Jose Berrio brings warm tones, nostalgic textures and fun typography to his illustration work
The Bogotá-born, NYC-based illustrator talks us through some of his recent projects, including lots of posters for bands such as Khruangbin and Crumb, plus a standout editorial piece for Bon Appétit.
- Jenny Brewer
- 13 January 2022
When Colombian illustrator Jose Berrio cites his visual influences, you can instantly see how elements of these well-known artists’ works have infiltrated the illustrator’s psyche. The surreal, amorphous shapes of Ken Price, the colours and textures of Georgia O’Keeffe, the brilliant brashness of Bráulio Amado, the experimental typography of Sam Ryser. “Generally speaking I’ve been influenced by artists that challenge conventions,” Jose tells It’s Nice That. “Whenever I see someone doing their thing as if there was no other way for them to express themselves, or live, it makes me want to do the same in my own way.”
The illustrator comes into his own when his illustrations and type design interweave, largely in work for the music industry. Last year he began working with the band Khruangbin, after chatting to bassist Laura Lee about the possibility of collaborating. She commissioned Jose to create a poster for the band’s New Year’s Eve show in their hometown of Houston, wherein the three members of the band should be visually represented somehow, as should the concert’s proximity to Nasa’s headquarters. “I did three sketches, all of them featuring a disco ball and Nasa elements, and to my surprise they loved all three and asked me to make all of them.” As such the trio of posters ended up creating a visual story, the band shown close up in disco ball astronaut helmets, then inside a rocket next to a disco ball moon, and then on a disco ball satellite, all with a coherent colour palette of monochromatic, metallic objects against a fiery sunset gradient background.
Jose's creative path started after high school, when, at a loss as to what to do next, his mum and aunt suggested taking design software classes in Photoshop, Illustrator, Freehand and Flash. Feeling a lack of faith in his drawing skills and “doing manual stuff in general,” digital tools allowed him to build confidence in illustration. “This also helped me develop a style, because I was always trying to emulate analogue finishings, using a bunch of textures and brushes,” he explains. In an ironic turn of events, in recent years Jose has begun to draw and paint more, “trying to create more organically what I’ve been able to develop digitally”. He now often incorporates his analogue work into the final piece too, whether it’s hand-drawing letters and shapes, or scanning textures and collage, driven by the realisation that this mixed media approach “adds a lot of character” to his work. Of late, photography has also helped the illustrator and designer to be “more contemplative, and develop a higher fascination for light and colour”.
All the while, music has remained Jose’s main source of inspiration, particularly Alan Vega, Nina Simone and David Byrne. In his portfolio, you’ll spot plenty of work for other bands and music projects, such as Bring Music Home, an initiative to help venues suffering economically during the pandemic. The campaign organisers commissioned Jose as one of many artists to make posters celebrating a city – in Jose’s case, New York and Tulsa – the brief asking him to capture the spirit of the music scene in those places. For New York, he was inspired by the diversity of the city. “I’ve always found fascinating how this city has been the birthplace of such a wide range of music genres and cultural movements,” Jose says. As a drummer himself, he was drawn to depict a drum that’s also a melting pot sitting on a subway vent, taking inspiration from The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album cover.
He notes, on subjects that often make their way into his work, that he is a “very nostalgic person, so I find a lot of inspiration in memories, especially when they are out of context, and artefacts from another time”. This, again, falls into place when you see the nostalgic feel of Jose’s work, and the refreshingly unexpected imagery he brings into play.
Jose Berrio: Prehistoric Future (Copyright © Jose Berrio, 2021)