When the great Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura died in February at the age of 90, I searched through his posters to find a suitable piece to post as a tribute and came across several very stylized, diagrammatic designs for his early ’70s films. They turned out to be the work of José María Cruz Novillo, an artist I surprisingly hadn't been aware of previously, but who, I have since found out, is a titan of Spanish graphic design.
Cruz Novillo, who is still working at the age of 86 (in partnership with his architect son Pepe), could rightfully be called the Saul Bass of Spain. Like Bass, he excels in both film marketing and logo design. Since 1957 he has designed so many corporate logos that it is hard to imagine that there are any companies or organizations in Spain that didn't have a Cruz Novillo logo at one time. He designed the peseta bank notes in the late ’70s and then, when those were phased out in 2002, he designed the new Euro notes. A 2019 documentary about Cruz Novillo is titled The Man Who Designed Spain (and naturally he designed the poster for it).
With the exception of the bank notes, which of necessity have to be graphically complex, Cruz Novillo’s work is recognizably simple, bold, clear, and playful. He prefers to work with thick black lines, a grid of circles and squares—as can be seen in the layout above of his PSOE logo—and, when it is called for, bright primary colors. He has talked about being in constant search for the balance between “maximum formal simplicity and maximum conceptual complexity.”
He is also known for his many series of match boxes which feature beautifully stylized, colorful drawings of animals. (It came as no surprise to me that the designer Sam Smith is a huge fan of these.)
Cruz Novillo is also a painter, a sculptor, and a sound designer who has been exhibiting his artwork since 1972. In 2010 he premiered what has been called the longest work of art in the world, his Diafragma dodecafónico 8.916.100.448.256, opus 14, a “transcription for English horn of a piece originally created for piano,” which generates a unique and unrepeatable audiovisual work every 12 seconds and which will run for 3,390,410 years, 31 days, 11 hours, 31 minutes and 12 seconds. It can be seen and heard at cruznovilloopus14.com.
His best movie posters are very much in the style of his other work, often distilling the essence of a film into a logo-like ideogram. I’m less fond of the more photo-based work that he did from the mid-’80s onwards, but at their best his posters are indelibly striking and modern. He made posters for almost every Carlos Saura film from the late ’60s through the ’80s, but he also designed for Víctor Erice, Luis García Berlanga, and a number of other major Spanish auteurs.
I present the best of his posters in chronological order below. You can see him gradually finding his distinct style around 1969 with Saura’s Honeycomb.
Much more of Cruz Novillo’s work can be seen at his company Cruz más Cruz’s website cruznovillo.com. And there is an online store where many of his works can be purchased as t-shirts, prints and mugs. I highly recommend a visit.
Images courtesy of the Cruz más Cruz website.