In Brazil, where Yan Graller de Oliveira grew up, he describes a country where “the status quo is already born with the idea of mixing everything and seeing what comes from it.” As a child, Yan constantly changed schools, observing people and speculating about the life they had and the people they may be. This wondering turned Yan into a child that “was always living in his own stories and imaginary worlds.” He created characters, narratives and soon after, discovered the world of video games, the internet and Fireworks MX.
“I spent hours playing video games,” says Yan, “watching anime, learning new stuff on image editing programs, vectorizing drawings, and being different video game characters to create my own.” Slowly his imaginary worlds were taking shape online, with the scope for him to design as he felt fit. With grandparents that he describes as coming ‘from different parts of the world’, Yan explains the impact his heritage had on him: “I absorbed their culture, combined them all, and created my own stuff. Looking back at it, I can say that I've learned how to see everything as an infinite and constant creative process that mixes all people and their things; because of that, I'm always trying to integrate and test new stuff as well as studying each of its roots and understanding how everything works.”
With all the change during his childhood and his tendency to drift into his very own world of make-believe, it’s no surprise that Yan considers himself an introverted and rather a broody person, who observes things carefully. “Besides that, I'm interested in different perspectives. So with all of that together, I've developed a bit of a habit of channelling that into searching for ways to spit it out back to my world in a Frankenstein form – all made of different parts and discovering how that could work. I love how I can go into even bigger things with that!”
Yan became interested in graphic design when he finished high school, but in Brazil, it was still seen as a profession that wasn’t quite as established or that may have difficulty in sustaining. In a halfway compromise, Yan’s ‘middle’ was advertising, which he ended up studying at university. “Since the advertising market in Brazil (much like the rest of the world) is highly elitist in its structure and I couldn't afford to pay for an expensive university, I tried to sneak into every opportunity to develop my skills by doing workshops and teaching myself.” Yan describes doing various things to supplement his university fees which included making wedding decorations on the weekend as well as the classic jobs that most students take up: “Much like almost every person in my city transitioning from the last few years of teenagehood to adulthood, I worked in telemarketing and shopping mall stores.”
While at university, Yan was also keen to gain as much industry experience as possible. His apprehension about not being able to find his way into the industry was the motivating factor that willed him on in his search. “I searched for every internship possibility I could find and by chance, ended up meeting someone from a recently opened tiny agency in my city.” This was Yan’s opportunity to get a foot in the door and he used it to craft a portfolio and hone as many skills as possible, to give him a leg up when it came to applying for full time roles within the industry.
As a young adult, living in his father’s house and aspiring towards becoming something within the advertising industry, Yan brought a cheap second-hand computer to build a portfolio and imagine every possible way he could develop both his skill and visual language. “I believe that in advertising and graphic design it is very easy to fall into the temptation of sitting back in your chair and developing a generic receipt for cracking every briefing. That's why I always try to keep the feeling that I had back then.” He aims to bring something different, create movements and find people's motivation, so that he can incorporate this into his work.
Part of Yan’s inspiration comes from his internship at São Bernardo do Campo, where he met an art director who was into design, typography, painting and a whole host of other skills. “I wasn't exactly close to him, but the idea that I could develop myself in different areas and use every one of these tools into my work (again, always mixing stuff) gave me an immense hunger to go to the world and extend myself the best I could.” He credits this experience as a motivating factor of aiming to continually learn, pushing himself to delve deeper into Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and semiotics as a result.
Though he grew up and was based in Brazil’s São Paulo, Yan arrived in Madrid three days before the pandemic forced Spain into a lockdown. “Working from home gave me new tools to concentrate on even more of the stuff I'm doing to reach better results,” he says. “Still, after this long, I've started to miss having lunch with friends, going to the cinema and walking next to a crowd without fearing everything. I have always dreamed about working from home, but in the end, I think everyone learned that it needs a balance.” He plays on balance as he asks himself, “How can I bring personality to what I am doing and draw people's attention to the smallest, weird details I put into my stuff?”
While most creatives tend to have a turning point, where they believe a piece of work or project that changed their career, this is less so the case for Yan. “I feel as if I could list all kinds of different parts from different projects that I think changed my career, which has been a constant process for my whole life.” His continual learning process is what he believes has made the difference, “But, I am thrilled and proud about the moment I’m right now working on projects like The Kiss of Dante, where we helped Dante Alighieri to reach Beatrice Portinari one last time (and we also made some cool posters), among many others that I can't say anything about right now.”
As a creative who has a passion for blending and mixing things that usually don’t go together, Yan cites this as the favourite aspect of the job. On the flip side, the challenging aspect of this unique combination is how to convey this in the best possible way. “As an introverted person, I'm always searching for how better I can externalise what I want into my daily routine.” Part of Yan’s journey to achieving his goals is supported by his tendency to push his work, never settling when it comes to developing himself and chasing the next new thing. “I'm always trying to pay attention to what people achieved in other fields of art and creativity, and then I try to implement those things into my mindset as an art director.” He continues, “It can be music, books covers, architecture, art installations, video games, as well as paying attention to cultures from all the countries I could learn from.”
Yan is also vocal about the industry’s disparity, which he experienced during his time at university and the motivation he had to have to ensure he landed where he wanted. “I believe that the creative market is all structured into unbalanced and elitist preferences right from the start.” He explains that this privilege plays a massive role in individuals being both seen and heard within the industry, especially when it comes to the coveted roles that many aspire to. Yan believes “the industry is made from and for the same small amount of people” who already have ties within it. “Creativity mustn't be used; it is a tool that we are all born with and shouldn't need to climb a social ladder to put this into action at the hottest part of the industry.”
Coming back to Yan’s excitement for what he does, he explains what he’s keen to see more of, “I'm very excited about how experimental you can be nowadays and still reach almost the same kind of craft result using way more accessible tools than it used to be, even looking back to as recently as eight years ago.” Having met many inspirational people during his career, he particularly cites Lance Wyman, Yusaku Kamekura, Paul Rand, Wolfgang Weingart and Tadanori Yokoo as people who always impress him with their respective work.
Though he remains immersed within the industry, Yan also makes a point of having hobbies outside of this, such as video games, playing the guitar and exercising. He also enjoys looking into the craft of gaming, especially the games of “Hideo Kojima, Fumito Ueda and everything that Nintendo does. The soundtracks of Koji Kondo –the way Jimmy Page and Jack White messed with their equipment and tracks – the last Samm Henshaw's songs. The artistic language of the 80's Funk music, the mashups from Pomplamoose and Scary Pockets, the art direction from Hirohiko Araki's Jojo's mangas and Christopher Nolan and Jordan Peele's movies, etc.”
“I'm always chasing reaching the most exciting result I can with my time at work. In life, I do my job the best I can to make it efficiently that I can still have time to learn new passions and have spare time for myself, making both things work together.”