The calligrapher of the new century.

An eclectic professional who took his passion very seriously, “escaping” from every label and reinventing a thousand-year job: that of the calligrapher.

One of the crucial characteristics shared by all people who invented their own jobs, is that they have escaped from any societal labels. They couldn’t handle being “the doctor” or “the layer”, they could only be represented by their names and surnames. And so is Luca Barcellona. He is not a calligrapher, neither a publisher or a musician. He is Luca Barcellona. A professional who has managed to find, with the right harmony, a synthesis between tradition and innovation, sacredness and modernity, by reinterpreting a thousand-year-old art in constant evolution and so universally re-interpretable according to the cultures and contexts where it is located. Drawing letters, modifying their forms and styles, letting them be inspired by their spirituality and drawing important life lessons from them.

Interview

Would you tell me your story, and which are the paths that have led you through this journey?

The calligrapher’s job, and therefore the scribe’s and copyist’s ones, have been on for centuries now, I couldn’t invent them. When I started studying calligraphy at the end of the 90s, it was an obsolete discipline, art directors, for instance, did not call calligraphers anymore as in the 80s, where the art of writing was ordinarily used for commercials. I have simply carried on with my studies, attempting to spread what I was doing, in a moment where the art of writing had been relegated to certain areas for passionate. I tried to get a solid theoretical background and then have it mixed with contemporary languages, as the graffiti, with which I started drawing letters. For sure, the use of social networks, publications and travelling a lot all over the world to teach and diffuse my art, has helped this ancient profession becoming my principal profession.

We have left a century, the twentieth, where Humanity has made great strides (and terrible mistakes, from time to one). A century which has given us a great number of influences, inspirations and ideas. Yet, this cultural heritage can be a great inspiration, but also a great burden. How important it is, for your work, this relationship with the past? Do you feel more an inventor of the future or an innovator of the past?

You cannot innovate if you do not know the history and past of what you are doing. It’s something applicable to almost everything. I can work as a master of a discipline that has more than 600 years of history, with a tool being tested at that moment, as making cursive letter through the usage of a software for virtual reality. Or a Gothic letter with a 6 cm marker, designed for tags. I think it’s a question of linkages and connections; technology is a mean, but it can become completely useless if you do not know how to use it, and at that point it become useful only to fill the pockets of those who collect and sell our data.

Technology is a tool, but it can become completely useless if you do not know how to use it, and at that point it become useful only to fill the pockets of those who collect and sell our data.

— Luca Barcellona

During an interview, you said something very real about your discipline: “Writing is one of the greatest man’s conquests, and it took place over several centuries. I do not feel like I want to throw it away for fifty or sixty years of technology, I do not believe it. […] Since our tradition is our history. If we lose the ability to communicate with writing, we lose a lot. We delegate to a machine a man’s conquest”. Nowadays, everyone talks about artificial intelligence, robots and Digital Transformation, yet you have rediscovered an entirely analogical craft, that was largely disappearing, and made it yours. How is your relationship with technology? And how do you see the future of your profession in about thirty years?

Honestly speaking, I think we are living a digital dictatorship. Using the art of writing in the graphic area, I am also using software and hardware myself. And to be honest I would also love an 8 years old computer, to do what I do. But we are all forced to update and replace our newest devices to a pace that we do not decide and control, dazzled by the belief that the latest versions are much better than the previous ones. If it were not so, you would not be able to explain the reasons for chasing new models of a technological tool. The people which do earn and take advantage of these processes are very few. These are the people that decide the standards in music, in instant messaging or which adapter you need to connect a projector or a camera to our laptop. Technology today seems having turned from a medium, to the end itself. It is obvious that a computer, photography, or the usage of scanners, do help me speeding up the process of my work. Yet, I could also create a logo with an ink made up from a sumi stick or create handmade paper through cotton and a chiselled bamboo stick. I wanted to learn how to do these things, because the thought of being capable of doing all this, albeit with greater difficulty, without the aid of technology, has always made me ideally and partially free from this digital dictatorship I was telling you about.

I do love the title of your monograph, “Take Your Pleasure Seriously”, because it summarizes everything you need to have to invent a job, as passion (“Pleasure”) combined with determination (“Seriously”). If you are just a passionate, it becomes a hobby and not a job to live with. On the other hand, if you have only the determination, it’s not fun at all. How important it is the method for you whilst working? And how do you manage to combine your creative and “passionate” side to the rational and “serious” one?

The words “serious” and “passionate” travel on two separate paths that often cross each other. The sense of the title is to take your passions seriously, because they could really identify your own life. You are always in between among what you want to do or what you must do, and keeping the balance is not an easy thing. Surely, a professional cannot wait for the inspiration, it must have “craft skills”, practical solutions that derive from empirical evidence.

You are always in between among what you want to do or what you must do, and keeping the balance is not an easy thing.

— Luca Barcellona

A few quick questions

What is the number one enemy of the creativity process?

The lack of culture and taste. Sometimes, the conditions set up by a client who does not know your work or what you do, who is only interested in getting figures from you, can greatly compromise your job, although it had started with all good intentions. Within the creativity process itself there is also a professionalism that, when challenged, makes the result worst.

If you could write an only word on top of a big billboard in the Cathedral square in the city of Milan, which word would you choose?

CALM.

If you found a working time machine, and you could have one trip only, where would you like to live? In past or future times ?

I guess, in the past. Being surrounded by art, graphics, musicians and music from the 50s and 70s, with hindsight, would not be too bad…

What drives you to work more? Making profit and be successful (making money) or whether your job gives meaning to your life and might positively impacts the world (making meaning)?

My three rules for evaluating my job are: creating beauty, that needs to be well paid, and creating value, which means something that makes the people which will use it or the community who will be influenced by it, better. If at least two of these factors coexisted, that would be already a great success.

Which character would you want the inscriptions on your tombstone to be engraved with?

Why, is there any chance I might be able to see it?

Within the workplace, is it better to ask permission or forgiveness?

Permission, for sure.