Thomas Sabo x Rita Ora: Fashion Week meets street art
Does the perfect artist-brand collaboration exist? We believe so – and our most prominent booking for Berlin Fashion Week is proof of it.
Many artists have already shaken off the fear of “losing their soul” when collaborating with a brand - like with the increasingly popular phenomenon of graffiti advertising. Working on a commission is obviously different from having absolute artistic freedom: doing whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want. However, complete creative freedom doesn’t necessarily involve being paid - with exceptions, of course.
For artists like Nasca Uno, who can look back on a variety of successful artist-brand collaborations, the question is how to work together with a client in order to create art that you’re proud of, while also ensuring the client is happy.
Thomas Sabo x Rita Ora
For Berlin Fashion Week, we matched Nasca Uno with our client Thomas Sabo, who wanted a customized backdrop to make their blue carpet event a real eye-catcher. Founded in 1984, Thomas Sabo is one of the world's leading companies in the jewelry, watches and beauty sector, designing and selling lifestyle products for women and men. To this day, the brand is present on five continents and has more than 300 shops.
Making this artistic alliance even more exciting was Rita Ora – the core element of the event, who was also to be featured in the commissioned artwork. The singer and actor is the first British female solo artist to have 13 Top 10 songs in the United Kingdom.
The event held at Berlin’s famous Stadtbad Oderberger marked the starting point of Thomas Sabo’s and Rita Ora’s partnership: Ora was to be the new brand ambassador, presenting the campaign “The magic of jewelry”. For Nasca Uno, all this was part of a briefing to guide him in the creation of his portrait.
Nasca Uno prepares for painting
Nasca Uno is an artist with a unique signature style and a dense portfolio, and he was chosen for the collaboration as Thomas Sabo knew he would deliver something amazing. Because of the celebrity status of the two figureheads and the timing during Berlin Fashion week, the event was designed as a red (or in this case blue) carpet affair.
Nasca Uno was asked to create a background for the carpet, so that everyone captured by the paparazzi would be publicising the news of the collaboration. For days to come, celebrities would post this event on their social media, with their own photographs showcasing Nasca Uno’s backdrop; attracting attention through street art.
We met Nasca Uno during the preparation period in his Berlin studio, where the artist was working on a heavy 8 × 2,70 meter canvas that would eventually be revealed at Stadtbad Oderberger. He described how the client, through our colleagues from Knueppel & Compagnon, had given him an outline for the artwork. The commission was to feature Rita Ora’s face and jewelry from Sabo’s Autumn/Winter collection.
The final artwork on the blue carpet
Two weeks later, we saw the final piece in its real setting. Cameras were flashing and celebrities were marveling at the piece as they posed. Nasca Uno fused his own street art influences and surrealistic technique to represent Rita Ora’s personality and the style of Sabo’s collection. When Rita Ora arrived wearing a glamorous shimmery dress, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, she perfectly complemented Nasca Uno’s painting.
Creative and collaborative processes: An interview with Nasca Uno
We talked to Nasca Uno about this special booking, how he feels about his work being categorised as street art, and what makes the perfect artist-client relationship.
How did you feel when you received the request to paint a huge mural of Rita Ora?
Nasca Uno: I’m always happy when I get job inquiries from Basa Studio, especially those big ones. Honestly, I had to do some research about Rita Ora but when I got information about her from the client it became clearer what the painting should be about. I’d never collaborated with a jewelry brand, so I was curious how the result would look.
We definitely see a lot of your style in this client commission. To what extent did the client give you the space to add your own touch?
The customer liked my style very much and wanted it to be used for the collaboration. As I always like to create mystical and surrealistic themes and figures in my paintings, the client asked exactly for that. So, it was great to work within my comfort zone.
You say that you like to work within your comfort zone but also say you like to push your personal limits. Which technique of approaching work do you choose most often and why?
Everybody loves to work within their comfort zone, it’s just a natural thing. But if you want to push your own limits and evolve, you have to leave this comfort zone. I always try to work bigger, faster and more precise; optimize my techniques and improve my ability to shape three-dimensional forms as well as the use of colors. Like an athlete who walks into the gym and works on different muscles or training plans, a painter can train his skills also in many different ways.
As I started expressing myself in drawings and I consider myself most focused on drawing, I will always keep this sense in my general art. At the moment I’m also implementing traditional drawing and illustration techniques in my mural paintings. Painting this way just feels more natural to me. Painting for me is the way to just purely let yourself go and just create. I don’t really do sketches before starting a new painting because I don’t want to get trapped in my head. When I’ve already drawn or painted something, why should I repeat it? I always want to evolve and not stay in the state I was in when I created the sketch.
Were you proud of the finished product?
I always try to give my best, whether it’s for a commercial artwork or my free work. Depending on the deadline and the requested theme, I always try to push my personal limits. As I don’t paint that much photorealism anymore for many reasons, it was nice coming back to this skillset and seeing how it developed after a long time. Also, I was doing compositions and elements I wouldn’t normally paint. The client was very happy with the result and I was too.
"I always try to give my best, whether it’s for a commercial artwork or my free work". - Nasca Uno.
Why have you stopped doing photorealism?
I never really stopped, I still use the technique in my paintings from time to time, but I don’t use it as the main focus in my paintings anymore. I’m focusing more and more on implementing my natural style and techniques on walls or other media. I wouldn’t say photorealism became boring after a while, but it didn’t feel right for my way of painting. Just copying the same thing that I could see in a photograph and painting it the same way on a wall lacked a bit of depth.
Of course, there are brilliant photorealistic painters out there, no doubt, and I appreciate their work a lot. But it didn’t represent me the way I am, and what I want to express through my paintings. I always wanted to create something personal: my own characters, my own worlds and stories. This is what painting is for me; to create something that just comes out of your mind and doesn’t exist out there in the world we are living. I like to see people starting to develop stories around my artwork, asking me what the real intention was behind it. Mostly it’s just that I want to set free the observer’s mind.
Are there any negatives to doing huge campaigns that aren’t directly inspired by your own artistic desires?
Well, that's a very personal question that every artist has to answer individually. There are artists who compare such a collaboration with the sale of their soul and think that they would no longer remain true to themselves. I wouldn’t approach this in a black and white way of thinking.
Of course, I will always prefer to paint completely freely what comes out of my own head. Nevertheless, it’s completely understandable that a brand wishes to have my artistic interpretation and wants to represent itself through a collaboration. We live in a capitalist system and everyone has to pay their bills. And since I'm a full-time artist, it's normal for me to deal with these compromises. You are always free to say yes or no, and fortunately I can live off my free and commercial art so that I can maintain balance.
But I have definitely decided to work with clients whose requests match my work. Since I do figurative painting with a variety of different techniques and themes, I may be a little more flexible than artists with just one style and skill set. But I wouldn't do anything that has absolutely nothing to do with my work.
See how Nasca Uno helped Katjes stand out in fron of the Berlin Wall in a power mural advertising campaign.
See how Nasca Uno helped Katjes stand out in fron of the Berlin Wall in a power mural advertising campaign.
Did you think artists ever run the risk of selling their own individual artistry when they have to create for others?
Like everything else in life, it's about keeping your balance. If you paint every commercial job and don't stick to your style or theme, just doing what the customer wants, you run the risk of selling your own individual artistry. In general, I would see it more as an artistic craft service than artistry.
As I said, everybody has to pay their bills. And if you can do that with what you love, in this case with art, then in my opinion there is no better way. So, nothing bad about that in any case. Some feel more comfortable with that, some less.
Did this ever happen to you?
Of course, I did some commercial work in the past that really didn’t go along with my style like painting for Döner stalls or high schools. But everything that I did brought me to where I am now, so I am at peace with that!
Tell us about your best and worst client experiences and why they were good or bad?
The best clients are those who give my artwork a new home. Every client and every project is different. I think you always go right if the client values the work of the artist.
The trickiest clients are those that don’t know what they are actually looking for. Especially when you are a young inexperienced artist, and you don’t know how to deal with those clients, you can waste a lot of time and energy on those projects. You start doing drafts and after showing it to the client they are never fully satisfied with the result, or they come up with a totally different idea in the end. Unfortunately, it happened to me that they didn’t understand or value that I put a lot of effort into those sketches, they thought I should be happy that someone hired me. I think every artist has these experiences, but hey, it makes you wiser in the end.
Do you think street art can remain street art when you’re doing it for big international companies?
I don’t really like the terms street art, urban contemporary art, or any similar ones. It’s not really about the term; it’s more about where the artist is coming from and where the artist chooses to present the work.
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