44flavours — Making murals with the type-obsessed German design studio
From ceramic teapots to massive murals, Berlin-based creative duo 44flavours has a fantastically freewheeling portfolio. Sebastian Bagge and Julio Rölle met back in 2003 when they were both students and have been working together ever since, building a reputation as a versatile, ambitious and color-soaked creative partnership.
For Julio, the strength of 44flavours stems from its founders’ contrasting creative sensibilities. “Each of us has his own strengths and they just happen to be in different fields,” he explains. “I’m more into painting, drawing and developing ideas; Sebastian loves layouts, typography and organizing things.”
These complementary skillsets come together in an explosion of creative energy to produce visuals that play off both their strengths. Even when there is a shared interest – i.e. in lettering which recurs throughout their work – the two bring different perspectives to the table.
“I think we both found ourselves in that world in our own ways,” Julio says. “Sebastian approaches it as a graphic designer, who likes to play with the mixture of analogue and digital techniques. For me, the love for letters started way back when I was 13, when I was a graffiti artist.
“I was literally addicted to studying different representations of the alphabet. Later on, I discovered the sign painting culture in New York where I did my internship. We would go through the different boroughs on these inspiration tours.”
Assimilating different cultural touchpoints plays a big part in the 44flavours universe. Julio admits he has a huge collection of photos of hand-painted signs, taken across the globe, from Colombia to Nepal. And the duo have created work in a mindboggling array of places, from London, Glasgow and Cologne to São Paulo and Pondicherry.
“Traveling is very nourishing,” Julio says. “Wherever we go, we try to discover the local ways. It’s great to dive into a foreign world and find a way to adapt to it, even at the level of finding the local tools to work with. The use of color is different from place to place, and a feeling for shapes and forms.
“Having said that, we also love to bring our vibe to these places. It’s such an honor and a privilege to be able to go to these far away places to do what we love.”
This tricky balancing act – between their own creative vision and the town or city in which they are working – is particularly present in their huge murals.
“The biggest challenge is creating something that really fits the surrounding; whether it’s going to be a standalone piece in contrast to a very rural area, or something really integrated into the architectural environment,” Julio says.
These pieces also come with a host of practical, as well as conceptual, difficulties. “If you don’t have the opportunity to use a beamer to draw the first lines, you’ll either need to paint a raster or just go with the feeling. It often helps to have someone down there to give you feedback. The other thing is making an accurate calculation of how much of which colors you’ll need, because every surface is different, and some of them suck in more color than others.”
Back in Berlin, Julio agrees that the creative attention lavished on their home city has died down a bit.
“I think the hype is a bit over, and maybe that’s a good thing,” he says. “Berlin changed a lot over the last 10 years, which is of course exciting, but it’s not without a downside. For example, rent is nowhere as cheap as it used to be.
“That was one of the highlights before – the fact that you could live here without killing yourself and not only have the time to do what you wanted to do, but maybe even be able to afford a good space.”
But though the chatter around Berlin may have quietened, Julio doesn’t think the city itself has become any less inspiring.
“I don’t think that the scene died down, it’s really more the hype, which is good,” he says. “The scene is still growing and it’s definitely more grown-up now.”