Interview with Magoz
Magoz is one of our favourite illustrators, and has an instantly recognisable style capable of getting across complex ideas in the most direct way. We also love the fact that he lives a nomadic lifestyle, travelling from country to country while working on projects for an ever-increasing list of clients. His unique, conceptual illustrations have found their way on to the covers of both the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Not to mention a plethora of other publications, campaigns, and projects.
As a tireless traveller, we were pretty lucky to catch him in between trips. Ahead of his talk this Saturday at the Mr. Marcel School, Madrid, we sat down at Anticafe for a few drinks, and a chat about travel, art, and the meaning of life.
What do you think of Madrid?
I really like Madrid. I’ve been here for 10 months, but in June or July I’m off to Eastern Europe. Madrid has been a rest for me, before that I was travelling around Asia for seven months, staying two weeks in each spot.
Do you see yourself settling down at some point?
Yes, of course. I think that a nomadic lifestyle is not something you can do long term. In Asia I met people who had been doing it for 25 years. In the next five years or so I want to settle down somewhere. But we’re lucky enough to not have to worry too much about visas, so we’re free to settle down pretty much anywhere.
What started this nomadic lifestyle?
I kind of burnt out a bit. I’m from a small city in Catalonia called Vilanova i la Geltrú, near Sitges. I was born and raised there, but it’s a very slow pace of life. It’s a great place to grow old, but not necessarily to grow up in. After a while you realise you’ve seen everything there is to see. For three or four years I was very focused on my career as an illustrator, but I felt kind of stuck in my personal life, which was frustrating.
Is there something existential about this constant moving around?
When I left home I felt like I was searching for something more, and I’ve realised that after four years the thing I was looking for doesn’t really exist. I think the act of searching, the journey, is what’s important. The work we do as creative people is our way of expressing ourselves, and exploring different avenues which are important to us on a personal level, beyond our professional careers. In my case, my work is related to existentialism because it’s always engaged with this constant search.
Does this existentialist outlook ever come into conflict with your commercial work?
I’m lucky enough to have an established aesthetic, and 98% of the clients that approach me are looking for that conceptual style. I like to transform what people call existential into something conceptual. Commissions are an excuse to explore ideas and images that are already interesting to me. I’ve turned down jobs from big clients, because, perhaps, they fall into that 2%. If you ask me to draw a sofa in your style, and send over a bunch of references, then I’m probably going to turn it down. I’m looking for something more. The visual side of things is just another vehicle for communication. The challenge lies in the conceptual. That’s the stimulating part of my work, finding creative solutions.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
Yes, every week I’m working on something new. They’re usually jobs that last three to five days, and that’s something I love. At the moment, I am trying to turn down projects, because I have a few personal things I’m working on. It’s what usually happens when you are lucky enough to have steady work. The problem is sometimes we don’t know how to say no, and we never finish those personal projects. You end up asking yourself, why am I doing this? Am I doing this for others? And that leads you to more existentialist questions like, what’s my purpose? If what you really want to do is make a book, and you’re spending more time working on someone else’s projects, you have to question that. It’s a complex process, but at least I’m never bored.
Do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out?
I would first ask them, do you truly understand what you’re doing? Are you a graphic designer? Illustrator? Photographer? Can you tell when something is good or bad? Do you know enough to find a lane for your particular skills? If you do, that’s great. It’s a very difficult and important step. You then have to ask yourself, is my work good? Can I identify where I’ve gone wrong, and then learn from my mistakes? Is my work professional? Is it solid? If your answer is yes, then you’re ready for work, because you understand the market and your profession. It also depends on the field. You have to come up with a strategy to break into that market. Of course, there are things that apply to every field, like having a strong digital presence.
Everything is digital these days, not just communication, but also how you present yourself and your work to the world, how you snag clients. Once you have that, and present yourself as a professional, you need patience, consistency, and the ability to drop something when it doesn’t interest you any more. If you continue doing something you have no interest in, then your work ceases to be authentic, and other people will pick up on that.
Still, it’s a really difficult question to answer. People email me sometimes saying that they’ve been doing this or that for 10 years and are not getting anywhere. It’s really difficult to answer that kind of message. There’s so much competition these days. It used to be that you would compete with the people in your city, now it’s global. We compete for price, reliability, everything. It’s really complex, and it’s becoming harder and harder to drop the ball.
It’s definitely complicated. Do you think it has a lot to do with knowing yourself?
Yes, definitely. If you don’t question who you are and what you do, you can end up burning out. If you’re using the wrong approach, because you haven’t done the right research, then you could easily come to the conclusion that you have bad luck.
I’d consider myself quite an analytical person, but sometimes I let my intuition guide me. I think this is super important, once you’ve researched and analysed all the possibilities. I think the objective is to do what you love, and have the possibility to get paid for doing it. And it’s not just a question of schooling; you can learn how to be a good designer without going to university. Most schools don’t teach you how business works. You have to know how to move around in that world. That’s why you need to be analytical and critical, not just in terms of business, but also with your own work. Especially if you’re just starting out.
Do you have any weird habits or hangups?
I always try to find specific ways of doing things. Sometimes trying to do everything at once gets overwhelming, so I have to stop and say, “OK, I’ve lost my way, how do I get back on track?” That’s something I do constantly. If I showed you my schedule for the last few months, you’d understand. First I was in Barcelona, then Madrid, then Barcelona again, trying to do a million things at once, and it’s just impossible.
In terms of more mundane things, I drink a lot of tea. As an ex-smoker I’ve tried to find something to replace that, something that keeps you going while you work. I’ve stopped working at night, because the next day I can’t function properly. I also like things to be clean and orderly, that kind of thing.
What’s your definition of happiness?
I think happiness is linked to expectations. If I tell you we’re going to the best restaurant in the world, and it doesn’t match up to the huge expectations you’ve created, then you’re going to be unhappy. Even if it really is the best restaurant you’ve ever been to. It’s about knowing yourself and being realistic.
What’s the meaning of life?
I don’t necessarily think there’s a meaning. For me it’s more about the reason. From a moral standpoint, I think we are incredibly lucky to be able to travel freely; some people don’t have that privilege. So, the possibilities available to us have a lot to do with where we live, and this particular point in history. We can tell our families that we want to be artists and they don’t immediately ship us off to boarding school, for example. I think that this is all down to luck, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to ponder this question when we have more pressing issues at hand.
If you could change any famous work of art, which would it be, and how would you change it?
That’s a very complex question. I don’t think I would modify a work of art, because once it’s done, that’s it. I think instead I would do some kind of homage. There’s a Banksy piece which I really love. It’s a Picasso quote, something like, “The bad artists imitate. The great artists steal.” And Banksy took that quote, crossed out Picasso’s name, and put his own. I think that’s such an amazing idea. So I think I would do something like that. Otherwise it feels a bit like going up to a genius and saying, “hey, you made a mistake here.”