Editor’s Note: This guest entry comes from Illustration Senior Roxie Vizcarra, who participated in the Pictopia/Pictoplasma Festival in Berlin, Germany this past March.
When the Illustration Department invited me to help represent them at this year’s Pictopia Festival (part of the acclaimed character design organization Pictoplasma), I was excited to be able to visit a city I’ve never been to, especially one with some much history as Berlin. What I didn’t know at the time was that there couldn’t have been a more perfect location for Pictopia to take place. It’s impossible to go very far without encountering some form of art that incorporates strong character design.
I spent a couple of days watching over Parsons’ exhibition, Ugly is Beautiful, at the Collegium Hungaricum, which also featured work by other Pictopia Character Walk artists. The set-up for the show was long and tedious, but in the end it was worth the effort as everything looked fantastic, and I can attest to the fact that most people who came by to have a look were rather impressed by the variety of unique characters Parsons students have to offer.
When I wasn’t at the gallery, I took the opportunity to travel around Berlin by means of the city’s extraordinarily efficient U-Bahn, and visit several exhibitions in the Character Walk. I have to say that my absolute favorite show was Ich Bin 8-Bit, by Jude Buffum. Hosted next door to the incredible comics and prints shop Neurotitan, the show featured large installations on the walls comprised entirely of Post-It notes of various colors that functioned as the pixels in characters reminiscent of 8-bit video graphics. Artits (and guests!) were invited to draw on the pink Post-Its, which gave the installation so much detail to explore.
Other notable artwork in the Character Walk included Juan Pablo Cambariere’s awesome array of functioning wooden robot-marionettes, Christian Montenegro’s richly textured digital prints, and all the little friends and environments Nina Braun sewed for herself.
To all those who ever wondered what it’s like to live in a post-Communist city with a history tarnished by political turmoil, the short answer is that it involves graffiti, and a lot of it. I ended up spending as much time experiencing the graffiti Berlin lovingly neglected to clean up as I did going to Pictopia events. The graffiti in Berlin is far more character-based than examples found in New York, where typography takes precedence. Former East Berlin seemed to have the most heavy concentrations of it–on park walls, residential courtyards, train stations, and one particularly stunning example, the Kunsthaus Tacheles on Oranienburger Straﬂe.
It’s a former department store with a rich history that really shows on its exterior–parts of the building were severely damaged in World War II, and during East Berlin’s Communist regime it functioned as a meeting place for various resistance groups and dissenting artists. Today it’s used as an art center and nightclub, and graffiti covers every single inch of stairwells that I’m sure grew smaller and smaller with each layer of colorful paint and wheatpaste. Welders and sculptors set up tents behind the Kunsthaus; their artwork available for anyone to see.
As much as I love to be introduced to the art scene of an unfamiliar city, I can never really resist exploring military history, especially in Europe. The rest of my time in Berlin I spent at various war museums, which surprisingly enough had their share of stunning artwork to photograph. Propaganda design and illustration is something that I feel greatly influences my work, especially when it involves soldiers.
I think the best thing about this trip was the fact I managed to be inspired by such a variety of art that I wasn’t really expecting to find. I’ve been to several cities in Europe before, but I have to say Berlin is the only city I’d love to return to. In terms of art, it’s an exciting and developing city, which I feel is very appropriate for the character designs Parsons Illustration has been producing. I have to thank Caty Bartholomew for making so much of the exhibition possible, even though she wasn’t around to enjoy it.
Thanks to Roxie for the entry and images–you can see more of her work at her official site and her blog! Thanks to Caty Bartholomew and Nora Krug for their tremenous work organizing the Pictopia Exhibition!