Zoo Portraits: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

We meet Yago Partal, the artistic king of the animal kingdom.

EDGAR staff October 7, 2015

In Edward Lear’s classic 1871 children’s book The Owl and the Pussycat, the protagonists cast off into the sea on a pea-green boat with a handful of coins. Now, had that book been written in our fast, fashion-obsessed times, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them shunning the boat altogether and spending the cash on some rather fetching-looking threads.

This would certainly have been the case had the book been penned by Spanish artist Yago Partal, whose brilliant collection of images of animals wearing clothes made quite the splash when it became a viral success.

EDGAR caught up with the talented Barcelona-based artist to discuss the idea behind, and unexpected success of, his Zoo Portraits...

Where did the Zoo Portraits idea come from?

The actual idea, came from a marketing campaign for a photographic services website. They wanted to portray animals as humans. Personally, I have always had a fascination with the animal kingdom. As a child, I used to spend hours with an encyclopaedia that my parents gave me – I guess this is the most natural way for an artist like me to get closer to working with animals.

How do you decide what type of outfit goes with what type of animal?

I always do the animal first and then I start looking for outfits online until I find something that fits its personality and I adapt it.

Do some animals seem inherently feminine or masculine to you?

The animals are mainly masculine. I would like to have more female ones, but it is difficult because it is not as easy to tell the gender of an animal as it is with people. For example, a sheep: you can only see them from the shoulders up, there is no make up, no earrings, no long hair, so it is difficult for the viewer to see it as female – unless we use an animal that is very feminine itself.

Is there a particular idea you try to convey through the Zoo Portraits?
The truth is there isn’t. They weren’t born as a conceptual idea, but as a series of images meant to be aesthetically appealing. I have always loved animals and this is my own personal way of working with them.

What’s the process you go through to create each portrait?

I create the frontal portrait of every animal, making a collage with fragments of photographs and textures. I then give them shape using Photoshop. I work with the light to add volume and I repeat the same process for the clothing once the portrait is ready. After that, everything is filtered and illustrated.

Do you aim to create a certain personality within each portrait or does that always come after?

Sometimes it is clear to me from the beginning, other times the personality comes after the portrait is created. In the case of the bull, for example, I had in my mind that I wanted that outfit and that attitude. For others I just looked for something I thought they looked good in.

Which portrait have you had the most fun in creating?

I particularly enjoy ones that when finished look like someone I know! When I show them to my friends and they agree that they look alike.

Do you have any pets?

Yes, I have a grey parrot and a cat.

Have you ever considered dressing them up and photograph them?

No. I spend lots of time with them every day, but I have never thought about dressing them up! I think my style is more related to Photoshop.

Do you have a favourite story that features an animal with human traits?

I grew up in the '80s so there were a lot of cartoon TV shows that left a big imprint on my childhood. That is where all this comes from. Shows like Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac, Dragon Ball, Alfred J. Kwak, Yogi Bear, Looney Tunes and Sherlock Holmes of Miyazaki.

If you were an animal, what kind would you be?

I would be a moose. They are amazing animals.

Why do you think people take such a liking to the series?

I never expected it to become such a success. In fact, I couldn’t have hoped for a more favourable reception! So many people love them and use them as avatars on their social media. People are also using the images to create products and collections because I think they are something that people can easily identify with.

Will it be a continuous project?

The good thing is that there is no natural limit to the project. I still have a long list of animal species to work on, and the idea is to keep creating them until something points me in a direction to the contrary.

Details: to see the full collection or order prints visit zooportraits.com