The design of cities communicates and has an ideological intention. Where a bench is placed, a tree is planted or a building is built is part of the urban planning policy of an institution. The same thing happens with what a priori seem like mere decorative objects and have more subtext than many slogans. Like the posters announcing some neighborhood fairs, for example. Those of the next celebration of La Mercè, patron saint of Barcelona, have caused a sensation for their careful design but also for what they represent beyond colors and shapes.
David de las Heras is the executive arm of the illustrations, which show three generations of women watching the fireworks. "I wanted to bring the design down to the city and make a traditional portrait, although I hate that word," she says in an interview with elDiario.es. Although he is from the Basque Country, he has lived in Barcelona for many years and La Mercè is no stranger to him, but it also reminds him of the Bilbao festivals where he saw the fireworks as a child with his back against his parents: "I wanted to extrapolate the idea of a festival shared with loved ones.
Although an artist's inspiration has much to do with his background, de las Heras does not deny that his drawing communicates other values. "I try to be as committed as I can in my designs. I have non-negotiable principles when creating," she says. In this case, the fact that three women appear is not a coincidence. "It would be strange if they were men being La Mercè the celebration of a virgin, but sometimes I also think that I am illustrating women being a man, although I think I know what my place is", he admits about his contradictions.
For institutional campaigns, there must be harmony between the illustrator and those in charge of graphic design in the city. That of David de las Heras and Nacho Padilla, creative director of the Barcelona City Council, was total. "Any message you send is never going to be innocent or harmless, everything has a cultural vision behind it," says the last one.
Padilla is the thinking head of the La Mercè campaign and he was also the 2018 San Isidro campaign, with Manuela Carmena at the Madrid City Council, and whose posters –designed by Mercedes DeBellard– they are still remembered as the most beautiful that the pattern of the capital has had in recent years.
"There are points of connection between the two, for aesthetics and for having known how to play the same key," says the creative director from Madrid. "These kinds of parties sew life and generations over time, because your mother, your grandmother have lived them and your children will live them", he compares. The person in charge of public art is very clear that whoever undertakes the commission must know who he is addressing and where he is working. "It doesn't have to be an artistic exercise, it has to talk about who we are, who we want to be and appeal to any citizen, think how they think and feel what they feel," he clarifies.
David de las Heras agrees with him and recalls that, before illustrators came to public administration, campaigns were entrusted to artists who are not designers. "They made posters that did not fulfill the function of the poster," he says. "His work can be very good and well-known, but it doesn't work because you have to take the public into account. It's non-negotiable, it's an image that hundreds of thousands of people are going to see, it has to be understandable and use collective symbols," he explains. .
Still, there is always room to imagine big and design a better city. These illustrations are sometimes a declaration of intent. "Not only do I like that my art conveys values, it's something important," concedes Rocío Cañero, illustrator and in charge of the Madrid City Council's Carnival poster in 2019. She acknowledges that working for institutions feels "more pressure": "You know that you work, for better or for worse, is going to be exposed to the eyes of the city. The feedback you receive is immediate and comes from any neighbor or neighbor, "he explains.
Nacho Padilla says that the creative design of an institution is addressed in an annual meeting. There it is also decided which celebrations, milestones or campaigns are going to be given more relevance and which less. "When I left Madrid, the City Council decided to carry out campaigns on October 12 that had not been done before, or that the 8M campaign had a different tone", he mentions as examples of "editorialization", something similar to what happens in newspapers .
Ada Colau presented the poster for La Mercè last Thursday accompanied by David de las Heras and the filmmaker Carla Simón, and she was also sending a message. On the one hand, she conveyed that it is an important celebration for the council and that David's illustrations would be her letter of introduction. On the other, that it is not a design left to chance.
"For me everything has to do with bread and roses. Beauty and culture are part of our landscape and the administration has a lot of responsibility for it," says Nacho Padilla, for whom these campaigns have an ultimate goal: to dignify the public space. "Although there are people who want to deny it", the creative director believes that any design "throws messages in a cloud of concepts" and transforms the urban space. For him, this art is political, "but not in its dirty sense" or partisan.
One of the values that David de las Heras referred to is care for nature, something that he tries to repeat in all his work. That is why his big red line would be to collaborate for some bullfighting project or to sell animal abuse. "I would never do it. In my life," he says. "I have always thought that he says more about my work and about me as a person, the projects that I have rejected than the ones that I have carried out," agrees the illustrator Rocío Cañero. "As Rosalía says, I never lose my loyalty, not even for money."
In the posters of La Mercè, in a very subtle way, De las Heras has included these ideals. "In addition to appearing those giant women that surpass even the Holy Family, there are some birds and some flowers that due to their scale are more important than other concepts in the design", she reveals.
Rocío Cañero also takes advantage of these spaces to include more or less masked winks. "There is a lot of symbology in my drawings and, whenever I can, I express myself through the figure of women, whom I transform into protagonists. Almost a decade ago, long before body positive, I put an ass with all its naturalness and its cellulite on the cover of a magazine", he exemplifies. "Not only do I make a living with my work, I also try to promote certain values", something that institutions sometimes also seek. For her, the "prodigious vision" of Nacho Padilla, with whom she collaborated in 2019, is key.
For example, in DeBellard's San Isidro campaign, Padilla says that they tried to bring to 2018 "a tradition that had become a little dandruff and stale." "We covered it with contemporaneity, it was a feminist San Isidro and Mercedes even put the symbol of veganism on the posters," recalls the creative director. But at the same time it was a very transversal campaign and even people from the PP of the City Council have it hanging in their houses. On the contrary, the last campaign of San Isidro has a much more conservative designwhich appeals to Goya and highlights the typical image of the chulapo and the chulapa.
Padilla says he doesn't have a trick for a project to work well, but with some he smells it beforehand. He distinguishes between two types of campaign: "Some that provide a public service and remind you that you have to pay the IBI, the term of the schools opens or that you get vaccinated; and others more symbolic, of parties, in which you can do more emphasizing issues like feminism or environmentalism, and where artists can get their creativity out". The latter are also more subject to criticism.
"I was prepared for them to say bad things about the La Mercè poster. In the end, the criticisms have nothing to do with the graphics, the design or the illustration, but rather they are the excuse to express personal opinions," he concludes. The creative director of the Barcelona City Council believes that it is a support where it is worth risking, in spite of everything: "The aesthetic nourishes the festival itself and those posters become recurrent images for later generations".