Meet The Illustrator Behind London's Pride Wall
“IT’S all about freedom to be yourself and to express that in any way you want, without prejudice,” London-based illustrator Josh McKenna tells Vogue ahead of the unveiling of his latest work, a four-metre-wide mural commissioned by Instagram celebrating Pride in London. Devoted Instagram users will no doubt recognise the sassy red-heeled character in the mural, which appeared in the Pride-themed Stories sticker pack Instagram released in May.
The London mural is part of a global Instagram initiative for Pride Month. Starting with a rainbow makeover of Paul Smith’s landmark pink wall in Los Angeles, Instagram has enlisted artists around the world to transform urban spaces into colorful tributes in support of the LGBT community. Murals by local artists have also appeared in Madrid, Nashville and Cleveland.
Ryan Fitzgibbon, founder and creative director of Hello Mr, an indie lifestyle magazine for gay men, came across McKenna’s work in May 2016 and asked him to illustrate a story about David Hockney. That story was seen by Jeffrey Gerson, global stickers lead at Instagram, who then commissioned McKenna to create his popular Pride sticker. “We were instantly drawn to his bold shapes and playful themes, as well as the way he celebrates queer iconography, diversity and body positivity,” Gerson wrote in an e-mail to Vogue.
McKenna’s creative process involves sketching ideas on iPad and Pencil, chopping and changing compositions and then moving to a computer to create black-and-white versions of the image, at which point he begins to play with shape and colour. His characters are celebrated for their shapely design with voluptuous figures, and bold lines knitting the composition together. “The best stage for me is adding colour, it is sometimes the hardest stage too. I like to work to a limited colour palette, usually no more than four, which can be a bit of a challenge but looks so good when done properly.”
Although he creates illustrations for a range of clients, McKenna has found a niche in emojis and stickers for mobile apps. Earlier this year, he was hired to help create a sticker pack for Google’s Allo app. “This is an exciting new platform for illustration as emojis and stickers are a very new kind of language that is so prominent in today’s society,” he says. “They are an incredible way to convey feelings and capture emotions that words simply can’t describe, which has always been the role and purpose of illustration and why it works so well.”
Cultivating a community which celebrates individuality, diversity and is a safe place for self-expression is something the team at Instagram is keen to promote, hence the global #KindComments campaign which encourages people to leave supportive and positive comments on the pages of those who inspire them. The phrase “Kind Comments” has been designed as part of the mural and is meant to represent “physical manifestation of this community”. The campaign started in September 2016 with new tools created to filter and block offensive comments, followed by a Worldwide InstaMeet encouraging the community to share acts of kindness and continues with events and new features to promote safety and freedom of expression on the platform.
“One of the most powerful things about Instagram is that it gives people both a place to express themselves and to connect with others who share their values. The LGBTQ community has always been an important part of Instagram, whether that’s trans teens sharing their journeys, organisations using hashtags to campaign, or people showing their support for important events, like Pride here in London,” said Instagram chief operating officer Marne Levine.
“Gays get a lot of stick”, adds McKenna, “and what’s special about Pride is the united feeling of, well, pride; a coming together of different characters, personalities, genders and races honouring one another. I wanted to capture this in the artwork.”
The London Pride Wall will be open to the public at Regent’s Place on Thursday and move to Trafalgar Square for the London Pride March on July 8.