Olimpia Zagnoli

by Tamu McPherson


Meet Olimpia Zagnoli

During Milan Fashion Week, I had the pleasure of meeting Olimpia Zagnoli, an Illustrator whose work I’ve admired since discovering it in 2011. A welcomed break from the hectic fashion week schedule, I stopped by the impressive young artist’s studio and had a pleasant glimpse into what inspires her bold and colorful drawings. Extremely interesting, knowledgeable and funny, we had a great time during our little shoot. Have a look at the pics and please enjoy getting to know her.

TMP: You grew up in a family of artists (mom – painter, dad – photographer), do you have any memories of the creativity that flowed through your house when you were a little girl?
OZ: I remember my mom taking me to gallery openings and museums when i was very little. I loved spending time in my dad’s studio and smelling the chemical fumes coming from his camera obscura. We had a lot of books at home and my parents friends who worked in theater, cinema and art were always invited for dinner and they ended up having big discussions that lasted until late at night. I found it comforting hearing them argue about the state of the art while I was falling asleep. I once went to an exhibition, I was around 3 and Keith Haring gave me one of his radiant baby pins. I had no idea who he was.

TMP: What does your sister do?
OZ: She’s graduating at The Wimbledon College of Arts in London where she studied Costume Interpretation for Theater and Cinema. She’s always been the family’s diva and she finds comfort in chiffon and pastries.

TMP: Were you one of those little kids that always had a crayon, paintbrush, or pen in hand?
OZ: I still am! Drawing is my form of meditation, it’s a ticket to my own planet.

TMP: Did you keep a diary as a little girl? Was it visual or did you use words? What’s your relationship with words?
OZ: I had a diary, yes. I made collages with pictures of guys I liked like Dylan (from Beverly Hills 90210) and a balloon that said “Brenda is lovely, but Olimpia is so much fun!” or Leonardo DiCaprio saying “Frankly, i prefer Olimpia”. I like to write privately, my style of writing is quite essential though because I like to leave space for images.

TMP: Where did you study? What did you take away from the experience?
OZ: I studied in Milan at the European Institute of Design. It wasn’t the best school, but at least it was something. I had to learn a lot of things on my own and build a sense discipline from scratch which turned out to be useful.

TMP: You were so courageous, when you left Italy to look for work in the US. How old were you? What were your thoughts at the time? How did your parents encourage you?
OZ: The first time I went to New York it was in 2008, I had my portfolio with me and one appointment at The New York Times. I was scared and quite irresponsible, but it went well. I didn’t have much money with me so I really wanted to work and become independent soon. My parents never questioned my talent or wanted me to fit into any category, this has taught me to take my passion very seriously.

TMP: What one thing do you always try to communicate with your work. Do you have a driving principle that defines your work?
OZ: I like to inspire happiness, irony and freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, freedom of feeling unique. There are many ways to depict society, I like to choose my own.

TMP: Where do you find inspiration? Your travels? I remember you describing a trip to Mexico which inspired you to use a special pink in your work?
OZ: I get inspired by art from the past, music and travels. My latest trip was to Mexico, where i went specifically to look for new colors. I found great combinations of pink, mustard, teal, brown and glitter that were really inspiring. I could see a change in my illustrations as soon as i came back.

TMP: Your work has expanded beyond illustration, please tell us about the other mediums you work in?
OZ: I like to explore new surfaces and new material when i’m given the opportunity. Among my latest experiments there’s “Cinetica Zagnoli Elettrica” an exhibition of kinetic sculptures, a capsule collection of five cashmere sweaters for Ballantyne and a few music videos.

TMP: You have your own studio and super healthy illustration portfolio, can you please provide aspiring illustrators with some advice on how to set up shop?
OZ: I think the most important thing is to find a unique voice and study what came before you. Being good at drawing is not enough. Always be curious and always evolve. Then of course take care of the business, open a bank account, pay taxes, talk on the phone in different languages. Being an artist sounds really exciting but sometimes can be just like any other job.

TMP: What’s the current status of illustration? What does the future have in store for illustrators?
OZ: It’s a really good moment for illustration worldwide and in Italy too! People are learning what illustration is and  are recognizing the power of images. I get contacted everyday by all kinds of clients, from advertising agencies to farmers, and this is very exciting. Illustration is such a great medium because it applies to many different fields, from fashion to books, from food packaging to wallpaper, it’s very flexible so i think it will age beautifully.


TMP: You have a great relationship with your parents and even have a special project with your dad. Tell us about “Clodomiro”?
OZ: Clodomiro is an online shop run by me and my dad. We both love design so we came up with this side-project for which we dedicate our free time to the study and the creation of everyday objects with an erotic taste. This is a very slow process, we see each other at the local Trattoria, talk about new products, design them, talk to the artisans, go over so many samples, and then if we find something we like, we finally put it in the shop.

TMP: Some illustrators that our readers must know.
OZ: Saul Steinberg, Seymour Chwast, Mary Blair, René Gruau, Maira Kalman, John Alcorn.


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