AIGA Small Talk No. 7: Mario Hugo

Yesterday after school, I had quite a nice late afternoon/early evening. I walked around the West Village in the rain, listening to Fleet Foxes, stopped for a while to have a coffee and finally got some reading done (for thesis), then walked some more and stopped by a magazine shop and picked up the new Interview by M/M Paris, and the latest V magazine, which I must confess I only bought because of the fantastic neon typography used all throughout the issue. I didn’t like the Interview very much, though.

ANYWAY, after all that, I ended my journey at the Bumble and Bumble auditorium in the Meat Packing District for AIGA’s latest lecture in their Small Talks series. This time it was the amazing illustrator, art director and designer Mario Hugo.


I didn’t really know much about him, but I had seen a lot of his work before. With a name like Mario Hugo I was expecting some sort of small, dark-haired, chubby, eccentric, hispanic/european guy with a mustache and glasses. I only got the glasses part right. Mario is more a teen version of Bob Dylan.

The lecture was really just Mario talking about where his art comes from, where it is, and where its going. He spoke about what inspires him; which, as for any other designer, are really things he is obsessed with. For Hugo it is death, Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey, the work of Francois Truffaut, suprematism, an obscure animated film called Prince Ahmed, and Bruno Munari.


He also considers Close Encounters of the Third Kind to be the most terrifying thing he’s ever seen.

Then the lecture turned to a showcase of his work, where he explained the process and his intentions for each piece. He also made it pretty clear that all of the “obsessions” mentioned above are really recurring themes in his work. It was great realize that his work isn’t just beautiful to look at, but it actually comes from something within him, something he wants to explore and exploit. It’s not just decoration, it has content. I say this because a lot of his work is really what’s trendy now: space/cosmic/sky imagery, geometric shapes/typography, isometric illustrations, etc. I don’t know about all those other designers doing that out there, but at least Hugo doesn’t seem to be following the trend. I think he is the one setting it. Also, if you’ve noticed, most of his work is black and white. At some point in the lecture, Mario said something about being color blind, which explains why he constantly uses contrast and texture as key elements in his art. But… seriously? Color blind? WOW! That’s when my head began hurting. I don’t know if he was joking, but that’s trully effing amazing. (Or amazingk, as Whitney Port would say). You are officially one of my heroes/ I am officially your groupie, Mario.

About his technique, which I would have loved to have heard more about but was too afraid to ask, he only mentioned using acetone stain paper, or something very toxic. His found paper comes mostly from rummaging The Strand’s stacks in search of used, old books, from which he tears out the pages. But it seems like a lot of his technique is digital.


Mario Hugo is primarily a freelancer, although his portfolio has nothing to ask from any formal design studio or advertising agency. Obviously, he gets all of his clients through the internet and most of them come to him. He said he never really goes out looking for work. It just knocks on his door! Or… email. Only recently has he begun proposing projects to prospective clients, he says. But only as part of Hugo & Marie, which is a creative consulting and management firm he created with his “muse, girlfriend and business partner.” Sigh. Together, they represent and manage Mario, as well as other artists, designers, and illustrators, like Studio Newwork (which I love!).


I wish them the best of luck, and I hope one day I’ll have the privilege to work with him or be represented by Hugo & Marie.

UPDATE: Mario says “About the nature of the work, as a rule of thumb – if it looks like it was on paper, it exists exclusively on paper. Graphite, china ink, gouache, acrylic, acetone stains, and found paper. The stuff that looks digital is most likely digital.”


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