"I think that illustration is an ever-green world where beauty is not directly linked to technology or trends." Mauro Gatti, creator of TheBrainbox, reveals illustration's magical kingdom...
"The fun fact," says Mauro Gatti, "is that I always wanted to be a doctor." If this had worked out, the 'funny bone' diagnosis might have been in play a lot more often. As things stand, Mauro specialises in dishing out the best form of treatment available: laughter.
Behind it all lies a simple motivation: "I want to see people smile at my work and I want to express strong concepts through a funny style." Set up as a 'personal playground' in 1998, TheBrainbox gives this multitalented artist a place to show off the full range of his creative endeavours: "From the most experimental to the most commercial."
There's also a selfish element: "I really dig the idea of having a 'free' space to host all my works." Who wouldn't dig that? We also have an added benefit: "If you look at my site, you can have a bite of my personality." And Mauro is a friend who's always glad to see you.
"If I look in the past, I think it all started with a Commodore 64 and Marvel Comics," says Mauro. A combination of Jeep Command and the Silver Surfer led the young Mauro away from the hospital doors in the general direction of digital art. His parents must curse that decision.
"I've never been to art schools," he states. In the time-honoured comic book tradition, Mauro is self-taught: "All I know and all I'm able to do comes from experience." And the Milan-based raconteur can do plenty: motion graphics, print, illustration, web design. There are few areas he won't happily overwhelm with his witty visual style.
Finding a path to TheBrainbox hasn't been without its trials though: "My first job consisted of 'open-crop-resize' of about 100,000 images for a CD-ROM project." The perseverance has paid off: "I love the freedom to work when I want and where I want." It's not a jackpot payout mind, more of a Thunderball, because: "I usually work 18 hours per day!"
"Humour is everything to me, I really love the idea of representing anything by a 'funny' view," continues Mauro. Deploying his own brand of humour is what he does best and enjoys most. But if you're tempted to dismiss his work for that, you'd be making a mistake. As demonstrated by pieces such as his brilliant animation for 'I am static' and illustration for 'Re-Birth', there's something strange here too; it's not just slapstick we're dealing with.
"The first reaction is a smile" - Mauro even describes his style as 'funny' - "but if you look deeply, you can see a message, a concept behind the graphic." Like many of life's best moments, the message isn't shouted at you, it's revealed while you're still smiling. "I really love to see what an idea can become and the way people react at it," he says. This is something Mauro clearly relishes.
"It's good when everyone can enjoy your works, first with a smile and then with reflection." This may sound like a fairly humble ambition but it's not - to draw a smile and a thought from your audience is hard even when you know them well. Mauro's audience is much wider: "From one to one hundred."
Maniac of details
Personal development is a difficult thing to manage, but keeping those skills pin-sharp is essential if you're going to pull in the right kind of work. Mauro has a suggestion: "There is one thing that I love doing," he confides, "I doodle everywhere I can." So, if you're not making the kind of artistic progress you'd hoped for: "Just doodle everywhere you can and you'll get better."
Take another look at TheBrainbox and you can see that free association is clearly in evidence, that doodling may have paid off in more ways than one. The ideas which lie behind Mauro's work aren't cultivated, they're free range: "I don't do any particular search to 'find' ideas," he says, putting 'find' in inverted commas. This suggests that the ingredients are already present; they just have to be properly combined.
Then Mauro makes this observation: "Usually, I don't listen to music during the conceptual phase. For this, I really enjoy silence and solitude." It's like there's some careful measuring going on during this process, the balance of a piece is decided early on. "In the following phases I love music and noise around me," he adds. And once he's on his way, there's no stopping him: "I think I work fast even if I am a maniac of details."
A messy world
Not having been classically trained has its advantages. For example, flexibility: "I love to work on every kind of project, from print to internet and television." One thing that comes in for special attention is motion graphics, which has a unique, if unhygienic, appeal: "Seeing your drawings in motion may make you drool." Mauro's love of his medium is clear: "I enjoy my work because it's my passion."
The doodling philosophy finds its way into Mauro's working practice too: "Everything starts from pencil and paper." There's a very organic feel to the work that this approach produces, Mauro acting as a kind of filter on his world, "a messy world" that inspires him. And inspiration is what it's about: "I believe more in concepts than in techniques." As the man says: "There is no plug-in that can replace a lack of ideas."
In the end, it's those ideas that attract clients and, in a more general sense, make illustration the force which it is today. "Advertising, television and internet are everyday closer to the illustration's world" - the ever-green world - "where they can find fresh ideas and styles." Mauro's keenly aware that illustration is experiencing a real surge of interest at the moment. This is a double-edged sword though, because it also means there's more to be lost.
"I love stone walls, wooden furniture and lava lamps," states Mauro. Studio Gatti sounds like a villain's lair, a place where the artist can distil his experience into TheBrainbox while waxing his mustachios. Attached as he is to this laboratory, the villain must have a secret escape pod: "I don't have a specific place to create." Mauro carries his under one arm: "I just need a notebook and my Wacom tablet."
"TheBrainbox has to be a reflection of my mood and my passions," he says. These include comics, movies and arcade games. However, the sun has already set on the golden age of cinema according to Mauro: "The 70s-80s period is the best." If there is a downside, it's this: "Sometimes I have to design web portals and I can use just five per cent of my creativity." But this just doesn't bother Mauro because: "Practice is the key to everything."
Mauro's attitude typifies what makes illustration great - non-commercial ambition: "TheBrainbox has never been a corporate-style site because it wasn't made to be a mirror to catch clients' attention." He's just out there doing his own thing: "It's just a place to watch how I see the world." As long as there are people out there like Mauro, there will be a creative light at the end of the tunnel.