Cool art toys, manga and dieselpunk art: the works of Rafael Lanfranco
Insightful interview with Experimenta Magazine, Madrid
Born in 1976 in Lima, Peru, Rafael Lanfranco Gallofré is what we could define as a renaissance person. An artist, an illustrator, a designer, and a sculptor who has followed various paths and in 2010 he founded –together with his associate Alonso Gastelumendi– the illustration studio, 4D2 Studio.
With a Master degree in Communication at Boston University and a Fulbright scholarship on his back, Rafael’s career found a new path through his work in the creation of characters that express mythological and archetypal stories that are nourished with his own personal quests. The outcome of this pursuit is the series Wakos and Yute and Tocuyo’s Imaquinarium, which have been exhibited not only in Peru, but also in Miami, Tokyo, Singapore, London, Santiago, Sao Paulo, among other great capitals of art.
In this interview, we will focus on his microcosm, the world of art toy and dieselpunk art characters, the space in which he asks himself over and over again, from his personal perspective, about his place as a country, as a collective, and as a society.
You are an artist, an illustrator, a sculptor; you have a Master degree in Communication and your work has a strong contents of design. How would you describe yourself?
This is a question I’ve made myself many times because I get about many disciplines, and I have finally come to the conclusion that I prefer to avoid any type of label.
I find this gives more freedom to the process; that this puts fewer restrictions to the creative current and lets me release my intuition. I think that rather than how I define myself –a painter, sculptor, ceramist, designer- what is important is how the work wants to express itself, what is the choice of the idea, how it evolves, where it takes you.
Because what is true is –and I am increasingly more convinced about it- that the idea exercises a sort of spell on us, it has its own free will, and makes use of the creator as a medium to come into being, to become alive in this space and time. The person has to put him/herself at the service of the idea and not the other way around.
The “Huaco” is a central element in Peruvian Pre-Hispanic culture with a strong ceremonial strain. The Wakos series you have developed recovers these iconoclastic elements and redefines them. What is the story behind this proposal?
The origin of the WAKO as a character is, to a certain extent, mundane. I wanted to make an art toy that would rescue the Peruvian essence and be “cool” at the same time so as to offer it to a local fast food chain to be given as a gift in its “happy meal boxes”. I was bothered to see that McDonald’s had a Pixar or Disney character and our fast food chain was giving toys with no personality that didn’t speak of our heritage.
Then, my mental chip was more commercial, as it is evident, because the concept was born a few months after having set up my illustration studio, 4D2 Studio, together with my associate, Alonso Gastelumendi. However, the idea started acquiring more depth and complexity.
As I said in the previous question, the idea found a life of its own. We have three thousand years of culture spread throughout our territory, and a country that is undergoing a process of change and profound modernization. I think that the WAKO was a kind of Trojan horse for an idea that was trying to express a part of this process, of this reality we are experiencing.
In order to dig deeper, I came into contact with museums, and they shared their discourse and the mythology of Pre-Columbian Peru. You find yourself with all the potential, the universe, the gods, the aesthetics, the immense diversity, everything unique but at the same time sharing similarities with other great cradles of civilization, like the Greco-Roman or the Asian civilizations.
I then decided that I had to combine that with my inner world, because what arises from there comes out through a filter that is the artist’s subjectivity. I had always liked cartoons, toys, the popular culture and the archetypal stories of The Hero’s Journey as expressed by Carl Jung and picked up by Joseph Campbell.
Your work focuses almost entirely on the creation of characters that relate to each other through a story line which is even self-referential some times. Is your Yute and TOCUYO’S ImaCHINARIUM based on your personal quests?
It is unquestionable that I like to build stories. I like history, the movies, the comics, the novels, the superheroes… They are all very strong influences. At the same time, the stories we build about ourselves, which are a subjective synthesis of our internal and external world throughout time, determine how we move in the world.
The Wakos shifted from one single character to a narrative which today aims to be a metaphor of the search of Peruvian identity, which in turn is another metaphor of who I am and why I am here in this world. Thus, the work has been pouring off from the exterior to the interior, from the object/product to the most intimate and personal. The question “What does being a Peruvian today mean?” is an expression of “who I am, where I come from, and why I am here”. And while answering this a story is built.
This is expressed in a much more personal and literal way in Yute and Tocuyo’s Imachinarium, where the two main characters, the small robots that are manufacturers of dieselpunk machines, set out on an existential search to find their creator. I have undergone a long process of search of my vocation as an artist, and on the way I have had a try at many worlds, many disciplines –such as law, research or journalism- and I have met people who have been a support as mentors, but also as opponents or critics.
In this journey you carry along your past, your family influences, your childhood and teenage experiences, your idea of the future, which you have to put to test in the world, to reconstruct and readjust to give to your actions a new sense and orientation.
Yute and Tocuyo are inventors, and my family –particularly from my mother’s side- are very keen on “doing” things. My grandparents worked in metals, my parents in carpentry and construction, myself in art. The variety of materials brings sense to a dieselpunk art aesthetic. It is in this space that I seek to make a synthesis of that constructive past, of integrating it to my entire life experience and create a machine, a navigating instrument, for my future life.
The dieselpunk art illustrations of the machines in Yute and Tocuyo bears some resemblance to Leonardo Da Vinci’s machines. Does your Imagery also seek to be put into operation to modify reality?
I think that a very important question for a generation of human beings who have been born in a world with increasingly more basic needs resolved is: “Who to be and how to be? In this sense, the Imachinarium is a metaphorical attempt to modify reality, but not the external reality but the subjective, spiritual reality in order to reach what I think the Jungian therapists call “individuation”, this process where the individual comes into contact with his/her most elevated and most integral way of being.
I am happy with what I do now, but this has been at the expense of long and distressing processes of trial and error, of conflict, of assembling, disassembling and reconstructing again, of feeling lost and then found.
In this sense, I feel very attracted by the idea of the “DaVincian” inventor mixed with the dieselpunk mechanic that constructs machines on the basis of reason and intuition, consciously and unconsciously, using technology and junk. For example, I studied Law and it is I something I don’t use as an artist. It could be interpreted as “junk” thinking, but if I do some re-engineering on this, it could become a useful tool to give a more logical structure to the chaotic thinking of the unconscious.
As you can imagine, the idea demands to be expressed in various formats, like sculpture, and from there the robotics. I would love for the next display of these characters to be able to see kinetic pieces, dieselpunk art sculptures with gears, capable of interacting with the rest, either through mechanics, heat or the telephone.
The Japanese manga, art toys, the steampunk, the dieselpunk art and the Andean culture are present in your illustrations and sculptures. Is this crossing of styles a reference to your influences?
Indeed! And I take it as a starting point and as elements of the mix to obtain new shades. It is like the colors in a palette that when mixed new tones appear and take you to new paths. I love to think that I can mix manga with pre-Columbian themes, but not remain there because on top of the pre-Columbian art is Colonial art, which in turn also becomes Peruvian by mixing the culture brought from Spain with the Andean culture.
So you then ask yourself: What would happen if the three cultures are combined: Colonial, Andean and manga?
To this we must add what we call the chicha culture, which is the product of the infinite fusion of internal migrations in the Peruvian coast, the highlands and the jungle. And on top of this, the global trends of contemporary art since we live in a world with dim borders, like the work of the Japanese Takashi Murakami, of Jeff Koons, Kaws, Warhol, Bansky, the pop culture, to name just a few examples.
Everything is influence: the comic, the movies, philosophy, psychology; and everything ends up connected and synthesized in the mind of the artist.
How does your work at 4D2 Studio coexist with your individual work as an artist?
4D2Studio was the beginning of my life in art. I started this project with a gifted artist, Alonso Gastelumendi, who was a mentor for me. I had always liked drawing and I had some knowledge of classical art through some workshops I had attended, but I didn’t have the technical digital and production skill because I had not studied to be an artist.
This training I got by working with Alonso. Wakos and Yute and Tocuyo arose from there and began to become very personal projects for me, which are not within the scope of service and product offered by the studio. It’s like having a music band and a career as a soloist. Thus, the jobs that are for third parties such as the media or publicity agencies, business to business, are handled by the studio.
And those that people seek for my individual production, go along another track. It is certainly a challenge to handle both projects, but it continues to be a useful and very creative relationship.