Kenny Gravillis designed the “Creed III” poster. (Courtesy Photo)

If you’ve seen the massive poster for the Oscars 2023 celebration, you’ve witnessed the work of Kenny Gravillis – an artist, image maker, and storyteller. His unique ability to capture emotions in his posters has made him a living legend in the entertainment industry.

In an interview, Gravillis shared his journey from working with Def Jam and MCA to launching his own graphic design studio, Gravillis Inc., in Los Angeles.

L.A. Sentinel: Mr. G., [Gravillis] your work has created some of my all-time favorite albums covers and movie posters. Was it always clear to you that designing movie posters would be your calling?

Kenny Gravillis: No, not necessarily. I would say I gravitated to movies, not necessarily posters. You know, just because I didn’t really know that that was a world, to be honest.

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LAS: Like a lot of people.

KG: Exactly. I didn’t know there was an industry out there for me, growing up in London. For some reason, in the 80s, after graduation, you were guaranteed a job at a bank.

Gravillis created the artwork for the 2023 Oscars. (Courtesy Photo)

LAS: It’s hard for me to imagine you as a banker – what series of events led you to pursue a career in the creative industry?

KG: When I was about 14 years old, I visited my cousin’s workplace where he worked as a designer. This was before the era of computers, and I remember being amazed by the drawing boards scattered around the place. It was an incredibly cool experience, and when I returned to school, I shared it with my art teacher, who told me more about the profession. I was instantly drawn to it and decided to pursue it further. This experience was a turning point that led me to attend art school in England. If I had not visited my cousin’s workplace that day, I might have ended up as a teller at Barclays Bank.

LAS: High five for that cousin. So, off to New York. The year?

KG:1987 and 1989.

LAS: Truly, Black don’t crack. And then what happened?

KG: Well, it’s a long story but between 87’ and ’89 I got fired from four jobs. I was working in advertising on boring accounts like Apple Juice, and panty shields. It’s a long story.

LAS: (laughing) So, let me get this straight — ’87 to ’89 — you got fired from four jobs just because of boring projects.

KG: Well, I guess I could say that I wasn’t exactly living your best life.

“The 1619 Project” features Gravillias’ creative talents. (Courtesy Photo)

LAS: You think? But then, you had a moment of clarity. You realized that your true passions were music and movies. And now you had a portfolio to prove you were an artist.

And then what?

KG: I did the most logical thing, and I called Columbia Records.

LAS: With your lush, British accent which makes Americans just pay attention and believe anything you say. It’s the accent.

KG: (laughing) Exactly, my British accent. (Because, let’s face it, a British accent makes everything sound better.). I landed an interview with the head of Sony Columbia Records.

LAS: Showed your nifty portfolio and won him over?

KG: No, he was more interested in a piece of artwork that someone had brought in. He kept looking at the art and flipping through your work until he finally looked up at you and said, ‘You know, we design our own album covers here. And there’s nothing in your portfolio that shows me you can design our cover.’

LAS: Ouch.

KG: Well, he suggested that I go off to design some album covers to add to my portfolio and then return, later to show him. So, I guess you could say that getting fired from those boring jobs was a disguised blessing. I spent the time designing album covers for English bands that I grew up listening to, like Depression, Cannibals, and Elton John. When I was finally done, he was traveling, so I never got to show him.

Stephen Spielberg tapped Gravillis to illustrate “West Side Story.” (Courtesy Photo)

LAS: What? Don’t leave me hanging!

KG: I noticed that on the back of these CDs, many were with Def Jam Records and Columbia Records. A light bulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘Eureka! I’ve cracked the Colombian Def Jam code!’ I called up their office and got a meeting with them. I walked in, looking like a stylish Brit, and showed the guy my portfolio. At first, he wasn’t too impressed, but then I whipped out my other little portfolio filled with designs inspired by my favorite English bands,

And bam, I got hired.

LAS: There you go! That’s how it’s done!

KG: But wait, it gets better. A month or two later, they asked me to take some boards over to Columbia. I couldn’t resist peeking into the office of the guy who had initially met with me. He recognized me and said, ‘Gravilli’ — he remembered my name.

LAS: Your posh British accent.

KG: Ha! But that’s how to get my job at Def Jam.

LAS: If I were editing this like a movie, here is where I would insert a montage of some of those iconic album covers.

KG: You’re funny.

LAS: I am. Now to movies. You created some of my favorite movie posters. Including the poster for the 2023 Academy Awards, “I am Not Your Negro,” “Five Bloods,” “Summer of Soul, and so much more. What a talent you are!

KG: I also want to share the news about a brand new program with Otis College of Art and Design which recently partnered with Netflix to launch a new program that will give underrepresented students a leg up.