Jordi Labanda is one of the most renowned illustrators in the world, and he is also the author of the poster for the film ‘Rifkin’s Festival,’ shot in the Basque Country. The glamorous environments to which his illustrations take us convey the joyful and festive spirit that we would like to recover in 2021.
On the occasion of his visit to the San Sebastián International Film Festival to attend the world premiere of Woody Allen’s film, we interviewed him with the aim of meeting the person who breathed life into the most elegant illustrated characters.
How did the opportunity to do the poster for the movie ‘Rifkin’s Festival’ come up and how did the creative process unfold?
The proposal to make the poster came from the film’s production company, Mediapro. It occurred to them that it would be a good idea to make an illustrated poster for ‘Rifkin’s Festival’ to make it stand out from the rest of Woody Allen’s films, and also because nowadays illustration is a bit abandoned in the world of poster design. They proposed the idea to Woody Allen before telling me about it. He loved it, so they contacted me, and I said yes.
The creative process was quick and easy. Woody Allen was clear about what he wanted: the four main characters in a film festival atmosphere – that was the guideline. After watching the film, I made a couple of sketches: one with the group and the María Cristina Hotel, and another with the four characters and La Concha Bay in the background. The director preferred the one with the María Cristina Hotel because it better reflected the spirit of the movie. From that time on, I started to draw.
Everyone was delighted with the result, including Woody Allen. Today, almost all movie posters are alike and I think this one attracts attention, and that is the mission of a poster.
This is not the first time you have portrayed a scene from the Basque Country. What attracts you to this region?
I have very close ties with the Basque Country; in fact, my father’s family is from the Basque Country. Since I was little I have always been very close with this region… so, for me, it is something very familiar.
Festive and glamorous environments are recurrent in your projects. After a rather sad 2020, do you think that in 2021 we will again experience upbeat scenes like those of your characters?
I think the world is going to have a hard time getting started yet. You always have to think positively, and you have to be optimistic, but I don’t know if by 2021 people will be in the mood for celebrations.
Having said that, what we cannot do in a situation as serious as this one is to let ourselves be overcome by sadness and low energy. Festive environments will return –we have to create them ourselves– and we must ensure that the situation around us does not sadden us so much that it takes away our desire to have a good time.
Your works have been exhibited in museums and galleries in Japan, France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and Mexico. What role does illustration play in the world of art?
Illustration is considered a lesser art form, although it is gradually acquiring more and more importance. In contrast, ‘ART’ with capital letters is not commissioned by anyone; it is something that the artist takes from within, because he has a message that he wants to convey.
In illustration the opposite happens: the client calls and orders a job – it is commercial art. I have never had a feeling of inferiority because I’m an illustrator, because with this type of work you can achieve things of quite a high level. For me, it is not a lesser art.
You have designed numerous products –a car, clothing, candles, etc.– for well-known brands. What was your involvement in the creative development of these products?
It was quite a deep involvement; in fact, I like to be very involved in everything I do. When a brand contacts me to make a product line, I try to be on top of things as much as possible, because experience has shown me that the more I bring my A-game, the more magic there can be.
What is your working method when it comes to tackling an illustration job? And animation?
They are different work processes. When an illustration is to appear in a magazine or on a product, it’s simpler: I first make a sketch, and then I show it.
For an animation, the process is much more labor intense: you have to make sketches of each scene, and sketches of how the characters look facing front, in profile, and from the back.
Illustration has accompanied the press, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout its history, and you have collaborated with the most important publications in the world like Vogue, Wallpaper, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and The Daily Telegraph. What role should illustration play in a medium dominated largely by the written word and photography?
Illustration is yet another protagonist of the press, and it can function as a balancing factor between the written word and photography. For me, the more illustration there is in the press, the better; and I think the reader is usually grateful for the appearance of illustrated pages.
As in newspaper cartoons, in some of your works you use irony to showcase everyday situations, many times related to the incidence of new technologies in a couple’s life. What do you think about the increasingly entrenched presence of new technologies in our lives?
Despite being an optimistic person, I am quite afraid of technology because I consider it to be dehumanizing us. It provides us with a false sense of ease and convenience, while taking us away from reality and putting us inside a screen.
Social networks, which on the one hand are something very useful for transmitting information and for people to be connected, are on the other hand a very dangerous tool that fosters feelings of inferiority and other negative things that cause people to feel like prisoners of the networks. At present, we still don’t have enough perspective to judge what technology is doing to us.
I’m quite an analog person because I’m still painting by hand, I don’t have a smartphone –I have a Nokia–, and I still send SMS text messages. I look upon technology with caution, not fully trusting it.
Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger, and Moncler are some of the fashion firms that have opted for your illustrations as a link between the consumer and the brand. What is behind the seductive power of your strokes?
The power of communication: the illustration has to communicate an idea. My work has the ability to send the message that the client wants, doing so in a direct and elegant way with a certain modern and chic touch that brands are looking for. Many people can relate to what I draw, and that ability to identify oneself in a piece is quite valuable.
What is luxury to you?
After having reflected a lot on this subject, because in my line of work people constantly talk about luxury, I have come to the conclusion that luxury is having time to be able to enjoy as you wish. Time and space.
I’m not very much in favor of wasting money, because throughout my life I have been in contact with people who have a lot of money and who consume luxury, and they are not happy at all. So, for me, the most important thing is to have time and to know how to savor what one has – and to consider any experience that you are having as a luxury.