A Peter Saville for the new generations
Jessie Atkinson
11:00 18th February 2020

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Chances are that you’ve seen a Raissa Pardini piece. Bold and retro with a focus on typography and the manipulation of those letters into art, her record and poster designs are the number one choice for today’s most influential underground bands. Squid, Idles, The Orielles and The Murder Capital are a cherrypicked few from a growing list, and alongside them, Raissa's graphic design is coming to characterise the musical era we are living in now.

Take a look at her work. Punchy, punky and idiosyncratic, Raissa’s posters are anachronistic yet in love with the vintage. They are bold and unique with typography the centre of their experimentations. There is nothing quite like them. Each of her many designs is a favourite, drawing the eye from here to there, impeccably encapsulating the atmosphere of the band they depict and leading a generation of underground music lovers to a rediscovery of the retro. How, I wonder out loud on the phone to her one dark Friday evening, does she do it?

“Designers make the music tangible in visuals” she explains from her studio 400 miles away in Glasgow, making clear that in order for an artwork to sing, “there has to be a lot of communication between how I feel, how the band feel, how we want people to feel about seeing something and hearing something at the same time.”

With the artists her essential sounding board, Raissa goes on to magic ideas into her sketchbook and then onto the computer, making the sounds of our favourite musicians something to admire with our eyes as well as our ears. Each finishing product is dramatic, eye-catching and unique...and that's particularly impressive when you consider that Raissa's work focuses heavily on typography. 

“Through the decades we’ve produced more and more fonts, but what hasn’t been done much is experimenting and pushing letters to make artworks” she says, adding that “now we see fonts as a visual aspect [of design], they can be anything.”

And in Raissa's hands they are. Upside down, inside out, repeated, manipulated, distended and exploded, these fonts differ dramatically from print to print. Rarely is a letter style repeated, often are multiple typographies explored on the same page; Raissa's work continuously pushes the envelope of letters and what can be done with them, rather in the same way Factory designer Peter Saville played with contrast.

Much of her work's boldness and eclecticism comes from Raissa’s own living situations. Having been born in a small town in Tuscany, she went on to study or work in Milan, Marrakech, Berlin, London and Glasgow. She has worked in record shops and played in bands, studied everything from calligraphy to paper-making. And if a well-lived life has given her anything, it’s inspiration. Of course, music inspires her too, as well as the artworks that have been designed for it. Buzzcocks covers are a favourite, as well as recent designs coming out of Africa: “there is an aesthetic from the African Beat coming out now, they all have amazing covers and incredible fonts.”

Not all inspirations are born equal though. Raissa mourns the loss of record shop Lucky Seven - where she used to work, and where many of the hundreds of records she owns are from -  but reserves less enthusiasm for London itself, finding it to be “a difficult city if you want to be an artist.” Milan she found similarly suffocating, though she isn’t quite so damning about the Italian city as she is of the UK capital: “London has been the worst city out of all the cities I’ve lived. It’s too expensive to experiment on anything” she sighs. By contrast, Glasgow, where she lives now, offers “cheaper rent than most places. It isn’t gentrified. The community is strong.” And perhaps most importantly, “it gives artists the freedom to get the best out of their work.”

Even the weather (“really bad”) is a positive in Raissa’s eyes. Like Berlin, she believes there’s “a lot of indoor activity because the city’s strongest point is not the weather…if it was sunny every day I don’t think it would be productive.”

In her airy studio, stacked atop other creative workspaces and two of the city’s music venues, Raissa works all day (though rarely in the morning) and then returns to the house she shares with her partner in the evening.

And in this calmer, cheaper world, where “everyone has a nice house [and] a nice place to work”, Raissa is making some of her most extraordinary works to date. There’s a disco-style IDLES tour poster bleached yellow, a Cherry Glazerr number in which letters formed like notes fall down the page, and a Pond piece that Raissa identifies as a favourite because “sometimes working with lines and shapes is the best thing ever.”

Another work she feels particularly marries up in “how it looks and how it sounds” is the cover for The Orielles’ forthcoming second album Disco Volador: “me and The Orielles have a very similar taste in music and in visuals. I really really like their music. This is a record I would listen to on a daily basis, so for me it wasn’t difficult to convey through visuals.”

The Orielles’ Sidonie Hand-Halford confirms that this feeling is a completely mutual one: “[Raissa's] style of design really suits us and our music which is why we thought of asking her right away” she said over Facebook Messenger.

Raissa’s impressive sleight of hand and her ability to engage with the inspirations of the artists she works with comes not only from years of living in some of the world’s most exciting cities, but from years of training. She studied Visual Arts with a specialisation in Graphic Design at the European Institute of Design and got out to gigs photographing bands. Later, she designed the artwork for her then-band Yassassin, which she played bass in when she lived in London. She has also designed the covers of influential music books such as Sex Pistols: 90 days at EMI and There’s No Bones in Ice Cream: Sylvain Sylvain’s story of the New York Dolls. 

Raissa also completed a calligraphy course in Marrakech where she “learned how to use the pen, how to make paper, how to make inks, and of course experimenting with how you write.” This experience instilled in her an understanding of design that took her to “a different level”, a place that her work has certainly also reached.

With her bold pieces for cult bands, Raissa has already embedded herself and the controlled retro chaos of her work into the scene, and it's something she will continue to do: "I always keep a window for bands that I like...fees are really really low because I love music and I want to contribute somehow”. But what else is on the horizon for this young artist?

Well, plenty. For starters, she’s moving towards more brand work - “things that don’t feel corporate” like projects with Dr Martens, Fred Perry or Vans. She’s also looking to hire…“there are people I want to involve in the studio” she says, “I have plans to introduce another person to work with me in the summer.” And as you might expect from someone as inventive as Raissa, her ways of working are similarly forward-thinking: if you end up working in the studio with her, you won’t be expected to keep to the nine to five or follow a traditional pecking order. “I would like to challenge all of those dated values…and not to be seen as a boss, but [as someone] who can learn from other people. Everyone can learn from each other" she says.

Learning is clearly a pasttime of Raissa's. From her stints in different cities among different people, to the fascinating courses she's completed, she's spent her life absorbing the infleunces of the artists and the records that she surrounds herself with. And now, all of that experience and inspiration has exploded into a kaleidoscope of artworks that single-handedly tell the story of today's underground music scene through graphic design. Perhaps you should invest in a print or two...

You can see Raissa's first solo exhibition at The Pink Gallery in Manchester now. On 13 March, it will move to Glasgow's Lunchtime Gallery and then to The Student Hotel in Florence on 8 April. 

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Photo: Matteo Girola