The Age of the Unicorn
Illustrations by Marc Burckhardt for Fortune Magazine.
Marc Burckhardt talks about the commission...
The unicorn has existed—if only in the imagination—through most of written history and in almost every culture, and as a symbol it's been associated with everything from virginity to Jesus Christ. So it's no surprise that in our modern world the unicorn continues to symbolize rare and mythic things (no offense to virgins everywhere).
So when I got the call from Mike Solita at Fortune to illustrate an article title "The Age of Unicorns", about highly valued startup companies that are supposedly rare but may be indicative of a new tech bubble, I jumped at the chance to work with this historic character.
The inspiration for my approach was the final panel of the stunning Unicorn Tapestries located in the Cloisters, one of my favorite collections of medieval art. With only a few days to turn around the piece, I quickly did a rough to show the composition and give a feel for direction; this was a bit looser than my usual approach, but given that we had a relatively clear point of reference, it was enough to sign off for finish. A few days later, the creature in my imagination came to life on the pages of Fortune's latest issue.
I love the use of historic imagery to convey ideas about the modern world we live in, and to give a sense of timelessness to subjects that we confront in our everyday lives. I'm often called on to "quote" images like the tapestries to trigger associations viewers have with that historical language, but I also use the technical device to imbue a piece with a broader sense of history, and even myth. I'll be in NYC next week for the opening of the Society of Illustrators 57th Annual, so it seemed like the right time to post some examples of the range of possibilities historical archetypes provide me by previewing the six pieces I'm honored to have in this year's exhibition. I look forward to seeing many of you there. - Marc Burckhardt