Rory Dobner has been drawing since he developed the proper motor skills to pick up a pen. Since then, his quill has etched every notebook, blackboard or vintage car he’s gotten his hands on. A self-taught artist, Dobner’s black and white ink drawings are striking in their vivid intricacy.
While traveling, Dobner learned the art of mobile drawing; give this man a few drinking straws in an airport and he will whip up a small sculpture in time to board his plane. “I love the challenge of making something out of nothing—just a pile of things sitting there dead that you make alive, kind of like a magician,” says Dobner.
Today, Dobner has settled into a studio in London’s Hampstead with his wife and children, where he needs nothing more than his favorite quill to fulfill his artistic needs. “Hampstead is a bit like a forgotten land to me. It’s somewhat isolated and its cottages and old lanterns make it feel like the countryside.” The town also seems to boast an abundance of animals which have inspired Dobner’s drawings of quirky animals over the years. “There are even parrots in Hampstead Heath. People say they are descendants of Jimi Hendrix’s parrots who flew the coop after he died.”
Making somethings out of nothing is what led Dobner to expand the scope of his work to interior design. Names like Christian Dior, MTV and Agent Provocateur turned to Dobner for custom projects ranging from wire dress forms to hand-painted silk wallpaper and murals.
For Dior, Dobner sculpted a giant wire dress form for guests to walk under as they entered the show. “I liked that playful naughtiness—like children peeking under a bride’s wedding dress,” says Dobner. Playfulness married with realism appear as a common theme in most of his drawings. For even if his characters seem to belong to the children’s book genre, they also hold some very non-childlike characteristics; butterflies and ribbons interlace with skulls, cheeky fish smoke long cigarettes, octopi grip their tentacles to revolvers. Though Dobner admits his own childhood reads serve as inspirations (Paddington Bear and Alice In Wonderland in particular), he says that reading books to his children is what gave way to the fantastical side of his work. “There is so much going on in the illustrations in children’s books, they don’t leave much to the imagination,” says Dobner, justifying the pronounced simplicity in the composition of his ink drawing, usually void of color or context and background. The straightforwardness of the ink’s brushstroke is no doubt what keeps bringing Dobner back to the medium (not to mention its resemblance to wire, which is his preferred medium for the enormous outdoor sculptures he creates). “I like the simplicity of the ink and the fact that it leaves just enough to the imagination,” adds Dobner.
But Dobner seems to almost have an aversion to color; he confessed that a yellow and black tape measure on his desk interrupted his work, taunting him until he moved it out of the room. “I work in a very controlled environment and am very particular about my space—everything has to be in its place.” Dobner’s cluttered yet orderly studio is cramped with dozens of antique frames which he collects and uses to frame commissioned drawings, and a collection of various objects and homeware items.
Dobner’s work is available at Maison 24 on Park Avenue, where visitors can find drawings, pillows and journals all signed by Dobner, as well as his popular alphabet tile series; Kate Moss, Alexander Wang and Robbie Williams are among the fans who have each picked up their own personalized set.