André Carrilho has watched Vladimir Putin’s face grow “puffier” over the years. The illustrator, whose caricatures of politicians are regularly on the cover of the New Statesman, pays closer attention than most.
Carrilho has worked for numerous titles including the Independent and Vanity Fair, and has been drawing Putin for more than 20 years. His first NS cover in March 2014 depicted the Russian leader readying himself for a fight. Putin is instantly recognisable, but almost a decade on, his face no longer looks the same. “I have to change the caricature with the changes of his physiognomy,” Carrilho says, laughing, from his studio in Lisbon, Portugal. “He has plastic surgery. He has these fillers, which are very common now with celebrities and some politicians. They stretch the skin, make it less wrinkly.”
While Putin’s face has altered, the story has not. Carrilho’s first cover in 2014 asked what was next for Russia after it had invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. “I have done a weekly cartoon in Portugal for 14 years and at some points I feel like republishing a cartoon that I did five years ago,” Carrilho says. “I feel like no one ever learns anything.”
Nigel Farage makes the perfect caricature, Carrilho says, “because he’s such an awful person, everyone agrees he should be exaggerated”. He enjoys drawing Boris Johnson, whom he portrayed memorably in the NS as a series of Pinocchio-like figures. The former prime minister’s face is challenging, “but the hair solves most of the problems with recognition”.
The process begins when the NS’s head of design Erica Weathers briefs Carrilho on the next issue. He sketches five or six options – by hand, with a mechanical pencil – then colours the approved drawing on Photoshop. Sometimes the editorial team has a cover line in mind. At other times, particularly for conceptual covers, the illustration inspires the wording. This is what happened with “We can’t breathe”, Carrilho’s award-winning cover for Gary Younge’s 2020 article about the murder of George Floyd and the effects of Covid-19 on people of colour.
“When we start working on a cover, no one knows what the finished product will be because it is collaborative.” At the NS, Carrilho is given “a seat at the table, which is the best you can get”.
[See also: Jemima Khan on 110 years of the New Statesman]
This article appears in the 12 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Anniversary Issue