Art Begins With a Reaction: Michael Pantuso Featured in Graphis Journal #371

The renowned, multidisciplinary graphic designer, Michael Pantuso, is featured in our upcoming Graphis Journal #371 (available for preorder), where the creator offers us exclusive insight into his process and illustrious works. 

Currently based in the Chicago area, Pantuso has been working as a graphic designer for branding agencies for several years. His roster of clients includes charities, not-for-profits, NGOs, patrons, and corporations that want to do more good, with his ultimate goal of bettering society guiding his partnerships. He’s also notably managed his own design firm in cooperation with the branding agency, Ideas360, and has worked for TBWA Worldhealth and Discover Financial. 

When approaching a new project, Pantuso is adamant on exploring all design mediums, whether it’s digital, print, or analogue, to fully bring out a brand’s visual identity. He believes that graphic design can not only capture what a brand is, but what it can become, and is constantly pushing the envelope for something greater. His design work has been featured in international galleries and private collections, and he’s more recently assumed a position on the Graphis Advisory Board. 

Robin Shapiro, the CEO at TBWA Worldhealth, describes Pantuso’s work as “stunningly groundbreaking, emotionally moving, and utterly unforgettable. He has the imagination of a child and the design experience of a master. He is truly in a category of his own.”

Here’s a snippet of our Q&A with the beloved designer, as well as a series of fun questions: 

What is your creative process?

“I work in a lot of different ways depending on the project or discipline. I rely less on processes and lean more into a variety of approaches that I can use to best get each job done. I’ve never been comfortable with the word or idea of ‘process,’ at least not in the formulaic sense. I think process is a dangerous concept when applied to creativity. It implies a step-by-step set of rules and guidelines, which limits possibilities. No matter what I’m working on, I almost always begin with a vision and idea of what I want to accomplish and where I want to be creatively for a project or artistic expression. I have a vision on the level of execution that I want to reach as well. But, if through learning, discovery, or experimentation, a better idea or creative solution is realized, I won’t hesitate to modify or change what I’m doing. I’m comfortable with spontaneity and remain open-minded as I realize that I don’t have all the answers. That’s not easy, and working that way makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those who just want to get from one point to the next smoothly and easily.

But smooth and easy have never been a high priority for me, and it takes a special client and set of team members to work this way: ones that are willing to step out of their comfort zone and join me on a quest to turn dreams into reality.”

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

“I take inspiration from everywhere in my life. My son and daughter, friends, and colleagues. I’m immensely curious and always in search of new and intriguing things. The art world, galleries, museums, exhibitions, my daughter’s dance performances with the Royal Ballet … all are great places where I find inspiration and motivation. And not just for art and design, but for life too. There’s just something about being in those creative environments, being around art, that inspires and moves me.

A few years ago, I was at the Tate Modern in London. It was late evening, about an hour before closing. I was by myself and thoroughly enjoying the night. I had just exited a Picasso exhibit, which was great. And almost as great was a nice exhibit of Guinness on tap at a local pub near the museum. Everything about that evening was perfect! As I was riding up the escalator, I realized, in a very profound way, how lucky I was to be there and just how lucky I was to be an artist and a graphic designer — one that absolutely loves what he does. So I took my phone out and texted my father. Back in the day, my dad, John Pantuso, was a graphic designer who got me started at the age of twelve. The text I sent him was simple: ‘Dad, I’m at the Tate in London and just left the Picasso exhibit. It was incredible! As a matter of fact, my life is incredible. I love what I do, and I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to this artistic life so many years ago. You’ve given your son the greatest gift a father can give; the gift of art and a purpose in life. I am truly happy and owe so much of that to you. I love you, Michael.’ So, I guess that is where I really find my inspiration. It’s all about the love.”

What 5 words describe your work? 

Versatile, imaginative, tangential, humanistic, and natural.

What would your superpower be?

Time travel.

What is the best advice you ever received? 

You can achieve anything you want in life through patience and persistence. Never give up. Scramble, scramble, scramble.” – Harry Hopman.

What is your favorite quote(s)? 

“Creativity takes courage.” — Henri Matisse; “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned? 

Never change your rear car tire while parked facing downhill on Highway 1 in California. The scenery may be beautiful and artistically inspiring, but your car won’t care and will roll away forever.

Where would you most like to be right now? 

The southern coast of France.

How do you relax? 

Driving and listening to music loudly. 

Tell us a secret about you… 

The Mona Lisa at the Louvre is a fake! The real one is safely hidden in my studio.

To preorder your own copy of Journal #371, visit graphis.com for more.