Fly Off the Wall

The British capital has well served artists for ages as muse, and for Cristian Zuzunaga, a return to the city of his formative college years has already given rise to a first and, quite possibly, the most towering of projects for the Spanish expat: a mural.

Cristian launched his namesake brand in 2007 to explore his colorful, graphic visual narrative through products. His pixelated prints—covering lamps to sofas under his name, to glass-skinned sideboards for BD Barcelona, boots for Camper and rugs with Nanimarquina—established Cristian among the wave of new modern designers in the decade since. The pixel patterns and other highly graphic designs also distinguished his luxe collection, much of it made in and around Barcelona, comprising of towels, throws, cushions, espadrilles, aprons, concrete side tables and more.

But as the business increasingly encroached on his time and energy to create, Cristian decided last year to make a daring break—professionally and personally—in the interest of his artistic enterprise. He wouldn’t have made a move, of course, without his equally artistic wife Anna and their two young children. Yet in spite of or because of the challenges in setting up a new life in a new land with a family, Cristian’s debut mural during the London Festival is only the start of his sky-high view of the future.

A+R: How does a mural convey your ideas differently than products?

CZ: Most of the work I do comes from experiencing the urban environment and architecture. How cities are growing and how globalization has shifted our way of communicating, seeing, thinking and living.

The products that I create exist because of the above ideas. But products have a definite purpose and use. We relate to them on a human scale. A mural is another story. The mural has a different purpose to exist. It conveys a message and it is in the public domain, so it is open to subjective interpretation. A mural is closer to art than design.

A+R: What is the concept behind this mural?

CZ: The basis of the mural is a self-initiated project from this last year called “The Making of the Cube.” Prints were transferred by digital grid onto a zinc plate for printing. I use a 1950 FAG letterpress printing press. I always print in black first and if the print is strong enough, then I move onto a color. I apply a single color per day.

I like to use vibrant colors and with the mural that means green and red plus a yellow-orange color which is “blocked” with the black. The black holds and also neutralizes, helps to focus and attract, like gravity does.

The intensity of the mural is meant to inspire, to bring color and form into our daily life. It resembles the façade of a block of flats, simple in shape but each “window” is different. In a way, it deals with identity and the fact that, while we all have the same essence, we are all totally different.

Each window represents a way of seeing, experiencing and showing. But, overall, all windows have a pattern that is holistic. Here, I try to convey the idea behind individuality (not individualism) and the compromise of city life living. We are all particles forming clusters. So it is the same idea behind most of my work where: a brick is to a building, an atom to a molecule, a pixel to an image and, in this mural, a window to the façade.

On a more personal level, the mural also represents my renewal, like the phoenix.

A+R: What was the biggest challenge in making this happen?

CZ: The timing and the scale.

Anna and I met Italian architect Chantal Martinelli and her French husband Julien Desormeaux, the owners of the boutique-architecture studio Mad Atelier in Hackney this past June. We connected really well, and decided to do something together. At the sight of the impressive white façade at the corner of their shop, I asked if we could actually do something there. The following week, they came to our print studio/workshop in Woolwich, London and we went through my artwork.

They have 2 kids like us, so our schedules were mad. But we decided to time the mural in time for the London Design Festival.

As for the scale, I am a typographer by training and I know that usually, when you enlarge a print, you can lose its impact. So I focused on trying a simple yet striking work that would translate well into that scale, which is around 1:100.

A+R: Did you do this alone? Or with a team? 

CZ: As it became a reality, I called an old friend of mine who has a cousin called Popay Ayguavives who is an amazing graffiti artist.

For years I knew of him but never had the chance to meet him. For my first mural, I wanted to do it in a meaningful way, so it was with him or nobody. I needed somebody with experience, with an impressive use of colour and an understanding of geometry, with the capacity to teach me by doing.

We spoke several times agreed on the best way to execute it. We hired a boom lift and ordered black paint and the 3 color spray cans. The most difficult and time-consuming part was to tape the shapes and mask each layer of color.

A+R: How long will the mural be up?

CZ: Hopefully, indefinitely.

A+R: How far is it from where you are living now?

CZ: It is located in East London, at the heart of Hackney, at 42 Lower Clapton Road. It’s a busy corner that can be seen from many angles. It is very near where we lived for many years, until 2011 when we were expecting our first kid and decided to return to Barcelona. I kept a studio here in Hackney during those years and traveled back and forth on a weekly basis.

We moved the family back here during June 2018, and now live in South East London. Driving from southeast to east London, you can't avoid seeing the mural.

A+R: Why move back to London?

We felt stuck in Spain. We lived in Barcelona for 2 years, and then we moved to an idyllic country house from the XI century during 2013-2018. We were seeking a more balanced life. But the reality changed dramatically when we had our second kid, and our motivation to pursue more art-related projects kicked in strongly.

We had to have 2 cars. I was driving an average of 1,000km a week to Barcelona, then flying to London weekly.

We also felt isolated. We were missing the friction between people, between cultures. We felt our kids were missing out in their long-term development as human beings.

It was not an easy decision, but we knew it had to be done. We closed the Barcelona studio, changed the structure and logistics around Zuzunaga, and moved stock to a new warehouse. We are now exactly at the Thames Barrier, where London “starts.”

Going forward, I intend to do more murals and work closer with architects and developers to push my vision in this direction. I am looking for more impact and interaction with the urban environment and its inhabitants. So, really, I am experiencing a new beginning, a conscious one. The mural represents this inner-outer journey, like that of a phoenix.