Stanley Chow's 'simple geometric shapes and sweeping curves'

Russian Dolls by Stanley Chow Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption Stanley Chow's Russian dolls, featuring Sir Elton John, Stephen Fry, George Michael, Graham Norton and Tom Daley was a response to a Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality to children

Mancunian illustrator Stan Chow's cartoon portraits of famous faces has won him worldwide fame. Now a major retrospective is being held of his 20-year career at a gallery in his home town.

Stan Chow's artwork is, by his own admission, about "simple geometric shapes, flat colour and sweeping curves". Two decades on from his first forays, it is a simplicity that has seen him garner fans and commissions worldwide.

While his work has covered a wide variety of topics, it is his portraits of famous faces that he has become known for and the striking images have graced magazines, books and posters across the world.

He says that while the portraits might look simple, it is "pot luck" as to how long each work will take.

Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption The artist's work includes portraits of sports personalities, including Olympian Daley Thompson and footballer Paul Gascoigne

"Sometimes it can take a few minutes, sometimes it can take hours.

"My favourite ones are the ones where I can nail the likeness pretty quickly and be as economical as possible, like my Bruce Willis silhouette and the Woody Allen."

He says entertaining people with his style began, as things so often do, in the pub.

"Back in the day, I used to go drinking with [Elbow's] Guy Garvey a lot. Just to entertain myself and the people around us, I'd do a sketch of Guy using literally four or five strokes.

"It wasn't super-flattering, but it did look like him and it was striking - and he would usually do an impression of me which would entertain him greatly."

Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption He has captured Hollywood legends in his work, including Woody Allen and Bruce Willis

Some faces have not been as easy to capture. He says one in particular caused him problems - that of Britney Spears.

"It was for the New Yorker magazine. They wanted an illustration of her post nose-job.

"The problem with Britney is I don't recognise the post nose-job Britney as Britney.

"The Britney I know is the one with the slightly weird nose, wearing a uniform in the Hit Baby One More Time video.

Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption Inspiration comes from close to home, such as Salford poet John Cooper-Clarke, or further afield, like American film director David Lynch

"The eventual illustration was given the thumbs up, but it messed with my head a little having to do that portrait."

Now his achievement is being recognised with an exhibition at Manchester's Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art.

He says he is delighted to put on the show but admits that it was "never a conscious decision for my style to be how it is".

"The more you illustrate, paint and draw, the more you evolve into the artist you become.

Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption Some works capture fictional figures, such as Monkey and Sandy from the hit 70s TV show

"I also realised when becoming a professional illustrator that there were some clients who would give you impossible deadlines to work to, like a call at 5pm for a print deadline the next morning.

"You have to learn how to work fast, so I guess my style has been streamlined somewhat to suit clients."

The streamlining took "about seven or eight years to fine tune" - time in which he says he "learnt to become economical and speedy".

"There's a phrase in cookery - 'minimum effort, maximum impact'. It's slowly becoming my mantra.

"Ultimately I do like to finish an illustration in less than a day - for me there's nothing more frustrating than going to sleep with an unfinished work to wake up to."

Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption Chow often illustrates sporting heroes, such as Brazilian footballer Roberto Carlos

It is not the only subject to cause him concern. Another has been much closer to home, his self-portrait.

"The problem now with doing a self portrait that looks like me is that I have to illustrate myself with a round face.

"I actually do have a round face [but] it disappoints me that I have a round face nowadays. I much prefer my portraits when I was younger and my face was slightly slimmer."

How he got that round face could be revealed in the retrospective, titled The Takeaway, which he says tells "the story of my life, where I grew up to where I am today".

"I grew up in a chip shop - the reason why I am an illustrator is because growing up, the only form of amusement I had was with a biro and chip paper.

"I didn't really have many toys when I was a nipper, all I did was draw and draw and draw."

Image copyright Stanley chow
Image caption Not all works are portraits - some are more playful, while others draw on his childhood experiences growing up in a chip shop

He says the shop gave him his "first big break" while he was working there after art school.

"One evening, whilst a customer was waiting for his sweet and sour chicken, I started doodling on the paper.

"He seemed unnervingly interested in my doodles and we struck up a conversation.

"He told me he was an art director at an ad agency - anyway it's a long story, but it's the first chapter of how I got to where I am today."

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Takeaway is on show at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester until 22 June.

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