If you think you’ve seen much about collages, then you do not know this artist. Enrico Nagel is a self-taught illustrator who works with thousands of images that he combines with each other harmoniously in order to create mysterious pieces with a touch of glam. Experimenting both with digital tools and with old cut and paste techniques, he delights us with his beautiful imaginary world.
Enrico, you are an autodidact illustrator from Berlin, but based in Paris. Can you tell us a little bit more about you?
I like to be on the move and only recently relocated to Paris. Before that, I lived in Frankfurt for a while.
Why did you decide to move to Paris and how have the two cities affected your way of creating?
I was born in Berlin and grew up there. But Berlin has changed a lot in recent years and it was finally time for me to take the plunge, too! I am very happy in Paris and really like the city’s energy. I love how international it is.
Your identity and style are very strong. What can you tell us about it and how would you define your aesthetic?
Thank you! That’s a tough question. I guess if I had to sum my aesthetic up in three words, those would be fashionable, mysterious and glamorous.
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We know that you learnt everything by yourself. How did you discover the world of illustration? How hard has it been for you to get where you are now without having studied the matter?
I actually began learning about illustration when I decided to become an illustrator. I started by posting some work online and shortly after, the first magazines and record labels began to approach me. It was a lot of fun working with them so I decided to keep at it.
Your medium of expression is collage. Through it, by mixing different materials, it is possible to create new contents and very suggestive images. Why did you choose to develop this technique? What other mediums interest you?
I find collages to be the best form of expression for me. I enjoy creating something new out of existing elements. I’ve made work in other media, too – animated film and photography, for example – but collage really is the one that keeps my attention, the one I always return to. I never get bored with it! I'm also very interested in 3D, and would like to make a series of sculptures at some point. But I keep discovering new aspects of collage – and I can’t imagine giving it up anytime soon.
Tell us more about your process. Do you work mainly in an old school way or do you include also Photoshop? Which is more important to you, digital or manual?
Depending on what I’m working on, I either use Photoshop or work with analogue cut-outs. In the second case, I tend to work a bit faster and it also enables me to work on four or five pieces at the same time – something that can be a little challenging when working digitally.
I’ve noticed that you explored a new experimental technique that is quite unclear. I am talking about the series called New Utopia, 2014. You used water to deform photo shoots. Can you tell us a bit more about this project? Where does this technique come from? Are you still developing it?
I happened upon this technique through experimentation. The prints are very large (70 x 100 cm) and printed on very thin paper. I place these in a water bath with acrylic paint and pigments. My goal in this series was to create a fuzzy effect. Collages are usually very clearly cut and I wanted these to be more painterly.
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Who or what are your references? Cover faces, stones, plants and flowers? Where do you search for inspiration?
When I work on a series without specifications from a client, I tend to have a clear idea of which kinds of elements I want to use before I start. I don’t think I search for inspiration that much, as it tends to find me! I look at a lot of art, fashion and design, but am also interested in philosophy and the sciences. Ideas just pop up at random moments; sometimes, long after a train of thought has been set into motion by some event or object I’ve witnessed. I don’t have strict rules regarding references but in my collages I do tend to place something ‘solid’ onto a ‘soft’ element a lot of the time.
I’ve read that you very rarely take photos of your ‘models’. Where do you find your materials, then? What’s your process when combining images? How do you choose how to put them together?
It’s an endless puzzle game: when I’m developing a theme, I start off by finding books and magazines that fit the topic. Then, I cut out a great number of things – in the beginning, I don’t know which of those I’ll end up using, I just cast a wide net. After that, I begin by compiling a composition. Sometimes I arrive at a solution quickly, others it takes a little longer; it depends on the theme, really. 
What is the impact of your works on the viewers? What are the things that they particularly like and what not?
I’m often told that collage is a medium anyone can use – and I think that’s true to a certain extent. But making an economical collage out of very few pieces that still has a strong impact can be surprisingly hard.
Your curriculum boasts big names such as Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Vogue Italia and Converse. Has any of these experiences limited your creativity? How do you usually approach your work according to the different clients?
In big productions like those, there tend to be a lot of people involved – either from an agency or the client side itself. Each job is different. And all of that inspires and forms part of my work, even my personal work that isn’t for a particular client.
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Is there any project you feel more proud of? If yes, which and why?
Always the last project I’ve worked on.
We would like to know what is your definition of art and what does it mean to you?
I do see art and design as two separate practices. Art doesn’t need to please anyone, and if it’s too designed it stops being art.
What about new projects coming out? Could you anticipate something?
I’m currently working on a series on borders and boundaries. This is a personal project. Apart from that, there is going to be a poster project in Cologne soon in cooperation with the Museum of Applied Arts there, as well as the Super Fashion Market.
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