You might not believe it at first glance, but Portugal-based illustrator Mariana Malhão’s bold and joyful illustrations are inspired by bacteria. Her series, “Microbios,” is full of lively bodies and colourful shapes that place you in the centre of a surreal fairytale. Her illustrations are about perspective: “We cannot see microbes, there are so many of them and they are everywhere. My illustrations relate to the idea of a world inside a world,” Mariana tells It’s Nice That. The characters that inhabit her universe invite us to change our outlook and re-imagine what might be around us that we cannot see. Perhaps we are surrounded by four-legged alligators with purple hands, four-armed boys with heads between their legs and fox-like creatures wearing rainbow suits.
“I like the challenge of having a limited palette because it prompts me to invent new shapes and try different possibilities to escape these same conditions,” the artist explains. The outcome is vibrant and intense watercolour compositions with child-like figures and dreamy landscapes. Mogu Takahashi and Alexander Girard are key influences on Mariana’s playful work. “When I’m painting, I never really know what I’m doing. It’s an abstract process that leads to something figurative.” It is this spontaneity that lets Mariana’s characters spread themselves across the page, bending with astonishing plasticity, restricted only by the edges of the page.
Her illustrations are the product of fantasy and instinct. When confronted with her own images, Mariana has to “interpret them as other people who see them.” Her next project will be to turn these pictures into a storybook; Perhaps the smiling blond-haired sun will find a friend in the flamboyant gymnast doing the splits. They could even materialise into a new form: “I also want to make 3D characters in ceramics so I have to stop finding excuses not to do it.” Either way, Mariana will continue her creative ventures by transforming her microscopic worlds into art.