NM Design is the multi-disciplinary studio of Nuno Moreira, specializing in creating books and other cultural objects. He creates visually stunning artwork and direction for books and his own artwork and photography has roots in surrealism – we spoke to him about creativity, childhood and where he finds ideas.
Firstly, tell me a bit how you got into the work of photography and art direction.
As it is obvious, both of these practices rely on the construction of an image as its basis. For that reason, they are somehow parallel and contaminate each other all the time. Throughout the years I’ve been trying to merge the commercial work of book/music design with my artistic practice of photography, painting and manual collage. With some projects this is easier and more natural to accomplish, I can reuse pieces directly from my archive or entirely develop them from scratch, with other projects it’s utterly impossible due to time or financial constraints. I tend to observe that as years go by clients come to me more because of a certain style and understand where I come from and less because they want someone to execute ideas for them. And that is, of course, a very positive aspect because it underlies a notion of trust and the basic understanding of hiring a professional in the first place.
Answering more directly to your question, photography appears in my life as a way for expressing things I have a difficult time articulating using just words. Images have that ability to show but also to intrigue and stimulate the imagination by not revealing much and that’s what interested me in the first place.
I got into photography as a teenager and honestly, I didn’t know so well what I was doing when I started. I was sort of experimenting a lot with the equipment and trying to fall upon some sort of accidental image that would have a certain ambience and project a certain cinematic mood. What I remember well is that the first images that spoke to me were of a very intimate nature, the light was low and it was mostly about form and the space that the body occupies within it. It’s very curious to look back because I still feel fascinated by what the body can represent and what it so naturally hides beneath the skin. This is particularly apparent in my books “ZONA” and then in a more refined manner in “She Looks into Me”. I like the idea of working with photography and using the least obvious resources of this practice. That is, to produce images that do not have foundations strictly of this medium. It pleases me to work with as few elements as possible as it allows for more concentration on what lies in front of the lens: the body, the atmosphere, shapes, light and above all the theatre of shadows it all creates. It is very important in what I do that the image is just the starting point for thought and imagination. At least that’s what I aim for with all my work, that the final pieces can hold the enthusiasm and strength to spark any kind of fiery thought in the viewer.
When did you first realise that creativity was going to be your chosen path in life?
As far back as I remember I always enjoyed being alone, surrounded by books, in a private bubble with my things. That could be just reading and reflecting, or simply observing things around. Phenomenology always interested me. I think that was a good indication of what the future held in store for me. Then I have to say I always felt life to be insufficient and creating art was always a way for me to escape reality and surprise myself. I truly enjoy to be lost in the pathways of creation. It’s like being inside a labyrinth; I forget I exist. I forget about everything – and that is great. It is a solitary activity, but I quite enjoy it. Creating art is the closest thing I know to truly reliving childhood.
Almost every day I force myself to draw, write, paint and assemble works on paper. It still is a process of discovery and constant curiosity. I believe any creative person is by nature a curious and observant individual and that’s what drives him/her to pursue the work at hands.
I’ve always had an affinity with the subversive, experimental, obscure and transgressive side of things and creativity seems to go hand-in-glove with that sort of attitude. The creative field is an immense area full of marginalized individuals for all the good reasons. I don’t think you can be a literate, informed and culturally educated person, with your personal views, and still cope with politics and the type of world we live in. It’s just not compatible. And I believe that’s one of the functions of art: to help stretch the limits of perception, increase critical thinking, change general opinions and hopefully produce a kinder and more conscious reality.
However, my inclinations towards creativity could also have occurred because of stealing so many books from the school library and stumbling upon Sade, Nietzsche, Darwin or Camus at a such young age, who knows?
Creativity is in every child and as we grow older this can be replaced with academia and then the art we thought was so important is usually called “a hobby” or “extracurricular” rather than being a fundamental part of our growing up. Did you grow up in a creative household?
I didn’t grow in a creative household nor do I have any siblings with similar preferences. Strangely, we didn’t have many books at home nor do I remember ever going to a theatre or a museum with my family. These are all acquired tastes. I felt somehow alone in this regard but it was not necessarily a bad thing because it forced me to find my path and quickly learn things by myself. In a way, it perhaps pushed me early on to be better in what I wanted to do and somehow separating what I wanted from what I was not interested in. On the other hand, perhaps this was also one of the reasons that made me want to be an adult quickly and have my own space, because I wanted to construct things with my own criteria.
I agree that everyone has the potential for being creative at something but that doesn’t necessarily make them relevant or interesting. It’s important to nurture creativity since a young age and create a safe setting for it to flow naturally but it’s also an area where one can’t force things too much. We all know creativity is a shy animal and comes from indirect thinking.
I sometimes give classes and tend to allow plenty of space for students to be free and come up with wild ideas of their own but at the same time it’s obvious that some of them are not triggered to work without a set of boundaries and a clear destination. It’s nonetheless evident that there is, generally speaking, a lack of free time for everyone (kids and adults) to just play and do nothing. I see this now very clearly with my young son, there is a big demand from society to keep kids constantly entertained and on the loop of learning something new or engaging in some sort of activity, and sometimes just playing and discovering things at your own pace is good enough and stimulating. We shouldn’t feel guilty of doing nothing. Free time has become the holy grail of modern society and perhaps it should be the base for the whole thing.
I read you studied cinema, was it your intention to get into film?
No, it was never my intention to be a filmmaker or work in the industry. I started to work at a really young age because my main concern was to have my own life and be independent so I never went through the luxury of daydreaming about being this or that. When I made the decision of taking a degree on Cinema it was out of sheer love for the art form and wanting to learn more about it, I knew from the start I would never work in the area, in fact, I was already working as a graphic designer at that time. Having said this, Cinema is still a big fascination for me and of course I learned a lot from it that can be applied directly in what I do with photography and design.
As an artist – where do your ideas come from?
These days, ideas mostly come from looking at my own books and pieces. Artworks that I feel are aesthetically pleasing and captured the right degree of atmosphere and tension. These are mostly works that still puzzle me and leave questions unanswered. I look back at these pieces and question why do they work, what makes them open to dialogue, intriguing or engaging. It’s a somewhat autistic thing to do but it helps me solidify a style of my own and understand better what my work is all about.
In my understanding, art originates from art and without genuine thoughts and emotions, without real solid ideas, it simply does not exist and find the strength to keep going. Hence, I’m only interested in creating images that are prone to thought and reflection so I look for these aspects in my work and in other artists I admire. Fundamentally, what matters is how we perceive the world, images and people and what vibration these create within us. The effect of an image should resemble a tremor; it should shake one’s ground and leave lasting impressions.
As someone who is self-taught, what advice would you give those that want to get into photography/art without formal training or education?
The good aspect of not having a formal education in any area is that it allows you to be more free in your approach to that practice. Perhaps you will not be so concerned with failing or trying new methods, because indeed everything is new. The bottom line is we all should be engaged in doing something relevant and that we enjoy with our given time. If it’s arts or any other cultural or intellectual activity just engage with it, in any way, shape or form. As the saying goes, practice leads to perfection and one only knows their qualities by trying, playing, failing and trying again afresh.
Who would you say are your main influences that have inspired you over the years?
My influences come from a heavy diet of literature, performance, music and cinema. These are the things that have always interested me and I keep returning to. To name-drop a few: Artaud, Bataille, Bergman, Camus, Tarkovsky, Scott Walker, Borges, Murnau, Lispector, Calvino, Nico, Pessoa, Bellmer, Burroughs, Kazuo Ohno, Cesariny, etc. to these I come back regularly and they never disappoint me.
Then there’s the incredible impact of dreams and the immense world inside everyone’s head, the private spheres we all inhabit but never share. This is a huge area of interest and study for me. The language, vibrancy and philosophy of dreams. Dreams are the perfect construct of an illusory sphere. An allegorical stage with many reflecting mirrors. One has to keep the door open at all times to see what comes in.
Are there any new projects you have coming up that you wish to share?
Just a few months ago I published a small artist book entitled “ERRATA” that fortunately sold out very quickly, it was a very special project. Now I’ve been slowly writing and gathering ideas for a forthcoming artist book and there’s a few photo series on the making which eventually form another book in the future. I encourage your readers to check my website for more news and take a closer look at my books and artworks. If something sparks interest, feel free to reach me. Thank you for the interview and for allowing me to ramble on.