By producing work rich with feeling and a growing sense of sophistication, Brazil has begun to turn up the creative heat. The world of graphic design is waiting to see what happens next.
Brazil’s creative output is currently under the international spotlight. Books are being written, exciting work is being commissioned and reputations are being made. So what’s going on? Has Brazil just been ‘discovered’, or are Brazilian designers doing something different to the rest of the world?
Brazil is South America’s largest economy. It has borders with every other state on the continent bar Chile and Ecuador, its rainforest still harbours tribes of the last indigenous Indians, and back in 2002 it elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – one-time shoe-shine boy – as its president.
Brazil is an amazing place, yet we still know it best as the home of football, bikinis and Samba – it must seem a bit unfair to the locals. “Well, we do have a lot of football, girls in bikinis and Samba!” says Danilo Oliveira of graphics co-op Base-V.
Oliveira is from São Paulo, so would the answer be different further inland? Hop north-east to Belo Horizonte and you’ll find designer, typographer and illustrator Eduardo Recife. “People see Brazil as a jungle filled with naked girls,” he says, “but we have a very rich culture.” And when the rest of the world wakes up and smells the coffee, Brazilian design will take centre stage.
Nando Costa, the man behind Die Gestalten Verlag’s Brasil Inspired, spent five years working in the US, which has given him perspective. “As long as people recognise that the country has a lot more to offer, it doesn’t really bother us.”
The world is waking up to Brazilian design. “Lately, with all the hype around Brazilian culture, more and more designers have been working as freelancers, both for the local and the overseas markets,” says Costa.
This is healthy, but it’s leading to the creative equivalent of a brain drain. “More and more professionals are leaving the country, which is really sad,” says Costa. But there is a silver lining: “It’s always really great to have the experience and then later, if they want, they can go back to their home town and help take the market a bit further.”
There are many designers doing just that. Base-V recently completed a giant wall installation in São Paulo, Eduardo Recife has just finished a series of stills for HBO’s ‘Assume the position’; and since last December Nando Costa has been busy working on a series of 30 packaging illustrations for software giant Microsoft.
The rise of street art and graffiti is nowhere more prominent than on the streets of Brazil’s cities. “The influence is big – from fashion to animation,” agrees Oliveira. And even the official art market is beginning to open up: “Spaces and galleries with a specific interest in ‘street language’ are opening, particularly in São Paulo.”
Recife cites two examples – street artists Os Gêmeos and Herbert Baglione. Gêmeos recently completed a project for Nike dedicated to Brazil called The Rhythm and Art of Movement, and Baglione will host a solo show at FIFTY24SF in LA this May. Street art is feeding design, as it does the world over. The difference is, the Brazilian version is much more nutritious.
It’s important not to overlook the fact that the streets of São Paulo and Rio are a very different place from the wilds of Shoreditch. “We live in a culture where material things are more important than values and humanity,” says Recife. And sadly he’s right. Poor neighbourhoods are subject to the same bombardment from materialism as the rest of us, and from that comes another problem – crime. “But people don’t care, as long as they are making money.”
“Brazil is a place of high contrast, and that’s very inspiring for an artist,” says Costa. “Chaos has always been inspiring, but it also instigates more thoughts about what one can do to change poverty, violence and other issues.” Art can make a difference, but as Oliveira points out, “It’s a very hard struggle because artists here have to fight for their space in the market.”
Against the odds
Becoming a graphic designer in Brazil can be tough. “First of all, our design schools are not all that good,” says Recife. “And education aside, the design market is terrible, especially if you live outside the São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro axis.”
“For a long time, a designer’s only hope of getting a job was with an advertising agency,” Costa reveals. This environment doesn’t suit everyone, but fortunately things have started to change – more independent studios are starting to emerge, launched by designers straight out of school. “This is really inspiring for those in school and also for clients working with people still able to offer fresh ideas,” says Costa.
He believes that you need certain skills to make your way up in the Brazilian market, and just acquiring basic computer literacy is a dream for most. “But eventually you realise that the large majority of the work presents similar challenges and it becomes boring,” he says. This is the force driving talent overseas and it’s probably why the world has begun to take notice.
Ground-breaking work created in these circumstances is vital. “In the case of graphic design, you need a culture where people are used to seeing that type of production,” says Oliveira. Brazil is not yet at that stage, there isn’t the awareness of design or a public with spare cash to spend on its output, but interest is growing.
The idea that Brazilian design somehow has a Brazilian flavour is not popular with local designers. Oliveira’s response is typical: “I’m not sure if Brazilian design is really different. Brazilian design is influenced from around the world, more than by regional references.”
“It’s hard to talk about a Brazilian design. There isn’t such a thing any more, I guess,” says Recife. “We see references from all over the world.” It’s difficult to imagine that one of the world’s largest economies is somehow disconnected, waiting to be ‘discovered’. Brazilian designers work with the devil at their back and, given the opportunity, will outshine their international compadres.
“Brazilian designers are hungry to participate and produce, which makes the level of production grow,” says Oliveira. Costa agrees: “In general I think it’s just a cultural difference. Some influences are different, but it often has more to do with how Brazilian culture as a whole is being exploited and adored, and this doesn’t devalue some of the great work being done here at the moment.”
“Brazil is a country with several countries contained within it,” says Oliveira. “But what happens in São Paulo has nothing to do with what’s happening in Recife or in Belo Horizonte. Come to think about it, most Brazilians don’t even know what Brazil really is, but it’s really interesting to play around with these stereotypes creatively.”
“The one thing I notice is that the chaos from everyday life – street, visual pollution, traffic, etc – has a consequence in Brazilian design,” says Recife. “Sometimes there’s just too much visual information on magazines, newspapers and billboards. It often seems like if there’s any room on the paper you should fill it in with something.”
Brazil is a country of differences, and differences generate strong forces as they act against each other. “Artists are influenced by their surroundings,” Oliveira concludes. The chaos that Nando Costa explores and Eduardo Recife experiences on the crowded page is the background against which Brazilian design is created. “You can feel a certain irony in some work that is very ‘Brazilian’, but we wouldn’t go much further than that.”
EIGHT BRAZILIAN DESIGN TALENTS YOU SHOULD BE KEEPING YOUR EYES ON
Based in São Paulo, interactive art director Mariana Bukvic is an example of Brazil’s outward facing designers. She has worked for many prestigious clients such as Nike, Coke and Nestlé, and has been honoured with numerous awards from the Cannes Cyber Lions to the D&AD.
Buraco de Bala
This studio has come a long way since its launch back in 1999 – always striving to develop the best solution within its powers, no matter what technique the team uses in order to accomplish its goals. Buraco de Bala works are mostly fuelled, “by craftsmanship and a special taste for the classic techniques and references.”
Reismagos is a graphic design studio created by Alline Luz and Daniel Gizo. Since 2004 the pair have worked on commercial and experimental projects for national and international clients. Although this piece is about the 2006 World Cup, “Now we’re into designer toys – something quite unknown in Brazil,” says Gizo.
Flávio de Almeida Hobo
“My approach is analogical plus digital,” says Flávio de Almeida Hobo. Humans are “analogical beings” using digital tools. “The lack of money spent on projects here makes creativity essential. Less business, respect for nature and do the work with sincerity. Design can save the world.”
Graphic artist Yomar Augusto has been published around the globe. From Brazil to China, The Netherlands to Russia, his work is highly respected. In 2004, Yomar was involved in two Rojo Magazine ArtStorm projects, where 18 artists from all over the world brainstormed a huge project based in Barcelona and Berlin.
Brazilian designer and illustrator Rogério Lionzo is making the world a better place with the gift of colour and form. The young artist is chuffed with his progress so far: “I am lucky enough to have great experiences and opportunities so far in my career.”
The four founders of Nitrocorpz have been working together since graduating in 1998. “We do interactive, illustration, print and motion work. Most of our work is done through email/IM.” Other projects include www.mixtape.nitrocorpz.com and www.neuralbrand.org.
Born in São Paulo, Andre Matarazzo travelled extensively throughout the world for 12 years, got upset with the state of online design in Brazil and decided to move back and launch gringo.nu. He is focused on online branding solutions.