Butcher Billy: Old School & New Wave, Interview

Butcher Billy: Pop Art & Culture in Digital Illustrations

Billy Mariano da Luz, aka Butcher Billy, is a graphic designer and artist from Brazil who is well-known for his contemporary pop art-inspired illustrations. He graduated in Graphic Design from the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, Brazil. His artwork illustrations frequently blend reality and fiction, promoting unique concepts that combine fictitious characters with real-life individuals such as singers, artists, notable people, and politicians. Butcher Billy splices and juxtaposes everything, concepts, images, words, lyrics, and feelings, creating his own distinct brand of current nostalgia. He creates eye-catching graphics by using simple hues and bold graphical designs. Butcher Billy does his work digitally, but he is inspired by the font, iconography, and inventive ideas of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as the small defects of the pre-web period. His work first went viral on the internet in 2012 through social media. He has since received attention both online and offline from newspapers, books, magazines, and vehicles such as The Guardian/Observer, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, NME, Wired, Elle, Maxim, Vanity Fair, Yahoo!, and MTV. His work is heavily influenced by classic comic books and graffiti art, but it also incorporates mainstream cultural references from music, cinema, art, literature, games, historical events, and politics.

Butcher Billy‘s official Behance | Instagram | Tumblr

Could you tell us something about yourself? What inspired you to become a visual artist? Have you always had a clear vision about your career from a young age? Graphic and illustration design was your first choice?

I was born in south Brazil in 1978. My childhood scenario was the last few years of a decades-long military dictatorship. Although the difference between that and a full democracy was hardly noticed by a 6 year old introvert kid, I do remember watching everything live on tv – the news reported rights movements, protests on the streets, military police everywhere. That ended up mixed with all the goodies the 1980’s had to offer: pop music, blockbusters, saturday morning cartoons, comics, fantasy books, video games etc.

I believe I started drawing as soon as I was able to hold a crayon with my own hands. I have always felt the need to express myself through art. However, when the time came to go to college, graphic design ended up being my choice – the concept of becoming a full on “artist” as a way of earning a living was too subjective to me at the time.

The butcher Billy
His corpus of work has resulted in shows in contemporary art galleries in London, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Lisbon, and Dubai, as well as collaborations with companies such as ESPN, Michael Jordan, Foot Locker, E.Leclerc, British Gas, Billboard, and Winsor and Newton.

Why did you choose the name “Butcher Billy”? Can you share with us the story behind it?

10 years ago I used to work in advertising agencies as a creative director. Clients were local and very uninteresting. I became increasingly frustrated for not being able to work with themes that truly inspired me like music, movies, comics, games, tv, art etc. So I started experimenting with these subjects that I loved, just for fun, as a side project. That’s why I had to come up with a nickname and persona so the pop art work wouldn’t get confused with the corporate work. But very quickly it overturned everything and became my whole life and career. The name is based on a character I created when I was a kid, it was a kind of a Joker supervillan/serial killer that dressed like a butcher.

Butcher Billy’s Pop Art is influenced by movies, games, comics, music, television, and the arts, and while the final executions jumble up concepts, they are incredibly unified and instantaneous.

Stranger Things
Butcher Billy was contracted by Netflix and the Duffer Brothers to create social media advertisements for the fourth season of the acclaimed streaming series Stranger Things. He combined the dense images of Stephen King book covers and vintage posters to create a series of season four teaser pictures for the show. The posters were additionally customized for billboards that were put on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, in advance of the broadcast of the show’s final episodes.

What is the creative process behind your inspiration? Are you a night owl or a morning bird? What are the biggest challenges when you start a new project? What keeps you inspired?

The actual work process is quite simple and boring actually – the interesting thing happens when I’m coming up with concepts and ideas. And it all begins with reading a lot of books, watching a lot of movies/series, listening to a lot of music and playing a lot of games. It’s not so bad 🙂

Usually I like to overcharge myself with loads of inspiration from very different areas of things I like, and let that take its course.

I’m always working. Even if I don’t have any jobs to do, I’ll be working on my own personal stuff. If I spend a couple of days without creating anything, I start to feel weird. Like if there’s something missing that I can’t quite figure out what it is.

How long does it take you to complete one of your designs, from concept to finished?

Usually takes a lot longer to come up with an idea for a single artwork or a series, than the actual execution of it. The aim is to have the work completely done in my mind, before I even start sketching it. Once I have that, the goal is to make it striking yet uncomplex, so things usually move pretty fast by then.

In 2019, he began creating covers for renowned novels for Editora Aleph, including A Clockwork Orange, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, and Planet of the Apes. In 2020, he designed covers for a box of H. G. Wells’s science fiction for Pandorga.

Doctor Who Special
It was a great honour to get invited by the BBC  to work on this Doctor Who Special piece. I had the biggest shoes to fill since the inspiration was the 1980’s Marvel ‘Star Beast Saga’ comics made by none other than Dave Gibbons. Butcher Billy

What do you enjoy most about your profession, and what are the most rewarding aspects?

The thing that I find most amusing about what I do and how I do it, is that I’m able to work from home in my home country, and yet I’m hired by people, businesses and companies from all over the world. My current commissioned projects come from Scotland, England, United States and Saudi Arabia. And I do everything alone, from start to finish, with no team. I think that’s pretty crazy.

How has your vision changed and raised over the years? How do music, film, reading, life, and city affect your mood and inspiration?

When I started, 10 years ago, I was pretty much moved by professional frustration. I needed a way to release negative aspects related to my day job at the time – wasted creativity, boredom, even anger. Now it’s not the case anymore, I have a stable artistic career, and conquered some of what I always wanted to achieve. Even in terms of ideas and inspiration, I feel like I have used most of the ideas that have always inspired me.

Don’t get me wrong, working is still exciting. However, right now the challenge is to find new ways to move me in a creative way. I’ve been planning to travel more, for example. Seeing new places, meeting new people, getting out of my cave.

Butcher Billys eerie interpretation of Alfred Hitchcocks iconic film VERTIGO 1958
Butcher Billy’s eerie interpretation of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film VERTIGO (1958). This officially licensed poster series is created in collaboration with the estates of Kim Novak and James Stewart

Is amazing the way in your art style you create connections and bridges through different dialogue that convert music, comics, artists, rights, etc … into one piece of illustration. Do you think this is more related to your Brazilian background or your choice of your own interest as a person?

I think it is more related to my own interest as a person, mainly because when growing up I have always felt different from everyone. Family, friends, colleagues etc. What interested me and what I wanted (or not wanted) for my life made me kind of an outsider, no matter how much I tried to fit in.

Your design is also sarcastic and ironic with a clear and direct message. What role do environmental, sustainable, and human rights play in your artworks?

I suppose I do like to talk about what’s going on in the world through art. Not just in entertainment alone, but mix it with politics, religion, social movements etc. So if I’m going to tackle Homelander from The Boys, he will be wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ uniform. If I’m going to address Marvel’s Black Panther, it’s going to be Angela Davis under the suit. If I want to talk about feminism, Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ will be cosplaying Furiosa from ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.

Things do get a bit out of hand when I shoehorn Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man as Jesus Christ. Sure, but that’s part of what makes the Butcher Billy persona.

Buntin Group enlisted Butcher Billy
Nashville-based advertising agency Buntin Group enlisted Butcher Billy to collaborate on their client Servpro’s new ‘declassified’ campaign

What is your current experience as a creative illustrator designer, and how do you see the field evolving in the age of social media and artificial intelligence?

I feel like I’m finally established in the industry, and social media played, and still plays, an integral part of what I do. If it wasn’t for that I think I would still be a bedroom pop artist, without a way to show my work to the world. As for AI, I’m usually nervous about any kind of new technology – for instance, when I was a college student I used to be against digital drawing and computers in general, if you can believe it.

AI art is revolting in lots of ways, but I’m not worried it’s going to take over my job. Global warming will make the planet burst and become a ball of fire before that happens, so I’m pretty relaxed about it.

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Butcher Billy

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by retrofuturista

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