Graphic designers, if you ask us, don’t get half as much of love as they deserve. Part of that can be down to the fact that they operate on the fringes, preferring the familiarity of the backstage to the shine of the spotlight. Part of that is also down to the fact that they’re the last great technicians of the creative communities, geeks with one foot firmly in a bucket of cool. They take inspiration from their everyday, sucking up their surroundings whilst delving deep into their subconscious to shape a visual narrative imbued with a steadfast vision and a very personal aesthetic. Most often than not, the designer’s personality seeps through his work. And so it is for Danish designer Emil Kozak, one of the chosen endorsers for Braun’s new CruZer, whose early days as a skater ended-up shaping the rest of his career.
“I guess what really hooked me on skateboarding was the creativity,” he says from Barcelona, where he moved to from his native Denmark for, as he puts it, his ‘love of skateboard (and his girlfriend).” After an initial phase of lots of “staring at the ceiling because of the language barrier”, Emil managed to set up a design practice in the city that focuses on art direction, graphic design, illustration and communication for well-known, influential culture and fashion imprints such as Eastpak, Burton or Nike. ‘Danish design made in Barcelona’ became his tag line. Think Northern pragmatism with Southern warmth.
Today, Emil’s inspiration net is cast slightly wider, with everything from mother nature and photography to surfing and pop culture giving him enough material for reflection and creation. And, with a visual style that tilts towards the playful and good-humoured, it is no wonder he has taken his art to, well, the canvas.
Read our Q&A with the man-of-the-moment below.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
Graphic designer by day, artist at night.
How did you get into art?
It has been a slow process of realizing that my main voice is visual in some sense.
How would you describe your art to someone who hadn’t seen it before?
Naive, bold, positive and simple. I love simplicity. I like to speak as clear and precise about a certain theme… I feel simplicity does that.
What was the reason for your breakthrough? Luck? Talent? Stamina?
I mix of the above. I also think I have been fortunate to have long periods of uninterrupted reflection, which might get some balls rolling. Especially when I moved to Spain from my native Denmark. I often found myself in situations of staring at the ceiling because of the language barrier. Now I speak Spanish fluently, though.
Why did you start working with skateboards instead of canvases?
I started when I began skateboarding, itʼs quite common that skateboarders customize the board and griptape etc. I think skateboarding is a very creative game. Itʼs about making something out of nothing. A skateboarder sees a playground when other people see an empty parking lot. It is like this imaginary world that you can go to when the other one sucks.
How long have you been skateboarding?
I got a skateboard when I was around seven years old (a little orange plastic board) that I used to play with in my grandparentsʼ living room. Throughout my early teenage years I got obsessed with skateboarding and I spent a lot of years studying magazines, movies and skating the streets of my city. But what really hooked me on skateboarding was the creativity: ripping with style, the colors, the music and the visual marks blew my mind. From there on it kinda influenced every part of my life and way of thinking.
Why do you live in Barcelona? Tell us about your studio and the art and board scene there.
I am from a small island in the south of Denmark. From a city called Maribo. I moved to Spain a bit more than five years ago. My girlfriend is from Valencia and we wanted to live together in a place that was kind of “in between” our two backgrounds. We also decided on Barcelona for practical reasons… The airport, its central location and the fact that we had a lot of friends already living in Barcelona. On top of that, the art scene etc. is pretty exciting here… lots of stuff going on! Good graffiti and great places to hang out with a skateboard. With my studio I focus on art direction, brand/identity development, graphic design, illustration and communication for a wide range of clients. The studio was established in 2003 and has been working with the most well-known and influential brands in arts and culture, fashion and entertainment. Usually clients contact me because they are looking for something visually strong, with a contemporary twist – Danish design made in Barcelona!
Perfect start to your day? Perfect end to your day?
Surfing at sunrise, and having a beer at sunset…
How long does it usually take you to work on a piece of art?
A lifetime plus one to 30 hours…approximately.
Whatʼs your favorite subject to paint?
Anything that somehow relates to western culture and the human condition.
What do you think makes a painting an artwork?
It all comes down to context. In this day and age anything can be considered art….it just depends on the context.
Whatʼs your favorite piece of work so far?
The Kindergarten Legends. They are ideas from when I was in kindergarten myself. I remember that we used to tell stories about other kids who had apple trees growing in their tummies, because they had swallowed the seeds from an apple. We actually believed it – I love the surreal imagination that kids have!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Skateboards, Alicia, the city, the nature, sentences out of context, logos, typography, my brother, ping pong, surfing, guitars, handwriting, photography, books, paint, doodles, animals, children, pop culture and pretty much everything in between!
What people and artists do you admire?
Iʼm fascinated by creative people who have had a life-long creative career. People like Milton Glaser, Man Ray, David Lynch, Herb Lubalin and many many more…
Name the last three things you bought?
The book ‘Niagara’ by Alec Soth, an Olympus point-and-shoot camera from the 80s for only three Euros and a flashlight.
What do you do in your free time?
I spend time with friends and family. I also enjoy surfing, books and lazy days at the beach.
What are you most proud of?
Working on my own, and being in control of my own path.
What projects do you have coming up?
Iʼm in the midst of creating a surf brand. It explores the phenomenon of localism, but from a different angle. Instead of the surfers being the ‘locals’, the point is Mother Nature being the rightful owner of a given area. Sharks, water, whales etc. Humans are NOT the center of the universe. It is called ‘Locals Only’. I recently also did a collaboration with Braun cruZer for one of their product lines. At first it might seem an unusual thing for me to team up with the guys from Braun but actually it was a cool combo. After all, just like my work theirs also revolves around style. And besides Iʼm into beards myself and like to express my personality with the way I look.