Sounds of signs
You’ll have seen Raissa Pardini’s artwork plastered on street walls, on shop shelves and inside your favourite bars. Having worked with brands such as Vans, Dr. Martens, Fred Perry – and more – the Italian-born, Glasgow-based artist has become a go-to illustrator for music’s next wave of talent, widely recognised within the music community for her eye-catching graphics on posters and record covers alike.
You only need to listen to artists like The Orielles or Squid, and the youthful abandon their sound carries is reflected in Raissa’s interpretation of their vision, drive and message. With its saccharine hues and clever lettering, Raissa’s work builds on the psychedelicized Art Nouveau aesthetic forged in 70s San Francisco by artists like Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse – only now adapted to tune in with the upbeat sound of a burgeoning UK music scene swiftly moving up the ranks.
Having taken lessons from the many cities she’s studied and worked in, Raissa tells us below that she’s found the biggest lesson in the people and experiences that shaped the choices she’s made, and the projects she pursues.
Clementine Zawadzki: As an artist, how is this current lockdown situation affecting your creativity and productivity?
Raissa Pardini: For a couple of years, I didn’t really have a lot of time for myself and work became such a big part of my life I had to consciously make the decision to take weekends off and go part-time. Since I decided to go freelance and give 100 percent of myself into this to make it work, I still have times where I’m like, “Shit, if I don’t have my computer, what am I going to do?” but it’s obviously something that’s just a habit for me. It’s fine if you can focus yourself, but I just can’t. I’m like, “Should I make a cup of tea? Should I have a shower?” It’s really a time of thinking too; I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s best for me to do in the world, where’s the best place to live, is this country representing me politically, or my job, in the best way possible? I found Scotland being very ahead, which is reassuring. I read this thing – I don’t remember where – but it asked why should we rush back to our habits?
CZ: Speaking of different countries and thinking about our daily life, I know you’ve done your fair share of travelling, study, and work in different places. In what ways did your style and craft evolve during this time?
RP: I grew up in a little town in Tuscany that’s very touristy. I think one-third of the houses there belong to people visiting for the summer. It’s kind of broken into two: working-class people who live there; and people on holiday who give work to the working-class. I never felt like I fitted into that ‘plastic reality’. I was into music and just found my hometown wasn’t giving me that. After high school, I moved to Milan, which sounded like the most obvious answer to feeding my love of music and art. It was good, but that time actually confused me a lot because I was doing visual art and graphic design but design there is seen as part of a machine of publishers, catwalks, and big brands. You can’t really express yourself. You’re just one person in a big company and I was looking for something smaller where I could learn.
I had some friends in Berlin and fell in love with the place. It was the right time to move there, it was still underground and it gave me my first studio experience. I messaged something like 300 studios in three days. A company with a connection to Milan got back to me and it was the perfect fit, but Berlin was more clubbing and it didn’t have the music scene I was after. All I wanted to do was go to a gig!
Out of every city, it was London that played the most important role for me. I stayed there the longest and it was during my mid-20s, meeting people and making friends who are very similar to me. I learned what I wanted and what I didn’t, avoiding some situations and embracing others. But it’s always difficult to make it as a designer there because there isn’t healthy competition…
CZ: Just not encouraging?
RP: Yeah, not helpful – I wanted to make friends not enemies. I left design for a bit and got involved in music instead, playing in bands, working in a record store and on radio shows. London was like a great relationship with a bad person and was also putting a lot of pressure on me financially. I applied for a million jobs and got one with The Music Sales Group, who work with a lot of amazing books and biographies, so I designed for Dolly Parton, Pamela Des Barres, Sex Pistols. I started to go to Glasgow more and more, and I was ready for something new so I moved there. It’s been the best professional change. I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing in Glasgow now if I didn’t live in London, because that’s where all the music contacts are. I was just ready to take a chance.
“It’s funny, I could be working with a band for years before we meet in person, and you think you’re friends, but you’re not sure. Then we just have a big party and it’s fine.”
CZ: What move do you think is next?
RP: I’m an activist and there are a lot of things that drive me ethically, so I want to find a way to use visuals to take a position in a positive way. Design is tricky because if you deliver it in the wrong way, it can send the wrong message. When we take up campaigns, sharing the wrong message is down to a bad designer or a bad brief, so I find myself being very honest with my clients and I also don’t want to be involved in anything that doesn’t bring something better to the world. I do a lot that’s purely aesthetic, but if you can also make a difference then why not?
CZ: In the context of designing with a purpose or a message, it reminds me a lot of Peter Saville whose work rose during a time where artists were using their voice for a cause. Is the world we live in – the political landscape for example – something that is discussed with bands you’re working with?
RP: What we do as a brief is listen to the song, read the lyrics and get the feel. If their songs are already political, then of course my design will react to it. I always have a conversation with the musicians I work with and we make a mood board of inspiration. Fast Product [an independent record label formed in Edinburgh in the 70s] is mentioned a lot too, which was kind of parallel to what happened in Manchester. Designs from that time are coming out a lot more now, and you’re totally right, our times right now are very similar. We’re trying to see what’s new and how to incorporate that into our art and talking about ‘hot’ topics in our communities before they become popular. In Manchester, it took years before they realised the important role artists played. Especially with social platforms nowadays, sometimes you come across the artwork before the song, so it’s important I do the best job possible to represent what they’re doing.
CZ: That idea of community is needed to create a movement, but people engaging with it is what steers it along. You seem to have found a really lovely community of artists…
RP: Let’s take an example from the past, like with Peter Saville, I’m sure he wasn’t aware at the time that they’d be viewed as a group or scene in the future. Who knows, in ten years, this scene now might have a name, or our community will be referred to in coined words. I’ve definitely started to notice it more and more when I do interviews with people, because journalists have been waking me up to it. I’ve just been working away. Sometimes when you take on a job, you don’t know if that band is going to go much further. When I took on Squid, they’d released one single and I knew they would be really good – now they’re signed to Warp Records. Before digital platforms, communities were very restricted – South London, Manchester, Edinburgh – were isolated to their city, but with the internet, it’s become multi-faceted and multi-cultural. It’s funny, I could be working with a band for years before we meet in person, and you think you’re friends, but you’re not sure. Then we just have a big party and it’s fine.
“What we do as a brief is listen to the song, read the lyrics and get the feel.”
CZ: There’s a nostalgic element to your work, do you find this comes from visual cues or is it driven more by the mediums you work with?
RP: I think the technicalities are definitely the main thing because I’m very interested in lettering and typography. At first, I didn’t know how to incorporate that into what I wanted to do, so I started making artwork out of letters which I think pushed my career forward. I just love colours. We did the campaign for The Orielles, and the use of orange and green became so striking that people started to make their own elements – painting with those colours and tagging them on Instagram. A poster I did for Snapped Ankles is very black and everything around it is white, but I used contrast. At first it was tricky because a good picture of a band is unbeatable and has a very strong visual attitude, so not everyone was interested in typography, but I worked hard and showed them letters are cool [laughs]. An element of what I’m doing is creating artwork through the repetition of letters. After working with Idles, a lot of people use that as a reference for me to do something around those lines, but as an artist I don’t want to keep doing the same thing for everyone – that’s not something I’m looking for.
CZ: What are you ultimately looking for in your work?
RP: I want to be flexible with my job. I want to be an artist that can work with different techniques, make logos, do different branding – design encompasses many elements and it can create opportunities. I’m looking for the next phase and something new I can develop. A photographer wouldn’t take pictures the same way they did ten years ago, we all have to push forward and be excited about what we do.
CZ: What’s your earliest memory of visual art affecting you?
RP: It started in school when I was able to specialise in a subject and I chose graphic design. I’m from the Province of Lucca, and Pisa is the next city. Near the central station of Pisa, there is this massive wall done by Keith Haring [Tuttomondo, 1989]. I would read later on that it was commissioned to stay at the back of a church [Sant’Antonio Abate, Pisa]. It’s an amazing story because he was gay and the work was done in the late 80s, early 90s, at a time in Italy where the church was a big influence on people. I think that was the moment, because when I think about Keith Haring, he uses black outlines like I do, and all those colours. He did something that was graphic, but also illustrative. I remember taking the train and studying the history of art at school, but we were studying things like the Renaissance and Greek and Roman art. It was so old, and then I remember talking to my history teacher after seeing Tuttomondo and being told that this is art also. It was something I’d never seen before and I knew it was what I wanted to do. He’s such an inspiration with campaigns around HIV and the ethical reasoning behind what he was doing. He was my mentor without knowing, somehow.
Follow Raissa’s work on Instagram.