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5 Minutes with… Mario Eskenazi, AGI

Founder / Designer / Architect


5 Minutes with… Mario Eskenazi, AGI 
Founder / Designer / Architect
Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott 
LBB > I gather that there is a joke amongst designers when they are in Barcelona that everything is designed by Mario Eskenazi… (Laughter)…  I’d like to talk to you about your studio and the work that you create. You established the studio in 1979, is that right? 
ME > Yes, more or less.
LBB > What is it about your offering that makes you so unique? 
ME > What makes my studio unique (but maybe not that unique) is the way that I solve clients’ problems. This I do through ideas and, through these ideas, I find unique solutions.  That means unique solutions to each clients’ character and personality. It’s a very rational approach.
LBB > When a client comes to the studio with their brief and you hear what they need… what is your approach? Is it to give them what they ask for or to advise and direct them?
ME > It is true that my way of working is very particular and if there is not a very good relationship with the client to begin with, I can’t do the work. I can only work with people that I can be friends with. This means that I believe in the product and their business and, as such, I believe in them. And so, I like to establish very long-lasting relationships. I have worked with P&G since 1980, with Banco de Sabadell for almost 20 years now and with the city council of Barcelona for over 15 years.
LBB > During the span of those lengthy relationships, new forms and mediums have come into play. How have you and the work developed during that time? 
ME > That is part of the mechanics of it all and that it is natural. It is part of my work. New things are introduced and I have to find out about them. I have to work with them – it is something very organic and natural. 
LBB > You’re originally from Argentina and you were at Canal + in Argentina? 
ME > No, I was at channel 10. It was a channel that belonged to the state university and it was the only one in Argentina that had its own TV channel.
I moved in 1971.  At the time, the economic situation in Argentina was very bad and the TV channel where I worked was privatised. The nature of the work changed and I didn’t enjoy working with a private TV channel, so I moved to Buenos Aires - I am not from there originally. I had to choose between starting over in Buenos Aires or starting over in Europe and, at the time, design in Europe was more productive, more things were happening.
LBB > Especially here in Barcelona? 
ME > No, I started in Barcelona because I needed the money; it was a stepping stone. My objective was to go to London. 
LBB > Why did you stay and not come to the UK? 
ME > (Laughter)… 
LBB >  Ha ha… a girl!
ME > Yes… because I fell in love. 
LBB > Brilliant, I love it … How did you become a designer? 
ME > My father was an architect and we lived in a very small city. I never, at that time, heard the word ‘design’. I didn’t know what design was, but I grew up in the studio of my Father and I loved comics. I wanted to be an illustrator. When I was 16 I had to go to University and my Father said to me “to do comics, it’s OK, but you have to study something”. Then I started studying architecture and during that time, in the library of the university I found graphic magazines, magazines about design. ‘Wow’, I think to myself, ‘this is what I want to do’. But, at that time in Argentina it was only in Buenos Aires and we didn’t know where we could do this. 
When I was 20 years, I had a very good friend who was a graphic designer that worked at a TV channel. Well, for me, this guy was God. I wanted to do what he was doing. I started to do work with him, to learn.  I worked there for three years. I loved it and I said “I’ll leave university” and my boss said “don’t be stupid, finish the university… it’s only three years, you can do it while working”. 
That is why I am an architect. I should be only a graphics designer.
LBB > Did you ever practice architecture? 
ME > I did. When I arrived here, the first place I went was Madrid and then I moved to Canary Islands because an architect in the Canary Islands needed an architect within his studio.  I went there to work. I was there for one year and no more. 
LBB > What is it about graphics design that you love?
ME > Wow! (laughter). I like to solve problems, graphic problems. I like the speed, it is so fast; you design something and you see it in what, 15 days and you can do things that everybody looks at. 
LBB > You taught for a while… Do you still teach?
ME > No, I do not have the time. I taught in my first years here, in Barcelona and I think, at that time, we needed more graphic designers here in Spain. This was 1974. After fifteen years of teaching I started to have a lot of work and I couldn’t give the time any longer. 
LBB > Do you ever go in and meet / lecture students any more?
ME > Yes, I run workshops, I give talks at schools and I have people that used to be my students that are now good friends. 
LBB > Do you get any personal reward from teaching? Does it inspire you? 
ME > Yes, it is especially rewarding when you see people that you have taught and who were brilliant students at the time, are now very celebrated professionals. 
LBB > You’ve won a lot of awards. Are they important to you? 
ME > No. It used to be with the awards that were given, that an exhibition accompanied them. So there was an exhibition of the work and that was what I enjoyed, the fact that there was an opportunity to show and share. In 2000, I was awarded the National Design Award for Spain and since then I don’t submit work to any awards.
LBB > How did it feel winning the National Award? 
ME > The truth, the real truth? I was happy for the recognition. But two years before that, I was accepted as part of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) and I was much prouder of that achievement because the awarding panel for AGI are people that I really admire, whereas with the National Design award you always know that there is a certain component of friendship, look of prestige. AGI is total recognition. 
I enjoy being part of the AGI board because once a year I spend time with people that I admire. We have forged wonderful friendships and each year we meet, we talk about what we do, it is very inspiring.
LBB > What have you made in the last 12 months that has truly resonated with you? 
ME > The exhibition of the famous chef, Ferran Adrià. They did an exhibition of his history and I did the graphics for that. We worked on this for one year and it was fantastic and I’m so happy with the result. The process was truly inspiring, we had to make it all happen within 15 days and I was nervous about how it would work, but I could see how he applied the same thinking in his cooking and I do within my design and it naturally worked together. 
LBB > A lot of your work is locally based, do you create much international work? 
ME > Unfortunately not. That is something that I’d like to have happen. 
LBB > What is it about Barcelona that you love and that keeps you here? 
ME > Other than my girlfriend (laughter)? Compared to the rest of Spain and what I was used to in Argentina, in a work context, people are very reliable and serious about what they do here. And the location - I am in Europe, so I can travel around very easily. I love the weather, the food, the lifestyle, the culture. 
LBB > Do you still love what you do? 
ME > Yes. Yes, yes, yes… More and more. The more I know, the more I want to do. 
LBB > What does 2012 hold? 
ME > A new structure within the studio because of the economic situation in Spain. It is something that makes me, actually, feel more comfortable. At present there are three people in the studio with me. I use freelancers – programmers, photographers, illustrators…
LBB > How do you find these people, the creative talent? 
ME > Because I am very fanatical about my work, most of my friends are designers as well. or are involved in this kind of work. The people that work with me at the studio are very young and sometimes they have been students, but it’s personal networks that overlap and people suggest friends and acquaintances. That is how it works. 
LBB > What is it like to walk through the streets of Barcelona and see your work? The banks, the police cars… your work is everywhere.
ME > I feel like I am part of Barcelona. 
Work from
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