Emiliano Ponzi: the contemporary man narrated through illustrations
By Nico Fedi & Paolo Oliveri
By Nico Fedi & Paolo Oliveri
Emiliano Ponzi is a great Italian illustrator. From his drawings we can have a synthetic and profound vision of today’s man. His works have been covers of magazines such as The New York Times, Le Monde and The Economist. His monograph, The Great New York subway map, was published by MOMA in New York. He has won numerous awards including the International Design Award.
The metaphysical and lonely nature of subjects is a captivating aspect in your illustrations. Can you explain its origin?
Each illustrator has his own voice sound, a personal vocabulary by which he can express himself. I like to give back plausibility to my creation, not an abstracted form, where things cannot be recognisable, neither a total mimesis with reality.
Thanks to this metaphysical aspect, I can imagine something that is possible but not real; the borderline between these two approaches fascinates me so much. You mentioned solitude; perhaps, we are talking more about a “human-centred vision”, where something unreal happens to one or more subjects, catalysing the attention.
You often use irony as an instrument of expression. Do you think irony is a good manner to minimize fright and uncertainty when we talk about awkward topics in the actual historic period?
Yes, I think, even if we can find the most explicit irony in comic strips, like on Espresso or The New Yorker. In illustration field, I maintain an ironic style but never marked by political intention; I want to communicate in a universal language instead of narrating what is daily going on. Irony is certainly useful: we have a lot of valid marked examples, especially in USA after Trump became president. Often, when the political situation turns into an authoritarian hint, art is the most productive expression, despite a society that is apparently a bowl of cherry. I find irony more incisive from a detached point of view; the one on Trump is for me more cutting than the irony we make in Italy, because I can laugh on it being more distant; I struggle imaging irony in my country referred to the present situation.
Illustration, like architecture, born because there is a client behind. What are the main differences, based on your experience, between Italian clients, like Feltrinelli or Internazionale, and clients from other country, like The New York Times, Le Monde, etc.?
Fifteen years ago, when I started my career, differences were much evident, in terms of approach, between USA market and the rest of the world, Europe and Italy too. In USA there were a lot of graphic design training school with a history; here, in the meanwhile, the same situation was arising. The gap was linked to image education, represented by different client’s requests promoted in the USA market compared to the Europe one. Nowadays, with a smaller and more connected world, many differences flatten toward a sort of resemblance. Merits and flaws are now more dependent upon the single person than upon geographic position.
How do you approach a new work? How do you develop your research and apply it to the practical result?
With old clients, both of us know well what I can give, and which are the requests that I can or can’t satisfy. In the hypothesis of a new client and a new work, even before placing the pencil on the sheet, the first thing I do is to understand what that person expects from me. Understanding if he has ideas and try to have them expressed by himself, without specific information on what to draw, but on the message he wants to communicate. The vehicle for the message is a task of mine, of the illustrator; otherwise, it’s only applied art. For sure, this work is applied art, but there is a lot of my personality and style in my illustrations. Understanding what client wants is the first thing, trying to make visions converge on that topic is the second one. After, the research starts: you read up about what you don’t know, even to bring inside given atmospheres inside the result. I personally make an iconographic research, building a sort of moodboard and trying to catch colours and forms that I will use after; later, I approach the text to find out slogan or keywords; it helps me in synthetizing three or four basic concepts to draw some first sketches.
Does your work start with paper and pencils, utilising classic instruments, and later you transfer anything on a digital tool, or directly in a digital system?
The hand-drawn work usually doesn’t go over the sketches, normally using a pencil; it helps me in fix my ideas but not in defining the illustration elements. I later draw everything more precisely, using the right proportions and dimensions by using digital tools.
How much are you influenced by architecture and design when you create a setting? Do you have any references?
Certainly, there is always a reference to architecture. I read up a lot, for example on Antonio Sant’Elia, reaching the Japanese architecture or the beautiful one made by swiss masters; I have some books that I consult periodically, it depends on the situation. Reference to architecture becomes very important to me when I face interiors; a well-design room make you flee from the irrelevance of a standard space. In particular, Sottsass’ sketches fascinating me so much: here I find pavement, walls and columns coloured with unique textures; few details, designed by an architect and watched by me with great amazement, can for sure enrich the illustration.