Meet the Artist Behind Italy's First Underground Art Gallery
In our interview below, WNW Member Emiliano Ponzi perfectly sums up the brief and his creative approach for his latest project creating Italy's first underground art gallery at a subway stop in Milan. "They needed strong scenes. We decided on a series of shots able to depict the variety of people who come and go in that specific neighboorhood, which is a combination between skyscrapers, fancy apartments and the traditional 'old Milano' populated by folks who have lived there for generations. I walked around, felt the atmosphere and tried to represent these two different souls, making them living in harmony." We talk to Emiliano about some of the challenges and breakthroughs that came with this endeavor, how Milan's creative scene has evolved, and what it means to him to be responsible for Italy's first underground art gallery. We also asked who his influences were on this time-consuming endeavor, and what his ultimate hope is in hindsight. "It took 2 years between the first call with the agency to the finished job with many other projects in the meantime, so I think I didn’t have a clear influence. I just know I wanted to depict a dynamic city where everyone could find a mirror and feel represented."
Stay tuned for Emiliano's next project, which seems almost perfectly catered for him. "I wrote and illustrated The Great New York Subway Map , published by MOMA New York, on shelves Jan 30th, 2018. It’s the story of the 1972 NY subway map created by one of the most influent contemporary designers, Massimo Vignelli. I tell his journey from Milano to New York.. and the process of taking the complexity of the subway system and turn it into an abstraction."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Emiliano and how did he get here?
Emiliano is a guy who believes his best project is going to arrive tomorrow, the best image, the perfect one is still far to achieve. I colored my first drawing when I was 20, while I was studying at the art college in Milano/Italy. Before that, I was able to draw but mostly talked about psychology and translated text from Latin. That was my background, classic literature studies.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its entity?
I have the feeling that a style is something we may be bored with, us and our audience as well in the long shot. I need to treat my style as something dynamic, into a process of ongoing evolution. The style is a tool to communicate ourselves to the world, the content and the tone of voice are for me the crucial matter I pay attention to. I can tell that there are 4-5 types of jobs with similar issues. But it's also true that every job is different compared to another because the topic and people I work with are different.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Standing out without flattering myself into a certain popular style was a big challenge. The pursuit of the true self is an important goal because we express ourselves through our products.
How did you come to work on a massive and permanent mural at a new Milano subway stop?
Generali owns one of the 3 new skyscrapers (designed by Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Arata Isozaki) that were just built in the area and part of the subway stop (called “3 Torri” as the 3 towers-skyscrapers). It was sponsored by them so they needed to bring a bright identity into that side of the subway that leads to their offices.
What was your general process for ideating and creating the mural? Where did you find inspiration?
They needed strong scenes. We thought about a series of shots able to depict the variety of people who come and go in that specific neighborhood, which is a combination between skyscrapers, fancy apartments and the traditional “old Milano” populated by folks who have lived there for generations. I walked around, felt the atmosphere and tried to represent these two different souls making them living in harmony.
What were some of the challenges and breakthroughs that came with this endeavor?
The big challenge was to figure out how every scene worked along with the next one, the previous one and the scene on the opposite side of the stairs. I needed different colors that represented a different time of the day: the morning routine, the commuters, the night concert or the afternoon at the park. I discovered that size matters and a mural like this, especially in an indoor space, has very big impact on people's perception.
What does this project mean to you, being the first underground art gallery in Italy?
Besides the honor of being chosen for this, I guess I’m feeling the responsibility just now when I look at the finished images on the wall. It's supposed to last as long as possible so it’s quite a big thing.
Who were your biggest creative influences on this project?
It took 2 years between the first call with the agency to the finished job with many other projects in the meantime, so I think I didn’t have a clear influence. I just know I wanted to depict a dynamic city where everyone could find a mirror and feel represented.
How would you define the creative scene in Milan?
I’d say we have a very active art scene with a new generation of great talents, from fine art to calligraphy, street art, designers, illustrators. And all of them work internationally. In the last 5 years, the city grew up fast. Many art venues, some institutional and other more underground, opened recently and Milano became a design and art hub comparable to the other European capitals.
What do you do when Not Working?
Besides all the activities that everyone does, I try to think a lot without distractions. In recent years our attention has grown more and more fragmented so having a sit on the couch looking at the wall sets my mind and helps me to have a clear vision.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Everyone has his own path, just follow yours.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I just sent to print a book I worked on in the last year and a half: I wrote and illustrated The Great New York Subway Map published by MOMA New York, on shelves Jan 30th, 2018. It’s the story of the 1972 NY subway map created by one of the most influent contemporary designers, Massimo Vignelli. I tell his journey from Milano to New York, mentioning some of his best jobs (From American Airlines to the Bloomingdale’s brown bag), the process of taking the complexity of the subway system and turn it into an abstraction.