Joana Avillez is the quintessential New Yorker. The one you think this city is full of when your familiarity is based off books or Woody Allen movies. Her light-filled Tribeca loft, complete with Murphy bed and walls of books, was once her father’s art studio. Her style is totally effortless. She’s an illustrator for New York Magazine, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vogue, McSweeney's, Refinery29, Vanity Fair, Random House, and Lucky Peach–to name a few. And she thinks that being a lifelong New Yorker isn’t necessarily a good thing. That unpretentious nature made us feel like we’d known her forever, after spending just one morning in her space.
Have you always been an illustrator? How did you know that this was what you wanted to do?
I am an illustrator because a very particular Portuguese man named Martim Avillez raised me. My entire childhood was about drawing with him. He was able to see things through my eyes, and I his. I was a child illustrator without knowing it (drawing and writing about what I saw), but by the time I got to art school I didn't even know what illustration was. I had to loop around the art world before realizing what I always loved was what I still loved.
When was the first time your work was published?
I can't really remember. I think I convinced someone to let me do a small illustration somewhere. The first piece I did that felt explosively like me was my Eloise parody for New York Magazine.
"Eloise Moves to Brooklyn" written and illustrated for New York Magazine
When were you most honored or excited to have your work published/included? Where was it?
I did a series in Apartamento last year, ten different stories about windows. I just love that magazine and so, when I got to make something for them, I was on cloud nine. Working with Zeit magazine is also a thrill, because they give me such freedom and understanding.
Your style is so spirited, optimistic, and whimsical–even when depicting something less than–did you fine-tune it deliberately over time or have you always approached your subjects this way?
Ha! For better or worse I think this is my life-coping mechanism rendered 2D. I have a funny line and I love funny everything, but this comes from an initial understanding that everything is horrible. Pulling humor from that is where joy is. (This idea was probably developed before the invention of the wheel).
What inspires you?
People on the street. Beatrix Potter's perfectly illustrated and written books. My mom, who has been artist for over 40 years.
Where do you work (or work best)?
I work the best at my home/studio; drenched in coffee, with my terrier mix Pepito pushing me halfway off the seat.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Swaddle myself in blankets.
Your apartment is full of art - not just yours, scattered about the workstation, but what looks like collected art as well – who are some of your favorite artists?
I have a Leanne Shapton drawing above my desk from her book Was She Pretty? The girl in the drawing scowls at me all day and I love her for it. I have a gauche portrait of my eye by Dike Blair, my favorite teacher from RISD. I have a Jason Polan illustration, of a woman at MoMA in polka-dot pants. Those are some of mine–so much is from my grandmother and parents. The large painting is by David Diao, one of my dad's closest friends. A Roberto Matta drawing, on the back of a receipt, came from my grandmother. The Joan Jonas dog drawing is from my mom. There are a lot of Paula Rego drawings from the eighties–my favorite.
You’ve lived in New York all of your life (with the exception of school in Rhode Island), is there anywhere else you’d like to live or plan to?
I don't see it as a good thing to have lived in NYC my whole life, hence the New England escape. Because my dad's family is all in Portugal, I visit Lisbon frequently and that is the only place I could see myself relocating to, or staying for an extended period of time.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on D C-T! - A lingual/visual puzzle book with my friend, Molly Young. It is inspired by William Steig's book C D B! Look for it from the Penguin Press in 2018!
Photos by: Heather Sten