‘All my work starts as mistakes’, says Christian Zuzunaga. ‘I like to be able to be displaced.’
Design Week visits the artist in his studio ahead of his show Gravity, which opens next month at the EB and Flow gallery in east London: a ‘thank you note to London’, he says, as he makes the move to Barcelona to start a family.
The colossal concept of gravity, has a number of meanings for Zuzunaga. It represents, among many other notions, the idea of things falling into place; people’s attraction to things – particularly cities; man’s inability to master nature; randomness in order; and the literal concept of gravity in his medium of choice, letterpress.
Often taking images of cites and skylines as a starting point, the artist then breaks them down to their minutest parts, creating an entirely new scaled-up entity from them.
‘I realized the pixel was the icon of our time’, says Zuzunaga. ‘It allows us to function and move but it’s also our prison.’
These pixel images have now made their way into a number of collaborative design projects with clients including Kvadrat, the Tate Gallery shop, Swedish bed manufacturer Hästens and Ligne Rose. These collaborations, however, are also described as accidental, making the idea of life imitating art all the more pertinent for an artist who says ‘randomness is perfection to me.’
Much of Zuzunaga’s work is influenced by a trip to Shanghai in 2006 as part of his Royal College of Art dissertation. The trip built on his long-standing fascination with the city as a metaphor – a world in itself that says as much about the viewer as the physical building blocks that compose it. The city, he says, encapsulates a number of central themes of his work – gravity, abstraction, randomness, repetition, time and space.
Shanghai, he says, provided a huge amount of stimulus for his work, with its violent clash of Eastern and Western cultures, dazzling neon lights and wildly bustling streets.
Born to a Peruvian father and Catalan mother, Barcelona-born Zuzunaga says part of his fascination with the city derives from never feeling a true sense of nationality or identity. ‘Looking at cities is a way of finding identity,’ he says.
His forthcoming show will include many of these city inspired works created on letterpress, short films, and a number of photographs (or ‘visual haikus’) used to inspire the pictures or create the large pixel works. There will also be an installation created with 400 bricks, with every face – that’s 2400 – individually spray-painted.
This OCD- bordering level of attention to detail is intrinsic to Zuzunaga’s practice, it seems. Firstly, his dedication to the letterpress gave him a kidney infection from the lead, stress and physical demands of the medium. Secondly, he seems to have an almost all-consuming passion for squares. ‘They’re nonsense, but they encapsulate everything’, he says.
Gravity runs from 2- 30 September at the EB and Flow Gallery, 77 Leonard Street, London EC2A