Mateus Manhanini is an Architecture and Urbanism student at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, as well as freelance illustrator and character designer. He imagines life as a game of colors and the art of playing with its pieces, testing fittings and new solutions. You can find more of his work on Instagram and Twitter.
You are currently studying Architecture and Urbanism. What led you to choose this career?
The base point was always to choose a career where I could draw, that was always my passion. So, growing up seeing my father working with construction and floor plans, in my teens I was already going down the civil construction path when I took a technical course in the area and after that I went straight to architecture school.
Now let’s talk about illustration: what is your story with art? How does your academic focus in Architecture influence your art, and vice versa?
I have been drawing since I was very young. I have flashes of memory of me drawing on the blackboard in kindergarten at the age of four, so with the support of the people around me, it was easy to take this hobby for life and consider it as a profession. Drawing and I are one, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
The best influence I had from the academy on what I produce was definitely studying and reinforcing some basic fundamentals like light and shadow, composition, color theory and, mainly, perspective. On the other hand, I took to architecture color schemes that are not very conventional for the sobriety that many architects work with.
You have a very particular (and stunning) use of colors, patterns, and texture. How did you develop your art style?
I have a life very focused on art, I’m one of those who spend their free time wandering around Pinterest, ArtStation, and so on, with no objective, just watching what is being produced. I think that's where my sense of trying to mix everything that I found interesting from different styles and artistic movements came from. Textures, for example, are a way of trying to connect digital art and my background with traditional art.
Who are your greatest artistic influences? Which artistic movements inspire you the most?
I have influence from many corners, but the movements that most inspire me are definitely Impressionism, with the light effect on the colors and loose brushstrokes, and Art Pop, with those intense colors. Additionally, I am inspired a lot by the contemporary, in what I see current artists producing on social media. But an artist who, no matter what style I'm experimenting with, I always come back to, is Sergio Toppi. He was an Italian comic artist with a power to create compositions like no other and a great ability to abstract shapes and figures and keep it readable only with crosshatching.
I think all of us have been touched by the pandemic in some way. How is your relationship with art going during quarantine? Is the isolation affecting your art, is it making you more or less productive?
Well, as my college stopped completely since the quarantine started in the middle of March and I finished my internship three weeks after, I have my time totally available for art at the moment. All the ideas that I accumulated while I was too busy are being executed and I have totally changed my artistic style. It has been an incredibly productive moment and this is an escape from all the chaos that is happening this year, especially here in Brazil.
Which recent piece are you most proud of? Why?
My favorite work is an original character I made for a collab that was created by illustrators Calvet (@Calvet_arts) and Tayo Souza (@tayos_geek) in order to invent or reimagine black superheroes. From that came my character Akil, inspired by the popular carnival culture on the outskirts of the city of Rio de Janeiro, the “Bate-Bolas.” He represents a mysterious legend that lives on the thin line between terror and magic, with the power to distort reality. This work represents everything I love: vibrant colors that escape the realism and common aesthetics of dark art, very strong and diverse textures, very simple composition, and drawing birds!
You're doing a lot of digital art, but you also work with traditional media. How are your artistic processes with both?
The focal point is always the same: expressing feelings or everyday situations in an almost poetic way, not direct or obvious. Lately I have addressed a lot about being black. My goal is to create art and a range of works that people can relate to and connect with just by looking at the image. With that in mind, I make a lot of sketches in my sketchbook with only lines and curves, a simple composition test, and then I will go to the final work. Diversity is essential for me; I am always testing new techniques and styles of making art so there’s no step-by-step. The difference between my digital and traditional art are the styles, since in the traditional I usually choose to use ink and crosshatching, a black and white basic look, while in the digital, I focus entirely on painting and very saturated colors.
Your art for Richildis's "The Stitch Beneath the Ice" is your first official work with illustration. If you could choose any book or franchise to work with, which one would it be and why?
Oh, that's a very tough question … I think I would try some horror and suspense classics, like Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby or Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror, just to have the challenge of remodeling the photo-realistic aesthetic that some of these book covers usually have. Challenges are what move me and trying to reflect a frightening aura through my art would be incredible.