Costa Rican illustrator Adrian Mangel draws the modern American landscape

28 March 2017
Reading Time
3 minute read

24-year-old illustrator Adrian Mangel lives in New York — where he studied at Parsons — but he grew up in Costa Rica. “Being born and raised in Costa Rica definitely influenced the way I consume images,” Adrian tells us. “For a country that doesn’t have a very solid pre-Columbian culture, the influence of American culture is very strong. In a way this gave me a free pass to appropriate images that aren’t necessarily from here, but are relevant (or present) across cultural borders. Experiences of daily life, popular culture, sports, politics, are all things that are present in the lives of people around the globe and this makes them worth exploring. This is mostly how I chose my subject matter. Also, football is religion in Costa Rica, so that always manages to creep back into my work somehow.”

We featured Adrian’s hand-drawn playing cards football’s most famous stars in the summer of 2015 back when the phrase Top Trumps was altogether less confusing. These days, Adrian is keeping himself busy drawing the inside of petrol stations. “I started on this series on gas station interiors after driving around the US with a friend,” he explains. “In a period of political unrest in the country, with two very distinct points of view, the trip was extremely timely in trying to understand the break between the two sides. The gas stations took the form of a base, where we would interact with other humans in the middle of our long hours on the road. Funnily, the seemingly bland interiors were what I recall the most of the trip, becoming my idea of the modern American landscape.”
“My practice has always revolved around my experimentation in materiality,” Adrian tells us of the thought process behind his drawings. “I choose something from my daily routine, whether it is sports from the television screen or food in the supermarket, and I create an image using the materials I think are most fun. My work is very process-oriented, the final product is unpredictable and many times I have created several versions of the same subject. Subject matter is secondary, I’m not trying to revolutionise a viewer’s mindset, I’m more interested in portraying emotions; the emotions I think subjects feel, the emotion I have when I encounter a subject, and the emotion I experience when creating my work.”

Adrian tells us that he is increasingly influenced by painters (“Martin Kippenberger, Neo Rauch, Polke, Baselitz, all those Germans really know how to paint. Raymond Pettibon is another big influence, David Humphrey, Rose Wylie… there’s so many”) but his approach remains refreshingly intuitive. “I start with an image I want to represent and just go along from there. My choices in the making process are not too self-aware; I don’t analyse while I’m creating and I think this spontaneity is what defines my aesthetic. My works reflect my quickness of hand, my preferences in colour, and the lack of analysis in my process; this is what binds my practice together aesthetically. Although I don’t strive for aesthetic cohesiveness in my work, it is a result of my creative habits rather than an end in itself.

Despite the political undercurrents currently swirling beneath his flamboyant renderings of the banal, Adrian remains determined not to take his craft too seriously. “The most important part of my working process is that it is enjoyable, so the subjects have another meaning for me,” he says. “I have to make it fun, through a humorous approach or through material experimentation. I reference things I actually like. If it’s not fun to make, it’s not going to be fun to see, so why even make it? Recreation is the reason for being for my work.”

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About the Author

Bryony Stone

Bryony joined It's Nice That as Deputy Editor in August 2016, following roles at Mother, Secret Cinema, LAW, Rollacoaster and Wonderland. She later became Acting Editor at It's Nice That, before leaving in late 2018.

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