WeTransfer believes creative thinking has the power to change the world. So every year, we pay tribute to the creative minds we've lost whose lives and work changed the way we think, the way we see and the way we understand.
Anyone from the team can nominate a figure we should pay tribute to, and our supertalented community of artists do the rest.
Albert Uderzo by Jean Jullien
In 1959, illustrator Albert Uderzo was part of a small group of artists and writers asked to create a magazine aimed at older children featuring a “typically French hero.”
The first issue of Pilote was published later that year and in it Uderzo and his writing partner René Goscinny introduced readers to Astérix le Gaulois (Asterix the Gaul). Packed with playful puns, visual gags and mischievous nods to European history, the comic series was an instant hit, charming adults and children alike with its plucky protagonist and Uderzo’s caricature-like style.
Following the trials and tribulations of the small but mighty Asterix, super-strong (and super-sized) Obelix and his dog, Dogmatix as they protect their village from Roman occupation, Asterix the Gaul quickly became an album in its own right. Selling more than 370 million copies around the world, the comics have been translated into over 100 different languages with multiple film adaptations, plus an entire theme park dedicated to everyone’s favorite Gauls.
Alongside Asterix, Uderzo created other much-loved comics, including the humorous pirate series Jehan Pistolet and the brawny Native American Oumpah-Pah. He also illustrated the comic series Tanguy et Laverdure.
After his death, tributes poured in from fans and fellow artists underlining the incredible impact Uderzo’s creative genius had on them. Cressida Cowell, author and illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon books, sums it up perfectly: “Creating a huge cast of individually recognizable characters, and the minute detail of all those group battles and the action scenes is an achievement in itself, but his real skill was combining fast-paced adventure with such humor and warmth. Asterix has taught generations of children around the world to love reading.”
Here Jean Jullien pays a moving tribute to his fellow Frenchman and national treasure.
Ulay by Joost Stokhof
Ulay (AKA Frank Uwe Laysiepen) spent the 1960s as a boundary-pushing, experimental performance artist. Together with partner in (artistic) crime Marina Abramovic – who he met in Amsterdam and lived with in a Citroën van during their years they together – his performance pieces varied from pointing a bow and arrow at his partner’s heart, to standing facing her while both slapping each other repeatedly in the face.
Before he met Marina, the German artist spent time working for Polaroid in Amsterdam. Despite Polaroid now being predominantly known for providing retro party snaps, Ulay was one of the first people to utilise the medium as an art form; combining multiple pictures of himself into so-called “Polagrams.” Through the images – which he blew up to over two meters squared – he was able to investigate and become inspired by his own identity.
Ulay also founded Ruigoord; an old church turned into an artistic sanctuary where creatives could live and work freely, located just outside of Amsterdam.
His now world-famous, intensive partnership with Marina ended in 1988, when in their final work, The Lovers, they walked the Great Wall of China from different ends, meeting each other in the middle for an incredibly emotional, final goodbye.
It was a full 20 years until they met again during Marina’s three-month-long art performance The Artist is Present at MoMa. In this piece of work the museum’s visitors would stand in line for hours to sit across from her and look into her eyes. Ulay showed up unannounced and surprised Marina by sitting down opposite her. They took each others’ hands and Marina – for the first time in the performance – broke down in tears.
Soon after, Ulay was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, but it didn’t stop him from being creative. In the last years of his life, he focused on raising awareness for and increasing appreciation of water and our planet. He also collaborated with filmmaker Damjan Kozole on Project Cancer, a film in which we follow Ulay while he receives cancer treatment, but also as he continues his performances.
On the day he passed away, Marina posted on Instagram describing Ulay as “an exceptional artist and human being, who will be deeply missed.” She says: “On this day, it is comforting to know that his art and legacy will live on forever.”
Here Joost Stokhof pays tribute to Ulay and his progressive and emotional creative mind.
Karl Lagerfeld by Kenzi Inouye
Not many people change the fashion world, but Karl Lagerfeld certainly did (he also gave us the confidence to wear sunglasses inside, all day, every day).
After freelancing for Chloé and Valentino in his early career, in 1967 he was hired by Fendi, then in 1983 he became the creative director of Chanel and he built his own clothing brand too, shaping how we dress for more than 50 years.
His legacy is certainly complicated by his outdated views about plus-size models and the #MeToo movement, and we shouldn’t shy away from remembering him as a flawed but hugely influential creative.
As Harriet Hall, lifestyle editor of The Independent, said, “Karl Lagerfeld sensed the socio-political mood and translated this into high fashion that celebrated women in a continuation of Coco Chanel's own work, but that's not to say we should forget his contrarian comments... and paint him as a perfect genius.”
Kenzi Inouye pays tribute to Karl Lagerfeld.
Professor Stephen Hawking by Laszlito Kovacs
When it comes to changing the way we see the world, few people had more impact than Professor Stephen Hawking. The theoretical physicist, cosmologist and writer grappled with the biggest questions we ask of the universe, but was able to translate his thinking into bestselling books enjoyed by millions of people.
Our creative director Laszlito Kovacs created our tribute to one of the best minds of his generattion.
Aretha Franklin by Shyama Golden
Aretha Franklin was so much more than a musician. The Queen of Soul used her talent and the standing it secured to fight for what she believed in. But at the depth of everything was her extraordinary, superhuman skill.
Billy Preston put it perfectly in this excellent New Yorker profile. "I don’t care what they say about Aretha. She can be hiding out in her house in Detroit for years. She can go decades without taking a plane or flying off to Europe. She can cancel half her gigs and infuriate every producer and promoter in the country.
"She can sing all kinds of jive-ass songs that are beneath her. She can go into her diva act and turn off the world. But on any given night, when that lady sits down at the piano and gets her body and soul all over some righteous song, she’ll scare the shit out of you. And you’ll know—you’ll swear—that she’s still the best fuckin’ singer this fucked-up country has ever produced.”
Artist Shyama Golden created this wonderful portrait of the young Aretha, and captured the inner spark that captivated the world down the decades.
Sridevi by Priyanka Paul
With a career spanning five decades, having played her first film role at just four, Sridevi was the female face of Indian cinema. In an industry that was – and to a great extent still is – male-dominated, Sridevi smashed through the glass ceiling to reach the stage where entire films were written solely for her.
Her versatility has been lauded, as she captivated audiences with roles varying from comedy to heartbreak, from drama to dance, and she had a monumental impact on aspiring young artists.
Fellow Indian actress Priyanka Chopra summed up her significance poignantly in her heartfelt tribute. “Everyone wanted her and wanted to be like her. She could be childlike, grown up, funny, serious, beguiling, sexy—she was the ultimate actor. She was my childhood, and one of the big reasons I became an actor”.
In this illustration, Priyanka Paul captures the many faces of an actress who enchanted a nation for nearly half a century.
Mac Miller by Richard A Chance
Mac Miller released his first mixtape at 15, and his first album just four years later. This early work showed only glimpses of his true ability, and by the time he released his fifth and final album at 26, he’d rapidly matured as an artist. He’d become more introspective and honest as he went along, wearing his emotion on his sleeve with lyrics unpicking his struggles with addiction, depression and being in the public eye.
After his death, the internet was flooded with passionate, moving eulogies, but the one that stands out is Doreen St. Félix’s piece for The New Yorker which focuses on his overt human kindness.
“He was known to secretly foot bills, to grant interview requests to cub reporters with fake press passes, and to generally crowd those around him with genuine concern and friendliness,” she writes. “It is a tragedy that Miller won’t get to keep growing.”
Richard A Chance’s illustration captures Mac like a prince, a fitting tribute to a rapper who was part of the 21st Century’s hip-hop royalty.
Stan Lee by Brian Elstak
Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk. Such extraordinary characters must have been born in an extraordinary mind, and Stan Lee never did things by the book.
He started from the bottom as an assistant at Timely Comics (which later became Marvel Comics), but his talent shone through. Two years later, aged just 18, he was made interim editor-in-chief, and would hold the position down until he became a publisher 30 years later.
He continued this habit of breaking the mould when he was asked by then publisher Martin Goodman to come up with a new team of superheroes. Up to that point, heroes were written as perfect, idealistic characters. The ones created and co-created by Stan Lee were imperfect.
The Fantastic Four, for example, argued amongst themselves and held grudges, and chose anonymity over fame. Stan Lee made superheroes sad and angry. He gave them a complicated past, and he gave them flaws. He brought them closer to humanity.
Jim Steranko, renowned comic book writer and artist, put Lee’s contribution to the industry into his own sincere words. "Stan added a DYNAMIC THIRD DIMENSION to standard two-dimension characters—and blazed a precedent-smashing path into other mediums like no one had done before him.”
The number of cameo appearances he made in Marvel films underlines just how keen everyone was to have him involved in any way. It was always surreal to see him pop up as a postman, a security guard, a hapless civilian, as he was a man who was so far from the everyday himself. It’s not these bit-part roles that will keep his legacy alive though, but the complex and layered characters he created in the Marvel Universe.
Here, Marvel superfan Brian Elstak captures Stan's iconic features.
Kate Spade by Jessica Rose Bird
When Kate Spade left women’s magazine Mademoiselle in 1991, she saw that there was a need for handbags that were both functional and stylish. And so, Kate Spade New York was born.
Kate’s iconic designs allowed younger women and teenagers to feel fashionable for well below a handbag’s normal asking price. The bags are colorful and bold yet sleek and elegant, meaning they are louder and more expressive than the typical bags by Burberry and the like, yet still manage to look mature. Actress Olivia Munn commented on this feeling of maturity, writing that “it’s funny how a purse can instantly make you feel like an adult.”
Actress Bryce Howard, who has previously modelled for the Kate Spade brand, made this heartfelt tribute to the designer’s impact. “From quirky prints to ladylike cuts and everything in between, she designed with playful sophistication for every woman and girl. She made fashion fun and empowering and full of personality.”
Here, Jessica Rose Bird captures Kate Spade.