“What art can do is create different spaces where we can feel safer, and offer alternatives to apathy, absurd and rampant capitalism”.
1 June 2023
Manu has been one of my favourite Spanish artists for years and I’m lucky enough to consider him a friend and to have collaborated with him on several projects. Perhaps the most important being all the artwork related to my band, Wild Animals, something that’s made him as he mentions in the interview, the fourth member of the group. His naive style plays with impossible situations and the absurd, subtly carrying a dose of social criticism and a vision of the world that we share and I totally love. Due to this naturally, he had to be in La Colectiva!
Manu Grinon

Hi Manu! How awesome to have a little chat. Thanks for taking part in La Colectiva and with this interview we want people reading this to get to know you a little bit.
Hi Paula! Same! Thanks for inviting me to participate in a project as beautiful as La Colectiva.

How did you come to draw? Was it something that came about at an early age?
I remember drawing and enjoying doing creative stuff from an early age. Thanks to my family I grew up in a home where art and music were very present and at school I loved plastic arts. At home I used to make cardboard surfboards, glue them to dolls feet, and play as if surfing enormous waves on the carpet… I also enjoyed making up silly creatures through collages or “exquisite corpses”, and recorded tapes singing and making funny voices. It was fun and opened up an amazing world of imagination, in addition to the satisfaction that came with being able to create with your own hands and the means within reach. I always received lots of support and encouragement at home from my parents in this sense.

I was always observing stuff and paid particular attention to surf, skate and music visuals. I grew up in Salinas, which despite being a small town in Asturias had some counterculture, with small bars and festivals where bands from the area played and such, so I received some visual influence from all that as well. Later on I started designing covers for tapes, painting with sprays and stencils, doing my first paintings on cookie boxes and taking pictures with a reflex camera that my dad lent me. I was self-taught until I enrolled in an analogue photography course when living in Madrid, and then started a graphic design education about 2007. Since then I’ve been working in graphic design and on art projects.

Tell us about how you work and what resources and techniques you use. Do you think your style’s evolved over the years?
I mostly draw with mechanical pencils, 0.3 to 0.8 rotrings and black markers on white drawing paper. I use tracing paper to ink over the initial sketches and once in a while I draw using brushes and ink. Sometimes I scan and colour digitally, but in a very simple way, always with spot colours, never using textures nor gradients. When I paint signs or murals I use those same materials to prepare the sketch and the stencil, that I later transfer to the board or the wall with white chalk or graphite (depending on the base colour) and then move onto paintbrushes and signage enamel paint.

I don’t think I’ve evolved that much over time, I’m still doing black line designs as I did years ago, although I’ve learned new techniques that I’m applying and combining. One of my last projects was ‘Fuera de onda’, a series of hand-cut wooden masks that I later painted with brushes and enamel for sign painting.

Right now I’m looking forward to learning gold leaf lettering on glass, a beautiful technique that I’ve had pending for years.

I remember that one of the first times I saw you (it could even be the first day we met), you were preparing an exhibition in a Madrid showroom, the name of which I don’t recall, and you were painting a large mural that I loved. It was like love at first sight with your work. Any other project like that one on the horizon? It’s been a long time since you last did an exhibition, right?
Thank you very much Paula, now I’m blushing! I haven’t done an exhibition in a while, the last one was 3 years ago in La Cósmica, where I was lucky enough to close the event with you, doing a Wild Animals acoustic show and an antisocial poetry recital. Such great times!

Manu Grinon Expo

I don’t have anything in sight for the near future, I barely have time to do much work on new stuff and I’m tired of putting the same things from years ago on display.

PINCEL signs & Murals is your classic sign painting project. Is this the part of your job that motivates you most? How did you get into the sign writing world and who are your role models?
I wouldn’t say it’s the part of the job that motivates me most as that depends on the moment, but yeah, PINCEL is a personal project I adore, but is somewhat on hold right now.

I learned the traditional sign painting trade while living in London, starting my little sign writing and mural project/micro business to make a living. It’s still very much alive there and I actually got into it by chance. While working in a hand-decorated cookie factory, I was asked to paint the facade of a store/cafeteria that was going to be opened in Notting Hill. I’d already painted murals for exhibitions but that was the first paid commercial one. It was a total mess to organize as I had to get a scaffold, pack the whole facade with little black lined drawings and lots of details and I didn’t know the first thing about materials, types of brushes and paints for that kind of job. Due to the wind I had a hard time holding the stencils to transfer the designs, and I still remember how my legs were shaking the first day I got on the scaffold. That said, in the end everything went well and while I was painting many people asked if I could do sign painting for their business in the neighbourhood. Raquel, my partner, encouraged and supported me to start PINCEL. I created the name, drew the logo, set up the web and printed 1000 business cards in Footprint Workers Co-Op, an anarchist printing cooperative that also distributed the cards across different London neighbourhoods on bicycles.

Thanks to this and word of mouth I started taking the project seriously and moving forward with it. It was a total discovery, a really satisfactory experience at times and quite frustrating at others, leading me to discover a skill that still obsesses me to this day, although I can’t practice as often as I’d like to.

Manu sign london

Influences and role models are many: Margaret Kilgallen, Ken Davis, Caitlyn Marie Galloway, Ged Palmer, Jeff Canham, Sign Syndicalist, Best Dressed Signs, Brian Yonky, Signs by Meng, El deletrista, Lauren D’Amato, Mike Meyer, Louise Filli, New Bohemia Signs, Shelby Rodeffer

What other artists inspire you?
Thousands of graphic artists, some already mentioned in the previous question: Gee Vaucher, Jean Arp, Jeff Canham, Ken Davis, Margarett Kilgallen, Sam Ryser, Heather Benjamin, Jose Haz, Olaf Ladousse, Blu, Berto Fojo, Nati Umpierrez, Martine Laffon and Mayumi Otero (Icinori collective), Begoña García Alén, Andrés Magán, Kazimir Malevich, Willam Morris, Teodoro Hernández, Caitlyn Marie Galloway, Jeff Cheung, Grete Stërn, Marion Fayolle, ESPO, David Shrigley, Ged Palmer, Hannah Höch, Guerrilla Girls, Chris Johanson

I’m also inspired by lots of musicians, sculptors, photographers and authors of beautiful children’s stories that I’m just discovering now since becoming a dad.

The ‘Al Verde’ label, the book and fanzine publisher ‘Jerseys para los monos’, your antisocial poetry recitals: How are these projects going? If they’re currently on hold, would you like to get them going again?
‘Al Verde’ is a record label with a strong element of social protest and also an excuse to release the Montañas records, a band I had with some friends between 2008 and 2011. We’ve put out 4 or 5 things, a couple of Montañas records, and tapes and LPs from Ayalga, my friend Javi’s beautiful solo project.

‘Jerseys para los monos’ started in 2007 as a micro publisher and distributor of our fanzines and those of our friends and also as an excuse to publish the Remendar es Antisocial fanzine (consisting of automatic drawings back then and absurdist poetry now). A couple of times we made a bit of money, so got carried away and published a couple of cool books, one by Berto Fojo, a close friend and amazing illustrator, and another one by the visual artist EKTA.

‘Bla Bla Chis Pum Bla Bla’ consists of me reciting absurd poetry and nonsensical puns, taken from the fanzine Remendar es Antisocial, that usually go with some rudimentary music: the bang of a small drum, rambling notes pounded out on an old casiotone… I’ve just done four, at La Lata de Zinc and La Cósmica with Wild Animals, at the Liceo Mutante with Nova Orquestra de Mollabao and one in a field in Puertas de Vidiago, the day Raquel and I got married. I’m looking forward to doing some more soon.

The humanization of animals and objects is one of the most striking trademarks in your style. Is there any message behind it?
We tend to humanize all sorts of things, objects, animals, food, elements of nature… We believe we’re the center of the universe and we make everything our own. Initially it started in a really natural way, as something playful that made a break with reality and worked well with the kind of drawings and pictures I was doing. In a very naive way I thought it broke down the very much established boundaries between humans and animals. I like to give different meanings to the drawn subjects, humanizing animals, decontextualizing things, animalizing objects, animating skeletons…

Maybe I use those resources too much, I’m realising that now I have a 2 year-old daughter… the other day I drew a pear with eyes, nose, mouth, arms and legs, and she said “Dad, pears don’t have legs or arms”. I still enjoy it though and anything that involves imagining things in a different way will always stimulate me, I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about creating art.

I’m convinced that creating something with your hands and mind, in these times of digital hyperstimulation is still a very necessary challenge and shock to the system.

“Art can change the world”, what do you think about this quote? What’s political in your art?
What a complex statement! I don’t feel capable of saying what art can or can’t change, or what art itself is. What I can do is create different spaces, both individually or on a common level, where we can feel safer, and offer alternatives to apathy, absurd and rampant capitalism, to social immobility and the self-defeating decline that this shit is leading us to while whispering “This is all for you” (as they’re good singers!) with a sweet melody. I must confess that at times I can’t make any sense of anything. It’s gonna sound terrible, but it’s like a loss of faith (atheist) in the act of creating things just for the sake of creating them. That’s a feeling that horrifies me and makes me feel a little bit defeated. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that creating something with your hands and mind, in these times of digital hyperstimulation and spirit crushing entertainment, is still a very necessary challenge and shock to the system.

Regarding politics in my work, I don’t have much to say, every decision we make has something political about it; our job, the culture we consume, our time management, what we eat, the clothes we buy (or those we don’t). I guess I express what pisses me off in a subtle, harmless way and something in me tends to look for a more poetic way to make a critique, although I also admire people that make that criticism in a more straightforward and accurate way.

For La Colectiva you’ve done all sorts of stuff, tell us a little bit about that.
‘Fuera de Onda’ is a series of masks/characters inspired by the song ‘Fuera de Onda’ by Anticonceptivas, a friend’s band, and it’s refrain says “I’m out of touch, I’m out of place, I’m out of touch, and no no no, I don’t want to change”. Many times I have this feeling and I think that many of my friends do as well. It’s like feeling more comfortable standing on the sidelines. Hence the fact that the characters portrayed have fritter heads, cylindrical ears, one round eye and an oval one, rectangular hair, pointy lips or disheveled noses.

‘Blabla’, ‘Las drogas’, ‘Bananas’ and ‘Sois el veneno’ are part of a drawing series that I made with black ink and brush, and I was intending to publish them together in a fanzine called Tinta that never saw the light. They are semi automatic drawings, and as usual they deal with issues that are playing on my mind every now and then.

‘Tornado en la playa nudista’ presents a funny situation open to numerous interpretations.

Sometimes to practice hand-written lettering styles, instead of coming up with some lame slogan, I draw the refrain of one of my favourite songs. This has materialized into a couple of prints for La Colectiva: ‘This Ain’t No Picnic’, an amazing anthem by Minutemen against wage labour, and ‘Life’s Too Short To Make Other’s Shorter’, by Propagandhi, something of a transparent call for animal liberation.

Precisely with ‘Life’s Too Short To Make Other’s Shorter’, you’ve wanted to donate part of your profits to the Vacaloura Animal Sanctuary. Tell us about their work and how you met them.
Despite living in Galicia, near Vacaloura, I discovered their work through the social media posts of London’s Black Cat Cafe, a vegan café restaurant in Hackney Central run by Carla and Nacho, for whom I did some sign painting a few years ago.

I think what sanctuaries do is really important and necessary. I haven’t met them in person, but I’ve been meaning to collaborate with Vacaloura for some time but didn’t know how to go about it. This seemed like a good idea, especially taking into account the topic of the song that I based the print on.

Since childhood music’s been a constant source of ideas, inspiration, company, enjoyment and imagination.

Besides this typographic project, you’ve also collaborated on Wild Animals and Montañas albums. How does the music relate to your artwork?
Yeah, I’ve had the pleasure of doing the artwork for all the Wild Animals records. We ́re good friends and you’ve always shown me trust and given me total artistic freedom. It’s always been a challenge to capture the thematic variety of your songs in graphics, though I believe they all revolve around a common thread and I think we’ve managed to get it right and all involved happy. It’s touching to see your vinyls on my shelf, or finding sketches of those album covers in folders, and it almost makes me feel like the fourth Wild Animal in the dark.

With Montañas everything happened naturally, both musically and graphically. We had a little bit of trouble making the first 7” cover, but when we simplified it we came upon that hand-stamped rubber stamp on cardboard mailer aesthetic. It came together with the music and the band concept and so we kept it for all the records.

Since childhood music’s been a constant source of ideas, inspiration, friendship, company, enjoyment and imagination. It helped to shape a personal vision of things around me and to discover other ways of doing stuff and living life. A great deal of the graphic stimulus came through the music I listened to, so I think it’s inevitable to feel inspired by music when designing. It transports you to other worlds and sensations that inspire you to come up with concepts and develop ideas.

What bands do you listen to while working?
A Silver Mt Zion, Brian Eno, Love, Absurdo, The Woolen Men, Wire, Grass Widow, The Beatles, Fairport Convention, Ayalga, Peter, Paul & Mary, Submission Hold, Nana Grizol, Ajuar, Algara, Jeffrey Lewis, Cuchillo de Fuego, Jonathan Richman, OTAN, Atomizador, Kleenex/Lilliput, The Make Up, Lidia Damunt, Minutemen, Anomie, Essential Logic, Crisis, Rodrigo Cuevas, LUX… a good mix.

And lately while working I also listen to podcasts about nutrition, history, animal liberation, music…

Any new projects coming in the next few months?
Spending as much time as possible with my daughter Emilia. I’d also like to publish a fanzine with collages that we made together during lockdown and I’m already collecting poems for the Remendar es Antisocial #13, which I hope see the light of day sooner rather than later.

On the other hand I’ve been fantasizing for some time about putting out a recording of recited poems that my friend Javi recorded in Asturias a couple of years ago, through Al Verde.

Lastly, what artists should we have in La Colectiva?
Berto Fojo, Nati Umpierrez, Olaf Ladousse, Begoña García Alén, Andrés Magán, Jose Haz (Atomizador/Afeite al Perro), Santi Zubizarreta, Mar Estrama, Black Lodge Press, Nico Mendiz, Ruth Mora, Sergi Puyol, Joan Manel, Jeff Cheung, Escif

Anything else you want to add?
Thanks, hugs and much health.

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