission, so the process of doing commission work doesn’t differ too much from personal projects. I like to see a commission more as a collaboration than a brief, where the client will come to me with an idea and I will come to them with my interpretation of the idea. I don’t find commissions challenging as long as expectations are managed and the project is treated as a two-way street and done in the spirit of collaboration.

Your upcoming exhibition, The Eternal Blue Sky, sounds intriguing. Could you provide insights into the inspiration behind this body of work?

The inspiration for this new body of work comes from my time spent in Cape Town, where I noticed how the vastness and serenity of the natural world clash with the claustrophobia and collective anxiety of modern-day life. I felt this conflict exists internally and in a lot of ways seeps into our subconscious and our everyday thoughts as much as it exists externally in a very real and very physical way. Especially as South Africans, where we are surrounded by an abundance of beauty and nature, but equally inundated by pollution, corruption, poverty and turmoil. The title, The Eternal Blue Sky speaks on our ambitions, dreams and freedoms as people and how these things contend with a world dead set on expansion, consumerism and political and ideological ascendancy. The body of work deals with the tension between dreams and reality, nature and man-made constructions and our desire for resolution. 

Where can we buy your art? 

You can view and purchase works through my Instagram via direct message, my website or you can inquire about commissions, other collaborations, catalogues and acquiring prints or original artworks by sending me an email at

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