Manu Pillai has forever “tinkered with art and design.” The London-based art director tells us that his introduction to the creative scene manifested in “making themes for Sony Ericsson phones as a teen,” a curiosity that took him down a route to study architecture at university. Manu’s practice, however, has since diversified. He tells us: “I’ve always had an interest in lots of different disciplines whether that be photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion as well as many more,” finally settling, for the time being, on art direction.
“It’s the myriad possibilities that each project presents that I find most exciting,” the art director explains whilst discussing the discipline. “On some projects, you have no idea what the medium may even be at the beginning,” he tells us, “but through picking it apart you often land somewhere completely unexpected.” What Manu also finds exciting is the challenge of it, adding “as frustrating as the uncertainty may seem at times, it’s the challenge of solving the riddle that brings me great satisfaction.”
Manu’s creative mindset towards his experimental practice is more of a “DIY mentality” explaining that “if you don’t know how to do something; you figure it out. Simple as.” The chance to try something different is a large draw for Manu. “I get immense joy from learning new things,” he adds, “if the opportunity presents itself I tend to gravitate towards it.” This is something the art director believes to be vital to the role – “I find it imperative as an art director, as they often completely shift your thinking on things you had previously considered yourself familiar with.”
This restless attitude to his practice is reflected in the visual style of the work he produces, telling us: “I’ve always loved the idea of curated chaos and it’s a theme I hope communicates through my work,” adding how he also really loves “the idea of taking things that feel very refined and messing them up slightly.”
It is within this embrace of imperfection and tangibility where Manu most likes to set the stories he tells; most recently, a new story for musician Lola.
Entitled Feral Soul, Lola's latest music video was co-directed by Manu alongside Sharkkana. “The song itself is a story of harmony through conflict," the art director describes. “Lola describes it as ‘the acknowledgement of having become a person you never thought you’d be – not recognising even your own thoughts’,” Manu tells us. In order to help translate the detached tone of voice, notions of self-doubt and idea of internal struggles, he chose to replace the real-life Lola with a 3D rendition of herself. “3D design was a medium I was familiar with already due to my time studying as an architect,” Manu explains. The result is certainly surreal; a digital yet organic world, reminiscent of 90s Issey Miyake campaigns, that looks familiar enough and absurd enough to make one feel uneasy – in doing so successfully satisfying the intention Manu had.
As for most, Manu faces uncertainty now. Counteracting the negativity, however, the art director is taking a new perspective on how he approaches his work, saying “I’m trying to re-approach projects in a digital-first way. How can we create lookbooks, editorials, music videos etc in a way that requires minimal physical production.” In doing so, he’s tackling the bigger question of how we can still create inspiring imagery “beyond the fact of it being 3D.”
GalleryManu Pillai: Feral Soul
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.