Christine Mangosing Interview

Raised in Los Angeles, Manila and Vancouver, Christine Mangosing moved to Toronto at age 22 and founded the boutique firm, CMANGO DESIGN. Since then she’s amassed an international client roster and taken on the role of art director at Exclaim!, Canada’s most widely distributed print publication. In her limited downtime, Mangosing makes a point of working across disciplines, applying her creative expertise to collaborations with musicians, writers, techies and theatre artists. Her sense of space and masterly ability to mediate the finicky relationship between image and text are her strongest assets. And while most contemporary artists strive for novelty— the old object of obliterating tradition— Mangosing’s work instead feels well researched, purposeful and enlightened.

Over the past year and a half, CMANGO has worked closely with post-rap band, Times Neue Roman, developing a catalogue of visual interpretations of their music including the art-deco inspired cover for “Talking Sporty (YYZ  Records 2010),”  and the artwork for TNR’s 7 inch vinyl single “Dear Lucille, Talksoon Aiden (Art Metropole 2010).”  On July 24th 2010 at the Kultura Arts Festival in Toronto, Christine Mangosing and Times Neue Roman lyricist Robert Bolton will unveil their latest piece, “Of Silence” a visual score for the TNR song of the same title, as an exclusive edition of 5 books with audio CDs. FORMAT brings you an exclusive interview with the artist and a sneak peak at the never before published imagery.

You work for yourself at CMANGO DESIGN, What are the drawbacks and benefits of running your own business verses joining a big firm?

A huge benefit is the flexibility that being on my own offers. Since I have control over what design projects I take on and when, I can refrain, for the most part, from working on projects that don’t mean anything to me. It’s important for me to genuinely believe in the client and the project that I’ve been hired to do, otherwise it becomes just another job and I’m definitely not in this industry just because it’s a way to make money. Having a flexible schedule also means I have room to dabble in other mediums and work on multi-disciplinary collaborations with other artists.  I’m also not much of a morning person and am most productive during the later hours of the day so making my own schedule is a huge plus. On the downside, being everything all at once can be a drag. Sometimes my entire day is taken up with the admin side of things as opposed to actually designing. I’m only now starting to feel comfortable outsourcing the more tedious stuff— which explains why I have a friend sitting in my kitchen right now that I’ve hired to deal with a giant folder of invoices and receipts. Not having the security offered by a paycheck every two weeks keeps me on my toes in both a good and bad way. It’s hard to plan ahead but I’ve been learning.

How did you initially connect with Times Neue Roman?
About 3 years ago, I met Alexander The through the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts + Culture in Kensington Market, where I’m a founding member and Art Director. Soon after, Times Neue Roman started renting the studio space and since I was running CMANGO DESIGN out of the Centre’s office at the time, it was inevitable that conversation would occur as they came in and out of the studio and walked by my desk. I exhibited some work at one of Kapisanan’s art shows, which prompted Rob (Times Neue Roman’s Robert Bolton aka Arowbe) to ask if I would be down to collaborate.  I’ve been working with them ever since.

Aside from your collaborations with Times Neue Roman, you’re also Art Director for national music publication, Exclaim!, How important is music to your artistic process?
On my home computer, where I work the majority of the time, there is an enormous library of music spanning a really wide spectrum of genres. This is a result of my own and my roommate’s divergent tastes, as well as an audiophile houseguest’s substantial contributions. The fact that I am always exposed to new music whenever I work at the Exclaim! office doesn’t hurt either. There’s always something to choose from to match my mood or the project that I’m working on. Music is most essential for late night work sessions, which, being a freelancer, are plentiful.

What do you listen to when you work?

It depends on the time of the day and the type of project. Earlier in the day I listen to more upbeat music and late night work sessions call for more ambient stuff. I find that the more tedious the work, the more I lean towards familiar music like 90’s R&B and hip-hop or soul from the 60’s and 70’s. Something about knowing all the lyrics helps me get through mind-numbing, repetitive tasks. Lately, daytime music has consisted of The Roots’ How I Got Over, the Major Lazer & La Roux mixtape, Prince’s 20Ten, Maylee Todd, anything and everything by Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monae. Late night sounds include Toro y Moi, The XX, Sade, Bibio, Quadron and Four Tet.

How has the relationship between the two fields (visual arts and music) shaped your development? What was your introduction to each?

 I have two older sisters who were both attending art school by the time I was in elementary school. I grew up surrounded by their art and being the grateful recipient of their hand-me-down art supplies. My sister Catherine, a graphic designer, gave me a box full of paper stock and a paper cutter, and my sister Caroline, a photographer, gave me discarded prints of her photography projects and old magazines, which got me started collaging, and led the way to graphic design. Music — hip-hop in particular, came my way via Power 106, which I heard on car radios and boomboxes in the playground of my elementary school in Los Angeles, where I lived in the mid-80’s. Later, when I moved to Vancouver, my godsister who still lived in LA, sent me mixtapes of songs she recorded off the radio.
The golden-era hip-hop seems pretty apparent in your design aesthetic. Agree?

Sure. I often draw from historical references and since I grew up on late 80s and early-mid 90s hip-hop and have loved it from a young age, it would make sense that it would influence my work. 

By the age of 22, you’d lived in Los Angeles, Manila, Vancouver and Toronto, how does (re)location play into your work?

Each city I’ve lived in has been drastically different from the next— culturally, visually, sonically, etc. I feel that fragments of each of the worlds I’ve inhabited are evident in my work and my interests. Moving to the Philippines had the most significant effect on me both personally and creatively. I was born there and left as a toddler so I had no memory of it by the time I moved back as a teenager. By the time I went back to Canada to study fine arts and design, the colours, patterns, lines and shapes of pre-colonial and post-colonial art + design had made an impact and found their way into my work. I’ve been particularly fascinated with Philippine Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which adapted the styles carried over from Europe at the turn-of-the-century and incorporated imagery of flora and fauna native to the Philippines and geometric patterns found in traditional indigenous textiles and tattoos.
As well as serving as an Art Director at Kapisanan, you also mentor and facilitate workshops. How important is it for you to share your expertise with aspiring artists and designers?

I was fortunate to grow up with sisters who influenced me and mentored me every step of the way but I know that not everyone has that kind of access. A lot of the young artists I’ve met face a lack of support from their families in choosing to pursue the arts, much less choosing to pursue a career in the arts independently. It’s extremely important to me to pass on what I’ve learned along the way and be able to nudge someone in the direction of building a career out of something they love to do and not just something they’ve been told or think is the practical choice.

The Art Deco look of Times Neue Roman’s new EP Talking Sporty was decidedly different from their previous punk DIY looks. What was the process behind that?

Rob from TNR came to me with the idea of working with an Art Deco aesthetic for the Talking Sporty EP album art. I started working on concepts based on photos he scanned in from an Art Deco book he found and images I collected of Harper’s Bazaar magazine covers from the 20’s and 30’s. Rob wanted an interpretation of a slick gent taking his lady out for a night on the town, one of the more prevalent scenarios found in Art Deco illustration. I brought on Ilona Fiddy, a frequent CMANGO DESIGN-collaborator to work on the illustration of the couple. I worked in the acidic colours and pixelated background to bring the piece into the present and kept the linework and typography loyal to the Art Deco style. The cardboard texture is a nod to the hand-painted cigarette box labels from the era. Simple as it is, the expression on the man’s face was one of the things that took the longest. After Ilona passed the hand-drawn illustration over to me and I started working on it digitally, there was a lot of back and forth between us to make the man’s expression look like he was talking sporty. It took a few tries but ultimately I think the art resulted in something we’re all happy with.

Talk about the process of translating music and lyrics into visuals for your new book, “Of Silence.”

I loved the song from the start and was really excited when Times Neue Roman approached me about working on a visual component. I listened to the song over and over again with the lyrics in front of me, marking the beat and the way the lyrics were broken up, and the pitch and volume at which certain lines or words were said in contrast to others. I wanted to use typography to illustrate the aural and visual cacophony of city intersections as well as to recreate the rhythm of the song itself. Lines and dots, in reference to Morse Code, interact with the words, alternately creating sound and silence. Russian Constructivism, Bauhaus, Futurism, maps, and percussion notation were all sources of inspiration. It was a long process over the course of a year and a half with a lot of stops and starts. I put a lot of pressure on myself and couldn’t settle on something I was happy with, but once I was able to get something on paper that resembled what I saw in my head, the project grew on its own.

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