Will Da Costa, aka Pomona Designs, is a graphic illustrator born and raised in Chorlton, South Manchester. Will is one of the many talented artists that is contributing to ArtBox, our exhibition/auction in support of the mental health charity, Manchester Mind. There’s a large chance that you might recognise Will’s designs from his distinctive and unique club night posters and event flyers. When I met the man himself in Fuel Cafe Bar, Withington, we discussed his penchant for the weird and wonderful, his carefree attitude and the strong influence of childhood on adult-life and mental health. This is our first post with audio and written content, so you’re free to suck it up through either, or a mixture of the two, (but not neither). Enjoi.
Although Will has been an artist ‘all his life’, he threw caution to the wind and abandoned the study of Fine Art a week before the end of his second year of university. He claimed that he made ‘awful things’, or even ‘the worst things’ whilst he was there. For his first year final show, he didn’t have any ideas up until the last week prior to it. ‘I got a heater and a piece of bedsheet, suspended it from the ceiling with wires and turned the heater on so it sort of rippled underneath’.
After a year working on a bar full-time, Will started renting out a studio and got to work on Pomona Designs. Ironically influenced by Picasso as a child, but Instagram artist Ermsy (who does ‘messed up Simpsons things’) as an adult, Will’s work is heavily cartoonish and relies on colour. He traces his style back to childhood and 90s cartoons. Although it’s indisputably high quality, (I know art’s meant to be subjective and that, but I honestly don’t know who’d knock Will’s stuff) he’s decidedly interested in losing any sense of pretentiousness in his designs. ‘A big part of my work is being able to show my friends – I don’t have any friends that are really arty at all. I could take them to a degree show, and they’d be like ‘I don’t understand’.
Will is undeniably down to earth. I was told about his first exhibition, at which he gave his friends his business cards and told them to pretend to be him if anyone asked. ‘I hate being in the spotlight. I’d rather just fade’, the artist intoned.
Despite there being a lot of images of places and spaces on Pomona Designs, none of Will’s images are drawn from photos – they’re all drawn from his mind. For instance, the piece that Will is donating to ArtBox is based on his best friend’s house, of which he holds many memories.
A more mysterious piece of work is ‘Dark Room’, pictured to the right. I was told that this was one of Will’s earliest ingrained experiences as a toddler. The darkroom in his parents’ house seemed big and scary to the then-three-year-old. His literal manipulation of the image into something darker onscreen is solid proof of how highly Will holds imagination.
Whilst we’re on the topic of homes and growing up, Will told me about how he used to resent never leaving Manchester. However, he now realises how tightknit the creative community is here. ‘There’s less than six degrees of separation here. If you know one person, they’ll definitely know someone else’. And Will’s fairly connected in the realm of music with mates like the drummer out of The Mouse Outfit and Stevie Risotto of Sheffield club night Nice Like Rice who has just recently played at Refugee Rhythms. And that’s not Will’s only link to Yorkshire. Designing for about four different nights in Sheffield, You might say that he’s done pretty well for Pomona Designs. ‘I spent so much time [at uni] worried about what I was gonna output, but what I should’ve said was “don’t care, do what you wanna do”, which is what I do now’.
However, as is likely the case with every member of the human race, not everything is smooth sailing in Will’s working life. There’s still a degree of stress in some of his artwork: ‘Commissioned stuff pays the bills, it’s also more stressful… It’s nice to not have to look at a screen, not to have a phone and not to be contacted basically’.
Will didn’t claim to have encountered issues himself, but having had a friend who unfortunately passed away on account of depression a few years ago, it was clear that mental health is an important issue to the artist. He was able to talk about it quite casually, which in its own way was comforting, for it rightfully removed any sense of taboo around the topic. I was just thinking this as he commented, ‘I’m quite good at saying how I feel, I’m quite direct’. He elaborated, ‘It’s about communication and know that you can trust someone, how if you say something, knowing how they’ll react’.
On the topic of men’s mental health, in particular, Will commented that girls are always more emotionally intelligent than men, but his further statements on the matter almost worked to disprove this, since he seemed incredibly understanding of the issue. ‘There are certain subjects that some of my friends wouldn’t talk about, or feel uncomfortable about getting brought up or wouldn’t be honest about maybe’.
This was another of Will’s returns to the topic of childhood, this time in concerning repression. It signalled an almost Freudian outlook on the matter of mental health:
‘You could say some things when you were younger where boys would just take the piss out of you. Like rather than address the issue, or actually engage with you on a subject they’d just make some sort of funny comment or something like that
As you get older things [between genders become] more the same, but if you’re used to having that all your life, people taking the piss out of you in your childhood when you mention something, then that becomes sort of part of who you are’
This led us on to activities in the way of a solution: ‘the way it’s ended up in this country is with loads of unhappy men that just don’t have any real root to express themselves. Art is semi-expressive’. The illustrator continued, ‘I think art’s a great way to do something that doesn’t have a purpose, you’re not doing it for money. He told me about a conversation with a girl who works in law in London. ‘She was like “I used to write poems when I was younger” and I was like “well, why don’t you do that now?”’.
Will made an important point of telling people not to take themselves too seriously. He let on to how he encourages his friends to get creative all the time, even just getting them to have a laugh.
‘My first set of business cards I gave 14 friends all my pens and told them to just draw all over the back. It’s important for people to do bits even if it’s just little things like that. I think people surprise themselves.’
He didn’t neglect to tell me about the floods of creativity that ensued. ‘90% of [the drawings] just turned out to be dicks. I’ve still got them all actually ‘cos I was like I cant give these out… Free Willy but with a penis jumping over a wall, Brokeback Mountain, but with a penis dressed in a cowboy hat, Usain Bolt as a penis winning the race…’
He told me about Maria Abramovich performance artist exhibition at the Whitworth while he was in college. ‘There was a man like sat under some stairs naked, banging a rock with a bell and it was like, I don’t understand this, but if you want to express yourself that way that’s fine’
With near-perfect timing as I finished my pint, our conversation drew to a close with a beautiful summary:
‘I think it’s that whole thing of like noone wants to not be good at something or be laughed at. I always encourage my friends to do things all the time. Even if they’re not good, it’s funny. Don’t take yourself too seriously at all‘.
ArtBox is being held at Solomon’s Cafe Bar on the 14th of December. So, if you want to snatch Will’s work up, head on down. We’re really excited to show you what just this tiny segment of Manchester’s art scene is made of – that’s raw talent and good vibez. If you can’t really can’t get enough of either, come on down to PostBox for afters, where DJ Dijon, DJ Spicy English, and Frenchie Wholegrain are guaranteed to spice up your night with some wholesome tunes.
A big thank you to Will for putting up with weeks’ worth of my messages in the runup to this post, aaand don’t forget to check out the Pomona Designs Instagram.