Olimpia Zagnoli

Say it aloud with me - Olimpia Zagnoli. Even the name feels like it was carefully chosen to advertise her talents. A month ago, while travelling around Italy, we stopped over in Vicenza and, as we usually do, we visited the exquisite Basilica Palladiana. At the time, it hosted "Illustri.", an exhibition with a cheeky byline reading "Illustrators under 40 that the world envies us,"  It's difficult to disagree, there really is a lot to envy. As the name suggests, the topic was young Italian illustrators with a special flair for editorial matters. Rest assured, I'll post about a few more names and studios presented there soon, but first, let me acquaint you with the inimitable Ms. Zagnoli:

Olimpia Zagnoli in "Illustrators - A Documentary"

Olimpia Zagnoli in "Illustrators - A Documentary"

Born in 1984, currently living in Milan in an "apartment with kaleidoscopic floors" and driving around in a yellow Fiat, her work is best described as curvy soft shapes in punchy yet toned down colors underscored by an often humorous or an "Aha!" twist. As she mentions in a few interviews, her art is, perhaps also subconsciously, heavily influenced by imagery of Jacques Tati (think small people trapped in modern world complexity), as well as by the stylishness of characters found in Jean-Luc Godard movies.

"Keep the thoughts in motion" (Olimpia Zagnoli, Internazionale, 2012)

The execution seemingly borders on the simplistic side, stylistically with the childish, immature. Even though her art seems like one of those "even I could do that" epiphanies, it is only deceptively so. The images stay with you, are unvaryingly memorable and the shapes and proportional values of every element are, upon further inspection, carefully picked and executed.

"Leave town" (Olimpia Zagnoli, Advice to Sink in Slowly, 2012)

"Marry Me" (Olimpia Zagnoli, Bemag, 2012)

Cover for The New York Times Book Review about "Lean In - Women, Work and the Will to Lead", a book by Sheryl Sandberg)

Apart from color, one of the most important aspects of her art is the intentional deviation from classical proportions of the human body. Shoulders of her characters are always wide, round and a bit bear-like, while their faces are usually anonymous and almost voyeuristically captured in unguarded moments. If portrayed from the side, they seem to be drawn as if using the numbers technique (you remember how to draw a face by writing the numbers 5, 6 and 7 under each other?).

"Why Smokers Still Smoke" (Olimpia Zagnoli, NYTimes Sunday Review)



Her work prominently featured in New York Times Magazine and Sunday Review, as well as in the New Yorker and various Italian periodicals, really lends itself well editorially to the content. Illustrating books seems to be another particular forte for Olimpia, her work visually pleasing and attractive enough to capture my eye in a bookstore without being overtly kitschy about the use of type and those pesky neon colors. These were comissioned for a new edition of Henry Miller translations into Italian.

A here's how her work blends in editorially with the content in NYTimes, The New Yorker and Washington Post. The pages are immediately attractive thanks to the illustrations.



If you'd like to own something physical designed by Olimpia, be sure to check out a page run by her and her father called Clodomiro. Among other things, you'll find this series of dinner plates that is just irresistibly humorous. Aptly called Emma, Mario, Olivia and Ugo.


Dinner plates aptly called Emma, Mario, Olivia and Ugo, designed by Olimpia Zagnoli.


If you're interested in seeing how Ms. Zagnoli lives and works, the great guys of Freunde von Freunden have visited, photographed and talked to her in her flat. Go check it out to understand better what those glasses are about and why they end up in her illustrations.