English Book
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p. 8 to 37
p. 38 to 59
p. 60 to 79
p. 80 to 105
p. 106 to 123
Front flap
Back flap


  «Illustration is a language.» «Graphic design is a language.» Statements like these are repeated like mantras in the search for theoretical justification for these disciplines. Unfortunately, illustration is very often used to connote an overall view of the subject matter, be it «modern,» «cool», «vintage», «artistic» or «experimental». Language is a communication system. It is used not only to connote, but also to denote and inform. This capacity of language is largely due to the fact that it is all connected: a limited number of parts is combined to create a potentially infinite number of messages and meanings.

Xavier Alamany has a very firm grasp of this concept. After just a glance at his illustrations for the magazine Nativa, it becomes clear that illustration is a true language for him. Alamany uses basic semantic units that are easy to understand in this globalized world, such as icons, glyphs and pictograms, and organizes them in original, creative ways that are charged with meaning.

Alamany makes no attempt to impress the reader with his use of colorful, detailed drawings. He draws his stories in black ink with an emphasis on the outline of the idea rather than the perfect finish, thus facilitating the communication process.

More than just making illustrations, Alamany creates visual poems. It is particularly instructive to translate many of his communication techniques into their equivalents in literary rhetoric. He revitalizes stale icons like the trash can and iPod by using them in different contexts to create something new and strange: the synecdoche involved in converting a night of insomnia into a very long bed, the metaphor of intestines as a cassette tape to indicate musical indigestion, and the elegant oxymoron of icons with the words «good» and «bad» written like a calligraphy exercise to reflect the contradictions of Barcelona city government’s policies when it comes to noise regulations.

This poet of icons knows how to play with historic references and major movements in art and graphic design. In his hands, Roy Lichtenstein, Milton Glaser, Gerd Arntz and Peter Saville are not alluded to as an excuse for paying homage (that elegant method of hiding the fact that you are copying someone), but as signs used to build his own visual messages, which have been bundled away from their original context and turned into graphic phonemes whose aim is to transform meanings. In the same way that Peter Saville appropriated the «Use hearing protection» icon to symbolize the then emerging music scene in Manchester, Xavier Alamany uses the Spanish equivalent of this icon as a new expression in his original visual dictionary. In his case, it is surrounded by other symbols and protected by the texts of Nativa so it ends up meaning hundreds of different things, just as true visual language should.

Irony is also used extensively in these illustrations. It is always friendly and subtle, but no less communicative. Sometimes it may take you a few seconds to process the visual pun in the illustration, as if it were a hieroglyph to be deciphered. And once you get the gist, you may decide you are for or against it, but you’ll never be indifferent.

From this ironic position, Alamany smiles and makes us smile about the cultural control of all-too-powerful public and private institutions, the vacuous modernity of some designers, the profusion of sub-styles in music criticism and the absurd star system some people insist on peddling. With elegance and without sharp remarks, Alamany takes a critical look at the world of music. For this alone, it is a pleasure to read this book. And because it is written with iconic characters that not only connote, but also denote, it will continue to work just as well for many years to come, given that it does not rely on a specific style and even less on the need to be cool, but on the know-how of a true visual communicator.

David Casacuberta
Full Professor, Department of Philosophy
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona