We interview the creative talent behind the Banana Graffiti Project.
This month we caught up with the wildly creative talent Marta Grossi at her whimsical flat on Gough Street. As an artist and illustrator, Marta has captured the attention of people all over the world with her playful ‘Banana Graffiti‘ project, turning a simple fruit into something magical.We chat to Marta about how she ended up in Hong Kong, how she came up with the Banana Graffiti design and how she’s translated it into a fashion line and more.
Tell us about your background and where you’re from. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I was born in a small northern town in Italy, called Rovigo. Rovigo is located in the Veneto region, but most of the time I say that it’s “near Venice” as when you live abroad it can be hard to explain exactly where your hometown is! My parents and my older sister still live there, and although it’s important where my roots, childhood and family are, I’ve always felt that the place was too small for my experiences and dreams.
I stayed there for my studies and my first working experiences in my twenties, but after that I decided to move to Milan. I then spent four years and a half working for creative advertising agencies until my now ex-boyfriend got a one year job offer in Hong Kong… we were looking for something different and for new opportunities, and I was already thinking of leaving my job; so I saved up money and bought a round-trip ticket for 3 months. Those three months quickly turned in five years! I left Milan just two weeks after my first exhibition while my career was under the spotlight, and I arrived in Hong Kong starting again, from zero. I have no regrets about that decision, and I have no words to express how much I challenged myself and grew. That being said, it was definitely one of the most intense times in my life.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I now live in an apartment between Central and Sheung Wan, just above Gough Street. It’s my fifth apartment, and I really hope it’s the last one because constantly moving from one place to another is exhausting.
It’s in a very old Chinese walk up building and was totally empty when I moved in. I made this my home by customising everything, collecting all my artworks, accessories, vintage pieces and paintings. I’ve also made sure to add treasures from all my travels. I need to be surrounded by art, motivational and positive quotes, green plants, my markers and colours, memoirs and pictures of people I love.
There is a nice light during the day, and I feel every single object inside my flat has a story. Before this apartment, I’d always lived in brand new places. This time I’ve sacrificed some comfort for my independence and a good location. Changing something and remaking it into a “new version” using my creativity is my speciality! Besides that, the walk up is a great work-out every day…
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
My personal style is always changing and evolving, so it’s hard to describe it. If I had to choose some adjectives to describe my style, I would say: creative, unique, quirky and ironic. The way I dress and apply make-up is a pure expression of my inner world. It’s very common to see me walking around with coloured eyebrows, gold temporary tattoos or glitter on my hands. When I wear a lot of colour, that usually means I’m having a very happy day.
My must for fashion is mixing and having fun, I usually choose a statement piece and play around with it. If I’m wearing a famous brand I combine it with a cheap one, maybe something I found for a few dollars in a market during my travels. Or even better is when I wear something I’ve created, like the Banana à Porter Capsule collection I made for iBlues.
This summer is all about gold and copper details, white, bold colours and flamingo patterns. I need to feel myself and be comfortable in my clothes because I truly believe the way we dress is also a way to communicate and express ourselves.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I can shop anywhere! When I first moved to Hong Kong, I did struggle as there are very few vintage shops, but now it’s getting better… (see Sassy’s Guide to Vintage Stores here!) I’m an impulsive shopper, so if I love something I don’t need to think about it that much. Oh, and I hate trying on clothes in the dressing room!
I love A Boy named Sue and Grana for silks and cotton. I actually created all the new illustrations and map design for Grana group. Recently I’ve also discovered an amazing fashion designer, Vanessa Tao. I really value her talent, and I got an amazing tropical leaf raincoat from her. She designed and illustrated the pattern herself! I try to support emerging designers and new creative minds, as I know how hard is to create something different. This season I have every piece of my collection Banana Porter, so my wardrobe is pretty full already! For accessories I like the9thmuse and Monocal X Tae, a cute local designer shop just down from my place. I also use my friend Visala’s collection, luzid design, and everyday I’ve been wearing my special Banana Graffiti collection with Beyond Jewelry.
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
I take good care of my skin and I love discovering new brands and products. I’ve always had a thing for make-up and beauty, but my beauty obsession is face masks. I do them at least twice for week… I remember when I was a teen, I would walk through my house with my mud mask on, scaring my father! Recently I’ve been using a lot of essential oils mixed with my moisture cream. I love Aesop, kiehls and Caudalie for a boost of energy and I’m using Diorskin Nude Air Serum on my face at the moment for the perfect nude effect. For my body I use Diptyque and Nuxe Guile Prodigieuse.
Other obsessions I have are hair mists, compact perfumes and thermal water. With this weather, they’re the best way to refresh a face full of make up. For lips I’ve been using an organic lip balm I got in Cambodia, made with my fave frangipani flowers. I treat my bob hairstyle with Italian products at Raw Hair salon in Sheung Wan, and I get my nails done at Kitty Saloon and Sparadise.
Describe your perfect weekend in HK.
My perfect weekend would involve: friends, sport, nature, sun, beach and most importantly – a computer detox. Big Wave Bay beach and Tai Long Wan are always perfect alternatives to the city stress. I also love going for a picnic in Tamar Park (see Sassy’s Picnic Guide here) and discovering new places in Hong Kong. That being said, sometimes I do have to work on weekends, which is just part of being able to work independently. If there are events, concerts or art exhibitions in the evenings on the weekend, it’s always fun to celebrate with a glass of prosecco and music!
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
Some very good friends of mine recently opened MITTE – it has the best Negroni in town and super food. If I crave Japanese BBQ style, I like Mutekiya in Sheung Wan; if it’s a chilled out vibe and pizza I go to 208 and I like Cocotte for a relaxing night in my neighbourhood. Agnes B on Gough Street is like my second home, I always go there to create illustrations, to work or meet friends.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Free time is a very limited concept in a city like Hong Kong, where everyone is running between work and schedules. I invest and spend my free time with people I love, doing things to nurture my body, enrich my mind, and inspire my soul. That can be a yoga session, a chat with an old or new friend, a simple dinner, or creating something new. I try to surround myself with positive and inspiring people, sharing my life and experiences, creating an exchange. I believe the best free time is spent invested in travelling; seeing new places, traditions and horizons.
Where’s next on your travel hit list?
I’m just back from an event in Tokyo and I hope I can visit again soon, I fell in love with Japan. In a couple of weeks I’m going back to Italy to visit my best friend in Puglia, then I’m hoping to go back to Bali in September and I’m going to Mexico for a wedding in October. Then I might head to Sydney towards the end of the year… I would love to visit Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam soon too. I’ll probably travel more for some of my events this autumn, but the locations are still top secret!
Tell us about your career – how did you start out and end up where you are now?
All of my studies and training were based in the creative world and communications. After that I worked for many years in advertising agencies which I believe created a strong foundation for when I started my own company and began working independently as a Creative Director and Artist. My work is a combination of my passions and skills, and I’m happy to work and represent big brands, small firms and new upcoming retailers. I have more than 11 years of experience in the communication field, advertising, branding, art, design and illustration.
I’m proud to think about where I am today, in particular with the media exposure over the past two years, but I consider this moment as just another step. I’m always eager to find the best way to improve myself and evolve…
What made you decide to start Banana Graffiti and how has this project evolved?
The Banana Graffiti project is inspired by the local “wet market” in Hong Kong. I used to buy a lot of bananas and take them to the office. One day at the wet market I saw bananas written with red marker to indicate the price, and when I went back to the office I started to write my colleagues’ names or draw little illustrations on them to customise the bananas. In a few days the project went viral and became very popular all over the world.
Today Banana Graffiti includes collaborations with Pedder Red, Society6, Artscoop Brasil, Aiino, K11, Capsule Collection with Iblues, Max Mara Group and Beyond Jewelry. For me, this is still a temporary space and I would love to prove that inspiration is everywhere.
What are some of your favourite pieces/projects that you’ve done?
I treat every project and client with the same energy and enthusiasm, but at this moment in my life, I would say that the Banana Graffiti project is one of my favourites for all the noise it has created. The experiences, events, places and people involved around the world has been incredible… all thanks to a simple fruit, just seen through different eyes.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a creative in Hong Kong?
I must say most of my projects are a big challenge, I need to follow the market rules but I want to create an unique product and work out of the box. I always want to make something that people want to collect, something memorable with the “wow” factor. But timing is a big issue… I still remember, for my latest collaboration with Lane Crawford, my apartment was filled with 80 giant apples that I had to paint in 2 days and 2 nights.
What inspires you?
I always found inspiration from simple and ordinary things. A signal on the street, a song, a tender and elderly couple at the park, soy sauce stains on a table. Everything can be inspiration and change our perspective. I love to see things from different angles.
Where do you go/what do you do to fix a creative block?
I go out, I sit somewhere and I look at people walking on the streets, other times I go to the book store and browse inspirational magazines. The creative block happens when you are too focused on what you are doing and start over-thinking… fresh air is always a good cure.
Who are your Top 5 artists?
Art for me is like music, I’m really eclectic and change what I like very quickly. At the moment though, my Top 5 Artists are: Michelangelo Buonarroti, Katsushika Hokusai, Robert Doisneau, Banksy, Yayoi Kusama.
You’ve recently launched a clothing collection with iBlues – how did you make this happen and was it hard to translate your Banana Graffiti project across into fashion?
I was contacted by iBlues team last June. The brand is a great space for emerging talents in the world of art and communication. They saw the project on the official Banana Graffiti Instagram and were surprised by the mix and match of food, design and fashion. I went back to Italy for a vacation and I spent half of my time in meetings for the early stages of the production. Transforming a project created as temporary art into a saleable fashion product is extremely complex. I created 4 visual, 3 unpublished designs only for iBlues and the famous Banana Graffiti “flamingo” which was already very popular on social media.
From these painted Banana Graffiti images, I generated some digital patterns, specially made to become fabrics and clothing, and consequently an entire Capsule Collection. It was quite hard to translate a real painting on to a digital pattern, trying to imitate a ‘hand-drawn’ effect. It was challenging, but an amazing experience to work with iBlues team to create something together.
Any exciting plans for the future? Where do you dream you’ll be in 5 years time?
I would love to extend my creative perspectives, maybe doing courses or workshops, involving creativity with education. I’ve just started to work independently and I will keep on building a solid platform that allows me to work anywhere in the world.
I consider Hong Kong a temporary place, so I’m not sure I will be here in 5 years, but never say never! In the next 5 years I hope I have amazing adventures, and that wherever I’ll be and whatever I’ll do, I’ll be in love.
What advice would you give for other aspiring artists?
Be curious, look at things from a different perspectives, don’t be scared to try new things, and take all the criticism as part of the journey. Also, travel. As much as you can.
All photos by Sabrina Sikora Photography.