Artists Max Guther, Indra Sanchez (also known by her moniker “Indi Maverick”), and Celeste Byers are part of a generation of artists that lie somewhere between millennials and the zoomers, somewhere between self-assured idealism and self-conscious realism. They choose to see the beauty in the everyday, but don’t sugarcoat it, and in each of their pieces cast a critical eye upon it.
The city has long been an object of interest to artists, particularly expressionists, who were amazed and excited by the fast-paced urban lifestyle, but looked down on its materialistic tendencies. Depictions of cities contrasted with earlier paintings of the imagined, idyllic country life, and this tension have carried on to today, with cottagecore content trending on TikTok and Instagram as more and more people took to social media to socialise as the pandemic raged on. Max Guther has mastered the slice of life illustration, but his work is anything but simply glammed up. It is beautiful but refuses to gloss over imperfections.
Guther has said that he is inspired first and foremost by everyday life, in all its shining glory. He has also cited photographer Alex Prager, who was inspired by Los Angeles, the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States. Prager called it, “a strange picture of perfection” with an undercurrent of monotony and unease underneath all its beauty and promise. Guther looks up to illustrator Manshen Lo too, his examination of the tensions between people and the urban spaces they inhabit as inspirations. Movies and books also influence Guther’s work quite a lot, as well as the aesthetics of old computer games (his early pieces were compared to life simulation video game The Sims) and Bauhaus architects.
Guther was fascinated by architecture since he was a child playing with Legos and went on to study Communication Design. The starting point of his artistic journey was architecture but his focus eventually centred on people. Guther has said that it didn’t make sense to him to just make beautiful drawings of interiors, and as a commercial illustrator he aims to explore themes and add to the story the writer he collaborates with is telling, and people were the gateway to his creative expansion. Currently, his work explores the stereotypes and absurdities of everyday and modern life, which he renders in a hyper-realistic 3-D. While doing an internship at Berlin-based artist Eike Konig’s studio, he discovered isometry (a method for visually representing 3-D objects in a 2-D piece used in technical and engineering drawings) and started developing his style: “The hard shadows and colourful palette turned out good images, to me anyway. But I realised pretty fast that the analogue approach wasn’t for me. So I started doing digital.” Guther found making his work in 3-D, less time-consuming and uses Blender and Photoshop to polish his pieces.
Guther’s pieces have been hugely successful, and he has collaborated with various magazines as well as the shoe store Camper, Google, and others. His work for Camper’s SS21 pre-collection is an example of how his work, though seemingly dreamy and idealised, is ultimately grounded in cold, hard reality. The collection came out in 2020, and like most things in 2020, was not left untouched by the coronavirus pandemic. Guther has commented that it was inspired by that unprecedented year’s “unfulfilled feelings and desires that can only be experienced when on summer vacation”. Like his previous work, this series of illustrations centre on the minute to express a larger truth about human behaviour, here being all the small pleasures we all took for granted pre-pandemic. Guther’s pieces for Camper depict bare feet whose owners are sunbathing at the side of a pool and in a yacht, surrounded by some of these things and more: shoes, pets, sun cream, hotel fries, and ice cream.
The everyday can mean literally everyday life, and specifically urban life, but Indra Sanchez goes in a slightly different direction and adds her own personal brand of magic to it. Her home region, Latin America, is known for a movement that interweaves fantastical elements into the fabric of reality. Imagine a world where someone’s cooking can make those who eat feel exactly as the cook felt when making it, whether that be sad, horny, or enraged. Imagine a world where a family’s grief over a loved one’s death transcends the possible and manifests itself as yellow flowers raining from the sky. All of this and more happens with the help of magical realism, and no one bats an eye. The fantastical is made commonplace.
Mexico in particular has a long history of harbouring foreign artists like Leonora Carrington and producing local talent like Frida Kahlo, both of whose work indulges in the fantastical and how it can be used to understand real life. Sanchez is among the local rising stars currently making headway into Mexico’s art scene and beyond with her bewitching visuals. The 30-year-old made quite an impression when she first started creating art professionally almost ten years ago and continues to impress today. She is many things: an illustrator, tattoo artist, and graphic designer, and has worked on projects with shoe brands Dr. Marten and Steve Madden, Mexican department store El Palacio de Hierro, and marketing company Mary Kay.
Of everything she does, however, illustration is Sanchez’s true passion. She is inspired by artists like Andy Warhol, who was an illustrator before he became famous for his pop art.
Sanchez is known for her distinctively detailed style, use of fine lines and pastel colours (achieved with stylographs and markers). One can see the care and love dedicated to each of Sanchez’s elaborate creations, and she has said that the place she likes to draw from the most is the comfort and tranquillity of her own home. Sanchez also has a preference for drawing animals and flowers. Beauty and the simplicity of nature are her muses. The natural world is in fact, something Sanchez connects very deeply with. Her work touches on related themes such as the ephemeral quality of nature as well as the duality of human nature and the animal inside. She’s said: “I think that, sometimes, animals are more rational than humans, and that’s why I like to switch up the roles: portraying animals behaving like humans and people like animals.”
Her piece “Margot,” for example, is a reverse anthropomorphisation of the character played by Gwyneth Paltrow in Wes Anderson’s 2001 film “The Royal Tennenbaums”, who is now reimagined as a cat. Anderson’s style appears to be an influence in Sanchez’s style, which tends towards geometric balance and has a whimsy air to it. The animals portrayed in Sanchez’s work are sometimes directly tied to her own dreams. For example, she’s said that she longs to travel the world and birds perfectly encapsulate that for her as flying can represent freedom and independence. Furthermore, her drawings of bears in sweaters and well-dressed cats have a fantastical storybook quality to them.
Celeste Byers’s work is likewise populated by natural imagery, especially plants, and she takes its symbolism further. Byers grew up camping, hiking, and spending a lot of time in nature and to this day, nature remains one of the driving forces behind her art, finding it to be “endlessly inspiring”. Byers’s illustrations and murals both pay tribute to the natural world and reveal subtle magic to everyday life, one that’s rooted in an organic landscape rather than an urban one, as Guther’s work is. Byers learnt to paint in high school, studied illustration and design at university, created illustrations for clients like The New York Times, and collaborated with the likes of beauty product retailer Sephora, technology company Amazon, and online marketplace for lodging Airbnb. She also went on to complete 70 murals in ten years in countries like the United States, Mexico, Taiwan, and Australia.
Several of these murals are examples of another element of Byers’s work, social justice. Particularly, environmental justice causes. This can also be seen in her illustrations, which are sometimes accompanied by political commentary. In “We Are American,” she depicts several culturally diverse American activists from different time periods carrying an American flag. They are surrounded by roses, a bald eagle, and daisies, which represent new beginnings. Byers described her other symbolic choices: “American symbols like the eagle and the flag are often associated with conservative America so I think it’s important for all Americans to claim these symbols as our own because this country is all of ours.”
Optimism seems to be the ultimate message of “We Are American”, and it certainly comes across through Byers’s use of bright colour palettes. She’s confessed that she tries not to spend too much energy worrying about negative things, instead rechanneling her energy onto the positive, “Of course we all feel negative emotions and there are bad things happening but it’s part of life and there’s no reason to dwell in suffering when we don’t have to.” Byers takes a stance when necessary, and celebrates what matters most to her, as in her piece “Natural Beauty”, made for Sephora’s 2020 holiday campaign. Flowers are starring cast members in this production too, this time a water lily that has sprouted from the muddy bottom of a pond. A lily can symbolise many things, but for Byers, it serves as a reminder that despite all the negativity, there is some beauty in the world. And that it “is best shared with love.”
There is ugliness in the world. Life may be absurd, people cruel, and society discriminatory, but Guther, Sanchez, and Byers combat it by choosing to see the beauty that exists in the world too.
Follow Max, Indra, and Celeste at: @maxguther, @indimaverick, and @celestialterrestial.