Stanley Chow: artist on 92/93 art and life as a Red
Close your eyes and picture an artist who captures footballers better than anyone else.
There’s a strong chance you’ve got a Stanley Chow piece in your mind’s eye. The lifelong Red has designed United We Stand covers, player portraits, and rare memorabilia for the club he loves. His distinctive style decorates the walls of players' houses and his work featured in Mason Mount’s grand unveiling last week.
With a style that’s loved around the world, Stanley’s work is sought after by fans everywhere. And this week, you have the chance to collect new, ultra-rare player portraits of Bryan Robson, Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin, all signed by the players themselves. These unique pieces of memorabilia are guaranteed for holders of new 92/93 digital collectibles.
But what does 92/93 mean to Stanley? How did it feel to create new pieces around some of his favourite players? And where did his signature style come from? We sat down with him to find out…
"Obviously I remember Steve Bruce’s late header and the season before, when Leeds appeared in the last week to snatch the title. And of course Cantona – he was the catalyst for winning the league. Actually, I was really sceptical when he first joined. I thought ‘oh, he probably won't be with us for more than a season’, and then he ends up being at United for five seasons. I was like: ‘alright, okay, he’s cool’."
Are there other stars from that era that stand out for you?
"I was a big fan of Mark Hughes and I’ve always been a massive fan of Robbo [Bryan Robson]. I’ve loved him ever since he joined United. Back in '83, I had a poster of him on my wall – a picture where he’s signing for United in the middle of the pitch. He’s not even in the kit, just in a nice grey suit and his perm. He was a hero from when I was like nine or 10 years old."
You’ve created some amazing new portraits of Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and Bryan Robson for digital collectible holders. How did you approach each piece?
"Weirdly those three players are probably the trickiest United players I've ever done. I don’t know what it is but there's just something about them. I struggled with Gary Pallister. I was watching TV with my wife and I thought 'oh, I’ll just make a head-start' then I was up until 3am working on it. Some people just have really extreme facial expressions and extreme angles in their face, but sometimes you just can’t see their ‘sitting’ face."
Did you find any of the others a challenge?
"I’ve drawn Bryan Robson a few times in the past from different eras. He’s got one of my works in his house and loads of people like them, but I’m not always 100 per cent happy with them. I’ll put him in a different kit, which means I have to change his hair, because it’s a different era, but I will tweak and tweak it."
What about the Denis piece?
"I found as many pictures of Denis as I could. I have to learn the face in my head – one photograph isn't enough. It's a case of taking all that information from thousands of different angles, hundreds of different photos, and then boiling it all down to a point where you can close your eyes and imagine them."
Is there one particular aspect of a player’s face you like to focus on?
"Everyone will have a characteristic that I'll hone in on. I try to create the shape of the face, from chin upwards. That defines the whole look of the illustration. Then it's a case of just simplifying everything, really. And capturing the player in as few lines as possible."
You make it sound easy but clearly there’s a lot of work that goes into every design, right?
"If you can create a complex shape and then bring that down to three or four lines, that's what I always get to. It's so instinctive and every person's different – you always see something new. It's really hard to describe it. It's like me asking you 'how do you breathe?'"
When you decide to create a new player portrait, where do you start?
"There's nothing that I specifically aim for. It's the whole shebang, really…once you have the position of the ears and the jaw and the chin it flows. Sometimes I can just draw one eye, one eyebrow, and the rest of it will just fall into place really quickly."
Can you remember the first United player you ever created as an artwork?
"When I was at art school I did a painting of Cantona. He just affected the team so much. Because of art schooling, you’re not trained to illustrate celebrities. You’re almost pushed away from it – not high-brow enough. It wasn’t a natural marriage like it is now. You could talk about football and watch football, but art related to it? No."
Do you still have the Cantona piece?
"Yeah. It was a cartoony style and I painted. It wasn't until the 2000s that I started using digital tools to create. The Cantona piece is going back to the mid-90s when painting was actually with real paint."
How did you make the switch to digital art?
"My dad bought me a computer in my mid-20s. Work wasn't going great, I wasn't really getting much work as an artist and he just said to me, ‘you gotta be up with the times – everyone's using computers now’. I didn't want to use a computer, I wanted to be an artist. I was quite stubborn and a bit of a Luddite, really."
"The computer sat there for about a year. I was playing Football Manager on it, and that was it. I never actually used it for anything proper. And then I thought, it's about time I used it. Photoshop and Illustrator and stuff like that.I taught myself, really."
Can you tell us when you first became a Red?
"I’ve been one for long as I can remember, really. I was born in '74 and it’s been literally Man United ever since. My dad used to work in a restaurant in Alderley Edge where all the '60s greats used to come in – Charlton, Best, Law, Nobby Stiles. He used to bang on about them a lot. Particularly Nobby Stiles. He liked him, not just as a footballer but as a human being."
So your dad introduced you to the club?
"Yeah, my dad stopped working at that restaurant and bought a chippy in Altrincham. That’s when I started to see all the '70s players. Lou Macari, Gordon McQueen – they’re the ones I mainly remember. After the chippy, my dad bought another restaurant. Sharp were the sponsors of United at the time, and the execs always used to come in and give free tickets to staff. Every now and then I’d get one, and that’s when I started going to matches in the late '80s. The link has been there for me and United forever."
When did you first start working with United?
"In 2017. By then I’d already done quite a few portraits of footballers, and then the Football Museum asked me if I wanted to put an exhibition on. The event was called ‘Museums By Night’ and all the museums in Manchester opened up until really late for one night only. They asked me to put an event on. So basically I just kind of did a whole bunch of portraits, which also coincided with appearing in the Manchester United magazine."
Can you remember who the first player you drew for United was?
"In the current style I work in, it was Wayne Rooney. I stuck one of my Rooney pieces on the internet afterwards and somehow Edgar Davids saw it. He got in touch and said he wanted one, a version of himself. And that's how it kind of exploded for me."
Do you have a favourite United player, either as a fan or as an artist?
"I think Marcus Rashford. What he’s achieved is so immense that you have to admire him for what he's done every minute on and off the pitch."
Want a limited edition Stanley Chow print, signed by Bryan Robson, Gary Pallister or Denis Irwin? View the new 92/93 collection, inspired by United legends and the club’s first-ever Premier League winning season.