George Manta was born at the wrong time and place. At least that’s the impression you get after interviewing him. Mar del Plata is located some 400 kilometers from Buenos Aires, the Argentine musical epicenter by default. His city is better known as a beach holiday destination than a sought-after venue for concerts, and that’s putting it mildly. As if that weren’t enough, he began to work with serigraphs at a time when everything in the design world seemed to be irreversibly going full digital. “I’m on team INK!” is a phrase he often repeats as a mantra.
But despite the odds stacked against him, Manta has managed to carve out a successful career that has lead him to work with such artists as Devendra Banhart, Courtney Barrett, and Mac Demarco, becoming an international name in the world of music poster design in the process. Not bad for a kid who started out making flyers “de onda” for his friends at Mar del Plata’s visual arts school.
Inspiration for Manta came early, during the years of a typical ’80s childhood in Argentina. “As a kid I had my room all wallpapered with posters, it was fashionable to have themed posters and illustrations from movies and bands, and I had plenty,” he recalls. “I loved looking at them even though at the time I didn’t understand how those images were made, everything that went into typography, colors, etc. I had skateboarding ones, surfing, some bands, most of them came free with magazines. That somehow got implanted somewhere in my brain at an early age.” In parallel, he developed a special interest in the world of music. Had young George Manta been asked what he wanted to be when he was older, the answer would have been quick and unequivocal: in the future, he could only see himself as a successful musician.
By the end of the ’90s Manta had begun to study at the School of Visual Arts of Mar del Plata. Once there, it didn’t take long for a clear career path to appear in front of him, one that combined the two passions that had shaped his childhood. “By the time I had my first band, it sort of happened,” he explains. “Along with me, several others from the school were also forming their own bands and a scene started to explode. Among all the musicians, I was the one who could draw the best so everybody would ask me to make posters or flyers for their concerts. Before I realized it, I was already knee-deep in this world.”
As a student, George Manta’s name began to garner more and more recognition with every concert, with every poster, with every flyer. His clientele began to expand, first across to Buenos Aires and then, unexpectedly, abroad thanks to one of the first social media platforms to really take off globally: MySpace. “It was a time in which you could really be connected to the whole world, with people doing cool stuff in France, Germany, the US. It was pretty crazy to have contacts in other countries, I couldn’t believe it. I would get pictures of some of my posters on a wall in Berlin and I couldn’t really grasp the magnitude of it all.”
Those were the years in which he discovered Warhol, in which he got into painting and sculpting, in which he learned that even though academic studies were important for his development, nothing could ever overcome the value of creativity. He understood, for example, that learning Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator was important, but that those skills meant nothing without a good idea behind them. Those were also the years in which he nurtured friendships with local artists, most of whom he learned to see as collaborators and not competitors, an idea that would come in handy through his career. And, of course, those were the years in which he discovered his own personal artistic style, that brand of saturated colors and surrealist imagery that’s become his trademark and today hangs in hundreds, if not thousands of living rooms.
His real breakthrough came thanks to Indie Folks, a production company created to fill a void in the local music scene by bringing international independent musicians to perform in Argentina, cult musicians that were usually ignored by other production companies because of the high risk involved in bringing them to South America. By 2012, after a couple of initial years filled with more lows than highs, the company, founded by José Latalist and Alejandro Ban, had somehow managed to book their biggest act to date for two concerts at Niceto and decided to go all in on promotion, with one George Manta there to lend a helping hand.
“What really got my career going was when Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile came to Buenos Aires,” he recalls. “That was the first time I did a truly professional poster. Ale (Ban) was the manager of my band Mandiboola and he had asked me to do the poster because he knew I’d always loved Sonic Youth. That’s how my relationship with them began.”
Not long after that, Manta became the go-to designer for Indie Folks in its heyday, an association that opened the doors to several other renowned artists like Undertones, Mac Demarco, and Erlend Øye (of Whitest Boy Alive fame). But even though his career was on the rise, he faced a big obstacle in finding a marketplace for his art to truly thrive. “I remember when Devendra Banhardt came in 2013 it was a very big event, he actually sold out the Gran Rex theater,” he explains. “It was a huge deal, and I did like 40 prints but I only sold like four or five. People would arrive at the stand and I would tell them how much my pieces cost and everybody thought they were too expensive. Most of them had no idea what a serigraph even was.”
After his disappointing experience with the Banhardt concert, Manta and a few other local artists like Santi Pozzi and Mariano Arcamone, along with companies like the aforementioned Indie Folks joined forces to begin to “educate” consumers about the history of music posters, a craft the began way back in the psychedelic 1960s. It didn’t hurt that, by the 2010s, nostalgia-driven culture had begun to carve out a worldwide niche in the form of vinyl record sales and 80s-inspired content imagery.
“People began to realize that what we did wasn’t just a piece of communication but an original piece as well. You were acquiring a souvenir from a concert and a work of art at the same time.” The strategy started to pay off, and it wasn’t long before Manta and his colleagues began to make a real profit from their craft. Just for reference, for the recent Courtney Barnett concert in Niceto, Manta put 40 serigraphs on sale. The result? All were sold in a matter of minutes.
By 2015, Manta was finally reaping the rewards of his hard work. He hit it big with a collective homage to the late Gustavo Cerati in which he participated, creating a Lisa-inspired poster that remains his biggest-selling piece to date, and the one that people usually recognize from his ever-growing arsenal of creations. He became a household name among local bands, while his international portfolio only grew broader.
He got to meet many of his favorite international artists, many of which he would hang with after their final encores (“Devendra is a very simple dude, but Mac Demarco is quite the eccentric character,” he explains). He even began to work with heavyweight global brands like Nike, Vans, and Axe, all the while maintaining his unique style and as much creative leeway as he possibly could. “Fortunately in every project I’ve worked on with brands, I’ve had total creative freedom and never had any issues. The reality is that brands work with a number of resources that any artist would love to have at his or her disposal, so I feel very fortunate that they’ve liked my body of work.”
Besides his success, George Manta has refused to become complacent, continuously looking for ways to challenge himself and experiment. “I don’t enjoy staying calm for too long”, he says with a laugh. “I love to be doing stuff all the time. I don’t want to reach a point in which I get bored and that this that I do feels like a job, so I’m always looking for alternatives.” In that sense, he has even broken the dogma that had accompanied him since his beginnings, the one that stated his undying love for ink. “My objective is for ink to survive and not disappear, but I’ve also been doing some stuff with augmented reality, including a David Bowie Poster I did when he passed away. I like the relationship between the virtual and the real.” He’s also been dabbling in facial filters, for example, joining forces with rock band Babasónicos for such a project just last week.
- Read More: Babasónicos: A Guided Tour
At his core, amidst all of the ups and downs he has faced in his career, George Manta has not only managed to create an easily identifiable style he can call his own, but he has done so while balancing the two passions that have been with him since he was a little kid. “To this day, when I get commissioned for a poster, I put on the artist’s music and let my neurons soak in those impulses. Each of my works has a great emotional charge in them. They’re all very different, but they all have a before and after story, a creative process, a print process, and a result that I can observe in the fans and the artists. And that’s very gratifying.”
For more of Lucas Ceccotti’s pictures visit his Instagram account.