Guido Scarabottolo, designer and graphic artist, has worked with Italy’s top publishers, biggest advertising agencies and RAI. Since 1991 he has been collaborating with galleries and museums in Italy and abroad, while pursuing his own artistic quest and using scrap material like metal plate, aluminium smelting, rock, and wood, which he often incorporates into installations, sometimes in large spaces.
His kit starts inside a cardboard suitcase, a tribute to his parents who came from Veneto and Tuscany and met in Sesto San Giovanni.
The aeroplane, context
It’s roughly the same age as me. It’s made of painted wood and was made by my uncle who was a carpenter in an aeroplane factory and went on to set up his own business after the war. It was through him that I learnt about wood. I was his apprentice when I was young, and it was my job to straighten out used nails.
Ever since those summer holidays in the carpenter’s shop I’ve made an art out of reusing materials.
The blowpipe, DIY
As kids we were used to making the most of playing with what we found in the street. This was one of our weapons, handily loaded with pegs we’d stolen from people’s yards, corrugated card, rubber bands made with the punctured inner tubes of bikes, and paper from exercise books to make the can. A homely, apparently anonymous design, ready to be transformed with imaginative grips.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my education was based on making do and wasting nothing. Having to make the most of things plays a role in my aesthetic choices: my design style came out of economy. Sometimes you don’t need to buy things, you can get going with whatever you have available.
The skull, mystery
My dad gave me this, he had no idea where it came from. One element that fed into my education was not knowing what things were and being unable to piece together their story. Mystery became a goal of mine, a component of my poetry as an illustrator: being able to construct images that can’t be fully explained and leaving space for doubt and different possible readings.
I could have brought a postcard of Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. It’s a piece full of mystery: I couldn’t figure out if it was a man or a woman, and then there’s the lute and its keys which almost look like a constellation; behind that there’s a lion against the backdrop of the sea. I couldn’t understand anything in that picture. I’ve always hoped that at some point in my life I’d manage to create such a fascinating, unfathomable image.
A piece of driftwood, reticence
I spent whole summers forced to stay at the seaside with ladies who spent 8 hours a day tanning.
So I would walk along the beach looking for these things. I would make up crazy stories and carve sperm whales in honour of Moby Dick. All it took was a line and a few sweeps of the hand to reveal the whale. Lately I’ve been bringing them home like this, unfinished, embryonic. This is another poetic element that I try to pursue: leaving paths open.
Uncertainty isn’t a negative thing for me. It’s important for a drawing to be open to everyone’s gaze, for everyone to be able to find something in it, even if they haven’t read Proust or Kafka – in any case, Kafka’s better. You have to learn to work with the commonplace because it’s a way in. Basically, to me, drawings are like crime novels. I drop clues, but don’t give away the ending.
And finally, a hot water bottle.
Reticence, mystery, uncertainty. Not finishing things, not saying everything but letting your listener discover them: Theophrastus – whose name means divine expression – said it first. It has taken me ages to get where I am today, and in the end I discovered that my discoveries are all like that of hot water.
I discovered hot water in oceanic form. This is the deal: we have to learn how to move in a sea of hot water. The key is to warm it ourselves – learning bit by bit – rather than going to buy it ready-heated.
And a little bit of self-deprecation never did anyone any harm either.
Do you have a ritual for exorcising a blank page?
Something that really helps is to never finish a design in the evening so that you don’t have to start in the morning with a blank page. Also, having an archive of discarded experiments you can go back to helps; you never know if a shape or design will be perfect for the next job.
Otherwise, reading the brief that you have to design to before you go to bed. Ideas tend to show up in the drowsy haze of the next morning.
I would make two suggestions to young designers: don’t neglect your own work, and, in every job that you do, add a little something on top of what they asked for. Have fun and learn to outdo yourself.