by Jerry ElengicalDec 03, 2021
Blended words have casually found their way into common usage now, two words that are smooshed together to form one to express something – brunch (breakfast + lunch), hangry (hungry + angry) and a personal favourite, mansplaining (man + explaining). Spanish creative, art director and graphic designer Jose Manuel Gonzalez Navarro follows this into the graphics realm, with his straightforward, clever and punny portmanteau images. Two seemingly unconnected elements become fast friends – a coffee bean lip that holds a lit cigarette, bright green shades with slices of cucumber for lenses and a snail with a wrecked house for a shell – expertly manipulated images which he dubs as ‘visual poetry’.
Born and raised in Asturias in the north of Spain, Navarro studied design and has over two decades of experience as a creative and designer in the advertising industry. Colours and abstract concepts are a conduit for his curiosity, and his training opened up vistas in this happy self-exploration. His graphics have earned Navarro a loyal following online, and he says that there doesn’t exist one singular purpose for them beyond pure visual communication. “Creating and sharing these illustrations is for me a way of escape, to disconnect from my usual work which totally depends on a client's commission,” he says.
“I am fascinated by the power that images hold. Their iconicity, meanings and the way they are interpreted. Imagine if we existed in a time where there was no Banksy or The Birth of Venus, or if someone had not created The Simpsons. That is the basis of my work – visuals as language. Sometimes I lean toward expressing an existing metaphor or saying, other times the works are a simple or exaggerated juxtaposition that I randomly think of... a lemon with bird feet, a straw with a cigarette end. I always try to use as few elements as possible to make the message clearer and more direct, and that is why you will mostly see not more than two objects fused together,” Navarro explains.
One common thread is that the manipulated piece of graphic design (which takes somewhere between 2-10 hours to complete) is always set against a solid colour backdrop, which Navarro says is deliberate. If the background gets loud or if the colour is not right, the central image fails to emote. “Finding the right images to blend together is just as important to me as applying the right colour as the background,” he shares.
The accompanying captions raise these visuals further and are an intrinsic part of his storytelling. For instance, a wine glass with a pill shaped top is titled ‘therapy’ and French fries arranged as vampire fangs with dripping ketchup is a ‘fried monster’. “The title is a clue, a clear, concise summary of an entire piece of work. The captions essay the same role, of explaining what the illustration is. Not that my works really need it,” chuckles Navaro.
When asked to name his mentors in his creative journey, he remarks, “A lifetime of influences; Hopper, Magritte, Warhol, Mondrian, Calder, Saul Bass, Herb Lubalin, Dieter Rams, Milton Glaser, Cassandre, Daniel Gil... all the pop culture I have consumed in my life via comics, movies, videogames, commercials, music, books, travel”.
For most part, an idea for an illustration springs up at random; like the time when he was holding an airpod and heard the chirping of birds from his room – “There are so many things waiting to be converted into visuals. My process is honestly, mostly arbitrary. Inspiration appears unannounced. I then set out to find the right images. I use a digital photo retouching program to blend these into a smooth, polished finish, and finish them off by naming them and posting them on Instagram,” he states.
“Sometimes something is just punny or looks amusing. We should be able to appreciate images without wanting to attach meaning to it, or not? It could swing both ways, I leave that to you,” says Navarro, perfectly summing up his creative approach.