Stan Chow. Photography by Jack Roe

Stan Chow. Photography by Jack Roe

‘Local legend’ brings some of his most famous faces to The Edge in Chorlton over the next few months.

One of the world’s most renowned illustrators has chosen some of his most iconic works for a 14-week exhibition at The Edge Theatre & Arts Centre in Chorlton.

Since he started working as a professional artist nearly thirty years ago, Stanley Chow has diversified into many areas with his distinctive style, but he is best known for his portraiture of pop stars, actors, sports people and celebrities.

And it is those famous faces which will feature in Stan’s personally curated collection of actors from the stage, film and television – several of whom are BAFTA, Emmy, Olivier & Academy Award winners – in his Chorlton exhibition, which opens next Thursday (15 February).

The exhibition will also include the three patrons of The Edge, Sir Mark Rylance, Julie Hesmondhalgh and John Thomson.

This will be the first time Stan has focused his attention on a collection of work from film, stage and television, as he says: “I had a lot of fun looking through my back catalogue to find the images that would work in the lovely space offered to me at The Edge Theatre & Arts Centre and it’ll be the first time my design of Sir Mark Rylance will be shown in public.”

We asked him how he managed to decide which art to display from his collection of thousands of illustrations to choose from.

Stan explains: “The venue where the exhibition is held is quite small… probably at most I could fit 30 pictures, so to narrow it down, I had to theme it. As the venue is essentially a theatre, the theatre foyer to be precise, it just made sense that all the pictures exhibited were performers from the stage and screen. So, this narrowed the choice down from a few thousand to a few hundred. From the few hundred that I had to choose from, it mostly became eeny, meeny, miny, mo.

“That’s why the exhibition is called what it is, ‘A Random Selection of Illustrations’. Admittedly, there were a few pics that I’ve done that were always going to be in the exhibition, e.g. The Roy family from Succession – mainly because it was the best thing on TV for the last few years, with such a brilliant cast. I think I did a great job capturing that family’s essence.”

Succession © Stanley Chow

Succession © Stanley Chow

He adds that for fans who are really familiar with his work, there will definitely be notable absentees. But he has his own favourites among those chosen, including his illustrations of the protagonists from Wes Andersons’ film ‘A French Dispatch’.

“For anyone who doesn’t know about the film, it’s essentially a tribute/homage to The New Yorker magazine, a magazine I’ve been working with for over a decade. I love working for The New Yorker, and it’s something that I’m immensely proud of. Plus, I love Wes Anderson’s aesthetic – and doing this piece bridges these two things,” explains Stan.

Born and raised in Manchester – his parents owned a chip shop – Stan was a talented artist from an early age, but also spent several years as a DJ, playing venues such as Night & Day, before he switched full time to illustration in 2006. Being able to show his work in his home city is clearly an honour, and he has chosen some local faces to grace the exhibition.

Stan adds: “I’ve included Steve Coogan, Justin Moorhouse and Benedict Wong – to name a few. It’s kind of like giving back to a city that’s given so much to me. It also felt right to keep it local and in Chorlton. It seems that nowadays, so much of Manchester is so focused on the city centre; because of the speed of growth that’s happening there, it almost feels like the suburbs are kind of forgotten about.

It’s a reminder that things can also happen outside the city centre. It’s obvious since the pandemic that most of the suburban towns have struggled a bit, so I kind of guess every little bit helps.”

Janine Waters, artistic director of The Edge, agrees: “We are thrilled to have such a local legend bringing his work to The Edge, and this exhibition promises to be very special. We are particularly excited to see Stan’s unique take on our patrons alongside some other familiar faces. It is a privilege to have his work on show in our building in the heart of Chorlton.”

But it hasn’t always been an easy ride for the man whose illustrations are now seen all over the world. As an unknown illustrator in 1995, he used to catch the train to London and hawk his giant portfolio around the capital’s creative agencies, hoping someone would like his work.

He adds: “I would do this every two or three months. Luckily, an illustration agency picked me up a year later, and they essentially did all the walking around and cold-calling for me. But I still wasn’t getting that much work back then – maybe one commission every three or four months if I was lucky.”

The French Dispatch © Stanley Chow

The French Dispatch © Stanley Chow

And that was his career for a decade or so, picking up illustration jobs to supplement the few nights a week he would DJ.

The internet, particularly the dawn of social media, changed his life from around 2007.

Stan explains: “Things got a bit rosier, well, a lot rosier. I stopped DJing so I could commit all my time to illustration, as it got to the point that it couldn’t be anything else other than a full-time career.

And what a career. His work was spotted by Meg and Jack White of The White Stripes, and Stan was commissioned to create artwork for the duo’s ‘Icky Thump’ album. It was a turning point in his life as he saw his work mentioned in Rolling Stone and, within a year or so, he was creating illustrations for The New Yorker – regarded by the young artist as ‘the Holy Grail of Illustration’.

He picks up his own story: “Fast forward a few years to now, and I think I’m still just about riding that crest of a wave. However, it’s a bit tougher now. I kind of have to work harder to make the same kind of money I was making at my peak before the pandemic.

“The creative landscape couldn’t be more different now than it was 10 to 15 years ago. There now seems to be a load more creative agencies and more illustrators but less work and less money in this industry, so it’s tricky to navigate. I’ve also started DJing again, sporadically, purely because I missed it so much. However, there’s a sense of irony to all this because I get paid more DJing now than I used to back in the day, but I also get paid less for illustration now than I used to.”

Before the show ends, Stan will also host a Q&A at the venue (date to be confirmed) called ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’. Please check with The Edge for details once the exhibition is open.

But what will Stan work on next? He’s tackled so many famous faces; who is left?

“The only people who I haven’t done yet, that I would really like to do, and I am planning for it, is the entire Manchester United squad when they next win the Premier League,” he adds.