10?’s with illustrator, artist and poet, Supermundane
Full-time illustrator, artist and part-time poet, Rob Lowe aka Supermundane chats to us about developing your style, dreaming and doing what he hopes other people will enjoy in our latest 10 Questions issue.
Rob, it’s brilliant to do this 10 Questions with you, I've been a fan of yours since you came to my uni in 2014 where I (and most of my course) got hooked on your work. Since then, it’s been amazing to see more of your work, well... everywhere. On screens, walls, rugs and beyond. Hopefully here we can dig a little deeper and ask some things you might not have been asked before.
Firstly, we heard that you used to work in a kettle factory, so you must be an expert on them. We’re dying to know, what’s your all-time favourite kettle design?
I did use to work in a kettle factory, but I am definitely not an expert on them. I was mainly designing the packaging and still working on a drawing board to make paste-up artwork, which makes me sound ancient. It was the very end of people working analogue and within a year I was doing everything on the computer.
As for my favourite kettle design, I see them as fairly functional things. I do like an old-fashioned stove kettle but they only work well on a gas hob, which I don’t have.
Many illustrators struggle to find their own unique style and own it and you’ve previously said that it’s taken you a long time to get where you are today, can you talk about the highs and lows of this process?
I think it takes around 10 years to find yourself (give or take a few years). This is from what I have observed in peoples careers and seeing their work develop.
I’ve never really had a plan and didn’t expect to be able to make a living out of my own work, so just doing what I have done over the past 20 years has felt like a high.
The lows were not having much money for a long time, but I’ve always had quite a simple life so it wasn’t that hard, it’s just nice now to be able to treat myself now and again.
That being said, your illustration work is so vibrant and colourful, it feels so happy; do you find that you have to be in a happy mood to work on these things?
There is definitely melancholic elements to some of my work but people don’t always notice them.
The colourfulness and the vibrancy comes out of a method of working and enjoying creating dynamic compositions. I’m usually working with limited motifs and shapes and a limited colour palette but I get as much out of them as possible by how I place them next to each other.
I don’t really need to be in a happy mood to work but, when the work is going well, the act of making it can make me happy.
Tell us about a recent dream you can remember? Was it in geometric shapes and patterns?
I’m going to be a bit boring here but I rarely remember my dreams and those I do are not that interesting.
I did write a sad poem about dreaming I was in love, that was based on a real dream, but that was from a few years ago.
When I got Covid late last year I had a fever and wasn’t sure when I was awake or when I was asleep but I had lots of geometric shapes floating in front of me that I needed to stack in a Tetris-type way. This has always happened when I get a fever, I’m not sure if it happens to other people too.
Your mural in Leeds train station has been up for over six years now, for thousands of students past and present, it’s an emotional reminder of coming to or going from university in the city. How does that make you feel?
It is always a nice thing when I am told people have an emotional reaction to my work.
That mural got installed over night and I was there but didn’t have a lot to do so drank coffee and chatted until about 4am then went and crashed out in my Travelodge room. The next day, when I returned and the station was full of people going to work, I felt emotional myself seeing my work in such a prominent public space... It could have been the lack of sleep having an effect though.
Do you consider your short typographic poetry pieces as abstract art in the same way as your illustration works?
My written work is something that I’m getting more confident with and it’s a lot less abstract than my graphic work. I do however think I treat the words in a similar way that I do lines: using simple elements (words), repetition, connections and placing words in unexpected orders.
I feel like I’m making a written piece in the same way and I often take a long time adding and taking away words and changing the order until I’m happy. If it has an effect on me then I’m happy.
That goes for all my work, if I like it I hope others will too.
If you could perform your ‘Kerning Song’ to anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?
The songs I write and perform came out of always feeling a little bit lost at the end of a talk. I’m a very shy person but I think there has always been a performer in me somewhere. Doing talks allows me to satisfy that need but in a safe way: I don’t have to be a good singer or song writer as that’s not what I have been asked to do, it’s an added extra. So, I’m not sure there is anyone specific I would want to perform the Kerning Song to, I’m happy to do it for anyone and hope they enjoy it.
Where do you feel most at home?
Where I have lived and worked for the past 10 years is always good to come back to and definitely feels like home. It’s an artist’s mews in South London, we have open studios there a couple times a year and I know all my neighbours. It is very much a real community.
In a more abstract way I feel at home when I’m with people that I can be myself and not worry about what I’m saying or doing.
Paper, train station, brick walls, record sleeves, badges, watch straps and even boujee rugs; your work has been applied to all of them, but what’s the one thing you wish you could work on?
I’ve always wanted to do stained glass and that finally happened last year for a friends front door, a bigger commission using that would be great.
If you could switch lives with the Hollywood Rob Lowe for one day only, what would you get up to?
I guess I’d just wander around and see how people treat him to get an idea of what he is like.
I was in LA a few years ago for Adobe Max and that would have been the one time there might have been some slim chance of us coming in contact. I then found out he was in Lincolnshire filming a TV show when I was there!
Rob Lowe, aka Supermundane, is an artist, illustrator and poet based in South London. His signature geometric drawings, known for their playful use of colour, line and optical effects, have been commissioned for almost every kind of setting, infused with his distinctive humour and hyper-colourful imagination.
Clients include Apple, Arts Council England, Leeds Train Station, V&A, HP, *Wallpaper, Made.com, Penguin, American Express, Dolby Sound and Liberty of London.