Illustrator Roberts Rurans on a deep dive into the mysterious appeal of the Middle Ages

You might expect that taking this deep dive into ancient thinking and medievalism would make Roberts’ style a little too antiquarian for more commercial engagements. Unsurprisingly, it has attracted several religious clients such as: QTM, a Christian magazine based in Korea. But it seems that Roberts is part of a recent wave of illustrators who are making the Middle Ages all the rage right now. This year we spoke with Océane Muller and Pia Mélissa-Laroche about the mysterious appeal of the Middle Ages in their work. Roberts sets the precedent for attracting large commercial clients with this archaic trend. Since we last spoke, the illustrator has won a string of major commercial clients, including Coca Cola and Hermés. He is also engaged in a roaring trade with the New York Times, who shortlisted him twice for their Year in Illustration, and last year saw his work pasted on billboards in his hometown when he designed a Christmas card for Riga City Council. “In short, I’m doing well,” says the illustrator.

Last year, Roberts had the opportunity to partner with Coca Cola, an “unrealistic customer’s dream”, and the Tokyo Olympics. For their #IBelongHere campaign, Roberts, along with four other artists, was asked to create a flag that reflects an Olympic value – he was awarded ‘excellence’. Roberts set to work devising a flag that expressed ‘excellence’ in full medieval splendor, with a touch of Ancient Greek references. The iconic Olympic ring is presented as an ornate gilded wooden frame that surrounds the athletic body of Latvian javelin thrower Janis Lusis. Laurel wreaths on either side of the ring, held by two angelic personifications of Arete – the ancient Greek concept of “moral virtue” or “excellence”.

While he’s grateful to all the customers who have been “brave enough” to have works in his new, highly specific style work, Roberts tells us he’s always looking for braver customers “who wouldn’t shy away from slaying mythical creatures.” images when they commission me, such as dragons, harpies, centaurs and others, because I think it would be very nice to paint them. So far the dragons have been rejected.”

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