A Conversation with

Christina Christoforou

The 慸o defines the person: That抯 the philosophy behind Whose Hair, Christina Christoforou抯 debut book of hairstyle illustrations, which turns iconic looks through history into a guessing game. Can you pick out David Bowie by glancing at his hair alone? What about Pamela Anderson? (And if you can抰 spot Michael Jackson抯 hairstyle, then we can抰 help you.)

In more than 200 drawings using colored pencils, newspaper cut-outs, White Out and ballpoint pens Christina travels through the decades to commemorate the looks we love, and love to hate. Her message, after all抯 said and done? 揑抦 contemplating the idea that people, more often than not, are exactly who they appear to be, she says.

Describe your vision as an artist.
I am driven by curiosity about human behavior; I like observing details in people抯 conduct and psychology, which are the things that build stories. At the same time, I抦 not interested in representing the world exactly as it is, which is the reason why my work has a surreal edge.

Who are your main influences in your art?
The Smiths, Louise Bourgeois, John Baldessari, Steven Spielberg, Max Ernst and Jacques Cousteau are some that come to mind.

How did you come up with the concept for Whose Hair?
A few years ago, I went back to college to study illustration. From the beginning, my drawing had a lot of surreal elements. I was particularly interested in how little you have to [do to] describe something familiar to make it recognizable.

At the same time, I was very inspired by music, so I started drawing the hairstyles of rock bands that had meant something to me since I was a teenager. I realized that a feature as seemingly trivial as hair can be enough to determine someone's identity. To test this, I turned it into a guessing game.

Why do you think hair is a defining feature of a person抯 look?
I think it抯 the most defining feature because it surrounds and emphasizes the face, and because changing one's hairstyle can transform one completely. You can't do that with shoes.

What was your selection process for choosing whose hair would go in the book? Any interesting people who didn抰 make the cut?
I chose people who have influenced the world in some way, good or bad. I wanted it to be a mixture of celebrities whose faces are imprinted in our memory from so much exposure...to people from other categories like history, art and science people you might not think you'd recognize just from their hair, until you look at it.

My list was huge, so a lot of interesting people didn't make the final cut. To name a few: Duke Ellington, Zack and Paula from An Officer and a Gentleman, Maddie and David from Moonlighting, Jean-Paul Belmondo as Pierrot le Fou, Peter Fonda as Wyatt in Easy Rider...and Greta Garbo.

Do you have a favorite style from the book?
I have a few favorites. Hendrix's because his took the longest to draw. Michael Jackson抯 because it's moving that his hairstyles gave clues about his personal history. Basquiat's because his hairstyle was so beautiful.

What do you think styles today say about our era?
It's impossible to generalize when there are so many trends and subcultures. I think, like fashion, hair reflects what's happening in contemporary society. For example, with the rise of neo-conservatism, it makes sense that there's a revival of the hedonistic, aspirational 80s in fashion and hairstyling.

What抯 your hair philosophy?
Keep it simple.

How did you shape the design of your book? What does the book抯 appearance say about your overall message?
I had the help of And Smith design agency in London and the art direction of Angus Hyland, so it was bound to look good. As for the inside, I went by instinct. I tried to make each page according to what each personality dictates. Some heads are bigger than others, some people feature more than one hairstyle, some are before-and-after hairstyles and so on. I guess the general look says that people make the hairstyles famous and not the other way around.

Your work seems to concentrate on one striking image or point of focus per piece. How do you determine what to feature?
I had to do a lot of research to find the right picture to draw from, which sometimes was not as easy and obvious as other times. I tried to think about why I know each person, what specific scene, song, poster or moment in time reminds me of them. That was my guide.

For example, in the case of the TV-series couples, even though the image is only hair, body language is visible. There抯 also a connection between the person on the left and the person on the right page of each spread, which is sometimes quite obvious (such as Thatcher-Reagan or Marilyn-JFK) and sometime subtle (like Lady Di-Russell Brand).

What抯 your studio like?
My studio is very messy, but strangely I know where everything is. The best thing is that it's by the river...and that I share it with a few very interesting people.

Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly in music and my own social life, but also in magazines, museums and programs about nature.

Who is your sounding board?
Depends on the situation.

Finish these sentences, in terms of your art.
Always...is a very oppressive word.
Never...stop looking.

What is your current state of mind?
Curious.

- JILL HILBRENNER

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