Graphic artist reimagines cityscapes into striking drawings
Yoni Alter's bold work utilizes skyscrapers, transportation icons and other elements.
Yoni Alter has found his muse, and it is the city.
Alter's streetscape artwork is making a splash around the world, from his home in Israel to the U.S. and back across the pond to the U.K., where he is now based. Bold, bright and colorful, his urban-inspired designs are hard to miss.
Alter’s major breakthrough on the international art scene was his 2014 solo “City” exhibition at the acclaimed Kemistry Gallery in London, a gallery that Alter first visited while on an exchange program from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, in 2005.
“I went to see an exhibition of this Dutch graphic artist, Parra, and I remember I was so excited by it because I would never have guessed that there was a gallery devoted to graphic art,” Alter told From The Grapevine. “I was thrilled when they offered to exhibit my work there.”
After studying abroad in London, Alter moved there permanently in 2006. But since then, his birthplace continues to show up in his work. It is depicted in his “Shapes of Cities” series, a collection of urban-inspired screen prints and sculptures. The prints feature the silhouettes of famous city structures, rendered to scale and overlaid on top of one another in vibrant colors, while the sculptures consist of fluorescent Perspex models of buildings lit from underneath.
“I started [the “Shapes of Cities” series] two years ago, and I’ve done 44 cities so far. I always have a long list of cities that people ask me to do. It was fun working on Tel Aviv, because I love the city and I know it so well,” Alter said. “I still visit Tel Aviv at least once a year. It’s a great city in so many ways, but mostly thanks to the sea and the young vibe. Oh, and there’s the Israeli food as well – I crave for it!”
Recent visits to Jerusalem, where he attended college, "made me appreciate even more the fact that I had the chance to live in a very unique and magical city,” he said. However, it is Tel Aviv that holds a greater sway. “I grew up near Tel Aviv, so I know it very well. Even during my four years in Jerusalem, I spent most weekends back in Tel Aviv, and it’s Tel Aviv that is much closer to my heart.”
Among his favorite projects is an urban-themed poster of the Tel Aviv skyline dotted with cranes, which Alter completed in 2006.
“I took a poster design course with legendary poster artist David Tartakover," Alter said. "I learned a lot from him and I’m a great fan of his work. In the poster, I wanted to make a statement about the unrestrained building momentum, which gradually blocks every remaining access and view of the sea from within the city.”
Along with the Tel Aviv skyline, Alter has depicted American cities New York, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and others, in the popular series.
With the success of his city-inspired art, Alter is aware of his growing reputation as the “architecture graphics guy.” Yet, he asserted, “I’m associated with this kind of thing, but it’s not all I do.”
“From a close distance, you see something abstract, just colorful dots, but from across the road you’ll see the characters. It’s dealing with iconic pop culture elements. What’s interesting for me is to see how I can reduce those colorful characters, how much I can push it by reducing them, but still having them recognizable.”His large banner currently showing in London’s Boxpark is evidence of his range. It’s a sequined depiction of a several famous characters including Wonder Woman, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.
Alter's London influence is highly discernible in his work, particularly so in his “Shapes of Cities” series, for which the English capital was the original stimulus. “I was in the park when I noticed the Shard and the London Eye, a triangle and a circle, and how they intersected," he said. "I decided to play around with those shapes and with the other iconic shapes of London.”
The buildings are not the only part of London that has caught Alter’s imagination. In “The World Coming Together,” the London 2012 Olympic Games were his source of inspiration. “I saw the delegates walking around in Hyde Park in their colorful uniforms. I collected all the graphic elements of the flags and started playing around with them. Eventually, I liked the solution of overlaying them on top of each other, which works well with what I wanted to say about the world coming together and celebration.”
London’s famous transports – a Tube train, a bus and a black cab – also feature in his work, although not in their original colors. “The reason I use kind of unnatural colors is to remove it further from what it is so it’s more abstract. These objects are iconic and we are so used to seeing them, so even if I do this treatment to them, they will still be recognizable because their image is etched in our minds.”
Just as Alter has embraced London, so too has the city embraced his work. His branding for London Live, a new London TV channel that launched in 2014, has been splashed across city buses and screens; and his range of London-inspired merchandise has been sold at the Tate, one of the U.K.'s premier art institutions.
After an initial poster sold well in Tate shops, his images were developed into a range of products, from colorful t-shirts and umbrellas to linen carrier bags and coffee mugs.
Although distinctly different in style, the abstraction and use of geometric shapes is a common theme through all of Alter’s work and an attribute he embraces from his design expertise. “I’m coming from a graphic design background and I think that’s evident in my work. I tend to simplify, reduce and use a minimalist visual language. There’s also the element of abstraction, which is the result of simplifying and reducing. They [graphic designers] are often collecting things and arranging them. I tend to do this as well.”
To see more of Alter’s work, which includes depictions of landmarks from Atlanta to Austin to Barcelona, visit yoni.london/.
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