Christian Mugnai

Christian Mugnai is tirelessly reviving the art scene in Durban with the rest of the Working Class trio. No stranger to good old-fashioned elbow grease, he is a demon with a pencil and a renowned pen tool junkie. Get some insight into this designer’s world after the jump.


DIY: What is it about the work of people like David Kinsey that excites you so much?

Christian: I have never been a graffiti artist, but during my tech years I was very fascinated by the art and its culture. I loved the use of the solid line work, the vibrant flat colours and the individual styles various artists developed through their work. So when seeing the works of artists like David Kinsey’s for the first time, it was those graffiti like qualities that grabbed me. It spoke my language. His line work was bold and very distinctive. I became obsessed with trying to develop my own distinctive style. The art world had finally started to take notice of the artists and illustrators on the street and what they had to say. That really excited me.

I have learned to accept imperfection as one of a kind perfection.

DIY: You have a tremendous aptitude for drawing and painting, so why do you revert to vector work as much as you do? Is it a time constraint thing, getting work out for clients, or has it become something you enjoy as much as the other media?

Christian: I work in vectors on the majority of my freelance work. Vectors have endless benefits over pixelated illustrations and are perfectly suited for commercial use. I’ve always felt my vector art is only as good as the artwork I’m tracing, which is why I have never neglected drawing, and always believed vectors are merely a tool to aid you to achieve polished illustrations. When I started applying vectors to my personal work, I was obsessed with the precision and complete control that the this medium allowed me to have over my line work and detail, as opposed to conventional manual inking and scanning. With vectors, I’ve been able scale up my artworks without losing a stitch of detail, maintaining razor clean lines. This has enabled me to get perfect giant stencils cut out of vinyl of my work for applications to walls and glass. A technique my friend Pier and I have mastered after endless trial and error on the Spiga walls.



DIY: One thing interesting about your work is how complex the faces and facial features of your characters are compared with the rest of their ‘body’. It’s almost as you’re giving them an identity, a sort of individuality. Is this something you set out to do or just a byproduct of the way you work?

Christian: I think it’s a bit of both. I’ve definitely always set out to use line work and detail as a feature in my work to create my own unique and recognizable style. I always felt the need to make my illustrations richer by layering them with detail. I concentrate a lot of detail in my character’s faces because I feel it’s where I have more elements to stylize and they give my characters a distinct identity. This is where vectors allow me to get as complex and as detailed as I want.


DIY: When did your obsession with hands start?

Christian: When I realized I couldn’t draw them. I made it my obsession to be able to never waste time trying to get the ‘hands right.’ Straight out of tech I worked at an animation studio. I was pretty serious about specializing in story boarding as a career. I realized that having a basic understanding of the human body was essential for this line of work and knowing how to put it down on paper fast and believably, would have to be second nature to me. The more I drew them the more I realized how much a part they played in human communication. I find hands very expressive, so much that I make them entities of their own in my illustrations. I have elevated them to almost a godly power; they are divine tools that translate ideas into creations.



DIY: Your style in recent pieces seems to be a bit looser, more direct and expressive. Are you taking a break from the precision of your older work and trying to develop a new ‘look’?

Christian: I try and keep the work that I do as fresh as I can all the time. I think it’s good to constantly search for new things that inspire you and allow for change to happen. I find myself looking for inspiration in places and things I may have overlooked before. My obsessive quest for perfection has almost completely turned me away from it. I suddenly found that the lines that were drawn and painted during my rough work suddenly looked so spontaneously perfect. I feel that my obsession with linear perfection has almost hijacked the purpose of what I was trying to portray. I do feel a lot looser and expressive with this new technique. I have learned to accept imperfection as one of a kind perfection.



DIY: How do you think your life in Italy as a child and then in Durban as a teenager and adult, especially arriving here during a volatile period of our recent history, has shaped you as an artist?

Christian: My short time in Europe as a young boy exposed me to an overwhelming amount of history and culture. From an early age I was made aware of what surrounded me every day by my mother, whose love for cathedrals and architecture had me dragged to nearly all of them in western Europe. For a nine-year-old boy immigrating to Durban from Milan is quite a culture shock, or at least it was for me. The sight of roaming zebras grazing around the landing strip as I had hopefully imagined didn’t greet me but I was embraced by a warm and colourful city I have yet to leave. I think the exposure of these two very different cultures really forced me to be more observant of my surroundings from an early age. So when I arrived here, what was the “norm” for most kids, I would actually stop and look at. Rickshaws, beautiful oceans, talking Mynahs and pineapples rolled in curry powder blew my mind. They still do.


DIY: What tips/hints/discouragements do you have for any varsity students putting their portfolios together for the job hunt?

Christian: Don’t clutter your portfolio with work, more has never meant better. In my experience, top creatives need to see very little of your work to be able to identify your skills. Focus on what you are good at and sell yourself on that. I would never want to discourage anyone about this industry, if you can make a living from it, I think it’s an amazingly demanding, frustrating, and unbelievably rewarding line of work to get into. It obviously comes with its hacks, but what doesn’t? If you love it, you’ll do well.



DIY: What do think pushes you more? A brief with no restrictions, where you have complete creative freedom? Or one with set parameters, where you are forced to come up with a solution based on the restrictions stipulated by the client/brief?

Christian: I really think both demands you to push yourself. I often find that having parameters on a project forces me to stick to a certain path, but even there I’ll try to execute it as creatively as I can within those parameters. Blank canvases are a little harder to conquer, but it will definitely push you to squeeze a little more juice from that melon. It can drive you a little crazy but it also forces you to dig a little deeper, where the good stuff is.



DIY: Have you ever finished any of the comics you have on your Flickr? If not, why not?

Christian: I have a really bad habit of starting things really enthusiastically but tend to get bored really quickly. But I also tend to go back to things half started, not to necessarily complete them but to take elements from them and apply them to new projects. I don’t think anything is a waste of time, it all gets stored in the attic to be rediscovered again later. I often hate things at first but grow to love them later.



DIY: Working Class and their exhibitions have injected a new life into the Durban art scene. What are you and your fellow companions, Skullboy and Tyrone Bradley, hoping to eventually achieve with this initiative?

Christian: It is really awesome to hear that. Durban is so rich with talent, our mission as WorkingClass is to showcase it to the rest of the country and give our local artists and illustrators the recognition and opportunities they deserve, which will hopefully inspire them to stay here. Working with SkullBoy and Tyrone has been really awesome. I have a great deal of respect for both of them as artists and now friends. WorkingClass is really taking shape and gathering great momentum with the support we’ve had. Our recent touring exhibition “Locals Only” was the fruit of our efforts and hard work. The work from all three cities was of a really high standard. We hope to do these touring exhibitions more often as we really feel that there isn’t enough interaction between artists amongst the three cities. We hope these touring exhibitions will narrow the gap a little going forward. We are also so stoked with the support we have received at our exhibitions at the Upstairs Bar, it’s so awesome to see the layers of talent we have here in Durban. We are so grateful to all the artists and art lovers that have come to support us and took part in our shows. The three of us will continue to work towards putting collective and solo shows together with local and national artists. We are working on some exciting projects for the latter part of this year, which I’m sure you’ll hear about from SkullBoy soon enough. At the moment we are just focusing on keeping up the momentum to hopefully start organizing a show every month. We all just need to stop complaining about shit and start creating our own opportunities. To all the haters: Durban is rising.



DIY: Lastly, do you have any exhibitions or shows lined up? Apart from continuing to put out great work, what lies ahead for Christian Mugnai?

Christian: I’m hoping to start a family this year with my beautiful wife. I’m working on a solid body of work, which I’m hoping to show at the end of the year. With whom and where, I have no idea yet. I’m just quietly gathering momentum and trying to keep a balance between everything else that is demanding attention in my life.


Sick, thanks for your time! For more check out his work over here


14 Responses to “Christian Mugnai”
  1. Warren says:

    Amazing artist, Im a huge fan of his work, as well as Skullboy. When is the next Working class exhibit????

  2. Trevor says:

    Def one of this countries’ most talented artists.
    And a down to earth guy. Keep it going my bru.

  3. Chris Prior says:

    Christian you beauty!!awesome work bru!!

  4. mark g says:

    He’s definitely one of the most talented and chaotically gifted people around. Truly amazing! Never ceases to blow my mind.

  5. Kweefer Sutherland says:

    That heart blew my fucking mind!

  6. Marco says:

    Bravo Giotto! Mitico! As stathi says elbow grease always ends up paying!!!
    Finally being widely recognized and truly respected!!!!!

  7. Adam says:

    A huge inspiration for me.
    Huge fan of your work and the effort you are making to put Durban on the map.
    Big ups!

  8. Montana says:


  9. Ian Lewis says:

    Another DHS art student I am incredibly proud of! DIY track down the rest of them! What a great interview!

  10. Turck says:

    Always wondered who did the Spiga stuff.
    Great work!

  11. Durban Is Mine says:

    Awesome, love the Verb stuff

  12. Daniela says:

    Bravo Mugnai – My super talented son-in-law. Well done!

  13. David says:

    Great style Christian, keen to see more

  14. Andrew says:

    I am looking for Christians phone number for work if anyone has it, many thanx

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