Interview with Corrado Musmeci
Corrado Musmeci’s print heritage is so rich, he can be heard to say that ink is in his blood. Fontegrafica was founded by his grandfather in the 1950s and ran by his father for several years before Corrado took the helm. The company is renowned for it’s high quality artisan printing and limited edition products. What makes them stand out is the way they utilise historical techniques, modern thinking and innovation to create exceptional products. Corrado told us more about the heritage of the firm and how he is evolving things to forge a new place in the cultural world for the firm.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the firm?
After the war, communication became of increased importance so there was a feeling at this time that print was valuable. My grandfather was originally a 1st division football player and then became a football journalist. He had the idea to start a magazine about football with friends and that was how this all began. We still have a rich heritage in football and print all the materials for the first division in Italy to this day.
How did things evolve from there?
In 1975 my grandfather passed away and my father began to manage the company but it was still very small. My grandfather said to my father “I spent my life making paper dirty, instead you will have to print it” By this he meant to make more of an art of printing. Everything became about making work of a very high quality. My father invested in quality machines and people who knew how to use them to create the very best things. In the early 2000s we won the most important award in printing the “Sappi Printer of the Year”. Sappi were the biggest paper merchants and it was a global contest so this was a very big deal for us. In 2009 my father even became a judge as we had won so often they wanted to involve him in a new way. Sadly since the financial crash printing has changed and the award no longer exists but it was very prestigious to win this.
What was your personal introduction to the world of printing?
As I often say, I have ink in my blood. I grew up following my father to work and used to come and play with ink and palettes of paper. I was in front of the press from when I was six years old. When I was 12 or 13 I started to print and work at the press during the summer and also to travel with him. Around the age of 18 or 19 I spent two summers in Chicago on an internship at a print firm. That was a turning point for me, I was by myself but in a field I knew and learning a lot. The firm produced high quality work but when my father sent work and I shared it with them they said our work was art. This made me proud and showed me the value of what we created and I knew my fortune is to make art.
How did you come to be in charge?
Sadly my Father passed away at 28, but he left me a wonderful legacy. I find strength every day and every time I show products because everyone is happy and everyone is inspired. No matter what someone’s understanding of print they can enjoy our work. I feel so lucky to produce such beautiful objects.
Are there any projects which stand out for you?
There are many but I have three which are very special to me. The first is the books I produce with American photographer Gregory Colbert. He has an amazing philosophy and loves to produce crazy books with supernatural paper. Cover is paper made in Nepal it’s an unusual paper made which is waxed with elephant poo. The colours are very vivid. Everyone loves these books and they go crazy realising we produce it. The next is a book featuring amazing photos of Milano which was commissioned by an Australian photographer. We made 100 copies which were all sewn by hand in a very special way.
The final one is a book I produced for Sheikh Zayed for the Grand Mosuq in Abu Dhabi. This is the most important mosque in the world. It’s a huge book and every page is different and it contains many amazing techniques from laser engraving to embossing. We made around 300 and they cost about 2-3000 euros each to produce. There are no other books of this level in the world.
You specialise in limited editions, what is a typical print run for you?
I usually make runs of around 300, 500 or 1,000, but in fashion we create multiples of 20, 30 or 40,000. For me the most interesting thing is that every product is unique.
Do you have any favorite processes?
There’s nothing I love in particular, for me it all has to do with what is the best method for each product. I do not push a technique because printing techniques create emotions I sue the best ones to evoke the feeling that is required. That said I enjoy experimentation and I’m excited to work with 3D techniques and with cardboard and laser-cutting. I love engraving even on wood and metal, we’re currently using lasers to carves into 1cm thick card to create a book cover, the results are beautiful. The technique always follows what the product needs to be though. It seems like you are always evolving how you work, what are you most excited to do next? I’ve started a new part of the company called F.0. The idea is that the company takes us back tothe future to inform new ways of working. I have created an atelier which focuses on an old lithographic press used in 1970s for printing tests. This machine is perfect for limited edition products and is a tool in the atelier for people’s inspiration. I wanted to explain to the market how we can begin to work in new ways. Printing today is a commodity, but my company is taking its work in the direction of graphic arts. The printed product has many details and it’s my role to help art directors and designers understand what tools are available for them to create great work. This is the artistic part of my job, we come from the graphic arts world. Nowadays I don’t like to speak about quality, quality is nothing, it means they do normal things. I want to push us to working more within the cultural field. We’re more than quality we represent the bigger culture of creation. We’re hosting courses so people can experience the atelier and what they can learn. I’ll host courses so people can learn how use the machine and understand the process of creation in a more in depth way. We have many people excited about this and at least 60 or 70 waiting to take part.
Would you say innovation or tradition is more important to you?
These days, I do the atelier so people can experiment with the lithographic machine. Photographers will come here, change colours to see how their work is coming together. We have always prized experimentation. However, we are not inventing but using things in a new way. It’s not like I am inventing a new medicine but I find new solutions with old things. Our generation does this, we have a past but we have to find new solutions but to respect and use things from the past, we must value this because to lose it would be stupid.
Do you think this is typical or your mindset?
I’m someone that is always trying to find solutions, I do that every single day. Finding solutions means suffering, having difficulties but there is always a solution and therefore a release. My mind always approaches things this way. Life is made of hard things and suffering, we are made to find solutions. We shouldn’t wait for challenges to find us, we have to be active to do this. I find many problems every day but also I try to be positive in my approach so we can find a way through.
What is a current challenge for you?
I’m working on a pop up product, It features mechanisms from a watch which separate into layers. It’s kind of crazy, we work to find the little solutions, I have not solved this one yet but I am more positive. We will be able to solve our trouble with real experimentation and make sure our customers are happy.
How do you think your Father and Grandfather would feel about the company today?
People talk about my Father as someone that was an enthusiast, passionate about his work and a strong worker. I hope they would be happy to see I’m putting the same energy in.
What else is next for you?
We have good plans for the future, starting with the book fair in Frankfurt I’m going there with the best binder in Italy and it’s a very exciting moment for us. We want to showcase the possibilities for creating beautiful limited edition products and we’re curious to see the reaction. Everything is aligned to this next step, it’s the most important book fair in the world. Then in January I am hosting a 1 month show at Italy’s foremost design museum – Triennale. With that our focus is to explain that printing is an integral part of the of process of design not just how it is executed. Art is print and print is art.