INterview with professional illustrator Dervin Batarlo
Dervin Batarlo is a trained womenswear fashion designer. However, rather than designing garments, he is more interested in creating and cutting shapes with paper. Dervin is an illustrator based in the UK. All of his work is handmade. He describes his work as a visual study of the male form and a product of his fascination of the “idealised body.” HUF Magazine had an opportunity to speak with Dervin and find out more about his creative mind.
I currently live in a suburban area named Greenhithe – just outside London. I moved here six years ago when I met my current partner, plus living in central London was getting too hectic and expensive, so meeting my partner was a blessing in disguise. The great thing about living away from central London is that I get to switch off from all the noise. Though, where I live is changing rapidly, and it’s getting busier. Having said that, I still commute to London for my day job (to pay the bills). I currently work in luxury retail, which can be fun as I get to meet interesting characters. I feel like I work double shifts because I squeeze in an hour or two most nights to work on my art in my makeshift art studio at home.
I was trained in designing womenswear, though, it would’ve been nice to do menswear as well. I saw my aunt’s dress that she wore for her high school prom when I was little, and I’ve wanted to design dresses ever since. Being trained in fashion design has definitely been beneficial towards the aesthetic of my collage. Creating and cutting shapes using paper has stemmed from my time at university when creating clothing patterns. Pattern pieces were carefully put together to create a garment, much like when I produce my collage by carefully layering and weaving images to create a new image. Although I’ve always been interested in art, I had this longing to design clothing, so I did my training in fashion design. However, I haven’t really thought about designing clothes in years. I enjoy my own craft, and so, most of my time is focused on that. I definitely want to continue creating art and evolve my craft. So was the training in fashion design worth it? Possibly not – I’m still paying back my student loan – but it made me become the artist that I am now because of that experience.
I started producing fashion collage because I wanted to incorporate my knowledge of fashion, plus I had tons of old fashion magazines at disposal. I was inspired to create my own collage after seeing John Stezaker’s exhibition in The Whitechapel Gallery in London. I loved the idea of recycling old imagery to compose a new story, plus the idea of using paper excited me. Some years ago, I was sent to Brussels for work for nearly three months. I lived in a hotel throughout my time there, making it difficult for me to create art. That break helped me figure out that something was missing in my work, which was my fascination with the ideal male form portrayed in the media, whether it be on print or social media. I started incorporating male figures in my collage, and it just clicked with me. It was the connection I needed to embrace what I do fully.
I’ve always been into Russian Constructivist posters, which inspires the colours I use. Red is also one of my favourite colours because of its association with seduction and danger, which is what I want to convey in my older and more sexually suggestive work.Dervin Batarlo
My first series of collage featured male models, but the images were sourced from a fashion magazine. They were simplistic collages, which were fused of two images, and so, it didn’t take me long to create them. I was happy and proud of them at that time. They were exhibited as part of a collective collage show in London in 2014. A year later, upon returning from Brussels, I started looking at gay porn magazines as a source for my new work. From that, it evolved to collaborations with photographers and Instagram users who would lend me their images.
I must say that I had fantastic opportunities collaborating, more than once, with the following photographers: The Boy Project, Topper Komm, Santiago Neyra, Cain Cooper, Joel Devereux, Christophe McWhorter, and many more. I’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with Bert Makiddo, a friend and a former Selfridges (a department store in London) colleague. They’re all talented and offer different styles and aesthetics when portraying the male form. They’re definitely on top of my list. As for the models, it’s not going to be easy to pick a favourite as they all add character and beauty to my work. I featured Roberto Tejero Blasco, Nathan Gombert, and Enno Kleinehanding the most, and I would love to feature them again one day.
I have two collage styles in which I feature more than one model – when I use images from magazines; for instance, when I collaborated with Boner Magazine, who were generous enough to supply me with tons of magazines. I go through the magazine’s pages and pick out models that would fit the aesthetic of the other models to create a story or an abstract scenario using collage. The second style is something I created at the beginning of the COVID lockdown. I had many leftover print-outs of different models, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I created the ‘Surplus Collage’ series. I don’t have particular criteria when picking the models. I study the models and their poses before deciding which ones would complement each other.
My work has recently been focused on portrait collage, which I enjoy a lot. It is great as I get to put the focus on individual models. I tend to restrict myself to using 4 or 5 images. I would choose a focal image, and then I build around that.
All my work is created by hand. Part of the preparation and process is printing the images before cutting them. I limit myself to printing one copy per image, which can be challenging and exciting simultaneously as there’s no going back once an image has been cut. I study the images before cutting them and decide which details I want to include or feature, but I go with the flow when cutting the images. It’s much more exciting when I’m spontaneous. Each layer is considered and cut accordingly to how it will mesh with the other layers.
I like producing work that is made entirely by hand, so all aspects of my work are done by hand, including the circular shapes. I try to be a perfectionist when cutting the circles, but not all are perfectly neat, especially the smaller circles.
Circles have appeared in my work since 2016. It started as a shape I used to conceal body parts that may be viewed as offensive to the public. My older work would get reported because of its content, and so I started censoring certain parts with a circle. I’ve always been into Russian Constructivist posters, which inspires the colours I use. Red is also one of my favourite colours because of its association with seduction and danger, which is what I want to convey in my older and more sexually suggestive work.
My work gets scanned, and most of the time, it comes out slightly subdued and lacks brightness, so I do a bit of fine-tuning with the brightness and contrast, especially with the black circles. Besides that, I can confidently say that it’s all handmade.
The advice I can give to new creatives to achieve success is to keep working on their craft. Explore new ways to evolve their art. Don’t quit and be patient as that success they’re looking for will come. It’s OK to procrastinate as long as it’s part of the process. Lastly, I highly recommend collaborating with like-minded creatives.Dervin Batarlo
Some of my collage work shows details that are seen as unsafe for some social media platforms. I censor them to ensure I don’t get reported. I have had problems in the past when I would get blocked or banned on Facebook. Of course, I would prefer that I don’t censor my work as it’s part of the whole image. Censoring it just ruins the collage. Having said that, there is something thrilling when an image teases a viewer. My uncensored collages are available to be viewed on my Patreon page – www.patreon.com/dervinbatarlo
I do enjoy having my work being displayed for the public to see. I hope that I get to inspire other artists who may want to start creating their own collage. It’s not the only reason why I create my work; I genuinely enjoy being in my studio and making art. There is a tiny bit of planning involved. I organise the images I receive and put them in separate folders – by month. When I receive more than one series from the photographers I collaborate with, I try to be fair to the other collaborators by selecting one series, to begin with, to work on.
We all know that art is subjective. I know my work is not for everyone, especially my early work, when I used a lot of nude male images. So far, I can only remember two criticisms I received from two different people on Facebook – one happened to be a fan/follower. If I remember it correctly, one was about a Christmas collage I posted, which the user found offensive, and the other user just didn’t like my technique or style. I dealt with it calmly. In fact, I smiled when I saw the comments. It was their opinions, which they are entitled to have.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate for social media platforms, as they are a great tool for showcasing my art to the world. I get to show my work in other countries, easily and instantly. For me, the way social media works is that it takes away the art world’s snobbery. The only thing I can say that might seem negative is that social media is overloaded with artists producing similar works.
I aim to create art using paper and use the technique of collage as well as collaborating with other creatives and having the opportunity to showcase my work to the public, which is recognisably mine. I feel that I have done that, and so, I feel a sense of success. And no, it hasn’t changed over the years. My aim continues to be the same. I suppose the ultimate goal, for now, is to have a solo show one day and maybe to publish a coffee table book of my work. I am also dreaming of setting up an art studio somewhere warm by the sea or up on a mountain. Maybe I’ll fly back to my home country when I’m old or retired – I was born and bred in the Philippines.
In the digital age that we live in, I think it’s really important to look back more than ever. In my case, it’s the art of creating a collage using paper. I want collage as a form of art to continue to inspire artists to create a new way of making images. For my body of work to inspire others in the future would be wonderful. I do hope that my style will still be recognisable. Having said that, I’m still exploring new techniques, and my style may change. One thing for sure is that I will continue to create art until I can’t anymore.