Illustrator and animator Raman Djafari, is a Hamburg-based designer who’s valiant colour palette and obscure illustrations and narratives caught the eye of our People of Print team. Our curiosity got the better of us, and we stepped into Djafari’s crazy landscapes and what we can only describe as populated by oddly shaped people. The imagination of this designer is perhaps the most powerful we’ve ever come across, and the discovery is utterly delightful!
People of Print: So Raman, please tell us abut who are you and your background?
No problem, my name is Raman Djafari, and I moved to Hamburg from my hometown Berlin to study illustration and butterfly mimicry. Growing up I’ve been a bison, then went through a stage of being a dolphin, a ninja turtle, a Saiyan and then found my final form as a human with a sketchbook. I was a kid that would wake his mother up at 5 in the morning because she was seeing lights peek through the slits of the bedroom fortress. Behind the desk, I had already started to continue the work on my current project (illustrating a world where little people in theatre costumes ran complex machines that were the cause for climate change, geological eruptions and all other kinds of phenomena occurring in nature). I was drawing and painting, exploring the mysteries of the world and creating my own within the endless space that is a blank sheet of paper. These projects were then collected and organised in numerous folders, saturating realms of fantasy with more details, drawing by drawing, note by note. I kept drawing and painting, ventured into graffiti, digital painting, making video and board games, animation and ended up as a person that does a little bit of all those things.
P: Wow, your exploration and experimentation ethics are inspiring! So what is your illustration style about?
What I am searching for, is a visual vocabulary to work with, trying to shape a language that enables me to understand and communicate my being through drawing. All of my work finds its roots in my sketchbook. It’s my sword and my shield, I carry it everywhere I go, on hitch hiking trips through Europe and back to my bed. To me a sketchbook is a surface for reflection, an external hard drive of the brain, a resonance body for the thoughts, a place to collect the singularly appearing, fragmented ideas, assemble them in one place and make sense of them through the mutual habitat they share inside of this bound stack of paper. I try to trust the intelligence of the process, letting out what is inside of me, hoping to reveal to myself what my inner workings look like at a given moment in time. Based on this stream of consciousness, like a collection of drawings and aphoristic writings, by a process of reflection and rearrangement, putting pieces together in different constellations, I collage the stylistic elements of my illustrations.
My work centres mostly around the figure, which I tend to use as a representation of the human condition and the psychological complexions we all go through in one way or another. I place the characters in surreal environments, showing parts of the subjective perception of these characters. I want these places and the objects within them to carry enough resemblance to the known, to pull somebody in, but always maintain a state of uncertainty and ambiguity, about the condition of this space and the role of the figures in this world. Currently I work with bold saturated colours, which I’ve fallen in love with by getting more into screen printing. I am definitely influenced by different artists from the past like Matisse, Egon Schiele and Hokusai but also by contemporaries. For example, I currently look at a lot of work by Tal R, Nicole Eismann and Nick Cave and have recently fallen in love Mika Rottenberg. Also filmmakers like Adrej Tarkowsky and the writings of Antonin Artaud and William Kentridge are hugely important to me. It’s the eerie, the surreal, the whimsical and transcendent, rooted in everyday experiences, that fascinates me.
P: What story are you trying to tell, if you are at all?
It is not that I really know what I want to say in specific, but more that through the creative process I hope to find out what I needed to express in the first place, making me a little wiser after the fact. Creative work is my way to make sense of the world around me. The amazement about the beauty and mystery of this world, the poetry in the seemingly mundane, the rush of the interaction between people, the enchanting highs and the devouring lows of the human existence, is what I want to explore. To me, the psychological component of every event we take part in and experience is fascinating to me. I’m exploring the individual perception as a door to get a grasp on the workings of this world, in the hopes of then also communicating this search to others through images and animation.
P: Tell us about some of the projects you’ve completed, if so what is your favourite?
During the last couple of years I’ve worked as a concept artist and art director in the video game industry, as an editorial illustrator and content contributor for magazines, put out a couple of screen print series, dabbled a little bit in comics, worked on album covers and also ventured into music videos as animator/director. Moreover I’m part of the OK_DOG collective, with whom we gave birth to a magazine and worked on several exhibitions over the last year. Also teaching and public speaking has been really gratifying lately.
My favourite project so far has to be the music video I animated for the Berlin based techno group FJAAK. As part of their latest self-titled release, I created the video for the song Snow. It was an equally exhausting and enlightening project that took the duration of around half a year from its conception to the release. What was so fulfilling about it, was how much I learned about myself during the process of working on it. Every scene of the video is enriched with personal memories of mine and the trance like rush the actual process of animation would sometimes take shape as, revealed a lot about myself to me. It is the project that I was able to immerse myself into the most and feel like both the process as well as the result was closest to the way I want to make my work.
P: Great! And finally our last questions for you, what does your future look like?
I hope I can be as fortunate as I’ve been during the last months and take part in projects that seem meaningful to me. I’m currently working on my next animated film and want to be working on several more in the future as well as maybe some more music videos. I’m also thinking about releasing a couple of smaller zine projects with drawings and writings of mine, but that is still very much in it’s infantry. Also there are so many more mediums to explore, like working with clay and venturing into installation work. I think there are ways for me to tell ongoing narratives using Instagram as a platform, I’ll see.
Based on the experiences of 2017 I would like to explore the medium of public speaking and teaching even more. It has been a humbling adventure to witness how deep the connection you can create is, when you actually stand in front of people. Researching the epistemic qualities of the animation process, which was also the topic of my just finished thesis, really interests me. Digging deeper into the overlaps of process based art, animation, surrealist film theory and psychology is a path I crave to pursue further. Then there is being part of a collective. I want to keep on riding with my fellow OK_DOGs and am excited to see where our mutual journey will take us. And just to put it out there, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Masaaki Yuasa or William Kentridge, if you wanna work with me, let me know, I’m waiting <3