Mimmo (Domenico) Cozzolino (1949–) occupies a unique position within the annals of Australian graphic design. His multi-faceted career has embraced design practice, cultural research and publishing, fine art photography, pedagogy and more.
Mimmo was raised in the town of Herculaneum in the shadows of Mt Vesuvius, immigrating to Australia with his family in 1961. He began an engineering course at Preston Tech before switching to graphic design at the Prahran College of Advanced Education (later Swinburne University). It was at Preston Tech that he first met Con Aslanis, a Greek immigrant who has played a central role in his life, both personally and professionally. Following brief stints working in Sydney (at Monad Marketing with Ricci Eaton), and Melbourne (at NAS Advertising with Eric Maguire) he began freelancing alongside Aslanis.
Cozzolino’s studio collaborations with Aslanis, initially as All Australian Graphics (1972–74), and then the seven person illustration collective All Australian Graffiti (1975–78), resulted in some of the most influential local work of the 1970s. As outsiders, these ‘New Australians’ provided a unique perspective on their adopted country, reflecting inward for inspiration, while many of their colleagues looked to Europe or the US for their reference points. The Kevin Pappas Tear Out Postcard Book, an irreverent look at Australian culture, personified the studio’s output. Published by Penguin in 1977, the book sold 24,000 copies, an incredible success. Phillip Adams summed up their contribution; “in the past immigrants like William Dampier and James Cook had discovered Australia. In the early 1970s, Mimmo and Con discovered it all over again”.
For a brief period between 1980–84 Cozzolino ran a small studio with illustrator David Hughes, before co-founding the idiosyncratically named Cozzolino Ellett Design D’Vision Pty Ltd alongside Phil Ellett. With Cozzolino acting as a design manager and Ellett focused on creative, the studio flourished, attracting a healthy roster of corporate work and winning many awards. In 2001, Cozzolino retired from the business, ready for a fresh challenge.
Cozzolino’s fascination with our culture can be traced back to his childhood in Italy. Awaiting passage to Australia, his father Michele’s stories of ‘canguros’ and laughing birds, sparked an interest he has retained his whole life. This fixation would eventually manifest in a best-selling book, Symbols of Australia, an archive of over 1700 Australian trademarks Cozzolino diligently researched and recorded on an intermittent basis for eight years. First published in 1980, and edited and written with Fysh Rutherford, the book has sold over 45,000 copies. It remains one of the few published documentations of Australian graphic design.
In 2003, Cozzolino reinvented himself as a fine artist, pursuing his long-held interest in documentary photography. Somewhat controversially, he was awarded the Leica/CCP Documentary Photography Award by the Centre for Contemporary Photography for his work Arcadia del Sud: West Heidelberg Melbourne Australia Circa 1966 (2003). The deliberately blurred suburban family snapshots attracted the ire of many traditional documentary photographers who weren’t quite ready to accept their new colleague’s innovative interpretation of their craft.
Cozzolino’s commitment to education stretches back to 1973. He has taught, lectured, supervised, work-shopped and assessed in many leading design schools both here and abroad. Determined to raise the standards of the design profession, he has invested countless hours in industry events and schemes. Most significantly, he was one of the five founding members of AGDA in 1987.
Clearly, having enjoyed such a varied career, Cozzolino is difficult to classify within the limited taxonomy of graphic design. Indeed, his ceaseless examination into what it means to be Australian may ultimately prove to be his greatest legacy.