Stan Manoukian Grograou, a native of Paris, France, has always had quite the love for comics, science fiction, and monster movies. From this central passion, Stan has found a way to feed a lifetime fascination for drawing, painting and even sculpting his creatures. At age 15, Stan’s drive took him to the Ecole Estienne in Paris, where he enrolled to pursue becoming a comic book artist. It was here, in his teens that he became inspired by an illustrated edition of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Stan was immediately turned on by the fact that as an artist it was possible to write comics as well as pay tribute to the classical artists. Since his childhood, the artist has grown his oeuvre considerably while maintaining his core love for all things creature-oriented. On the cusp of his debuting new work with Stranger Factory, Stan takes time out give us an exclusive interview about his work, personal life and what inspires him as an artist.
HF: We really appreciate the time to talk with us, Stan – we’d love to hear a little about you. Where is your studio and where are you from?
SMG: My studio is located in the heart of Paris, in France, where I was born 45 years ago! I share this place for 13 years with other designers and graphic artists, and even a musician. It’s very motivating to work together in the same place even if we do not all work on the same projects.
HF: Tell us a little about your artistic background. What were your first influences to be creative and eventually become a full time artist?
SMG: I was born into an artistic family; my father is a painter and my mother was a textile designer at the time when it was still done by hand. I always bathed in it. My father also has a shop and collected antiques, books, paintings, sculptures and vintage engraved prints that have always surrounded my daily life. My father has a huge knowledge of art history, and a passion for finding treasures. I think this is where my passion for art and the desire to create something with my hands comes from. As a little kid, I reproduced bigger old engravings prints, doing watercolor, etc. I did as any child who starts to draw to express and experiment as soon as they are of age to hold a pencil, except that I never stopped!
At age fifteen, I entered an art school in Paris, the “Ecole Estienne”, because I wanted to become a cartoonist and a comic book artist and I had to continue to learn how to scribble on paper. I was a big fan of comics at the time and devoured everything that fell into my hands. As a teenager in the 80s, my favorite authors were those in Metal Hurlant, a famous French magazine: Moebius, Enki Bilal, Yves Chaland and Serge Clerc, etc, then the American artists in the Special USA magazine: Richard Corben, Wallace Wood, Dave Stevens, and especially Berni Wrightson.
The big shock for me was probably Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, illustrated by Berni Wrightson. I learned that you could be a writer of comics and pay tribute to the classic artists – this is a wonderful book.
Detail of “Where the Wild Things Are” by Stan Manoukian Grograou.
HF: Was this where your fascination for creatures truly began?
SMG: Certainly, of course, the stories I preferred in movies, comics or novels were those acted out monsters and creatures of all kinds, with science–fiction and adventure.
My real substantive work on the imaginary creatures began 8 years ago. I did a lot of comics and designs for commercials and I wanted to try something else next door, get to the bottom of something inside me for a long time. I wanted to experiment a year by drawing a critter per day for 1 year and posting it on a blog, just to have a daily appointment with visitors on the site. I began timidly in black and white, then gradually added color.
Three years later I had over a thousand little creatures in my universe and arrived to the end of this exercise. I had to move on, be more ambitious, experiment with techniques, draw more complexes drawings, and continue to build this universe to become coherent. My research and designs have become more sophisticated since that time and took me more time to draw.
HF: Your images predominantly feature some intriguing creatures and their environments – where did these ideas begin? Do you have an idea of what the end result will be or do you watch it appear at your fingertips without an endpoint in mind?
SMG: It depends on the kind of drawing. For the most simple drawings, where I want to represent a family or a small group, I am more attached to their shape and the interaction there may be between them. These are more like drawings zoological plates that could be assembled in an encyclopedia. I’m more into the skin of the anthropologist who discover a new species. I just put small backgrounds elements, as clues to their place of living. The ideas of these drawings can start with simple shapes that fit together in my head, imagining what textures they have , the number of arms, legs, and so forth. I try to also explore the land on which I have not yet gone and make them credible.
The large drawings come from ideas or a mood state I am in, and I want to try to convey a feeling like nostalgia, joy, fear. These are moments of life, more complex scenes that highlight creatures I have drawn on anthropologic drawings. Things come together and create the consistency – that each creature has its role in this universe and complete the whole thing. These kind of drawings are more structured with a composition design.
Most people say that I draw monsters… I do not like that term too much, for me they are creatures or unknown species. They are not more monstrous or strange that most of the animals that we can find on Earth. I’m not creating a lot much when you see insects and aquatic creatures around us. But it’s ok, I can call them monsters too if it’s more convenient [laughs.]
HF: We’re curious what your work means to you, and what message you might hope to pass on to viewers?
This is a very hard question. I experiment a lot with this artwork. This is a true introspection in which I put a lot of personal things and my desires. It’s changing at the same time as me. I don’t think this is much different as other artist’s approaches. I like to draw every detail of grass or fungus to show that every element in nature is important. I lose myself in it and sometimes focus on 5-inches of a drawing that is a universe unto itself.
I see my creatures like my children. I play to be a little creative god with the power to make a live species and create a universe. I’m kind of doctor Frankenstein, with my pen, I fix creatures parts to make theme alive! I have lot of fun and I would like the viewer to have fun and immerse themselves in my designs as much as I. That’s why I ‘m going to increasingly do large formats in the future.
HF: Are these creatures a part of a narrative, like a storyline or a series of works?
SMG: These are pictures that tell their story – then somehow, yes!
HF: What is life like in your studio? You must dedicate quite a bit of time to these works. We’re curious what your schedule must be like, and if you enjoy music or podcasts or silence while you create?
SMG: I work a lot, every day, and my rhythm is parceled with my family life! I’m in the studio every morning at 8:30 am and put the music on as soon as I arrive. Sometimes the music is already playing if one of my friends is present.
I can’t work in silence. I need music, and the choice depends on my mood. When you share a studio you have to accommodate with the taste of everyone. If the music that is on doesn’t suit my taste, I put my headphones and program music. My tastes are very broad, from the film music, psychedelic rock of the 70s, the Italian music from the 60s, or 80s electro music until now.
I make a short lunch break and work until 6pm, go to take care of my kids and spend time with family. Then, when I’m in a great period of work I ‘m leaving the house to the Studio again at 9pm, minimum till 1am. When I get close to a deadline, I don’t stop working, I immerse myself completely and make big days of work, 17 hours or more! Immersion provides me with much more progress. I love those moments when I live in my world almost all the day.
HF: I understand that you’ve just produced your first solo exhibition, entitled “Species” at Galerie Glénat in Paris, France. What was it like to create an all-new collection of works for public exhibition?
SMG: It was an amazing experience! I want to do it again! It allowed me to do the works that I had in mind, including large formats. It allowed me to also think about the scenography of the entire show – what design would meet any other, explore new techniques and provide an opportunity to immerse the viewer in my world.
The feedbacks were very positive, many visitors came to see the show and it was a success beyond what I thought!
HF: Your larger works from that last exhibit are particularly engaging; do you plan on expanding on that scale and intensity with your work in the future?
SMG: Definitely yes! I can’t see my approach now without these large format ideas that transport the viewer directly alongside my creatures. Small and large drawings perfectly complement each other, and give the consistency I want. I have yet much work to do, but I see things more clearly after my solo show.
HF: You’ve recently turned me on to the captivating architectural and dramatic architectural drawings of fellow French artist Gérard Trignac. This transitioned into talking about the famed artist Gustave Doré, a French artist noted primarily for his wood engravings, as an influence on your work. Do tell, what other artists have made an impact on you or helped shape your views or your work?
SMG: There influences that may be less obvious than others, Berni Wrightson or Gustave Doré, McGinnis, Syd Mead and also the Muppet Show. I’m still following the work of contemporary artists and I love to discover new; Charlie Immer, Glenn Barr, Christian Rex Van Minnen, Dave Cooper and Travis Louie are among my favorites! I’m also much grateful to Kathie Olivas and Brandt Peters who came to me and push me to go further in my work, I learn a lot from them each day!
HF: Before we go, the readers will want to find out where to see your work in person next. I believe you have a show coming up at the esteemed Stranger Factory, what can you tell us about that and any upcoming events that feature your work?
SMG: Yes indeed, I have a Stranger Factory exhibition with three other artists: Maryanna Hoggatt, Peter Kelk and Andrew Bell! I am very proud and excited to exhibit with them ! The exhibition is called “ODDysseys” and will take place from 5 to 28 June 2015. I’ll make a few small and large drawing formats and especially sculptures. It’s great fun to see my creatures come to life in three dimensions. This is yet another step in my work I want to continue experimenting, I have much to do and learn to achieve what I have in mind!
And then, the next exhibition will be at the AFA in New York for “Pandora’s Box”, in October. I’ll make only major formats. This is a big gallery, I need to fill the room!