Richmond-based artist Richie Pope was selected to create an illustration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was featured as the MLK Day 2016 Google Doodle. (Photo courtesy Richie Pope)
Richmond artist Richie Pope says he was "in disbelief" when the powers that be at Google tapped him to create an illustration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for MLK Day 2016's Google Doodle. Pope says his shock quickly gave way to excitement as the process unfolded.
"With editorial work, usually, an art director will email you, 'I like your work, I have this assignment for you,' and that’s pretty much how it went with Google; they sought me out for this project," he says. Over a period of several weeks, "There were rounds of sketches and in-progress drafts before we arrived at the finished illustration,” Pope says. Meanwhile, he kept his friends' interest piqued with coy status updates. "I would post, "I'm working on something big, guys," he says with a laugh.
While King's legacy is legendary, Pope feels it is too often relegated to the pages of history, to "back then." He feels that King's message of civil liberties for all and non-violent conflict resolution are still relevant today, and that belief influenced his work on the MLK Day Google Doodle.
“The color choice was purposeful, very vibrant. Often, we see black and white photos of him and we think of that ... as ancient times," he says. "But he was real, and all of that existed in real time, so I wanted to use a fresh color palette to reflect that. I wanted to make it more recent, more relevant."
Richmond artist Richie Pope created this illustration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was selected as MLK Day 2016's Google Doodle. (Photo courtesy of Google/Richie Pope)
Pope, a Virginia Commonwealth University alum, made his first appearance in Richmond magazine this past November, illustrating "A Dragon on His Back," by Vietnam War veteran Malik Hodari. "It felt like an emotional experience," he says of the story, "so I wanted to capture that, more than just a scene of war."
In the process of creating the Google Doodle illustration, Pope realized that the unique way his art depicts King could reach beyond the aesthetic and open the door to a broader conversation.
"Me and my friends have talked about the time when there was one person to speak for us, like Dr. King," says Pope. "And now, everyone can speak for themselves, through the platform of the Internet; there’s a lot more trading of ideas.”
Pope wanted to honor King through his art because, "I'm a black man in America, so it was personally important. But also, it was the theme itself: We ... wanted to focus on his voice, his powerful speaking."
The Google Doodle is a highlight in Pope's career, which spans several artistic mediums including illustration and comics. His editorial experience, which includes work for Time magazine, The New Yorker and The New York Times, continues to expand. "I’ve also been working on book covers, comics and a little bit of everything,” he says. Pope will publish a collection of comics in September, in conjunction with a San Fransisco-based publisher, Youth in Decline. The year has only just begun, and Pope is looking forward to new opportunities that come with it.
"I anticipate more work this year, he says. "This has been a nice way to open it up."