Oscar Guerrero is a Chilean-Kiwi graphic designer and illustrator based in the grunge-cool port town of Lyttelton (in New Zealand’s beautiful Banks Peninsula, near the city of Christchurch) where his parents settled (via Argentina) in 1977, after escaping the dictatorial rule of Chilean despot Augusto Pinochet. He is an artistic free spirit with a unique and distinctive style that owes as much to his heritage as his love of fringe culture and the socio-political-skewed design aesthetic that gives it a voice…
Tell me a little about your background – what led you to what you’re doing now?
My name is Oscar Guerrero, I am of Chilean descent and have been brought up in New Zealand and have been painting and drawing most of my life. I attended Canterbury University a couple of years ago and studied graphic design at the arts school there. I didn’t complete my studies though, so yes I’m an art school drop-out! I decided to study graphics because it was so far removed from my usual practice, it seemed like a good idea to try something different and learn how to use computers.
You are both an illustrator and a graphic designer. How would you describe your artistic style?
I’m not sure how I would describe my style, but to say it’s eclectic. I will try and do anything as long as it’s cool. I’m influenced by punk attitudes – the idea that nothing is sacred, anything is fair game.
How has your South American/New Zealand cultural background influenced your work? To what extent is your work influenced by music, fringe culture and history?
My cultural background has had a huge influence, I was shown some political graffiti from Chile when I was young and that led me on to graffiti bombing etc, not that I have ever been a tagger or graffiti artist. The Chilean graffiti was by a group called the Brigada Ramona. They would go out at night, each with a designated part of a design and complete the works as quickly as possible. Their aim was to express their opposition to the military dictatorship. My early work is strongly influenced by these paintings – bright colours, bold black lines, socialist imagery, etc.
Your illustration work has become more and more well known and your unique illustrative style is instantly recognisable. How do you feel about this surge in interest and popularity? Has it affected the way you work, your relationship with your clients, or your creative freedom on certain projects?
Well I’m not sure how popular or known my work is, I pretty much keep it to myself and try not to talk about it too much. As for how it’s affected my relationship with clients… well I’m pretty stubborn and a little arrogant I suppose. I only take jobs or do work where I have complete creative control, otherwise it never works. If people want my work I make sure they employ me for what I do, not what they want me to do, if that makes sense!
Which designers, artists, musicians or creative people are you inspired by?
I could go on all day about music and artists. Here’s a few designers: Dylan Herkes, Luke Wood, Delaney Davidson… what I like most about these guys is that they play music and do all their own design which ends up being the complete package. Everything makes sense when you are looking at the album and listening to the tunes. Their aesthetic is instantly recognisable and uniquely, unmistakably theirs.
Where else do you find inspiration?
Influences… this might sound strange but these days I try not to look for inspiration outside of my own head. Generally I try and just create from what I know and have on hand. I collect imagery from anywhere and store it until I find a use for it. Then once I have used it, I try not to use it again. I find that when I do look to emulate something, I’m never satisfied with it.
Tell us about Lyttelton’s Monster Yakitori Bar project?
I was asked to come up with a concept and design for a friend’s restaurant/bar in Lyttelton (NZ). He wanted something unique. The idea of doing a bar called Monster had been in my head for a while, the original idea was to design something around classic old monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed lame. I decided to go in another direction and paint about a 100 portraits of my own monsters and cover the walls with them. In all the monsters there is a kind of character set – a small monster community. I wanted to make the walls look like they were bleeding. Eventually we found a way of doing that with pigments and a sponge!
The exterior was painted white and was designed to stay that way, but the owner couldn’t handle that concept so we sourced local graffiti artists to bomb it. This was one job I had to compromise on, still not very happy about it, but I just had to let it go. Luckily that was the only “problem”, apart from the owner’s doubts about my concept quarter of the way through – and his wanting to change the name to The Pigeon’s Chest. We’re both glad he realised how crap that name was. The Monster Bar is a huge success – the decor’s sweet, the food is amazing and I get free beer.
How did the subject matter of monsters come about, how has it evolved illustratively – and what has been the public and commercial response to your monster illustrations?
Ever since I can remember I have been doodling monsters, so it seemed like the only thing to do after I had quashed the frankenstein monster idea. The public love the monster bar – nothing but good reviews and praise. Commercially, I can’t keep up with demand for monster illustrations. To be honest, I’m getting a bit sick of monsters! But what can I say – people from all round the world are contacting me wanting monster pictures. It is a bit weird because these monster drawings have always been kind of worthless to me, just drawings between “real” work.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a designer/illustrator?
Advice for other artists? I would say just do what you want to, and keep doing it. Forget about everything else and just follow your own ideas.
You’ve recently opened a bar in Lyttelton (in Banks Peninsula, NZ), the unique personality of which owes a lot to your signature design style. Tell us about your inspiration for the bar’s interior and brand identity, as well as your philosophy on hospitality.
Yes, my bar is called EL SANTO PORTEÑO. it’s named after the mexican wrestler El Santo. I got into lucha libre (Spanish “Free Wrestling”) while I was playing in a surf guitar band called The Damned Evangelist. I played drums but I’m not a drummer, so my drumming was terrible. I had to find some way of hiding while being in plain sight so I made myself a mexican wrestler mask and became El Ritmo De La Muerte (The Rhythm of Death). It was so much fun becoming someone else for a little while.
The building itself is deco-ish, so lots of curves and round windows. The part of the bar which I call the SANTA MARIA LOUNGE is covered with pictures of the virgin mary and is painted blue. The other half is adorned with screen printed posters from various indie bands from NZ and is painted red, black and white.
All the furniture is vinyl. It kind of looks like someone’s lounge – people come in and think they have walked into someone’s house. We only play vinyl at the bar too. The outside is painted white and it’s staying that way! I also use the exterior as a poster wall for gig posters, it’s very effective.
A lot of the bar’s identity is drawn from old lucha libre wrestling posters but I have moved on to just making very varied posters and tees and doing whatever pleases me at the time. I’m trying to get away from having a brand that always stays the same visually. I don’t want to be a KFC, if you know what I mean. Having no restrictions is more fun for everybody.
My philosophy on hospitality is pretty simple – everyone is welcome, no pretentiousness, if we haven’t got it you don’t need it, and the music must be good and the music must be loud. Check out El Santo Porteno on facebook.
What’s Christchurch’s best kept secret?
Christchurch’s best kept secret is that if you live in Lyttelton you don’t have to deal with Christchurch.
What are you:
Listening to? I just bought an album by a band called The Mantarays. I’ve been playing it non-stop. That’s the other great thing about the bar – my record collection is getting huge. Been listening to everything and anything. Wearing? I am still wearing mostly black clothes (so much easier than colours). Cooking? I’ve been meaning to start making my own pasta. I bought a pasta maker and everything, but you know how it goes. I have been drinking far too much – owning a bar will do that to you! Looking forward to? I’m Looking forward to you coming for many drinks in my bar in front of the fire! I’m also looking forward to completing my next project which should be done in a couple of months but I’ll tell you about that when it’s done… another interview maybe? Mum’s the word. (I can’t wait! We’ll definitely revisit Oscar in months to come).
FREEBIE: Check out this Brigada Ramona inspired font
(Created in 2009 Owned by RASDESIGN. Designed by Rodrigo Araya Salas)