Scrolling through them isn’t like scrolling through any other webpage, the New York part of my brain tries to figure out how far in the city I’ve gone by randomly swiping the trackpad; and the more imaginative side wonders if someone has closed the shutters on 219 East 4th Street since the last time I scrolled by, or if that cat will still be there the next time I refresh the page.
Like Jessica Hische’s Daily Dropcap, it’s a kind of graphic design étude that seems so personal even though it reaches a large audience. By the third time I had checked on the windows in a week, I knew I had to have a conversation with José Guízar, about New York, graphic design, and window shopping.
How long have you been working on Windows of New York, and why did you start? How long does it take you to complete a window?
I think my favorite thing to do since I landed in NYC is to get lost in the city streets. Any time I feel lonely, angry or stressed out, exploring beautiful streets is my therapy. It was in the late summer of 2012 when I decided I wanted to start an illustration project that involved the windows I was smitten with, that would keep me periodically creating new stuff, and that somehow would immortalize my times in New York.
I started to work on bringing the idea to life in the fall but it wasn’t until January of this year that I started sharing it with people. It takes me anything between 3 and 8 hours to complete a window — it usually depends on the complexity of the detail and how much I want to reduce all that detail down to a few shapes and colors.
There’s a sense of peacefulness in Windows that is at odds with New York’s hustle-and-bustle sensibility. Was this a conscious choice? When was the moment when you realized that these windows had such personality?
It was definitely a conscious choice. New York has a deafening buzz to it at most times, but when I started to look up as much as I looked around I came to realize that the shit show ends at 10 feet height—above that there is absolute peace.
How long have you worked as a graphic designer? Do you consider yourself more of an illustrator? Did you ever have another career path in mind?
I have been doing graphic design for about 6 years from my first little gigs until now. I am passionate about illustration but don’t really consider myself an illustrator. I use illustration as the main resource in my graphic design, but not the only!
Like many designers I know, I had some other career paths when I was very young and confused. Luckily I figured out what I was born for before I made some really bad big decisions. I absolutely love what I do and have no doubt that I am doing what I’m meant to. Also I would have been a terrible engineer.
You have a very strong sense of color throughout the Windows of New York and in your portfolio, although with both websites it seems like a very modest palate—and then it sneaks up on you. Is this intentional? Do you have a philosophy about using color?
I always blame my fearless use of bright and bold colors on the fact that I am Mexican. The influence of the liveliness of my country’s visual culture is something that comes naturally to me and don’t think I’ll ever get rid of or try to hide. At the same time I’m a simple kind of man and I believe that one good color can be in many ways stronger than several, and believe in the power of the good old black and white. I like to create liveliness through the right mix of bright and subtle colors, and balance this mix depending on what the situation dictates.
When you say it’s part of your heritage . . . Is it a color palate that you’re talking about or the use of color itself?
It’s not a specific color palette what I’m talking about, but the heavy amount of bright color in the visual culture of my country. My whole life I have been exposed to it and it’s just hard to get away without having it present.
How did you start working for Jazzatlán? Your work there reminds me of Cliff Roberts—was he an inspiration?
After a couple of years of being closed, Jazzatlán re-opened its doors in 2010 and the owner, a good friend of mine, commissioned me to create a series of posters and identity items that would set the design direction for the club’s new era, inspired in the graphic design of the Blue Note times, but with its own fresh personality. I love jazz and I love Jazzatlán just as much so this was definitely one of the most fun and rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on. Cliff Roberts is one of the top 10 artists and designers that I look up to, so he was definitely big inspiration.
What are your favorite windows? Which one was the most problematic to create?
I think my favorite one so far is 308 Canal street. I love that window. The most problematic to create has been 147 E 18th St. It’s the smallest and most simple in the collection so far, but definitely the hardest to do. I always find the most simple harder to put together—the challenge is to keep it simple yet detailed, static yet lively.
You’re a fan of lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) and created a luch-themed beer, Cervecería Sagrada. What was that experience like?
Cervecería Sagrada was self initiated project. I created the product concept just for fun and it caused so much interest that I felt like it had to turn into something real. A good hard-working friend that has great experience in the industry partnered with me. The beer is now starting to be produced in my hometown, Puebla. Few things have been as rewarding in my short career as having people all over the globe really excited about something so unique from my beloved country’s culture.
Back to wrestling: what’s the best introductory film to the (luchadore legend) Santo oeuvre, and why?
I would say El Santo en el Museo de Cera (El santo in the wax museum) or El santo vs Las Momias De Guanajuato are good introductions to the old school Lucha Libre cult. I especially like the early ones, as they were amazingly ridiculous. After the 70’s they became a bit more like produced action films.
Can you tell me about Amantina y el Príncipe Brillo?
Amantina y el Príncipe Brillo was my attempt to make children’s book illustration with watercolor and ink. It was a very fun project working side by side with the author trying to bring her vision to paper while providing my own character to it. I would love to work on some more like this project.