The prince of Pirelli
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
“I was on my way to the Grammys when I got the call that Pirelli wanted me as the artist for the 2024 calendar,” says 28-year-old Ghanaian visual artist Prince Gyasi. “I was like, ‘OK, no problem.’ So I just did my best. I put the names down, checked who was available and then we put them in the calendar.” The bar for “my best” is clearly high: poet Amanda Gorman, model Naomi Campbell, actors Angela Bassett and Idris Elba, singer Tiwa Savage and King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, king of the Ashanti in Ghana, were just some of the names who made him some diary space.
Such a high calibre cast reflects Prince Gyasi’s speedy ascent as a photographer. Catalytic moments have included a 2018 iPhone shoot with actress Michaela Coel that went viral on social media, a 2019 shoot for GQ with Nigerian singer Burna Boy, a collaboration with Virgil Abloh and Off White, and a 2021 cover story with Naomi Campbell for Madame Figaro. Since then, his works have been shown at international art fairs including 1-54 and Paris Photo, while collectors include François Pinault and La Fab (the agnès b art foundation). In 2022, The Arrival sold at Phillips auction house for £44,000, over an estimate of £22,000.
Gyasi’s signature style often sees him shoot with an iPhone, while his palette is bold, fantastical and hyper-chromatic. The latter can, in part, be attributed to synaesthesia, the neurological condition where experiencing one sense prompts a reaction in another that is unrelated (such as hearing colour). This, says Gyasi, also prompted him to focus on the otherworldly nature of his Pirelli subjects. “It’s like they are superheroes – but at the same time they’re very relatable,” he says. He chose a theme of timelessness to explore their indomitable powers. “They don’t care about how many days or months or weeks each year has. It’s just about them and what their goals are and how they are going to make it work,” he says. “Naomi’s 53, and she’s still moving like she’s 20 because she’s not thinking about time.”
Gyasi is the latest photographer whom Italian tyre-maker Pirelli has asked to create its calendar – a tradition that began in 1964 with Robert Freeman, then best-known for his images of The Beatles, and later saw Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Demarchelier picking up the Pirelli baton. Prince Gyasi is the first black photographer to do so. “Prince is an amazing artist, a futurist and someone who has got so much love for the world,” says Idris Elba. “I’m so proud of him.” The calendar is a weighty responsibility to shoulder, but Gyasi is most keen to retain his distinctive lens. “I didn’t want to be influenced,” he says. “It’s important for me to stay fresh and stay original.”