Manchester artist Stanley Chow’s instantly recognisable work has gained international acclaim, seeing him collaborate with pop stars, win awards and adorn walls the world over.
As well as TV characters, film stars, sporting legends and musicians, Stanley’s artwork includes the Chinese New Year posters in Manchester and the illustrations at Metrolink tram stops. His clients include Saatchi & Saatchi, McDonald’s and Lego, he’s been commissioned by The White Stripes, and he’s a regular illustrator for The New Yorker magazine.
It’s been quite the journey for the artist who first started drawing while growing up in an Altrincham chippy in the 1970s.
Those early drawings cemented a lifelong passion.
“When I got to sixth form, I already knew that this is what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.”
“I was just trying to earn myself some cheap beers by sketching the bar staff,” he remembers. “And then I ended up DJing in some of those bars, too.”
In 2007, The White Stripes spotted a bootleg poster Stanley had designed when they played at the Apollo in 2005, and commissioned him to create artwork for their Icky Thump album.
“Then social media happened and it all really helped increase my reputation,” he says. “A lot of people were wary of social media back then, but I embraced it. It was like a megaphone.
“Then I started getting offered work from the States. I started illustrating for The New Yorker. Suddenly I became more respected. It was a bucket list thing ticked off.”
What else is on the bucket list?
“When City Co approached me to do Chinese New Year in Manchester, that was another bucket list thing. I was so proud to represent the city I grew up in.”
Between commissions, Stanley works on his own projects – “I need to do my own work too. Between each job I do something for myself” – but he feels lucky that work and pleasure often overlap.
“It was great to work for Man United,” admits the lifelong fan.
“I’ve done stuff for their magazine, and I designed t-shirts and their credit card. It’s great to do something you enjoy like that. Now United buy prints off me too, to give to their guests. Every Christmas a big order comes in.
“Man City asked me to do some work for them, but I had to turn it down. Football is so tribal I just couldn’t let myself do work for City.
With such an impressive portfolio, which piece of work is he most proud of?
“It’s probably a job I did for McDonald’s a few years back,” he says. “I designed this big billboard on Piccadilly Circus. You could design your own little character on your iPhone and then you pressed ‘jump’ and it jumped from your phone onto the screen. It was at Piccadilly Circus for a few years.
“But the thing I loved was when I took my kids to watch Paddington, and there’s a scene where it panned around London – and that advert was in it.
“My kids, who didn’t know that I had done it, just jumped up in the middle of the cinema and shouted ‘Daddy! That’s yours!’. Even though it’s not there anymore in real life, it will be in the Paddington film forever. ”
Though he has travelled the world with work, Stan is a proud Mancunian and has no intention of leaving the city.
“I love Manchester. It’s my home. Over the last decade or so I’ve visited so many cities, but it’s still the place I feel most comfortable. And Man United are here.
“The city is so diverse. And there’s so many varieties of food you can have. You can get food from anywhere in the world in Manchester now. The food culture here is amazing, it’s something else.”
Where does Stanley like to eat in the city?
“I love Viet Shack, that’s amazing,” he says. “And I like Don Giovanni, it’s my favourite Italian. Topkapi is my favourite old-school restaurant. I’m a regular at Firebird Hope for their fried chicken sandwiches. And that hot pot place is a game changer. In terms of Cantonese food, which I grew up on, Tai Pan is the standard.
“I haven’t tried Tokyo Ramen yet but I will soon. I noticed ramen taking off in New York a few years ago and it’s good to see it take off over the Atlantic. Interestingly, bao buns seem to have taken off here first.”
And who does the best chips in town, according to the man who grew up in a chippy?
“The Hip Hop Chip Shop do really good chips,” he says. “Also, the chips at Pier Eight at The Lowry are really good.
“And the chips in the VIP lounge at Old Trafford are great. Fergie invited me for dinner at the ground and he said, ‘get the chips, they’re amazing’. And they were.”
You can take the boy out of Manchester…