The hyper-realistic work of Spanish artist David Cristobal always requires a second look. His pieces echo of a modern, mad-scientist Da Vinci, sometimes fantastical, sometimes macabre, but always masterful. Photographer Jon Chu caught up with him in Milan to capture his deep love for pizza, music, and (trying) to take things slow.
Hey David! First of all, your work is incredible. It's immediately apparent that they are not the work of an amateur. Were you formally trained?
Thank you! I first started drawing when I was a child in Madrid, copying cartoons I saw on TV. Made up, fictional characters. But it wasn't until high school that I decided to formally study art. However, after college I became a teacher at a primary school and quit drawing for many, many years until I moved to Milan.
What's the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you what your childhood was like?
Unfortunately I don't have many memories of my childhood, I'm not sure why! But one memory, a repeated memory, that always comes back to me is lying on the living room floor drawing while my mom and her best friend drank their coffee after lunch. They've been doing this every day for almost forty years.
You're from Madrid, but now you live in Milan. How did that happen?
Amazing. Did you find your art changed when you moved from Madrid to Milan?
Actually, my art started over, in a sense. I used to paint on canvas with oils, but when I moved to Milan I started to draw with graphite pencils. Now I feel way more comfortable in this medium.
Can you speak to the impact music has had on your personal as well as creative life?
Oh! I could talk about this for days. In my personal life, music is everything, my real passion. My life revolves around music. I visit record stores more than museums or tourist destinations when I'm visiting cities. I spend 75% of my day reading about or listening to music.
You used to play in bands too. Do you miss playing shows and recording music?
Yes, I miss playing and recording, but I always did it for myself. I miss playing in bands with other people, and I liked to play live, but I always preferred rehearsing. Maybe one day I'll play again, who knows!
Do you still go to shows often?
Yes, of course, but less than in the past because I'm getting older haha! Plus after seeing the same band many times it's hard to recreate that feeling you get when you see a great band for the first time.
You've mentioned you'll sometimes use lyrics or song titles to come up with images. Can you elaborate on that?
I don't know how to explain this, but some lyrics, titles or sounds make me imagine an image, and then I draw those words or sounds.
You did an illustration for a book on David Bowie published shortly after his death. How did that come about? Would you like to do more visual work for or about musicians?
It was a big surprise for me! The company that published the book never uses illustrations, only photos. I'd done the illustration three years before David Bowie passed away, they found it and asked to include it in the book. I've done some work on album covers and I'd like to get into this world more and more. For me it would be a dream come true.
When you begin working on a new piece do you start from a conceptual angle usually? Or is your objective mainly visual?
It's a mix between both. I used to start with a mental image, and then once I actually started to draw I would use a real image as a reference. But not the entire image, sometimes just an expression or a small part of it. Often it's a collage of images. But yes, for me the goal is mainly visual.
Do you find you work quickly or slowly?
It's becoming a slow process. I used to work very quickly in the past, mostly because I'm an impatient person and I wanted to see my ideas finished instantly. But I realize now that it's better to take my time, especially if I don't have a deadline. I take more time than ever now but still convince myself that I'm working quickly!
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Milan?
OH! I really love pizza, but who doesn't? There are loads of great restaurants in Milan, and many international restaurants too! I like to eat things that I can't cook at home, so I often go to these kinds of places.
Have you found yourself embracing Italian art since you've been living in Italy? Do you like any particular periods of Italian art history?
When I was studying art in Spain I fell in love with the Renaissance for so many reasons. The importance of the human body, the rendering of the past, the scientific and artistic advances, the balance with nature, and things like this.
Since I've been in Milan, so near to Florence, I can see so many Renaissance works in person! Florence is one of my favorite cities in Italy, not just for the arts, but also because they have one of the best record stores in the world, it's called Rock Bottom.
Check out more of David's work here: