You may not be familiar with Bristol-based artist Guillaume de Ubéda yet but there are good chances you’ve come across his stunning designs at some point – be it his posters for the Dream States event series hosted by Kristina Records, his artwork for French duo Nummer or his various pieces under the banner of Atelier Superplus.
His latest project ‘No Issue‘ is a spanking new zine series featuring riso-printed collages and compositions adorned with elegant patches of coloured paper, tossed with a double-sided CD mix courtesy of rising selectors Insane Deelay and DJ Vegetable that invokes the best of ambient and soft psychedelic scapes with an understated jazz swing.
We took the chance to sit down with Guillaume as he gives us a behind-the-scenes look into this first instalment, talks up overwhelming streams of images and the art of recycling long-forgotten pictures.
Interviewed by Baptiste Girou
"I’ve always liked the kind of DIY punk zine aesthetic and spirit. Although the zine is quite different visually, I think the idea of making it a music related object also came from there"
Thanks for giving us some insight on the creation of your beautiful new zine. How did that come about? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Since art school I’ve always been doing micro-edition using photocopies but once I finished my studies it became harder to cheaply and easily reproduce things like this. So a few months ago I bought a cheap riso printer with a big stock of black ink from a church and it felt like I needed to do something with it. The idea of doing a “zine” was quite natural as I was longing to make editions again.
Inspiration-wise it’s a bit hard to tell, I’ve never been a big collector of zines but I’ve always liked the kind of DIY punk zine aesthetic and spirit. Although the zine is quite different visually, I think the idea of making it a music related object also came from there. I would say that all these old books I buy and find (the ones people give away to have more space on their shelves for their Jamie Oliver books) they’re the major inspiration for this project, more than zines or specific graphic design books.
"The whole idea was to extract these images from the visual chaos of mass communication and transform them into something more poetic"
Did you have a guiding line? Was it based upon a particular concept or certain researches ?
I’ve always used found pictures, it gradually became a big part of my work under different aspects. First I worked a lot using photocopiers, their initial function is to reproduce pictures but they became proper creative tools for me and I started to use pictures taken from advertisements and questioned them.
The whole idea was to extract these images from the visual chaos of mass communication and transform them into something more poetic. On photocopiers you often have these stickers saying that you’re not allowed to reproduce copyrighted content, a photocopier is a tool created for the corporate world. So for me, it was a conscious choice to use this tool and these images for my work like some kind of hijack.
"I find it interesting in the Google era to use books as an image source. The quality is way better than most of the pictures you find online and most of them are simply not online at all"
I was quite influenced by Guy Debord and his “détournement” concept at that time. Now that I have to work with a riso printer (which doesn’t make it possible to modify and alter the original picture as much as a photocopier) I’m using a different kind of images and I use them differently.
My collection of old/odd books is growing bigger and all these books are full of amazing pictures. I find it interesting in the Google era to use books as an image source. The quality is way better than most of the pictures you find online and most of them are simply not online at all.
For this particular zine I’d say it’s a big part of digging for pictures, selecting them and displaying them. It’s almost a DJ like approach except using images instead of tracks… The whole process was quite spontaneous, I think I just wanted to get these lost images out there and create a certain atmosphere with them.
"It’s important to keep using your hands to do things and not systematically go for numerical solutions"
How did you proceed technic-wise?
It was all handmade, I selected the pictures, including a few prints I did then cut them and stuck them on top of each other etc. All the layouts were made directly on paper without using a scanner or computer. It gives you fewer possibilities but it also allows you to work in a different way, it’s a more archaic process that focuses on essential criteria.
There’s less thinking and things happen more naturally and spontaneously. It makes the whole thing look more alive, less cold and rigid than pure computer work. I find it nice to work that way, I try to do it as often as I can and get away from the screen…
It’s important to keep using your hands to do things and not systematically go for numerical solutions. But once again it depends on what you’re doing, it’s a relevant choice for this work but it might not be for a different project. It’s pretty basic but the creative process of something has to reflect the concept or idea behind it, it’s not just about visual style or having a cool DIY attitude.
"It’s fascinating to see how the numerical revolution has brought new possibilities for visual artists in terms of image treatment but also, more globally, in terms of capturing things in reality for everybody"
Your website mentions that the exploration of various mediums – be it tangible or not, is part of the artistic process. What kind of constraints did the zine imply?
My website is not really up to date, it’s always a hassle to go back to coding and updating your website when you’re not a professional. But what I meant was that most of my artistic research focuses on matter. It can be tangible matter if it’s ink or other materials, even the constitutive matter of printed pictures, their texture for example. But it can also be a numerical matter when I’m working with numerical videos found online, scanned pictures etc., these images are not analog anymore, they’re basically a succession of numbers in a code, they are very easy to treat and modify.
It’s fascinating to see how the numerical revolution has brought new possibilities for visual artists in terms of image treatment but also, more globally, in terms of capturing things in reality for everybody. This results in a big explosion of the available stock of videos and pictures, the role of the artist at that point can simply be to select things from that mass and use them as matter to then create.
With regard to the zine, I put aside the numerical approach which wasn’t a constraint but a choice. A choice implies constraints and constraints influence the choices you make. You have to use these constraints to your advantage to make something relevant, I reckon that’s all that matters really.
"Music has the particularity of focusing your mind as well as allowing it to wander, which is perfect as you specifically need these two things when you’re working, being able to focus but also letting yourself go"
A short description there also says repetition, gesture, scale and transcendence are key elements in your work… These are notions that cross-pollinate both the fine arts and music spheres. Do you listen to music when painting/working on your designs?
Of course music is indirectly part of my creative process, I especially listen to long podcasts as it’s music without breaks for a couple of hours or more. Music has the particularity of focusing your mind as well as allowing it to wander, which is perfect as you specifically need these two things when you’re working, being able to focus but also letting yourself go.
It’s interesting, music has always had this transcendental function, it can be deeply introspective and yet make your mind go beyond yourself at the same time. So yeah I guess music plays a big part in my work.
Which musicians transport you and why?
That’s a hard question ! I’m not a music geek, I know more than most people but a lot less than most of the people I know around me that spend their time digging for records and talking about music (DJs…). I enjoy music, it fascinates me, in a way I reckon it’s kind of the ultimate art, it goes straight to people’s souls without being filtered by the eyes first.
For a couple of years now I mainly listen to podcasts, I let amazing DJs select music for me as I’m too lazy to do it myself, it made me discover so many crazy things. I particularly like quiet music at the moment, world music, ambient, weird things that I’ve never heard before, once again because they’re the things that allow me to escape this reality, they refer to somewhere else, something different and it’s important. That’s why having Dj Vegetable and Insane Deelay for this first zine was perfect!
"I think it still reflects on my life and work today, torn between a designer life doing corporate design to survive and a more underground and sometimes kind of subversive artistic practice"
What’s your artistic backdrop? Where did you study arts?
I studied one year in Paris in 2007 and then did a Master’s degree in Orléans, two hours drive south of Paris, in a public art school. It was quite painful at the beginning to move from Paris to go to this rather small and average city and school but I gradually learnt to love it.
It was definitely the best years of my life, we had a good crew of students, all having the same preoccupations on art, endless debates and reflections that are really hard to come by and to talk about with people now. This school was quite a weird one in the way that its teachings were kind of always in between the “you need to get a job as a graphic designer” approach and a completely anarchic/abstract one in the later years by some amazing teachers.
I think it still reflects on my life and work today, torn between a designer life doing corporate design to survive and a more underground and sometimes kind of subversive artistic practice.
"When Nummer started releasing music, Emmanuel and Silvere included me for the design work. I always wanted to do music related design and they leave me quite free to do what I want for them"
You designed flyers for Kristina Records and are a close collaborator of French duo Nummer. How did you get to collaborate on these musical projects?
I met Emmanuel when I was ten, we’ve been really close since then and in 2012 he asked me to do the posters for their Soundscape parties in London. We basically evolved together as teenagers so everything was working out really smooth, having the same kind of cultural background and ideas I guess.
Then when Nummer started releasing music, him and Silvere included me for the design work. I always wanted to do music related design and they leave me quite free to do what I want for them, especially video wise, which is really cool.
Regarding Kristina Records, Emmanuel works for them and told me that Jason Spinks was looking for someone to take on the Dream States poster series. I remember when I first saw the original series, it was kind of similar to my stuff so I was really happy to take over and keep a visual continuity with the original ones, with a few subtle changes. It’s also really nice to make posters with such good line-ups.
"I only use found footage as well for my videos, Youtube is such an endless goldmine which once again makes digging for new matter a big part of the work"
You also directed videos for Nummer, as well as Nitejams, Linkwood… is it part of a general pursuit or do you delineate the two activities very clearly?
It’s still my work, it’s a different aspect of it but on the contrary I think all the music videos I did offered me a space to experiment new things with a lighter touch. For example I only use found footage as well for my videos, Youtube is such an endless goldmine which once again makes digging for new matter a big part of the work.
It’s funny because if I look back on each one of the video I did I can see the almost logical evolution tying them all. Lately I think I’ve been trying to connect more of my personal work to my design and video work, especially for Nummer. The latest videos and artworks I’m working on are directly linked to my own research, which is cool I guess. Maybe I’m getting more confident in a way and finally managed to create that connection between the artistic part of my work with the “commission” side of it.
Ideally this is a frontier that shouldn’t exist, but I’ve always found it quite hard to erase, especially depending on the commission, Nummer stuff makes it easier as they regularly send me tracks they’re working on and I end up making videos for them without being asked for it. The annoying thing is that I sometimes have to wait for a couple of years to share the video if they decide to release the track.
"This first No Issue is kind of a test for the future ones, I wanted to include a mix for various reasons as soon as I started thinking about it"
Were the two CD mixes part of the whole creative matrix or did you decide to include them afterwards?
This first No Issue is kind of a test for the future ones, I wanted to include a mix for various reasons as soon as I started thinking about it. I’ve asked Jordan (Dj Vegetable) if he was interested in making a mix and it ended up being him and Sam (Insane Deelay), which was perfect.
I’m gonna keep this two DJs mix thing for sure. The zine part was finished before the mix, which allowed Jordan and Sam to go through it before making their music selection.
I was planning to have a closer connection between these two sides, music and image, but it was quite hard especially because at the time we were all living in different cities (Brighton, Bristol and Southampton). But in the end I quite liked the fact that I did my part, keeping in mind that the music would come and complete it, then Jordan added his part and finally Sam.
The whole thing worked really well that way and I think it’s interesting to see how pictures and music can enrich each-other without having any kind of pre-established link between them. You want to keep a bit of randomness, if you try to control things too much it ends up being boring, I think that’s more or less where the “No Issue” comes from.
"I met Dj Vegetable on Soundcloud I think, I listened to the mixes he had online at the time and was blown away"
Please tell us more about DJ Vegetable and Insane Deelay, how did you get to know these guys?
I met DJ Vegetable on Soundcloud I think, I listened to the mixes he had online at the time and was blown away, the man is well talented. I commented on one of them and a couple of days later he added me on Facebook and we chatted a bit. Proper post-modern romance!
Then I was randomly introduced to him not long after that by Brian not Brian in London. Then a week after we had the best Dirtytalk party in Bristol where Brian not Brian and Dj Sotofett were playing. Brian brought Jordan with him and I met Sam who came down as well for the night. I think we met lying on a sofa at some point or something.
We’ve seen each other quite a few times since then, Sam came back to Bristol for another Dirtytalk, Jordan is coming to play for my friends of Rough Draft this weekend, really looking forward to see him play at Cosie’s. They’re both really good DJs, it’s always a pleasure to listen to their podcast and having them do a mix for me was really exciting ! Sam now works at Phonica Records with my girlfriend Danielle, they even did a gig together, which is funny. I think he regularly plays gigs for Phonica, you can also hear him on Balamii Radio as part of the Subliminal Tape Club.
As for Jordan, he regularly guests on NTS radio, Balamii and probably others I don’t know about, they both have quite a nice collection of podcasts online, I highly recommend checking them out, proper music selectors and really nice guys, can’t really ask for more. Promoters out there, you know what to do.
"We managed to develop a Skype & Dropbox working methodology which works quite well. We have a few nice projects going on at the moment, including a collaboration with Think Tanger in Morocco"
You founded Atelier Superplus along with Nassim Azarzar in 2014. How did this help you? Did it generate a healthy emulation between the two of you?
I met Nassim when I was 18 in Paris, when studying. We started to work together from the beginning- and we ended up in the same school in Orléans and kept working and hanging out together for another 5 years. We’ve been friends for almost 10 years now during which we’ve both grown in our artistic practice, influencing and motivating each other constantly.
I don’t think that what we were doing when we met was particularly similar or anything but over the years we’ve developed similar interests and reflections in our work. After school I moved to England and Nassim went back to his roots in Morocco, we see each other once a year since then as we’re both pretty bad with saving money and planning stuff but we still talk everyday, especially since we decided to properly work together and to create Atelier Superplus.
We managed to develop a Skype & Dropbox working methodology which works quite well. We have a few nice projects going on at the moment, including a collaboration with Think Tanger in Morocco. It’s an association organizing lectures and artists residencies around the question of the transformations of the city of Tangier. We’re doing all their communication and it’s been really fun so far. It’s interesting to evolve far away from each other in two radically different countries, both meeting different kind of people but staying closely linked to each other at the same time.
"We’re all bombarded with so many visuals whether it’s on TV, Internet, ads in the streets, news, propaganda of all sorts, and you realize most of the people don’t have the means to read all these visuals"
I saw you also participated in various school workshops with children. Transmission is an important aspect that sometimes get a bit overlooked these days. Plus I guess it helps refocus on your own work, doesn’t it?
Transmission is indeed important and works both ways. Nassim and myself had a great time working with really young kids, they’re always full of energy and surprises. It amazes us to see how a 6 year old can spontaneously come up with such powerful lines and visually striking stuff. My mum’s a school teacher so it was too great an opportunity to miss and we worked together to make these workshops happen.
Now more than ever we think it’s really important to work with children to try and educate the way they look at art and image in general. We’re all bombarded with so many visuals whether it’s on TV, Internet, ads in the streets, news, propaganda of all sorts, and you realize most of the people don’t have the means to read all these visuals. It can lead to really dangerous situations, the media industry knows the manipulative and seductive power of the image and it’s important for people to learn how to read and analyse these.
For us working with young children is part of this approach, it’s a long shot but you never know, some of them might want to become graphic designers or, even better, artists! But yeah, when we work with children we try to make it a dialogue between them and us, they work using things we did and we’re using what they did to create something else in a kind of loop. It needs to be a shared experience not just a “master to disciple” transmission.
It’s funny to see what these kids come up with when they see and work using images we made. It’s also scary sometimes, you realize that even at such an early age the way they think and create can already be really conditioned.
"One of the artists that has the strongest impression on me is Joan Miro, for the evolution of his work throughout the years, his curiosity and collaborations with craftsmen"
Which artists have had the biggest influence on you and why?
I always find it really hard to select one artist and say “he’s the one”. They all influence you, from the unknown “artist” that made this weird looking clay idol 3000 years ago to the contemporary artist that put a ladder against a wall for a reason and says it’s art. The list is endless really.
I know people that would answer to that question without any hesitation and often their work turns out to be nothing but a pale copy of their favorite artist’s work. My work being based on an experimental process, I always try to come up with new things. I often realize that what I’m doing at a certain point is really close to the work of this artist that I briefly studied a few years ago and had forgotten, or it makes me want to look into this other artist’s work because there are similarities with what I’m doing either visually or conceptually.
I’ll play the game though, I guess one of the artists that has the strongest impression on me is Joan Miro, for the evolution of his work throughout the years, his curiosity and collaborations with craftsmen etc. There’s also Henri Michaux whose writings influence a lot the way I work. I’m not really an expert though…
My art history and general design culture is far from being as good as it should be, I tend to find inspiration in other things. Art needs to be a way of life, it’s not just about creating nice looking things. From that point of view I would say that Jodorowsky, for example, has had a massive influence on the way I think, more through his vision of life in general than through his movies.
What will you be up to in the coming weeks/months?
I barely know what I’m gonna do tomorrow to be honest with you! Keep working for commissions and personal stuff I guess… I’ve been working on a new video project recently that I’d like to do properly this time, maybe try to find a place to work on an installation.
Oh and Start a new zine with other friendly DJs at some point! Actually there’s a few music related commissions for the months to come, top secret stuff. We also have quite a bit of work with Superplus going on at the moment, plus all the other boring jobs to pay the rent of course.
I’d like to go see the Nummer guys in Berlin, Nassim in Morocco, and friends from school in France. A friend just moved to do a cool project in Ibiza, it could be nice to go there as well at some point! I’m gonna need to start working a bit more…
No Issue 01 is out now, order a copy from Phonica.
Discover more about Guillaume de Ubéda on Inverted Audio.