A Lesson in Life Drawing

Celebrating life through art is one of the central themes of Javier Mariscal’s playful new show at London’s Design Museum. His Drawing Life exhibition is a timely explosion of characterful lines and bright colours: perfect for a cloudy day…

Celebrating life through art is one of the central themes of Javier Mariscal’s playful new show at London’s Design Museum. His Drawing Life exhibition is a timely explosion of characterful lines and bright colours: perfect for a cloudy day…

The Spanish designer has taken over the Design Museum‘s top floor gallery and it looks like he was left to his own devices in kitting out the space, a move that has certainly paid off.

The walls are filled with Mariscalia. You enter the show via a tunnel of drawings on paper – some 640 in all, apparently – hung from the ceiling. It’s a lovely introduction to his style of his illustration, where cityscapes, objects and caricatures are rendered in thick black marker pen.

It’s a thoughtful display, too, as it also reaffirms the enviable position that Mariscal is in: His personal vision – as exemplified by this succession of quickfire sketches – merges seamlessly with his commercial work at every turn.

Even when his flat drawings are made flesh, becoming vinyl toys or products, it’s still clear that the work bears the mark of Estudio Mariscal.

His most famous character, Cobi, who became the Olympic mascot for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 (having originally been drawn five years earlier), appears on all manner of Olympics-related material in one area of the gallery space.

The sheer range of material – from towels, badges and T-shirts, to stamps, lighters (!) and vinyl figures – gives an idea of the volume of work involved in rolling out the Olympic mascot. And in the context of a London-based museum, it seemed almost like a challenge to the UK’s own creative efforts, presumably being hurriedly worked on right now, for 2012.

Mariscal’s sense of play proves to be spot-on for one of the other commercial projects featured in the show: the identity for Camper’s For Kids range of shoes. A screen of paper bags sporting his illustrations shows how he adds humour and variation to many of his projects. This white bag (shown below), for example, features a simple comic story that ties in brilliantly with that “new shoes” feeling.

With all this fun and laughter, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mariscal doesn’t take his work that seriously. But the museum has cleverly addressed that by covering one wall near the entrance to the exhibition with examples of 30 years of his best work. (He’s now worked on over a dozen covers for The New Yorker, for example). 

Indeed, since 1990, the work of Estudio Marsical has ranged from designing a multi-media theme park, and numerous hotel and restaurant interiors, to the rebranding of the Swedish socialist party, Socialdemokaterna, and the London post-production house, Framestore. 

Mariscal is sixty next year, but it’s clear from much of the work on show at the Design Museum that he still values a sense of play and experimentation above all else. 

As you walk back from the Villa Julia playhouses at the back of the gallery (above), there’s a small inscription above one of the doors seemingly addressing those who might accuse him of sentimentality. Other than through his drawings, it’s one of the few instances you hear Mariscal’s voice directly. It made me smile.

Mariscal: Drawing Life runs until 1 November and, if you’ve never taken the kids to the Design Museum before, now’s your chance.

 

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