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.
Georgia O’Keefe’s work has captivated many for years and for new artists it will inspire them to be bold and to experiment – to find their own way. In a time where men dominated the art scene, she pushed the boundaries and created her very own unique style. For decades she denied that the bold and beautiful depictions of flowers were erotic art, that her depictions of flowers weren’t vaginas yet even to this day feminists are hailing her as a hero of female sexuality in the art world. Yet according to The Guardian in reference to the Tate Modern undertaking an exhibition of her work back in 2016:
The Freudian theory that her flower paintings were actually close studies of the female vulva were first put forward in 1919 by Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer who first promoted O’Keeffe’s work and later became her husband.(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/mar/01/georgia-okeeffe-show-at-tate-modern-to-challenge-outdated-views-of-artist)
…the Tate retrospective would illustrate how this “cliched interpretation”, written almost 100 years ago and perpetuated by male art critics at the time, was “gendered and outdated”.
Do you view them as a reflection of female sexuality or a study in botany?
Header Image: (Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images)
Alexa Jade Frankelis is a researcher and visual artist based in New York City. Before attending Stony Brook University where she received her BA in Art History and Criticism (Hons.), she had also attended the BFA Photography and Video program at the School of Visual Arts. There she learned the same techniques and processes that spirit photographers and other artists from the nineteenth-century had used to create their images.
She has shown her work in both institutions and galleries like Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, the School of Visual Arts, and Stephen Romano Gallery. As a researcher, Alexa has had her writings about witchcraft, spirit photography, and other occult subjects featured in Blurred Zine, Crisis and Catharsis, the University of Edinburgh. Most recently she has collaborated with Stephen Romano Gallery to create a virtual project titled, Apparitions, with some of the works featured here You can find more of her explorations into these eras on her Instagram, @TheMourningMoon.
The above images are currently featured in a collaborative project with Stephen Romano Gallery titled, Apparitions. I like to think of the camera as another form of communication. The first spiritualists were heavily influenced by telecommunication technologies of the mid-nineteenth century like the telegraph. The Fox Sisters first interactions with the ghost of the peddler were labeled as the “Rochester Rappings”. Adapting with technology, the camera could be viewed as a planchette, but at the same time it isn’t such a different concept from the spirit photographers of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Green-Wood, acting as a
refuge for those in the Victorian era and for me presently, evokes this connection to the past and enables the use of a camera as a tool of dialogue to convey messages from those who are departed.
Dora Maar has always felt like a woman in the shadows. She was known to many as a muse and a partner of one of the most famous artists of our time – Pablo Picasso. Famous for being his “weeping woman”, she has been lost in time and it isn’t until now with thanks to the Tate Gallery in London and now this book – I can start to put the meat on the bones of Maar.
This book was written after the author Brigitte Benkemoun uncovered a rare piece of art history. Her husband had lost his Hermes diary and had found a replacement online. The diary had been replenished with blank paper but what was hidden was what excited her the most – it was an address book with some rather familiar names. After further investigation the author discovered that this had belonged to the artist Dora Maar and so her journey began.
This book is a little insight into the life of Dora Maar and those that surrounded her. The names in this book are noteworthy – everyone from Breton to Brassaï, Braqu to Cocteau…the list goes on. What I truly get out of this book is discovering Maar as a person and as someone living with turbulent interiors – her mental welfare is something that comes up again and again this book.
The elephant in the room throughout this is Maar’s copy of Mein Kampf that looks like it is proudly placed in her apartment in her later years. The author decides to try and unpick this and to understand why she would own such a thing, was it a keepsake from someone dear or was she antisemitic? We never do get to the truth, but the author admits she doesn’t want to know why Maar thought the way she did.
What I would say is that Maar does still seem a bit of an enigma, this book isn’t is a tell all show all autobiography – it is a snippet, a fragment that was born from this discovery of the address book.. My only real criticism of this would be its lack of photographs with the premise of the book being on a found object – we never get to see it intimately unless we turn to Google.
If you are a Dora Maar fan then this book is definitely worth reading for the investigative twists and turns that almost feel like you are reading a piece of fiction.
Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and better known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter.
She led a wild and exciting life among the bohemians in Paris becoming the Queen of Bohemia herself. She would pose for artists and become a muse for the brilliant Man Ray. Her image still stands out today with its almost Gothic mystique that draw people in, she will always live on in the hearts of artists – becoming a muse for future generations to come.
There are days where I find art that takes my breath away. There are days when I delve into the works of artists where I am transported, intrigued and disturbed. Agostino Arrivabene is one of those artists. Each piece he creates – I pore over, I analyse and I dream about. I absorb and I am inspired.
There is so much beauty in his darkness…
William Mortensen was a master of the macabre. His work was intense, disturbing and thought provoking. Before photoshop there was Mortensen.
Known to photograph Hollywood stars and write books on the craft, Mortensen set out to create a new type of image; one that would invoke a lasting impression on all that cast their eye over it. His use of photography, montage and illustration puzzled the purists and intrigued its onlookers. He had a unique style that touched on themes of horror, death and the occult. In a pre-internet world that fed off the sounds of radio broadcasts and glamourized worlds in the Golden Age of Hollywood, it disturbed many. His work has had a lasting influence on the world of photography and Mortensen continues to be the master of the gothic and the grotesque.
Down Below is a re-telling of a descent into madness from one of Surrealist’s most brilliant women artists.
In 1937 Leonora Carrington was an art student in London, she then met the artist Max Ernst and they soon formed a relationship, they cemented this by moving away together to a house in Provence.
In 1940, she was to suffer an enormous blow, Max was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, this was just the beginning as Leonora would suffer a psychotic breakdown. Confined to a mental institution she would undergo some of the cruelest and most sadistic treatments administered by her Doctor.
This book retraces her days as a form of therapy through the medium of writing. She shares her thoughts, feelings, dreams and nightmares. It is told through her own memory and is written in a diary format to give the reader an idea of timeline. As “normal” as this may seem, the entries read almost like a shamanic journey, an out of body experience where Leonora’s visions take her to other places, in particular the Down Below. The book is in some ways rather difficult to read, it tells us of a time in her life that is quite frankly an unbearable and brutal way to cure someone of their madness. A time where brutality reigned, and these monstrous treatments were thought as cures.
This book is a real gem and certainly earns a place in the history of surrealist literature.
As an extremely well-established Surrealist painter, it was a little obvious that there was a gap in the biographical department when it came to Remedios Varo. It was also a most brilliant moment when this collection was published by Wakefield Press – so much more than a biography but an insight into one of the greatest female artists of our time.
This glorious little volume of work is a gorgeous pot of collected writings that include such gems as an unpublished interview, letters to friends, a dream diary, ideas for projects, prose poetry and everything else in-between. It is truly like cracking open the nut that was the wonderful Remedios Varo and having a sneaky peek into the workings of her brilliant mind. Sometimes funny, sometimes odd but most of the time, extremely inspirational – who doesn’t want a recipe to induce erotic dreams?
These pieces were never published whilst she was alive and have now been translated into English by Margaret Carson – it brings together a fascinating insight into the world of Varo, a world full of escapism, wonder and mysticism. She has created a world where she wishes to dream and play, an eccentric and talented artist has been brought to the forefront and is set to inspire writers, artists and dreamers alike.
Remedios Varo (1908–1963) was a Spanish-born painter who entered the Surrealist circle in Paris before the German occupation forced her into exile to Mexico at the end of 1941, where she would stay until the end of her life. Her dream-infused, allegorical work combines the elements of classical training, alchemical mysticism, and fairy-tale science. (Bio from Wakefield Press)