The 1960s saw a generation of designers gestate to give new and regenerated momentum to drawing in the strictest sense. In 1965 Celestino Piatti published Celestino Piatti’s Animal ABC, which contained a concept of refined illustration that set trends and represented a benchmark for numerous draughtsmen and women, with its considerable success giving rise to numerous series. The way it simplified forms and captured animals’ anatomical essence reflected an architectural vision through schematism.

In 1968 Pepe Cruz Novillo was bolder and, with the insight of a designer with experience of dissecting drawing material, he lifted illustration up to the highest point of graphic art. The ballpoint pen and paintbrush sat on the drawing board as mere spectators in Pep’s new lines. The wonder came as he hit upon the synthesis that lay underneath the morphology in any object, a being or self-propelled, as was the case with his Abecedario animal (Animal ABC), in homage and praise of Piatti’s work and akin to the moment a bullfighter dedicates his performance to the crowd. Thus, similar to Celestino, Pepe’s success in Spain was monumental, further still if we consider the humble format of the matchboxes that formed the subjects of his designs (Piatti’s were large-scale books-objects). He has had countless plagiarists and followers, even to this day – such was his modernity.

Staying true to his style, in 1970 he worked on his own take of “Arming the Nativity”, for the same client Fósforos del Pirineo (Pyrenees Matches), naturally reaching a solution in subject matter brimming with hackneyed clichés. His mastery came with determination.

Cruz Novillo was born a graphic artist, his spirited viewpoint offering us a new and round face of the design that came to the fore in the sixties.  The visual harmony of the profession and his craft run equally through his pictorial and sculptural work, where he enfolded forms into his mathematical concept of the way creation and design are understood. Similar to calligrapher Claudio Aznar de Polanco, who, in 1719, published the treaty Arte nuevo de escribir por preceptos geométricos y reglas matemáticas (New Art of Writing Through Geometric Precepts and Mathematical Rules), it was to “see” beyond what other humans see. To me Pepe is, like Billy Wilder to Fernando Trueba, a deity, something that belongs to us, a piece of heritage.

The aura that formed around this figure endures today and is exemplary – an indelible reference point for future generations of designers. Such is his vitality.

By Javier García del Olmo