Mirko Ilic Commission

Kosovo-1

Mirko Ilic’s studio is in the same building as Milton Glaser and I had briefly met Mirko earlier as he popped into Milton’s studio to say hello as he does every day.

I ask how he first met Milton and Mirko in his thick Croatian accent replies, ‘I knocked on his door, what else would you do if you want to meet someone… you knock on their door or sneak through their bedroom window and I didn’t want to do that to Milton!’

I ask about Mirko’s favorite projects and he shows me one of his many published books. He tells me he doesn’t design or read any of these books, ‘I don’t get involved. I check to see the captions are correct on the pdf’s and everyone gets a credit, that’s it. It’s embarrassing, it’s almost like people are lying over your grave.’ In his career Mirko has designed over 500 posters, 4-5000 illustrations, 500-2,000 magazine covers and 100’s of record covers. I am curious to find out how he remains excited about working, he simply tells me that he keeps changing what he does, from 3D animation, hotels and restaurant to pro bono work, he also invents his own projects.

Mirko is a huge advocate for mentoring and during my interview two Croatian students turn up and sit behind me waiting for Mirko to critique their work. I ask if Mirko would consider critiquing Diplomat magazine, he asks, ‘are you a student or professional?’ I look at him as he knows I am alas 15 years past being a student, he explains ‘I don’t know your reality… a student’s work he continues is purely their work the only thing stopping them is imagination and lack of experience. A professional can design one magazine beautifully and be mediocre on another. It all depends on what the people around you allow you to do, because of this it is very hard for me to judge professionals. I can only talk about your work if I had your editor sitting here with you then you can say he/she told me to do this, then I can go after him.’

Mirko recently lectured at the New York Times art department. He tells me that he did not comment on their work but went after the editors who he believes do not give their designers enough freedom to make decisions over visuals. ‘Usually I do not like commenting on other professionals work, I would not like any of my clients doing this to me.’

Mirko has worked all over the world and has collected business cards from countless Ambassadors and Diplomats, he tells me, ‘I try and do nice things for little countries. When it come to causes I care about I am their voice and I am bull dog. I believe I am able to bring the right attention to the cause whether it be for a gay issue, minority issue or students that need new facilities, I am actually quite good at this.’

Mirko will without a doubt say no to projects if he does not believe in the politics of the job and has been known for firing clients. He points to two small building blocks on his table an N and an O, he says he uses these words often. Mirko is blunt and straightforward and with that comes a feeling of safety. There is no beating around the bush with Mirko, if he likes you you’re very lucky if he doesn’t you should run and keep running!

Mirko’s image for the September 2011 Diplomat cover on Kosovo caused a stir in diplomatic community, especially when the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia congratulated Diplomat on a magnificent cover using such a prominent Serbian artist. Mirko used an image of a chick between two army helmets symbolizing a new nation born out of conflict. When I asked him why he said yes to creating the cover for Diplomat, he said, ‘I had no bad background with you, if I had known you had messed up or you were a right wing narrow minded group I would not do it for you, simple as that! I wanted to show my support for Kosovo.’

At least 30% of Mirko’s jobs are pro bono, ‘if I like the job and the person I will do it for an extremely small amount of money, if I don’t like the person I will charge more, maybe, he says with a smile. I need to work with people I don’t like, it will make me rich.’

I have never met anyone quiet like Mirko, his honest, realistic and simple approach to design is invigorating. ‘It is important to take the work seriously not myself’ he adds.

Our time has come to an end and I start to say my thank you’s and good-bye’s and Mirko stands up and orders me to follow him. I desperately try to remember all the questions I asked, were some disrespectful or even worse too generic? I follow him through closed beige curtains and we are in what looks like a warehouse with shelves upon shelves of posters and packages covered with brown paper. Mirko then informs me that ALL of Milton Glaser’s original artwork is stored here. He points to Milton’s famous Bob Dylan with the kaleidoscope hair poster and makes a joke about eBay, I chuckle and then ask about where Mirko keeps his work? He takes me to a dusty draw and pulls out a huge poster he created with Daniel Young to highlight the atrocities of Darfur and hands it to me, I cheekily mention eBay to him and without hesitation he states, ‘you won’t get much for it!’

Taking into account Mirko’s endless talent, generosity and charisma I suspect I would do rather well!