by Jerry ElengicalJan 14, 2022
“When you are born, you begin to breathe. Creativity is the same. You are born with creativity. If you have no creativity, you cannot survive. Creativity is inside of us. It’s just like breathing.”
- Javier Mariscal
As a creator of images, products, and spaces, Javier Mariscal’s distinctively quirky, colourful, and layered style has always been a reflection of the spirit of the Mediterranean region he calls home. Born and raised alongside his siblings in the city of Valencia on Spain’s southeastern coast during the 1950s, the multidisciplinary artist and designer describes his familial background as decidedly ‘bourgeois’ at the start of his UNSCRIPTED conversation. During his early years, Mariscal - or ‘Chavi’ as he is affectionately known to many - struggled with dyslexia, which severely hindered his ability to read books, especially adventure novels by French author Jules Verne, as his brothers did. Instead, he found solace in the act of obsessively putting pencil on paper to decipher each and every detail of the world he perceived - from the texture of his sister’s hair, to the shape of an Italian coffee-maker.
Perhaps what is most endearing is that he retains this love for his art even today, remarking, “Sometimes when I draw, I stop and think - Wow! People are paying me to have fun.” In fact, his initial steps towards his current vocation came as early as school, when his classmates would enlist him to make drawings - despite his own admission of his lack of skill. “But everybody liked them - my horrible drawings,” he amusingly notes. “Then one day, somebody said: ‘I’ll pay you for these drawings!” - to which he remembers humorously replying, “Are you sure?”
Mariscal enrolled at ELISAVA in Barcelona in the early 1970s and subsequently immersed himself in working on underground comics, paintings, illustrations, and sculpture, eventually shifting to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza where he remained till 1976. After experiencing the vibrant countercultural scene spreading across the region at the time and garnering more experience as an illustrator and graphic designer, he pivoted into the fields of product design and interiors, following his collaboration with architect Fernando Salas on the interior design of the (now defunct) Duplex musical bar in Valencia.
This early venture into creating spaces and objects opened up many doors for Mariscal, who embarked upon numerous other projects in a similar vein, eventually attracting the attention of none other than Ettore Sottsaas - who invited him to Milan in order to contribute to the legendary Memphis Group’s first ever collection. “Memphis for me was like - Wow! They are like brothers. Well, Ettore was more like a father, a maestro,” he fondly mentions. International recognition followed soon after he founded Estudio Mariscal in Barcelona in 1989, catalysed by his immensely memorable designs for Cobi and Petra, the official mascots for the 1992 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Barcelona.
Ensuing collaborations with Moroso, the Barcelona Zoo, The New Yorker magazine, Ikea Restaurante Vitoria, and H&M firmly catapulted him into the spotlight at the vanguard of Spanish design over the next two decades. This steady rise to fame eventually culminated in his partnership with screenwriter and director Fernando Trueba on Chico and Rita - a 2010 Spanish film that was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 84th Academy Awards. The movie drew upon his love for music, particularly Cuban jazz from the 1940s and 50s, with a soundtrack composed by Cuban pianist, bandleader, and composer Bebo Valdés. Mariscal shares that he would exchange his right hand in order to be a musician, stating: “Music is the best. Always. Because it comes directly from your hands till you can feel it in your ears, heart, and in your skin.”
Throughout his 40-year career, the maverick designer’s signature aesthetic has been typified by an abundance of expression, texture, and colour, articulated in a limited number of strokes, infused with the bold hedonism and rich heritage of the two Mediterranean cities that have set the scene for his life to unfold. In his spare time, Mariscal is very fond of working with plants, sharing that he has “a very nice relationship with them,” and always prefers to be surrounded by gardens - whether at home or in his studio.
All this and more: tap on the cover video to view the full conversation.
All photographs © Javier Mariscal, unless stated otherwise. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.