September 26, 2011

Timelessness Is On His Side

An Interview with Bernardo França

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any image to enlarge

I think most if not all of us have a given association or affinity for a given period in time other than current day. And many times that affinity is defined through the fashion or through the music or even through the arts and crafts of the period.

I’m sure we all have friends that adore, for example, the Victorian look and no doubt have some bone-crushingly fashionable item like a good solid leather corset on stand-by at all times! Oh, such Fair(e) Maidens indeed! Others may prefer the more ‘modern’ look presented, for example, by the American television series ‘Mad Men’, which is resplendent with a stylish wardrobe full of sleek suits for the men and that ‘hi honey, your cocktail is ready and the kids are in bed’ look for the ladies of the house! Yes, those simpler day when questions like ‘Ward, weren’t you a little hard on The Beaver last night?’ garnered nary a second glance!

And still others may go for the look of a 50’s rock-a-billy / sock hop dance or the bad guy feel of a sturdy leather jacket, white tee-shirt and thick Ray-Ban glasses (which have no doubt gone up several thousand percent since then in price, even though the design and construction has not changed). Or maybe you’re like me and you’ve been fitted for that ‘soup kitchen’ ensemble that should be reaching every shore in the coming months as the world-wide economy continues to slide into irreparable collapse and depression. But I digress and politicise a bit, too (still if you do have soup, I will sell my organs for same)!

My point is simply that if you know of a Look – with the L capitalised for safe measure – then you associate not only a fashion style with same but also a feel, an atmosphere and even a yearning for what may or may not have been (or seemed to have been) a better time. And Bernardo França has achieved that with his illustration and graphic work. His sleek lines and playful yet well-constructed scenes do indeed hark back to the days of a good relaxing day at the beach, listening to the latest jazz songs from the local college radio station on your AM radio and just thrilling at the sheer joy of being alive!

So join me for a partially nostalgic yet totally amazing journey to South America to meet this talented and very passionate young artist!


Welcome Bernardo! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, please, and also your background?
Hello Ziggy! First, I want to thank you for having me. Projects like yours are a thrilling initiative for the art-lovers world.

In terms of my upbringing in the art world: my family were all architects, including my mom, my father, and sister... and myself, too! Plus, I was born in Brasília – Brazil’s capital which has featured for many years some of the highest achievements in Modern Architecture and Urbanism! You really have to understand just how Modern Architecture – especially throughout the 1950´s and 1960´s – was such a big deal in Brazil!

So you can say I was under influence of modernism since I was born! But it was only recently (something like 3 years) that I got became more ‘intimate’ with what I guess you could call my Modern Cartoon style – I remember the visual impact it had on me after a friend introduced me to some of the work of the UPA (
United Productions of America). From then on, I just could not stop loving, studying and researching its revolutionary designs.

Bernardo, your style is a lovely reminder of the ‘nouveau art’ or modern illustration greats from especially the 1950’s and 1960’s. Why were you so drawn to this style?
Ah, about the Art Nouveau: my first memories go back to when I was a young kid in my house. My parents had some paintings (also poster-art and mirrors) with art from late 19th century – early 20th century. And in this fantastic little collection of theirs were works by Alphonse Mucha,
Aubrey Beardsley and Eliseu Visconti. And later it would be these same artists, this same style and this same period in art history that would bring me to search for what I call the highest level or sense of elegance.

That’s an amazing collection of influences! Have you had other specific major influences in your development as an artist?
I could go on forever mentioning those who have influenced me and of course continue to influence me! There are just so many amazing artists that have touched my life!

I would like to acknowledge several and even divide them up a little if that’s okay:
(ZN – fine by me, if everyone promises to look them all up themselves!)

Modernists: UPA Studio, Eyvind Earle, Mary Blair, Walt Peregoy, Peter Arno, Jim Flora, Ronald Searle, Ziraldo (Brazil).

What I call ‘Elegance artists’, obviously then from the realm of ‘fine art’: Joseph Leyendecker, Charles Dana Gibson, Alphonse Mucha, Robert McGinnis, Erich Sokol, Rene Gruau, Alceu Penna and J. Carlos (these last two are Brazilian artists).

And like I say, there are many artists from today that inspire me as well! I definitely have to highlight the names of two Frenchmen –
Pascal Campion and Matthieu Forichon – as well as the Japanese illustrator Tadahiro Uesugi.

In fact, these artists are so important to me that I keep a running list of my influences (especially those that are animation related) in the ‘links’ section on
my blog! Check it out!

How about your training specifically in illustration? Were you always interested in being an illustrator and/or designer?
I’ve illustrated or let’s say drawn since I can remember. But it was only when I hit my final semesters in Architecture school that I realised it was to become my goal in life.

In terms of training, well, I’m pretty much self-taught! True, it takes a lot of practising and studying. I do my best to focus on what works well with a certain artist’s approach and incorporate this kind of understanding in my own artistic development.

Wow, so you actually studied architecture in college! I did like your statement that you ‘did not pursue the profession because (you) left everything for a torrid affair with (your) mistress - Illustration.’ What made you make the leap from the very ‘organised’ world of designing buildings to want to pursue ‘drawing’ instead?
That’s an interesting question. As I was finishing up my degree and getting ready to graduate – especially right up towards the end of my studies – I began to realise that a life in Architecture wasn’t a future for me.

It’s just for me – as an architect – I saw that the ‘drawn lines’ had a very complex process before they became actual parts of a built environment. In addition, this line – in the world of the architect – is further subjugated to politics, to other architects (if you have superiors), to ‘nosy’ clients, and more! I also knew that my lines could be subordinated even to the construction workers mood that day of work! And realising this was a lot for me to accept!

Not to mention that an architecture project takes months (or years!) to be accomplished. Again, I just had this realisation that my drawn lines could take a long, long time to become a final product!

However, working as an illustrator, I get to see the final product almost simultaneously as I do it. The best part for me is still that I get to exclude many of the middle-men throughout the process. It goes to an artist-client system and the time then until my line is ‘built’ is so much quicker!

I have to say though, that even if I didn’t pursue a career in Architecture, I wouldn’t change my education and experience for anything. The education I had was designed to provide a very ‘complete’ formation for the students – to understand a project as a whole and to see how the big picture would be brought together by different elements (processes).

Still, it saddens me that I see Architecture is distancing itself academically from Fine Arts, where it was born. Only a few colleagues were close to drawing while my time in school. I still think of Architecture as the highest form of art, as it is the closest to people’s everyday lives, but I hope it never loses it’s connection to the roots of Fine Arts!

Looking at other forms of great art, it is apparent that music also plays an important role in your both your daily life as well as your illustration work, where you have pieces showing great classic rhythm and blues plus jazz performers and yet also hip hop and even punk. What are your music tastes and how do they influence your artwork?
Like the great Bob Marley says: ‘
One good thing about music / when it hits you, you feel no pain

I know it isn’t pain for me like Bob is suggesting in his lyrics, but when the music hits me, I certainly feel something! And it is positively overwhelming. 95% of my drawing time, I’m listening to music and I love to pay homage to the artists that bring me to such a joyful state.

In fact, my research has become such a great part of my life and its mostly directed to these two fields: graphic-art and music (I’m a movie enthusiast as well). And with the Internet today, one have access to the most beautiful cultural things ever created, ranging of course from images of the world’s best paintings to an endless stream of great music!

For example, I can only imagine for example how hard it was for a European 19th century artist to put his hand on a print from a Latin-American artist. So, in my life, the Internet has turned out to be an endless source of knowledge. And for me, it’s like Dub music ideology: ‘Everything is out there for you to use it, to arrange the elements in your own way!’ And I truly apply this to my personal work.

I love instrumental music (especially to work), and ‘black’ music in general (Soul music, R'n'B, Afrobeat). Plus, I just loooooooove Jamaican music produced between the 1950’s through the 80’s, as well as Jazz , Funk, World Music (Balkans, Mexican...), Hip-Hop from the golden era (90’s) and great Brazilian music.

For me, I just feel music really helps to set my mood right. For example, if I’m doing a piece that tells a story about a suffering but hopeful lady, I wouldn’t think twice to illustrate it with a
Dinah Washington tune. It puts me in the right mood and the right frame of mind to capture it perfectly!

Continued in Part 2

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