Massimo Giacon

artist, comics author, designer, performer

“Eventually you realize that life is too short to do everything, but at least it’s worth trying”.

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He divides his time between Padua, his native city, and Milan, where he works, bouncing between his activities as a comics author, illustrator, designer, artist and musician.  
In the 1980s he was one of the key figures in the revival of the Italian comic book triggered by magazines like Frigidaire, Alter, Dolce Vita, Cyborg and Nova Express. In 1985 an encounter with Ettore Sottsass sparked his entry into the world of design. After collaborating with Sottsass Associati, he went on to work with Matteo Thun, Studio Mendini, Sieger Design, and on numerous projects for Olivetti, Memphis, Artemide, Alessi, Swatch, Philips, Ritzenhoff and Telecom.
In the ‘90s he tried his hand at painting, which resulted in a number of solo and group shows in Italy, Switzerland, the US, Greece, Portugal and Germany. After a decade of playing in various musical groups, he released his first solo album, Horror Vacui, in 1996, followed by Nella città Ideale in 2003.
He has designed tapestries, carpets and ceramics; produced advertising illustrations; collaborated with fashion designers and magazines (including Romeo Gigli, Elle and Glamour); created installations for international exhibitions and animations for television.
In 2008, he conceived for Super-Ego a limited edition of ceramic sculptures “The Pop Will Eat Himself”. In September 2015 he published Ettore, a comic book about Ettore Sottsass (Il Sole 24 Ore Cultura).
Presently, in addition to continuing his artistic and performing activities, he’s developing a number of objects for Alessi, writing comic books and graphic novels (for Rizzoli-Lizard and Il Sole 24 Ore Cultura) and teaching at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan.

You’re an illustrator, comic book author, designer, artist. How would you define your work? And how would you describe your creative approach?

I don’t think it's an especially original approach. After all, many creative personalities have chosen to work in multiple media, exploring various forms of communication. For me it came naturally, although it can make you dispersive, because there are details that I seem to forget, experiments still to explore, techniques to learn. Eventually you realize that life is too short to do everything, but it’s at least worth trying. The question might be instead whether I can do all these things well, but the answer has to come from others. If I had to answer I’d say they I’m never completely satisfied with what I do.

You have a multidisciplinary approach and work with very different clients (publishers, manufacturers, etc.). Where do you look for your references and what inspires you?

I have an extensive library. I also have an extensive mental library and a head that processes it all. Sometimes I copy drawings and ideas from others, but because I’m such a bad copyist, in the end they become mine and seem original. Uh oh… now that I've revealed to you my dark secret, I'll have to kill you!

What impact did knowing Ettore Sottsass have on you personally and professionally?

A lot, in both senses. If I hadn’t met him, I would never have found the impetus to relocate to Milan, I wouldn’t have entered the world of design through the front door, maybe I wouldn’t even have painted or entered the contemporary art world. I don’t know if I would have made it on my own or not, but he definitely helped to accelerate the process. On the human level Ettore was very generous with me (but not only with me, there are many people who owe much to his willingness to share ideas, contacts and projects). For me, the word that best describes Ettore’s thought is "collaborative".

How has being a designer and having worked with a great teacher influenced your work as a cartoonist / artist? What kind of imprinting has it given you?

If we’re talking about my work relative to comics, the story is a bit different. When I started to publish I knew very little of the work of Ettore and Memphis, and for that matter of the Italian Futurists (to which my earliest stuff is often compared). This is because my references were all from the world of comic book, where you constantly find affinities with the entire history of art: think of Pop and you’ll find it in American superhero comics, think of Minimalism and you’ll find it in certain graphic novels, just as you’ll find Futurism in Bonaventura and Expressionism in Will Eisner. These two disciplines run on parallel tracks and often intersect. It was fate, apparently, that my work would overlap with that of Memphis. We all felt the spirit of that time, that hard and colorful change. The ‘80s, that mixed heroin and apathy, savage neo-capitalism and fashion, cynicism and fluorescent colors.

Given that you work with very different kinds of patrons, how does your relationship with them vary?  

I try to be practical. I don’t play the star and I’m always prepared to make changes, if they’re reasonable. Rarely have I gotten angry at a client for being obtuse. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I think that generally speaking they are intelligent enough to understand that if they entrust a job to me, I’m going to do it my way, not in a style that has nothing to do with me. Once I heard a famous critic say, “I’ve never known a good artist who wasn’t also able to listen”, and I’d say that I more or less agree with this statement.

In your graphic novel Ettore, comics and design intersect. What do you see as the relationship between the two?

Product design and comic books both belong to the broader sphere of design. I’ve always thought that those who start off doing comics and then moved on to other disciplines always have an advantage (just think of Fellini, Massimo Iosa Ghini, at first Mendini too wanted work in the world of cartoons). Because doing comics is a tough job, where you don’t just have to come up with how to draw the stories you want to tell, but how to constantly resolve a ton of other problems, like how do the characters relate spatially? How do they dress? Which objects should be in the room? Dozens and dozens of questions like this, for which you don’t have much time to answer. 

How do you imagine your work in ten years?

From the social standpoint, if I were to be pessimistic, I’d say that if things stay like they are, then anyone who has a paying job ten years from now will be lucky. This is a paradox, given that in the ‘70s people were talking about ‘lavoro Zero’, or the end of work as the goal of the working class, whereas now you practically have to get on your knees and beg to keep working. But I’m optimistic and I hope that these problems get resolved, and that technology will help us to work less and better, not like now when they make us work more, concentrating skills that were once supplied by many people into a single person, while increasingly accelerating production times.

What is your relationship with your home? Has it changed over the years? If so, how?

My home is a place of relaxation, but also of recreation: that’s where I cook for friends, where I play (I love board games and videogames), where I hang out in the garden, where I play with my cats. I didn’t used to care much about houses, and I resisted buying one of my own for a while. I didn’t want the responsibility, didn’t want to get attached to one place. Then my partner insisted and in the end I found myself with a house, and it’s built exactly to suit me. But I still keep thinking I shouldn’t get too attached.

A domestic ritual that’s particularly important to you?

If I’m at home, no matter what I’m doing, at 2 o’clock I sit on the sofa and watch The Simpsons. I can’t help it, even if I’ve seen the episode many times. It reassures me, makes me feel good. It’s my security blanket.

If you had to save three things from your home, what would they be?

The bag with all my pens and drawing tools, my old desk and the garden.

A design object that is iconic for you?

Obviously the Bialetti Moka. It appears often in my drawings, without my even really thinking about it. It’s an object I enjoy drawing.  

What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a preview?

I have five different books in mind: a children’s book, a new graphic novel about design, an esoteric adventure story set in the Padua of the 1970s, a sort of illustrated diary and a collection of short stories. Then there some objects in marble, new projects for Alessi, ceramics, an exhibition in Montreal, the remasterized recordings of the music I made in the ‘80s with my two bands. But I honestly don’t know at the moment if I’ll manage to do it all.