Kia – X-traordinary art

The all-new Kia XCeed was one of the car manufacturer’s most important launches: redesigned from the ground up, it would become the flagship of the Ceed range. We wanted to create a campaign centrepiece that truly matched the car in scale of ambition and visual impact.

We proposed commissioning top artists to create life-sized installations based on the distinctive “X” from the “XCeed” logo, with which the car could interact; we would photograph the results and showcase them in an 8pp supplement in The Sunday Times Magazine.

To sell in the idea, our creative director Sachini Imbuldeniya created mock-ups and moodboards of ten different possible approaches which, with input from Kia’s creative agency Innocean, were whittled down to three.

Kia had identified three chief pillars for the new XCeed: hi-tech, great design, sporty. Each artwork would reflect one of those core attributes.

We were excited. This could be great. There was just one problem: by this stage, we had only two weeks in which to commission, create and shoot three monumental artworks that included a neon tunnel of light, a huge trompe l’oeil mural, and a giant “X” made of typography. Spoiler alert: we did it. This is how…

The neon tunnel

To suggest the modern tech that comes as standard with the new Kia XCeed, we wanted to create a glowing neon tunnel made from letter Xs. To make it genuinely large enough for a car to drive through would have been impossibly expensive, so here we needed some creative licence. We commissioned renowned set builder Mandy Smith (aka Mandy Maker), who over her 34-year career has collaborated with Damien Hirst, Polly Morgan and Tim Noble, to create a neon tunnel of Xs into which we could superimpose the car, itself cunningly photographed to reflect the neon light realistically.

“The Kia XCeed’s lights reminded me of my first visit to Piccadilly Circus and the shining brilliance of all the neon signs there,” says Mandy Smith. “Neon is old glamour but it’s classy. This is a very modern take on glamour.” The lights recede into the distance to echo how far the vehicle has to travel and the pleasurable anticipation of the road ahead.

The mural

To celebrate the Kia XCeed’s strong design values, we brought the renowned French graffiti artist Astro over from Paris to create a 4m x 4m trompe l’oeil mural – it would frame a Quantum yellow Kia XCeed seemingly bursting out of a huge three-dimensional “X”.

Astro’s signature style exploits the subtlety of shadows, light, colour, perspective and depth, creating an optical illusion that deceives the viewer’s eye by distorting the flatness of facades. The mural took him three days to complete.

“I like to mix straight lines and curves in my work,” he says. “The letter X is a perfect shape for me. It’s a basic geometric form that pulls everything towards the centre. It’s a great shape to work with and the colours are designed to attract attention, to pull in the viewer.”

The typographic “X”

There was only one possible choice of artist to create a gigantic “X” out of typography. This was Alan Kitching – the world’s foremost practitioner in letterpress design and printmaking. Alan is a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI), member of Alliance Graphique International (AGI), and Honorary Fellow of the RCA, and he created our giant “X” in his workshop in a former alehouse in Kennington, South London.

Kitching took 33 words associated with adventure and discovery, suggestive of the Kia XCeed’s sporty handling, and put them together to create a giant typographic X. The words were created using Kitching’s vast collection of antique woodblock type. These were then roll painted by hand to give the final artwork an urban feel that tied into the car’s aesthetic. “‘X’ is a very interesting, ancient graphic device,” says Kitching. “And ‘X marks the spot’ recalls a symbol found on the map of any self-respecting adventurer.”

Mandy Smith provided the finishing touch, suspending yellow balloons from the car’s roof to create the illusion of it hovering over the X – ready to take off on its next adventure.

The photographer

All three artworks were photographed by Luke Kirwan, and were published as an 8-page supplement called “X-traordinary Art” in The Sunday Times Magazine on October 13th, 2019.