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Vis-Ed Vol. 1 made possible by Scion
Rinzen Kustaa Saksi Brian McCarty Superdeux Luca Ionescu
Catalina Estrada Brent Rollins
Bwana Spoons Andrew Pommier Os Gemeos Matt Furie
Laurent Fetis Ehquestionmark Nicola Kuperus Damien Correll
JK5 Freegums Craig Metzger WK Interact
The Shape of Things XLR8R was born in April 1993 but it wasn’t until January 2002 that then-creative director David Weissberg conceived the magazine’s artist-driven section, dubbed Vis-Ed. XLR8R had always covered visuals along with music and the emergent digital culture, but it seemed time to dedicate an entire section to all the breathtaking artists around us, whose worked adorned record covers and t-shirts, and coursed through music videos and club visuals and the streets of San Francisco, New York, and points beyond. Vis-Ed–which premiered in issue #56 with a piece on Banksy (written by artist and future Vis-Ed subject Maya Hayuk)–quickly became a chronicle of what was new and exciting in art and design. Looking back at the over 70 artists we’ve covered in the section, you can chart the emergence of the graphic designers, graf writers, and illustrators as the next art stars, and see how new technologies have influenced what gets made. Painters and toy designers, photographers and Illustrator fiends and sketch artists of every stripe have appeared in Vis-Ed; the only criteria for appearing in the section is that we love the artist’s work and want to know more about their creative process (and their pet peeves, and what they wore when they were 15). Creating Vis-Ed has been a beautiful challenge. We’ve received amazing exclusive pieces from Kid Acne, Kenzo Minami, and James Jarvis. We’ve visited Parra, Stash, and Love Limited in their studios. We found out what makes Jo Jackson tick, talked to Andy Mueller about eating paste, and got the lowdown on how to shop for corduroys from Andrew Jeffrey Wright. We’ve wheedled and cajoled across time zones, answered letters from angry feminists, and tracked down elusive characters, among them British illustrator Fergadelic and the alien-obsessed Parisian known as Invader. Along the way, Vis-Ed has become one of the most gratifying sections of the magazine to put together. With that, we couldn’t be more pleased to bring you this special edition Vis-Ed magazine, co-presented by Scion. Inside, you’ll find work new and old from 21 of our favorite artists, as well as inspiring interviews and exclusive art produced just for us, including a pull-out poster designed by Brooklyn’s own Damien Correll. And if your eyes are hungry for more, additional art, videos, and information on these artists is up at Vis-Ed.net. – Vivian Host, Editor
Publisher Andrew Smith Vis-Ed Original Concept David Weissberg Editor Vivian Host Designer Tim Saputo Contributing Artists Joseph “JK5” Ari Aloi, Damien Correll, Ehquestionmark, Catalina Estrada, Laurent Fetis, Freegums, Matt Furie, Luca Ionescu, Nicola Kuperus, Brian McCarty, Craig Metzger, Os Gemeos, Andrew Pommier, Rinzen, Brian Roettinger, Brent Rollins, Kustaa Saksi, Seripop, Bwana Spoons, Superdeux, WK Interact Contributing Writers Stephen Christian, Carleton Curtis, Stacey Dugan, Vivian Host, Josiah Hughes, Raf Katigbak, Mark Pytlik, Patrick Sisson, David Weissberg Contributing Photographers Eric Beckman, Pancho Tolchinsky Circulation Newsstand distribution through Curtis Circulation. Contact us San Francisco HQ: 3180 18th St. Suite 303, San Francisco, CA 94110; New York HQ: 114 Bowery, Suite 206, New York, NY 10001; firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 415.861.7584 This special Vis-Ed issue of XLR8R is printed on 100% recycled fiber EcoMatte Plus and Reincarnation Matte papers, which are manufactured with electricity-offset renewable energy certificates. This is a special edition of XLR8R Magazine, published by Amalgam Media, Inc. All writing, photographs, and artwork printed within the pages of this Vis-Ed special edition are copyright and property of Amalgam Media, Inc.
ISSN # 1526-4246 CSA # 1741454
Rinzen Interview by Stacey Dugan This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #79, August 2004.
“We are very obsessive about what we do... ”
Rinzen is a Japanese word that means several things—including “commanding,” “awe-inspiring,” and “a sudden awakening”– although it’s not frequently used in modern-day Japan. At least, not until Australian design collaborative Rinzen came along. The five-person outfit–including members Steve and Rilla Alexander, Adrian Clifford, Craig Redman, and Karl Maier–has redefined the term. Now, the name Rinzen also connotes innovative and sensuous graphic design that melds disparate styles and techniques into one sleek, cohesive package. Sort through Rinzen’s extensive archive of diverse material and you’ll find edgy party flyers and retro clothing silkscreens. Crisp, geometric
illustrations put a futurist twist on classic Japanese woodblock printing techniques. Short anime films peer into strange, alternate realities–summertime utopias full of exaggerated pixels, blackand-white rainbows, and polar bears strolling out of lukewarm bodies of water. In another scene, dolphins, zebras, monkeys, and strange hybrid animals commit mass suicide by jumping from the windows of a high-rise building in a decadent urban landscape. Even after viewing such an elaborate mash-up of illustration, web design, print, animation, and audio, it’s hard to get a firm grasp on Rinzen’s signature style, mainly because they don’t have one. Rinzen doesn’t accredit specific designs to individual
team members, but they’re not against that notion–they’re as prepared to seize and celebrate individualism as they are to do away with it completely. The only rule is that there are no rules, just a constant effort to reinvent oneself and one’s concept of art and design, and to inspire and be inspired by others.
Right: "On Reflection," Screenprint, 2007 for Rinzen's Mexico City show Solar Powered
Left: In the Milky Night installation at Sydney's Monster Children gallery, 2006
Right: Sleep Seasons room at Hotel Fox Copenhagen, 2005, Hand-painted walls, customdesigned carpets, hand-dyed, pieced, and appliqued bedspread and curtains. Guests sleep inside a tent (on a comfortable futon).
Below: (left) Cover of XLR8R #113, 2007
Below: (right) "Permanent Vacation," screenprint, 2008, from Rinzen's Go Your Own Way show at Vallery, Barcelona
What mediums does Rinzen work in? Rilla Alexander: Our illustrative work is usually finished digitally; however, we work with various media–ink, watercolor, and pencil. We usually paint our large pieces and wall murals, although they are printed if the scale demands it. Steve Alexander: Music is another medium we like working with. The similarities in process are fascinating, and inform our visual work too. We've also been working with other musicians in their production and collaborative efforts.
have a reputation for taking advantage of undeveloped markets. A small local company can be equally as devious. We feel the least we can do is to not support those sorts of businesses. We don't work with cigarette companies. Rilla: We apply this sort of thinking to our own work too. It may mean that some of our products are more expensive, but we know where they were made and under what circumstances.
Can you tell me a bit about Rinzen’s design philosophy? Rilla: We are very obsessive about what we do and want our work to show a sense of the excitement and delight with which we create it Steve: We like working with people with vision, people that have a sympathetic desire to make something new. We don't work with companies that have destructive work practices.
Rinzen is a Japanese word that means “sudden awakening.” How does that word represent your collective? Rilla: It's a very old Japanese word that's not in common use. We were attracted to it because the decision to work together as Rinzen was like a sudden wake-up call. Steve: We liked the fact that the word was without association in people's minds. It's like a reminder of our intentions as a group: to always push our limitations.
What are destructive work practices? Steve: I think the term destructive says it all. It applies to all levels of work practice: environmentally, financially, and creatively. We're not fanatical–it's just a common sense approach. It's common knowledge that certain international corporations
How does Japanese art and pop culture influence Rinzen’s designs? Rilla: From a very early age I was surrounded with Japanese TV and toys. I had a Hello Kitty pencil case and watched Astro Boy every afternoon. Japanese was also the only language I learned at school. But, having
Below: The letter X, hand-carved from maplewood, for Taiwanese magazine Xfuns, 2006.
Left: Rinzen exclusive for XLR8R, 2004 said that, we watched just as much American, English, and Canadian television, so I think it is really a matter of what you are drawn to. Steve: I've always appreciated the holistic attitude of Japanese traditions but I also enjoy the extremity of modern Japan: traditional simplicity juxtaposed with the overloaded complexity of modern life. It's a place of complete opposites. I think being Australian you feel a lack of cultural identity, so it's quite natural to embrace cultures that appeal to you, that seek to make sense of existence. For your RMX project–which encompasses CDs, prints, and books–one of you initiates a theme by designing several pieces, and then other artists follow suit with individual interpretations. Is this generally the way Rinzen works? Rilla: The first RMX project was a spontaneous game that we played purely for fun. It involved passing our work to each other, gradually remixing it, modifying and erasing. The concept for RMX was also a bit of a stab at the quantity and notoriety of music remixes at that time. It was such a satisfying and exciting process and we saw how our ideas and approaches matched and clashed. We really enjoy exploring new ways of working collaboratively–sometimes all of us will work on a piece, each adding various elements. Sometimes the elements fit together seamlessly and other times they are a purposeful mix of approaches. We also work on many projects individually; however there is a gradual development of Rinzen ideas by virtue of the fact that we tend to explore similar themes and are inspired by each other's work. Rinzen produced an audio CD for the first RMX project, right? Steve: For the first RMX project we'd have Monday night get-togethers, drink quite a bit, and generally lose the plot. We decided to record one of these "meetings," and from those recordings Adrian and I constructed about 14 tracks with no other samples or instruments involved. They were melodic and
Below: "Helping Hounds of Hell," skateboard, 2008; (left) Neighbourhood Book, 2008
percussive explorations interspersed with granular deconstructed interludes. It was a brilliant exercise. While it's nothing groundbreaking or perfect, it's still a good listen. The second RMX sound project (included in the RMX Extended Play book, published by DGV) involved a similar process. Do you feel like Australian design has a signature style? Rilla: Australian design does not have a long history to fall back on (such as Swiss or German design), so there really isn't a particular style that would be easy identifiable as Australian. National styles, in general, are becoming more and more difficult to identify. We can all see new work from around the world instantly, so fashions tend to develop internationally. Steve: I've always felt Australian society was the combination of English and American society. So, to some degree, I feel that Australian design has always been a combination of existing ideas. I believe we fit into that to some extent. We're somewhat of a hybrid beast, not that it's an easily decipherable combination. Rilla: Most of our work is actually international and is all done by email and phone. But we do have some wonderful support here and have really enjoyed the work we have done for Australian bands, in particular. We have also had a lot of collaborative opportunities here such as the huge piece, “Under Bifrost,” we did at the State Art Gallery. What inspires you? Rilla: I love secondhand bookstores which are full to overflowing with wonderful old books and exploring old markets in Germany full of East European hand puppets and fragments of old dolls. Steve: Music, music, music… I need to fill my ears with something new every hour I spend awake. It drives my work, fills it with passion, and motivates me. Without sound I would shrivel and die. I'm also greatly inspired by spontaneity and improvisation.
Left: On The Run, 2007;
Above: It’s Nice To Be Nice tee, 2007; Heavy Rock Spectacular, 2008; Tastemaker tee for Sixpack, 2007
Kustaa Saksi Interview by Carleton Curtis This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #84, January/February 2005.
Kustaa Saksi’s illustrations are a syrupy disarray of elements: playful, paradoxical, often over-glossy, inviting, troubling, messy, and yet strangely clear. It’s no small feat to articulate such a message in the hit-and-badly-miss world of graphic design, especially when so many adjectives are involved, but the Finn pulls it off with aplomb. Saksi describes his illustrations as “colorful, funny shapes,” but they’re a little more complicated than that. Funny shapes and vivid colors can be found everywhere in nature, but finding order in it all is the artful part. Saksi’s designs radiate
meaning, bending what’s real and distilling what’s unreal. It’s the essence of graphic design–symbolic purpose–that so many Adobe illustrators hope to achieve. Finland’s Lahti Institute of Design helped discipline Saksi’s kaleidoscopic vision, eventually leading to a job running Mongrel Associates, a Helsinki-based collective of designers, illustrators and fashionistas. While there, Saksi forged t-shirt designs for Comme des Garçons, designed album jackets for Dallas Superstars, and oversaw industrial designs from furniture to ashtrays. The
What is your earliest memory of being artistic? I went to a kids’ art school when I was six, I guess. The teachers went mad because I just wanted to draw racecars with fat tires from the beautiful front angle. I woodcarved, painted, and silkscreened racecars from the same angle. When did you know that you wanted to become a career illustrator? I never really thought about it. I've been drawing and making images all my life. After high school I went into the Finnish Navy to be a seaman. I've always loved the sea. After that I wanted to go to art school and managed to graduate after four years of studies. Since then I've done a lot of different projects–both artistic and commercial. I see myself more like a craftsman. Do you feel there is a difference between an artist and an illustrator? There shouldn't be any difference. I think being an artist is more about the attitude. It's quite difficult to make art if you're working at an office, though.
magazine industry has also benefited from Saksi’s touch; Playboy, Sleazenation, Wallpaper, and LA art zine Arkitip have all been beautified on his behalf. Now a full-time freelance illustrator, Saksi is searching out new challenges, from broadening his work in music videos to developing advertising campaigns. (He’s already done work for Citroën and Diesel). After a stint in Paris, a city he described as “disappointing,” Saksi moved to Amsterdam, where he continues to celebrate practical beauty.
Many DJs came from obscurity and achieved superstar status. Now, it seems the graphic designer is repeating the pattern. Do you think so? I never really understood the DJ hype thing, though. How can people behind the turntables suddenly become cool? Many DJs went on to produce their own stuff too, but usually it was sample-based–a bit like this universal graphic design scene is nowadays, with bits and pieces from here and there. But people with their own ideas will always be admired, I guess. Do you think graphic designers are worthy of the praise? Some argue that Photoshop and Illustrator make the job too easy. We are living in a digital world. I don't think it matters anymore how people produce their images. All that matters is the image itself–no matter how it's done. Nowadays, unfortunately, many graphic designers are slaves to the software they are using. For me, the computer is just a tool like pen and ink. It's always equally challenging to start with an empty piece of paper or a computer screen.
Right: "Classic," 2008, mixed media
Finland has been derided as the cultural armpit of Scandinavia. Is that true? Does environment play a major role in the creative process? No, that's not true. Finland is the best of Scandinavia, really! It's the most original place of the Nordic countries. We have a strong heritage in innovative art, design, and architectureâ€Ś and the world's highest suicide rate, because of the dark and cold winter. Since the 1930s, Finnish design has followed two guiding principles: practicality and beauty. What kind of creative inspirations do you find that are unique to Finland? I think nature has always been the most creative inspiration for all artists from Finland. It surrounds you everywhere you go. As a Finn, you realize [how important it is] after you have moved out from there.
So why do you think so many American writers, thespians, and other creative types migrate to Paris? I think Paris still manages to have this romantic reputation of freedom and creativity; I mean, especially from the American point of view. In reality, it's a big disappointment. Usually Paris is oldfashioned, bureaucratic, and cold. But you can still live the dream there. I think Paris is more like a place in your mind. Are there any American graphic designers or illustrators whom you admire? Sure. I love Milton Glaser and Herb Lubalin's work. Norman Rockwell has always been one of my favorites, and Harrison Fisher. I'm more into oldschool American illustration.
You've done work for CitroĂŤn and Comme des GarĂ§ons. When commerce seeps into your art, is your creative process altered in any way? Or do companies simply stamp their logos onto your work? It depends on the project. Sometimes projects can be really open and artistically free, sometimes I'm told what to do. I like it both ways. Why do you think those companies believe that your work will sell products? Because people love colors and funny shapes. What do you find more important: the message of graphic design, or the appearance of graphic design? For me the appearance of the graphics is more important. If the image itself is strong or weak or ugly or beautiful enough, it will seduce the viewer for sure. The great thing with images is that you don't
Left: Exclusive for XLR8R, 2005
Above: (left) "The Captain," 2007 Above: (right) "Starman," giclée print, 2008
have to explain them to anyone. Everyone sees them a bit differently depending on their history and feelings. It appears that fluidity and psychedelia are the foundation for many of your works. How did you land here? I think I came to psychedelia through music, and I found fluidity many years ago from the great commercial illustrations on the packaging for chocolate mousse, Jello, and other dripping molds. What's your all-time favorite advertising mascot? I think it’s Misha, mascot of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow. It's difficult not to fall in love with the big-headed, sympathetic smiling bear figure, especially as a kid. And it's got some attitude and charm that’s hard to find in any characters nowadays. Let’s turn the subject to music. Given the state of music piracy, do you believe album cover art is as important as it once was? I hope it will remain. There will always be music lovers who care about the visuals too. And vinyl is coming back strong again with some great album covers. Who else can the kids identify with if there's no sign of a gorgeous lead singer?
When designing for music, do you adjust your style according to the artist's genre or appearance? Illustrating a piece for Slayer, for example, would appear to cause some conflict. I used to adjust my style before. Nowadays, people usually call me because they have seen my work somewhere and they already know what they want. But, of course, I want to develop my style all the time. What kind of current trends in graphics and illustration repulse you? The lack of imagination. Badly drawn vector graphics (although in some cases they can be great if they are totally poor). So what makes one graphic designer better than the next graphic designer? Nothing really. The worst one today can be the best one tomorrow.
Interview by Vivian Host This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #102, November 2006.
Brian McCarty Brian McCarty spends a lot of time on his knees. Get your mind out of the gutter, perv–he’s just taking photos. Then again, these aren’t just any portraits; they’re painstaking, crisp, beautifully colored fairytales featuring very small, very still protagonists. McCarty’s work gives context and humor to the often lifeless world of collectible vinyl and plush. He’s re-imagined Toren Orzeck’s Furilla toy running wild through the desert, James Jarvis’ cartoon hooligans Harvey and Jubs about to cause trouble outside the Wonder Bread factory, and set Michael Lau’s ruffnecklooking Tokyo Tribes figurine against the graffiti emblazoned background of L.A.’s Belmont Tunnel. “The majority of the time I start with the toy and imagine where they would go, and what they would do,” writes McCarty from his home in West Hollywood. “On other projects I'll begin with a narrative concept and seek out characters to illustrate it.” A project with Rockstar Games’ Vice City figurines, for example, demanded shooting in Miami’s seedier neighborhoods; posing the Biddies characters breakdancing and standing outside of strip clubs was his own idea. McCarty, who admires photographer Robert Frank and likes to work with everything from Paul Simon to Panjabi MC playing in the background, says that equipment is relatively unimportant compared to inspiration. “[The camera] is really just there to record what you see,” he says.
Above: "Wish Come True,"2008 Characters by FriendsWithYou
Describe the moment when you realized that you should shoot toys. Honestly, I always thought I should shoot toys. About the time I was supposed to grow up and stop playing with them, toys transitioned into the focus of my early, fumbling experiments with photography. But if you're looking for the a-ha “Take On Me” moment, it probably came as a freshman at Parsons [School of Design]. I had started moving away from toys and had begun photographing all the stuff I thought real photographers shot–landscapes, fashion, documentary–and none of it was exciting me. I randomly shot this super-rough miniseries with a plastic Shriners figure that followed the Talking Heads song "Mr. Jones." It was so much fun and felt so right in contrast to what I was supposed to do that it sealed the deal. I knew that's all I wanted to shoot. Are any of the toys “difficult”? [It’s] so tempting to crack jokes, but some of them really are. The biggest challenge I face is scale and perspective–working with anything
under four inches tall is an extreme challenge. I've gotten pretty good at overcoming it, but shot choices are severely limited. Of the photos seen here, which was the most complicated to stage? Tough one–a lot of them were very complex. Top choice would probably be the photo of Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. In the shot, he's floating in the middle of the pool at the Las Vegas Palms Casino with the lovely Palms Girls in the background. For starters, the toy doesn't float–at least not upright. Even if it did, the wind gusting to 30mph kinda made that moot. Since this was the one and only time I had access to the pool, we rigged up this crazy fishing line system. Next came time to get Ruth and Ryan (the Palms Girls) sorted out. I could see they just weren't digging on the prospect of climbing into the pool for some pale loser with a toy, so I told them to just laugh their asses off at Shake and me. The motivation perhaps came too easy for them.
Between the crazy wind that kept messing up their hair, blowing away the reflectors, and making Shake look like the SS Minnow, I managed to get a shot I'm very happy with. How old are you? It freaks me out that I still remember sixth graders as being soooo old. Being 28 would have just blown my little mind; the fact I'm 32, even more so. Random side story that relates to my age: When I was at Parsons I got hold of Douglas Coupland's fax number through a friend at his publishing company. If memory serves, this was around the time when his second book was about to come out. I faxed him a few times, and the guy was nice enough to reply to the random fanboy that I was. One of things he said really stuck with me. He talked about how happy he was to be through his 20s, and that he knew far better who he was at 32. Being there now, I gotta agree with the guy.
Below: (top) "Petit Lapin," 2008 Below: (bottom) "Sympathy for the Record Industry," Character by Mr. Clement 2005, Character by PABLO + Nathan Cabrera
Above: "Lost Face," 2004, Character by Andrew Bell
What was the first toy you ever really loved? A stuffed Snoopy. Still got him, complete with a bunch of his outfits. The pilot one rules all. What do you do when you're feeling uninspired? Music is a really, really big thing for me. And not to be all brainy and shit, but I'm a closet fan of a number of poets. There's a great Orson Welles quote that I like a lot: "A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet." There is a lot of debate over how long the limited-edition toy market can continue, given how expensive toys are getting and their limited use (outside of collecting). Do you feel the market is getting saturated? Well, you have to remember that you're talking to a guy that's been photographing toys for over 15 years. As far as I'm concerned, toys are an artistic genre that is only starting to peek its head above ground. Because this is so new, or at least the emergence is, there will be periods of readjustment where the medium will be forced to refocus and redefine itself. The trends that are happening now in the marketplace may come and go, but artists will continue expressing their vision through toys regardless.
What sorts of things do you think will help keep the toy business alive? If we're just talking about the collector market, manufacturers and artists could do well looking at comics and baseball cards. Both tanked for a while after trying to artificially force the collectability. There is some of that already happening in the toy scene with people going a little crazy with colorways and overproduction of platform toys. I gotta say that Rockstar did it right with the GTA figures. It's pretty ballsy for them to go with super-small runs and no paint variations. They're not trying to turn a quick buck or capitalize on some fad. They are supporting the growth of the genre. Frankly, it's going to take more of that sort of thinking to really keep this alive. The Rockstar Gamesâ€™ of the world have the potential to be the Medicis of the toy renaissance. Artists such as myself will always continue to explore the medium, but it needs benefactors to be seen. What is your advice for young photographers? Shoot whatever the hell you want and just keep doing it. Eventually you'll find an audience.
Superdeux Interview by Josiah Hughes This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #108, June/July 2007.
“You can like it or hate it but, in the end, you'll understand it.”
The world of Superdeux resembles an adult version of Saturday morning cartoons, combining vaguely ominous characters with elements of hip-hop culture and playful surrealism. The brainchild of French computer geek/ex-graffiti artist Sebastian Roux, the international company had a humble start. While Roux was a programmer for Team cHmAn in the mid-’90s, he spent his evenings tinkering around with early versions of Flash. He originally created the Superdeux website in 1999 to showcase his experiments but, thanks to mentions in journals like Pictoplasma, the site blew up. Partnering with Flash programmer Stéphane “Tepat” Huleux, who Roux refers to as “the little genius,” Superdeux has grown into a multifaceted design boutique. With offices in San Francisco and Lille, France, the company has helped
revolutionize modern advertising, web design, animation, and toys. Dedicated to combining effective communication with an adventurous sense of humor, they have developed a diverse client list that includes MTV, Comedy Central, Hugo Boss, Johnson & Johnson, Sony Music, and Kid Robot. Similarly, they have created high-profile collaborative work (toys, mostly) with the likes of Red Magic, Stereotype, Kid Robot, and STRANGEco. On top of all that, Roux runs the Unchi record label, and performs club bangers live with Lowclub. Somehow, Seb found time in his busy schedule to discuss graffiti, cartoons, and the value of mixing art with advertising. >>>
Previous: Superdeux exclusive for XLR8R, 2007
Above: "Don't Sweat the Technic," 2007
What is Superdeux? Superdeux is a mix between something artistic and a marketing thing. It's a creative solution to communication. Where did the name Superdeux come from? When I was doing graffiti, my name was seb2seb, and when I started working with a computer I decided to do something bigger. “Deux,” in French, means “two.” Voilá, Superdeux! Did you attend art school? I did some interior design school and graphic design school, but I've learned a lot by myself. How do you approach each piece from start to finish? When I do a piece, I start with a sentence. It could be some rap lyrics, or a word. I try to play around that
with a character or a handmade font on paper first. When I find something interesting, I start to draw it with Illustrator. When I reach the color process, I only use a few colors. My design is not complicated or technical. It's more of a combination of an idea and a design. All of your work seems to be computerbased, besides the toys. Do you have a background in drawing, painting or sculpting? Not really. I was doing graffiti back in the day, and I still have to sketch my ideas on paper first, but the computer is my main tool. What has been the craziest thing that’s happened to you as you built the company? I think it's when I decided to move to Vancouver, then to New York, in 2004. I was there to start a company
Below: Various t-shirt designs, 2008
Left: Stereotype series 5, "Acid," 2007
Below: (left) Character from Stereotype series 5, "Acid," 2007 (right): Artwork for the ZWE exhibition, 2007
with Tristan Eaton (Thunderdogs Studio). We still work together, but on our own respective companies. He's a fantastic designer and businessman. What piece are you most proud of? The Stereotype toys line. I’ve had the opportunity to work and meet very talented people like Phunk Studio, Genevieve Gauckler, Bill McMullen, Staple, 123klan, Demo, and Acquired. What does a day in your life look like? Just fun: wake up early, turn music on, check emails, do some work, go out for dinner, meet some friends, party, sleep. What do you listen to while you work? I listen to things from my label Unchi: Auto, Lowclub (my music project with Junior Market and Spencer), Stereopleasure. Also, some stuff from Ed Banger Records, Spank Rock, and some hip-hop from the ’90s and before. Music is one of the most important things in my life. Who are some of your influences? Andy Warhol, Adrian Frutiger, Takashi Murakami, and James Brown Who are some of your favorite modern artists? Parra, Kaws, So-Me, David Flores. Everyone should know about them. They are the perfect mix between art and marketing. Genius!
When and how did you get into toys? I’ve been designing toys for six years now. My first contact with the toy industry was through Red Magic, then Kid Robot. What is your favorite cartoon of all time? Samurai Jack You’ve worked for some big companies. Has there ever been a company you’ve turned down? A few years ago, I was commissioned by a giant tobacco firm. I tried to work on the project, but then decided to stop. I just wasn't feeling okay with it, and no good ideas were coming out of my head. Does advertising ever irritate you? Yes, but I always try to imagine what I would think if I was the target. It's fun, and it's a good way to decide if it's good advertising or not. How do you find the perfect balance of advertising and art? I don't try to find it, and there is no need to find it. I want to touch everybody when I do something. I try to use clear messages, so that you can like it or hate it but, in the end, you'll understand it.
Luca Ionescu Interview by Vivian Host This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #75, March 2004.
“Arrows died a little while ago, and I don’t think anybody should bring them back.”
While the bulk of graphic designers are off doing hobolike chickenscratch, clip art clusterfuck, and graffiti (despite the fact that they’ve never written on a wall in their lives), Luca Ionescu confines his oeuvre to the clean, dynamic basics. That’s not to say his work is simple, but when it comes down to choosing between classic and trendy, Ionescu is bound to choose classic. Born in Romania but based in Sydney, Australia since the age of 13, Ionescu is a thriving part of the Down Under design boom, which has also brought you the likes of Rinzen, Perks and Mini, Regular Product, and the now-NYC-based Deanne Cheuk. His t-shirt and logo designs for
companies like Mooks and Split subtly reflect these environs, with their bright color schemes and easy-flowing futurism. But Ionescu’s not all surf and sun: his work may have the playful pop of the UK’s Designer’s Republic (a huge influence), but it also boasts razor-sharp fonts and an economy of line reminiscent of Swiss outfit Büro Destruct. Ionescu is a busy, busy man. He can often be found at his Keep Left design studio, pulling 12-hour days alongside partner Kevin Vo. When he’s not doing corporate work for the likes of Coke or MTV, Ionescu’s busy appearing in books like Los Logos and IdN’s Iconography. And in his precious spare moments, he’s found the time
to dabble in 3-D design, cook up a clothing line (Hektik), and publish Refill, a quarterly collectable design magazine whose first issue featured Pete Fowler, Futura, Demo, and Phunk Studio, among others. When we caught up with this Adobe Illustrator wizard, he was antique shopping with his girlfriend, an avid pastime that often unearths unlikely design inspiration. Grappling with a testy trans-Atlantic phone line, he delivered his verdict on Australian fauna, fonts, and design faux pas.
Previous: T-shirt design for RVCA, 2008
Above: Various logos, 2004 Right: Exclusive for XLR8R, 2004
What inspiration do you derive from Australia? Australia’s got a lot of beautiful natural landscapes: a lot of trees, a lot of fauna. I like to bring that in color-wise. I like going out photographing a lot in the natural environment. I know camo has, globally, been done quite a few times, but I’ve done a few pieces with camo where I tried to incorporate elements of the Australian natural environment into the design to make it a little bit different. Do you think there’s a similarity between the work of the Australian designers? I think that the whole surf culture and beach culture has influenced a lot of people. But, you know, there are a lot of Australians doing the same stuff as people overseas–you know, everyone will be on to Swiss fonts or the whole hand-illustrated style. Australia has an easygoing kind of vibe that maybe comes across in some of the work. And it’s such a fresh country and a new country–it’s only 100 or 200 years old–that you feel like you’ve got a fresh canvas and something to
work with where you can make difference with what you create. Also, when I was growing up, my family lived quite a ways out in the suburbs, and that just made me want to get out of there and make something of myself. What’s the concept behind Refill? The idea was to have a really good design magazine where, when you actually invite an artist to be featured, you’re giving them lots of room to display their work–two or three spreads instead of one column or a little corner. Also, in Australia, Refill only costs 20 dollars, and the thickness is the equivalent of something that would be worth 100 dollars. We wanted students to be able to buy it. What are some of your favorite fonts of all time? I like Helvetica, Askidenz Grotesque, and Futura, just because of their simplicity and timelessness. Whenever you use these fonts with the right kerning and the right spacing, they’re always beautiful, and no
Above: Annual DVD cover design and poster for Nylon Studios, 2008
Left: Annual DVD cover design and poster for Nylon Studios, 2008
Above: Mood board for motion graphics house, Frame, 2008
matter what kind of image you add them to, they’re complimentary.
have to be my favorite, as well as the stuff they did for Satoshi Tomiie’s Full Lick album.
On that note, what are some design elements or fonts that you never want to see again? Arrows died a little while ago, and I don’t think anybody should bring them back. In graffiti, arrows work as a symbol, and they should stay there, but I don’t think they should be used in design. I’m also sick of crosshairs–those plus signs, like on technical drawings. And as a design style, I think we’ve got to move on from the whole *wallpaper look with people doing illustrated silhouette outlines.
What are you listening to in the office right now? We’re listening to Futurism 2, and a little bit of electro, guys like Felix Da Housecat and A.R.E. Weapons. Also some Aphex Twin and loungey kind of stuff.
What’s the most recent thing that you’ve acquired in your office for inspiration? A collection of 2,000 matchbooks–old stuff, all the way from the early 1920s up until the ’80s. It’s amazing how some of illustrations and the logo design on these matchbooks is really tight. We’ve actually published a little feature on the matchbooks in the new Refill, so people will get to have a glimpse of some of the really nice original designs in there and hopefully get some inspiration. Between Büro Destruct, Designers Republic, and Future Farmers, who has been a bigger influence? When I was younger, I went and met Ian Anderson from Designers Republic. That was a bit of a pilgrimage because I always respected his stuff. The stuff they did for [the videogame] Wipeout would
Do you collect anything? Rahan comic books from France and all sorts of Japanese toys and manga, like Gundam robots and stuff. Also, my girlfriend is a huge collector of Smurfs, she’s got over 2,000. We’ve got a little display area in the lounge room, so when clients come in they get to see our Smurfs and comic book collection. It’s a little bit overwhelming. What other projects would you like to be involved in? I’ve been doing more motion-graphics stuff, and I would like to collaborate with a few artists overseas on motion pieces. I also want to concentrate on Refill–there have been a lot of good things coming out of that collaboration-wise. It’s always good to have a few things on your plate to keep the challenge level high and make it exciting, but I think I’ve learned not to overextend myself too far.
Interview by Vivian Host
This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #109, August 2007. Photo by Pancho Tolchinsky
“I prefer to go outside and see nature and take a look at beautiful things.”
It’s half past midnight and Catalina Estrada has just strolled indoors from a long evening on the Ramblas. Long, sun-drenched days and wine-soaked nights are standard for this Barcelona-based illustrator, whose work takes life’s love and light and amplifies it by thousands of watts. Estrada, a 32-year-old Libra, was born in Colombia, and the richness of its natural landscapes has never left her mind–the country’s striking colors and vibrant flora and fauna are re-imagined in her highly symmetrical and incredibly ornate graphic worlds, where doe-eyed girls and boys (and does) nestle among candy-colored flowers, hummingbirds, and hearts.
Though satirical and nihilist attitudes are all the rage, Estrada isn’t afraid to make things that are heartfelt and, well, positive; she says she prefers to create dreamlike utopian escapes rather than respond to squalor and suffering as seen on the nightly news. Her eye-pleasing work has not gone unnoticed, adorning everything from Coca-Cola bottles to snowboards to clothes from Custo Barcelona and Paul Smith. We asked this consummate dreamer to tell us about inspirations from the past and the present.
Previous: Illustration for Brazilian clothing line Anunciaçao, 2007
Left: "Nature All Over," 2007 Above: "Sin ti no Quiero Nada, Sin ti No Valgo Nada," 2006
When did you realize you had your own style? A few years ago I was doing volunteer work helping foundations in Colombia. I was not getting paid so it allowed me to really think of how I wanted images to look. I decided to put lots of emotion and feeling into the images and that was the point where I created my own style: using lots of colors, lots of light, vivid elements. When you’re working for free, you better be sure you like what you are doing. What are your inspirations? I’ve always been very fond of religious imagery. I have been lucky to travel most of my life, and I’ve been collecting images of folk art from different countries. In Barcelona, the modern art museum is great, and so is the architecture–it has a lot of ornamentation and decoration. I also like lots of Latin American artists and naïve art. What is your greatest treasure from your travels? I’ve been trying to pick up small things so I don’t carry around a lot when I travel: stamps and small prints, little pieces of fabric, pieces of wallpaper and patterns from wherever. Since I was little, I’ve always collected wrapping papers and things like that. My grandmother collected stamps from all over the world, and it was always a great treasure to look at her albums and the art from different countries. Now, I have a box full of papers from everywhere and it’s my biggest treasure.
You’ve designed a jewelry collection, Katika, with your brother Nicolas, as well as wrapping paper for Nineteen Seventy Three. What is your dream product to make? I want to design wallpapers for interiors and houses. And you know what else? I would love to design a whole china set. That’s my dream. Do you ever get the urge to do darker stuff? As far as a commercial graphic style, this is what clients have seen of my work and this is what they want. In my personal art, I did have darker periods and there have been these other images. You just go through different stages and you feel like painting or drawing different subjects. You feel different every day. I have some older stuff that has a lot of wolves in it that, for me, are the representation of fear, either suffering from it or getting over it. What was your most difficult moment as an artist? When I lived in Colombia, I wanted to create interesting projects but there was never the budget. I got out of school in 1993 and a graphic design education was not common. You could never achieve what you had in mind. Mostly, I feel very lucky and very thankful to be an illustrator. I don’t see it as work so much; it mixes a lot with my art projects so I cannot tell the difference anymore.
Above: "Cattleya," 2007, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, exhibited at the 16th Annual Swap Meet group show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery, NYC
Your husband, Pancho Tolchinsky, is a photographer. As a creative person, do you think it’s important that your romantic partner be someone creative? Absolutely. Actually, my husband is a mathematician. He’s doing his doctorate in artificial intelligence. He’s helped me like crazy in my work. I would have never come to this stage without him. I’m very emotional and he’s more rational. He’s more analytical, more calmed down. It’s a good balance. He’s also very critical, and I think that’s been very important for me. What do you listen to while you work? I listen to music all the time. I love M. Ward, and I just went to see Edith Piaf. The best concert I went to recently was [by San Francisco folk outfit] Vetiver. It was in a really small place and it was so beautiful. Since then, I’ve listened to them every day. Such a beautiful voice that guy has. Who are your heroes? I believe in admiring people, but I don’t know about heroism–it sort of takes the human aspect out of the person. There are people in my family that I admire like crazy but I wouldn’t think of them as heroes. I prefer them that way. I like to see people as human with defects and everything.
What is your favorite holiday? The 7th of December. This is the Virgin’s Day in Colombia. My grandfather had a tradition of lighting many, many candles on this day. He was kidnapped for many months and he said if he lived, he would light 2000 candles for the Virgin Mary. He was returned on December 7th, so every year this day was like a fairy tale for me. Are you religious, and how much does that affect your art? In Colombia, most people are religious. My father’s family, especially, was very religious but there was a point where me and my brother just said, “That’s enough.” It was becoming suffocating. When you go to church, all the paintings are like torture. It’s crazy that you wouldn’t let your kids see a horror movie, but you’ll let them see this. It’s terrifying. I love the images for what they are, and they are great pieces of art, but it’s crazy that, from the time you are a kid, you are looking at so much suffering. As if it was just not enough looking at the news, you go to church and it’s all covered with blood and suffering and tears. I prefer to go outside and see nature and take a look at beautiful things.
Above: Selected pieces for SWAB (Barcelona International Contemporary Art Fair), 2007
Left: Exclusive for XLR8R 2007
Below: CD packaging for 110 Sessions compilaton (UK), 2007
Brent Rollins Interview by Stephen Christian This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #79, August 2004.
The minds behind NYC’s legendary Ego Trip magazine were the intelligent, wisecracking answer to every indie record store clerk knowit-all. They routinely delivered hysterical meditations on hip-hop, rock, and all manner of pop-culture detritus, and they found the perfect visual accomplice in Brent Rollins. His collage designs perfectly complimented the quirky brilliance of the writing by combining seemingly disparate images, from the Stay Puft marshmallow man to porn stars to kitschy ’70s pics culled from obscure photo sources. In addition to his work on the magazine, plus Ego Trip books and their Big Playback album, Rollins designed logos for classic films such as Boyz N’ The Hood and Mo’ Better Blues, and coveted skate company Supreme.
Brent’s visual for the Beastie Boys’ seminal LP Paul’s Boutique struck a chord with DJ Shadow, who had him design for his Quannum label, including sleeves for artists like Lifesavas and Lyrics Born, as well as the severely sweated covers of two Blackalicious full-lengths. Never the slacker, Rollins has also hurt his eyes staring at a computer screen while designing for Chocolate Industries, designing record covers for Notorious B.I.G. and Gang Starr, and working on a top secret videogame as well as his own line of shirts and jewelry.
Above: (top) Mural for Undefeated Tokyo store, 2007
How and when did you get into designing graphics? Like a lot of people, I was always the kid in class that would draw. I can draw, but I’m not the best illustrator, because I would always get frustrated. Then when I was in high school working for the school paper, I saw the masthead and I was like, “That sucks.” Our high school had a graphic design class and I said, “Oh, I wanna do that.” Even when I think about my earliest childhood memory, literally my first childhood memory, I must have been like three years old and I remember being outside my apartment building and someone had a box of Good N’ Plenty candies, and I remember the graphics. That’s my oldest memory, the graphics on the box of Good N’ Plenty, so that’s kinda weird. Then, also in high school, I remember sitting next to this guy Aaron Murray, who was an old-school Dogtown skater, and he was hot, his artwork was incredible. I remember looking over his shoulder and being like, “Whoa, this guy’s on some other shit.”
How did you hook up with the Ego Trip crew? In ’94, I was the art director for this magazine Rap Pages, which is kinda embarrassing because it’s remembered for being so bad. But there was a period when it was good. I just kind of got to know the whole journalistic world a little bit. Gabe Alvarez was the managing editor at Rap Pages, and he left to come to New York to basically work for nothing on Ego Trip, just because it seemed interesting and fun. We were both frustrated with working within the corporate environment, even though Rap Pages was owned by Larry Flint. It’s crazy that even working for a pornographer they would try to impose these kind of corporate rules on us sometimes, and we’re like, “You’re joking! You’re making money off showing tail every month.” I always wanted to move to New York [from Los Angeles] and I could never bring myself to do it, but since my friend was out here it seemed like a good excuse. When I got out here I was doing stuff for this guy Stereotype, and they were doing Ego Trip and they asked me to do some stuff, so I did the last three issues of the magazine. It all kind of came together in those
Above: (bottom, left to right) exclusive for XLR8R, 2004; Spank Rock YoYoYoYoYo... cover, 2006; 12" sleeve for Lifesavas What If It's True?, 2002; booklet art for Blackalicious Blazing Arrow, 2002
last three issues–they had the ideas and I always wanted to something weirder visually. Ego Trip was really like a band–there was basically like a core of five guys and we had these other writers who were like our studio musicians. Each issue would turn into some weird thing. Each issue wasn’t even just a magazine–it had an identity. It was always like trying to do some kind of almost Terry Gilliamish, sort of Monty Python… Sort of a hip-hop version of that. Having these non-sequitur graphics come in, even though it’s just a static page–I wanted to give it some life beyond just some normal type of graphics. That definitely happened in the last issue, but then after that we were just burnt out. Visually or otherwise, what influences your work? I really like ’70s stuff, but not the ’70s stuff you think of stereotypically. I like the way that company Hipgnosis would approach their album covers, it was really much more of a conceptual idea, like “What’s the story we’re trying to tell visually?” Music always influences me, but nothing specifically–just everything.
Left: "Hypnotized/Believe the Hype," 2008, t-shirt for Stüssy
Above: Artwork for Blackalicious Nia, 2000
Is there an underlying philosophy that you follow when creating your work? You want something that people will want to keep. With records and even with Ego Trip, I’m a designer. I think I do artistic stuff and I have my own approach, but basically I brand other people. I think a lot of other cats did stuff to brand themselves. I have freedom to do a bunch of things, but not to do just one thing, whereas they can do anything within their style. But then they’re kind of limited and if they want to grow beyond that, I don’t know what their chances are. Ultimately, because I brand other people, I try to work on projects that I like or that I agree with their ethos. I never work with people when I think their music sucks.
The narrow-minded may say that the best visual representation of a hip-hop aesthetic is graffiti, but you do a lot of collage-type work for hip-hop projects. Why do you think it works so well? When I first started doing stuff for Quannum, when they were Solesides, the whole idea was to not look like the covers on the shelf. It’s cool that there’s more graffiti stuff incorporated now, because even as early as ’94 or ’95, there wasn’t that much graffiti-based stuff. If it wasn’t for Futura doing Mo’ Wax stuff, no one would’ve even started fuckin’ with that shit. I have no idea why it works; I hope it looks different than the other stuff on the shelf. I don’t know. I hope it works just ‘cuz it looks good. Hopefully people can appreciate that it’s being done differently, it’s not so pristine and anal that it’s kind of techno-ish. It’s still got a very homegrown flavor. I would love to do a 50 Cent cover just to see what would happen style-wise. I think I could probably pull it off.
Bwana Spoons Interview by Josiah Hughes This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #95, March 2006.
Like some bizarre, forestdwelling cartoon character, Bwana Spoons exists in a world of his own. No matter what medium, the playful surrealism of Spoons’ work is marked by sincere abandon and a love of exploration. Born in Los Angeles, Bwana Spoons moved to Michigan when he was three. A few years later, he failed the first grade and his family moved back to California. Spending most of his time alone, he found solace in zany Hanna-Barbera cartoons
like Underdog and Wacky Races, and in the pages of MAD Magazine. Finding art-making a good way to meet people, he got into zine culture in 1992 and went on to publish notable rags like Ain’t Nothin’ Like Fuckin’ Moonshine and Pencil Fight. This quickly led to illustration work for the likes of Nike 6.0, Hewlett-Packard, Nickelodeon, Top Shelf, Dogtown, Hessenmob, Buster Design, and Vans. Today, the Portland-based artist is immersed in many
different projects. Avidly involved with painting, making toys, and his Grass Hut store and gallery, he still finds time to hang out with his wife of many years, Marny, and their daughter, Hazel Millie Spoons. When he’s not boasting about his Lego collection (which exceeds 200 lbs) or his love for tapirs, Spoons embraces modern zine culture and moody metal. All this from a man who vows he “didn’t go to no fancy art school.”
Above: Various hand-screened zines, 2001-2005
How did you first get into the work you do now? I have always been drawing. I think making Ain’t Nothin’ Like Fuckin’ Moonshine made me lots of art friends. I started getting asked to be in shows, and so I learned how to paint. These days, all I do is draw and paint, and sometimes sculpt or make comics and zines. What artists inspired you as you found your own style? After I graduated high school, I moved to San Francisco in ’89. I met loads of rad artists at that time who were also getting their footing. My friend Jimbo and I would make Super 8 films and draw goofy characters. I would skate and hang out with broham Chris Johanson. It seemed that everybody was making art or playing music, and everywhere I looked there was rad shit on the walls. Dripping screws and giant horses. Do you paint to convey a theme or direct message, or is it driven more by improvisation and intuition? My works always come from inside my guts, so there is always something floating below the surface. I do both because I have two ways in which I paint. The first is a roughly penciled piece that I usually work out through a
thumbnail, and then map out. The second is putting down blobs and shapes in paint, and then I see what is coming to the surface, just pulling doo-doo out of my ass through layers until I get something that I really like.
Above: "Rainbowasaurus Goes Wild," 2008, cel-vinyl and gouache on paper
Do you feel that your art is autobiographical? My art is more a fantasy of the world I want to live in, rather than any type of direct take on what my life is now. Now, if I lived in a banyan tree and rowed my canoe over to the mainland everyday to get a banana shake–that would be auto-bio. How do you feel about the Internet’s takeover of zine culture, as many zines have moved online? It doesn’t really bother me too much. I made lots of great friends pre-internet through trading zines and writing letters. Now we just do it in a different way. I laugh when people say that print is dead. I think there is a gap between indie magazines like XLR8R and the little mini-comic, but other than that, the print culture is effin’ great. If anything, it has pushed people that do print to make their shit better. You can’t just crap out a 60-page Xerox that you made in an hour and expect folks to dig it. Now everybody is using Gocco, silkscreening, letterpressing, and hand-binding. There is such an eye for craft, and everything looks so good.
Above: (top) "Hair Party #1-4," 2005; (bottom) "Letâ€™s Play Some Music," 2004
Above: Globby figurine, 2008
Do you skateboard? Do you feel any connection to skate culture? I still skate about once a month, when I feel the inspiration and have the time both at the same moment. All the cement parks here in Oregon are so effin’ nice. I grew up with skaters, and skate art was a lot of my early influence. Neil Blender and Mark Gonzales are definitely early influences, and I flipped out when I got to be in an art show with Blender and meet him some years back. I used to do boards for Dogtown back in the early ’90s. Those graphics really sucked ass, but I loved that I got to do them. Do you have any moral qualms with using your art to advertise a product? Not if I like the product. You definitely won’t see my interpretation of the new Hummer H4 crawling over the earth, or one of my characters smoking a Camel Light. But if I like the product then it’s fine. I love that Gary Baseman does all the Cranium art, and that Lloyd Dangle has his work on that Airborne nasal thing. When Charles Burns did the Levi ads that was rad, too.
What styles of music are you into? Does music play a role in your artistic process? With music, I am all over the board. It just has to be effin’ rad. I love Prefuse 73, Juana Molina, Brazilian Girls, Blackalicous, Dudley Perkins, St. Tropez, Slint, Pretenders, The Clash, Spoon, AC Newman. I love good, moody metal too: Mastodon, The Melvins, Pelican, and my all-time favorite Neurosis, who somehow keep getting better and better. The silly thing is that the more deep and oppressive it gets, the happier I feel when I listen. Lately, I have been listening to rainforest sounds for painting.
Andrew Pommier Interview by Vivian Host This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #79, August 2004.
Andrew Pommier likes to draw bunnies, sparrows, and people wearing animal heads. And, more often than not, they’re smoking. Seems pretty weird for someone whose favorite saying is “never smoke,” but this Canadian is a study in contradictions. He and his younger brother–skate photographer Scott Pommier–were raised in the comparatively little mining town of Sudbury in Ontario, Canada but their work has been all over the world, from the pages of Thrasher and Transworld (Scott) to shows in Italy, Australia, and New York (Andrew). And though deck
Above: (right to left) Two selections from sketchbook, 2005; exclusive for XLR8R, 2005
Right: "Them With Dog," 2008, oil on wood
graphics often convey toughness through hackneyed metal clichés (skulls, hesh fonts, monsters), Pommier’s art for skate companies like Toy Machine, RVCA, and Momentum is often touching, with renderings of Ed Templeton hugging an owl and Rick McCrank screaming in a squid outfit. Many of these graphics–along with Pommier’s signature, saucer-eyed indie kids–can be found in Things I Don’t Remember, published by the UK’s Holy Water. “The book draws from years of sketchbook drawings, paintings (both watercolor and oil), and a smattering
of the commercial work I have done,” says Pommier. “I really like that I could include a lot of sketchbook stuff because I love it when I get to see how other artists get their initial ideas. Sketches pull back the curtain a little.” Following a show with Derrick Hodgson at Los Angeles’ Lab 101 gallery, we caught up with this softspoken Vancouver dude. He advised us to stay humble and, of course, never smoke.
Above: "Captain," 2005, oil on canvas
Right: "Hanging With the Crew," 2008, oil on wood
Your human characters often wear animal ears, horns, or costumes. What does this symbolize for you? I don't really think in symbolic ways. My paintings and drawings aren't created based on a grand theory or for cerebral satisfaction. The images are created for the love of humor and affection for the odd and out of place. The displacement also rings with a kind of sadness. My paintings are about playing with images and icons. The costumes and cigarettes in some cases reinforce the separation of the characters from a normal day-to-day–the outsider. Are the people that you draw and paint people that you know? The people that I paint are almost always faces from my head. There are maybe one or two paintings where I was thinking about a person but never trying to duplicate their features; it’s more about picking up on visual clues. I just draw and the face that comes out is the face that comes out. You've said that you're a big fan of John Currin's work. Where did you first encounter his work and what do you like about it? I became aware of Currin's work when I went to the Venice Bienniale in 1995 while I was going to school in Florence. It didn't really strike me at first but in later years I would trip over his work here and there and I really liked the direction he was going. I like that he sticks close to figurative work and works within the traditions of painting; also, his work is very playful and whimsical and sometimes just plain silly. All that and he is pretty successful. What does the cigarette represent to you? The cigarette adds a certain toughness to the image. Also it seems to make the characters I draw or paint more based in the real world, [as if] the characters are just normal people going through their day. I also like the cigarette because it is one way to spoil the cuteness factor. I have always liked using symbols and this one symbol has been
with me for a while. It seems to really connect to people. It is a commonality. Who was your favorite skater growing up and why? Mike Vallely. At the time he was one of the best street skaters and he rode for Powell-Peralta–everybody’s favorite company in the ’80s. As he states proudly these days, he was one of the first pros to break away from the major companies and ride for World Industries, a small upstart at the time. So he lead the charge, and that was pretty dope when I was a 15-year-old kid living in Sudbury. What character from a movie do you most relate to? Fiver in Watership Down. What is your biggest fear? Immobility. How do you and your brother, skate photographer Scott Pommier, influence each other? We have introduced each other to so many different things. I can't even imagine what I would be like if I didn't grow up with Scott. He is pretty integral to the person I am today and I'm sure he would say the same of me. Scott has showed me what hard work and sacrifice can lead to. He has such a strong work ethic and is sharp as a tack, figuratively and literally. Yes, he is very pointy young lad. Ouch.
What song did you have your first make-out session to? Something by Led Zeppelin. The fact that it was playing in the background will forever piss me off because I really can't stand that band and it will always be with me. It was only playing because I was at my friend’s apartment and I put the tape on because I thought the girl would like it. As it turns out, it didn't really matter what I put on, so I wish it had been Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys. What are some of your favorite skateboard graphics ever? I have always been a fan of the Chris Miller decks from the ’89-’90 period, the ones with the drawings of the cats. The Mike Hill period at Alien Workshop was also pretty kick ass, all those dioramas. I really get a big kick out of skate graphics from the early ’90s because there were no rules–nobody was thinking of branding or marketing. There was almost no money in skateboarding so nobody cared all that much about the graphics; a lot of boards didn't even have company logos or pro names on them. There are some real gems from that period, boards that would never see the light of day if you produced them today. List five random things that are making you happy at this moment in time. A day out with my girlfriend Tiffany and the dog. Morning coffee. Faber Castel pens. Apple products. Velcro.
Where is your art going next? I think I'll be changing a lot of the imagery I have relied upon for the past few years. Once I finish paintings for a show I always feel that it is time for a change. I don't really plan what to do next. I just roll with what I'm drawing in my sketchbook at the time. There is no medium shift at the moment. Oil painting will always be what I love to do. Watercolor is still pretty new to me and I'm happy with what I am producing, so that will continue.
Interview by Patrick Sisson
This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #89, August 2005.
Os Gemeos “Simplicity, freedom, and the ability to improvise–these are the important parts of being Brazilian.”
On walls around São Paulo, the fantastically bright paintings of Os Gemeos (“The Twins”) grab the attention of passers-by like a float from Carnival. Full of fluid lines, eye-popping colors (often yellow and red), and surreal characters, their work would be at home in a children’s book, but the story of these artists runs much deeper than Dr. Seuss. Growing up in the Cambuci neighborhood of São Paulo, artistically inclined identical twins Octavio and Gustavo Pandolfo started doing street art in 1987, after discovering hip-hop culture and b-boying. They’ve since become fixtures in the Brazilian art world, founding Fiz, the first full-color magazine covering graffiti in their hometown. Though hiphop exerts a strong influence on their work, they’ve never strayed far from their roots, always incorporating the values and
visuals of Brazilian folk art in their painting. The story has even gone international. After an auspicious meeting with San Francisco artist Barry “Twist” McGee in 1993, the twins began exhibiting around the world. Their paintings and installations have been the focus of shows at San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery and New York’s prestigious Deitch Projects, leading them to paint a mural at Coney Island as part of Creative Time and ESPO’s Dreamland Artist Club project. As their style has matured over the years, they’ve broadened their storytelling skills beyond latex paint and rollers. Many pieces now include long passages of Portuguese text, an apt metaphor for their style, where every piece is merely a page in a much larger book.
Previous: S達o Paulo, 2005
Above: S達o Paulo, 2008
Above: (clockwise from left) Exclusive for XLR8R, 2005; Deitch Projects show detail, 2005; L.A. wall, 2005.
How long have you been painting? Since we’ve known paper and pencil. When we were children, our grandfather worked in a big print factory, so he always had a lot of paper at home. When we stayed at his house we’d draw all night. Our family also supported us a lot. Our parents would buy us paint and brushes and our older brother, Arnaldo, would help us a lot. He’d stay up and draw with us, and he always had good ideas. How did you get involved with graffiti? What were your artistic influences? We learned about graffiti in 1987. We always liked to go out and play in the streets. We’d play with toys, set trashcans on fire, and even ring the doorbells of our neighbors and run away. At this time in Cambuci, the part of the city we were growing up in, there were a lot of b-boys. They’d dance in front of our houses until late at night, and they had graffiti designs on their clothes. We liked that.
Tell us about doing your first graf piece. We went with our family to visit our grandmother, who lived like 10 blocks from our house. Our dad didn’t like graffiti and hip-hop at this time, so we had to be careful when we put the paint cans in the car and not make a sound. It was very funny. We went inside our grandmother’s for a minute then told our dad that we wanted to go play downstairs. Then we stole the keys to his car, took the cans of paint, and bombed three walls near there. They were very ugly pieces! Folk art plays a big part in your work. Why is it important to you? It’s very simple–folk art shows the roots of the country. Brazil is very rich in culture in all segments: dance, music, and art. We want to be an example for the world. We want people to say Brazilians have this beautiful culture, a very simple one with a lot of energy and love inside, like our Carnival. We don’t need things, like the best new shoes or a brand new
Below: (top) São Paulo, 2008 Below: (bottom) Painting a 130-foot mural at Coney Island as part of Creative Time and ESPO’s Dreamland Artist Club, 2005
car, to be happy. We worry more about what’s inside, not what’s outside. We just need a beer in the summer and some friends. We love simplicity. We love that you can go out and play football with your friend in the middle of the street, or if you’re a little cold you can make a fire in the street and be warm. Simplicity, freedom, and the ability to improvise–these are the important parts of being Brazilian. When did the Brazilian graffiti scene start and what sets it apart from other countries? Brazilian graffiti started in the ’80s. People used latex paint and rollers to make big figures, but since the beginning we’ve had many different styles. Some look like things from the Berlin Wall, some use really good stencils. The way it developed here is much different than other countries. São Paulo had no law for graffiti and by the end of ’80s, around 1987, we had unique pixaçao (“tags”) and grapixo (“pieces”). A lot of people who did graffiti in the ’80s have stopped, but a new generation is doing their own thing. We always say whomever lives in the past belongs in a museum. What messages do you try to spread with your work? Our dreams, our love, our hate, things that we learn, messages from our family, fun, political messages, contradictions in the world, stupid things.
How did you two meet Barry McGee? Did working with him influence your style? We met Barry in 1993 when he came to São Paulo for a gallery show. It was very cool. It was his first contact with graffiti from Brazil, and he didn’t realize that we had this style of graffiti. It was good for us because we learned a lot about American graffiti, like the movie Style Wars, stuff like that. We had some great times with him. We painted some things on the train lines and in the streets. We saw in his work a simplicity of style, how you can do something very simple yet very difficult. You don’t need 10 cans to do a "masterpiece," just one color. He used a lot of black and white, and we like the way that his work is different than the traditional stuff. How did your project at Coney Island go? We had a great time there. We had good people work with us and support what we were doing. And Coney Island is a very nice place, very magical. The name of the wall is "O Teatro da Vida," the Theater of Life. It’s about 100 feet long. It contains everything around us: our lives, our dreams, and our reality. What is the worst twins joke you two have heard? People saying to us, “You guys are brothers?”
Interview by Vivian Host This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #113, December 2007
Matt Furie Matt Furie’s mind must be a crazy place. It’s populated with bats wearing polo shirts and riding BMX bikes, Frenchkissing birds with boobs, and weeping daisies. Also present are ALF and Falkor (the dragon from The Neverending Story), Freddy Krueger cradling a child, and a guy with a hamburger for a head. You might wish you had such interesting things tripping trails through your cerebral cortex, so luckily there’s Furie’s art, where an assortment of brightly colored friends, foes, and furry things share bizarre and often tender moments with each other. Though his work may seem like nothing more than an ironic monster mash, there is a startling humanity to these coloredpencil-and-ink drawings that makes you want to look at them again and again. Plus Furie’s got a real talent for drawing hair and an ability to tug at nostalgic heartstrings; with their gummy lips, cool sunglasses, and fondness for breakdancing and bad graffiti, his funny-faced dudes are definitely designed to amuse children of the ’80s. Since exporting himself to San Francisco from his native Ohio six years ago, Furie’s work is slowly catching on. Following
a variety of shows around the Bay Area–at Needles & Pens, Adobe Bookshop, and Low Gallery–and some promo from local art website Fecal Face, he has moved southward and eastbound with shows at The Cartoon Network offices and New Image Art in L.A., Giant Robot in NYC, and in Venice and London. Furie, whose name is a bastardization of fiore (Italian for flower), isn’t one for long musings, but we stalked him on the internet and found out that he’s a fan of house pets (especially cats), Richard Scarry, Mindfreak, and Aphex Twin. Then we had to know more, so we emailed him to get the lowdown on the sex lives of Rubix cubes and why Muppets rule over Snorks any day.
Left: "Snap...pop!," 2008, from the comic Boy's Club (Buenaventura Press).
Above: "Rubix on Top," 2007
Right: "Cramnation," 2007, ink and colored pencil
What was your favorite childhood game? I used to ride my bike around and pretend I was Wolverine. My handlebars had different imaginary buttons that did different things, like shoot passersby. What effect do you think growing up in Ohio has had on your work? My mom was very supportive of my creative tendencies and she sent me to weekend drawing classes and paid for guitar lessons and stuff like that. I went to good public schools that offered lots of art classes, both during and after school, so it was a rich and imaginative place for me as a kid. What scares you the most? The overproduction of plastics, urban sprawl, and deforestation. You seem to have recurring characters… Do you have names for them in your head and do you think of them as part of a continuing storyline? The Rubix cube person, Cuboid, is sometimes a boy and sometimes a sexually active girl. The Skeletoresque dude (a.k.a. Kid Skelly) is sometimes a nerdy, skinny kid and other times a caring grandmother. Both of those characters are based on actual toys I brought home from my day job as toy-sorter at the Community Thrift store.
Name one artist whose work you really admire. I really admire Will Sweeney from the U.K. He creates a huge world full of intricate architecture, vehicles, four-legged vegetarian sandwich creatures, ogres, hot dog villains, dog people, fruit people, complex war machines, castles, owl police, magical bearded cats, perfectly shaped sunglasses, and so much more. What do you find really funny? Bodily functions like pooping, peeing, barfing, ejaculating, burping, and farting. What was your best moment of the year? The quiet moment in between jumping off of a houseboat and landing in the lake. What was your worst moment of the year? Any moment at the laundromat. What's the one cultural moment of 2007 that stands out in your mind? I read an article in a National Geographic that described how the albatross flies for thousands of miles to a feeding area it has been going to forever and mistakes washed-up brightly colored junk, like bottle caps and lighters, for food.
What is the best lesson you have learned in the last couple of years? Don’t sweat the petty, pet the sweaty. What music do you listen to while you work? AFX, Brian Eno (ambient), Stone Temple Pilots (karaoke practice), Skinny Puppy (Too Dark Park), Ariel Pink, Holy Shit, Jonathan Richman, Kraftwerk. Did you draw a lot of different things before you do what you do now, or has it been similar all along? I used to draw people a lot more. There are sooo many interesting things to draw. There is no limit. When did you move to San Francisco and why? I moved here with my college roommate Nasty Neff in 2001 because it sounded like fun and I wanted to be like Robert Crumb. My work developed a lot out here because San Francisco is awesome and full of grownup kids that like cartoon art. What is your favorite California slang? “Ghost riding the whip,” which I think means to hang out of your car and dance while driving, or maybe to get on top of the car and dance while it’s driving. I also like the car modification in Oakland that made cars go “Woooooooooo!” and was popularized by a YouTube clip of a really funny dude (Bubb Rubb) doing his impression of the noise. When was your last creative crisis and what was it about? I always feel like I spend too much time in my room. Do you believe in ghosts? Sure.
What is your favorite moment in '90s kitsch? That show Dinosaurs that had the baby that said, “Not the mama!”
Left: (top) "Panic Attack," 2007; (bottom) "Freestyle Friends," 2006
Below: (top) "Full Cry," 2007; (bottom) "Falcore Escapada," 2007
What is your favorite book? Animals: 1,419 Copyright-Free Illustrations of Mammals, Birds, Fish, Insects, etc., A Pictorial Archive From Nineteenth-Century Sources, selected by Jim Harter. What do you do when you're feeling uninspired? Watch videos on YouTube. Then… Boom! Inspiration! Tell us a funny story about working at the thrift store. People poop all over the place there, both inside and out. Do you collect anything? Plastic hamburgers, earrings, and M.U.S.C.L.E.s. Horror movies, action figures, or comic books? Action figures. It’s what we used to do before they developed all those damn videogames. Muppets, sock puppets, or Snorks? Muppets. Big Bird, a guy in a garbage can, a woolly mammoth, Animal, Miss Piggy, Grover, Kermit… Need I say more? The Prodigy, N.W.A., or Slayer? N.W.A., because Dr. Dre was a nerd.
What about astrology? Totally. What is your most Leo trait? Sharp teeth. What's one thing you got rid of that you wish you still owned? My card collections that included Super Deformed mini-stickers from Japan and hecka Garbage Pail Kids.
Brian Roettinger Interview by Josiah Hughes This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #119, August 2008.
Though it sounds sweet and innocent, the name Hand Held Heart is a literal interpretation of a gruesome H.R. Giger painting used as album art by brutal grindcore legends Carcas. It’s an apt name choice for L.A.-based designer Brian Roettinger, whose work is heartfelt, hardcore, and everything in between. Roettinger started Hand Held Heart in 1998 with the release of a 7” by hardcore luminaries Orchid. The project quickly expanded to include a wealth of unexpected endeavors, including silk-screened album art, redesigned public signage, and Roettinger’s own music, among other things. “When I came up with the name Hand Held Heart, I realized that it wasn’t always going to just be a record label,”
“It’s about not taking yourself too seriously. It’s about getting your hands dirty then washing them.”
he explains. “I thought that having a title or a moniker would be nice to have as the platform for anything I make. Whatever my interests are, it falls under that.” Maintaining a day job as the art director for the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Roettinger’s attention to detailed lines and choice fonts has crossed over into his design work for friends like No Age and Liars; similarly, his unique ability to balance financial stability with community-oriented output stems from his punk roots. In the late ’90s, Roettinger was the bassist for This Machine Kills, a Southern California hardcore band that featured Steve Aoki on vocals.
“You really felt like you were a part of something important, and you were involved and responsible in every aspect of your endeavors, whether it was booking shows, making t-shirts or releasing records," says Roettinger of the DIY movement’s lasting impact. "It’s a very self-reliant, skill-sharing community. That’s the primary quality that still influences my work and how I live my life today."
Above: "untitled #2," 2008, for Space 15's Black & White exhibition in L.A.
Above: "Joshua White Photography," 2006
How would you describe Hand Held Heart? It’s about collaboration not competition. It’s about staying up late. It’s about communication. It’s about getting pissed. It’s about thinking critically. It’s about not taking yourself too seriously. It’s about getting your hands dirty then washing them. It’s about listening to what others have to say. It’s about supporting what your friends are doing. One day it may be about something else. How did you first become interested in art? As a kid, and still to this day, I was excessively eager and curious for just about everything around me. My grandfather was a clockmaker, my father was an avid photographer and illustrator, and my mother painted. Me, I would break things, fix things, steal things, return things, take things apart, and basically get myself into trouble. I would ask a lot of questions. “How did you make that?” “What is this?” “Can I make one of those?” I was a dreamer, and ultimately just started making things, mostly drawings, at home and in school. What did you learn in your four years at the California Institute of the Arts? I know this will sound very academic, but it taught me to listen, distinguish sense from nonsense, and how to think critically and develop ideas. By the time I was
finished, I was very aware of what I did and didn’t want to do with design. Describe your artistic process from start to finish. I learned this from the Dutch designer Hans Gremmen: 1) Do one thing at a time (which I have a hard time doing). 2) Know the problem. 3) Learn to listen. 4) Learn to ask questions. 5) Distinguish sense from nonsense. 6) Accept change as inevitable. 7) Admit mistakes. 8) Say it simple. 9) Be calm. 10) Smile. How do you know when you've finished a piece? I try not to over-analyze but when there is absolutely, positively no more time left to continue working then I am done, and if there is no more time and I feel it’s not complete well then it’s going to be late. I think the more things you make, the more comfortable you are with your work and knowing when something feels right or feels done. It’s not always that it looks done, but that it just feels done. What does a day in your life look like? I rarely eat breakfast. I spend about an hour in the morning reading and responding to emails. I spend most of my day at Southern California Institute
Above: LP packaging for No Age's Nouns album, 2008
Selections from Live Dangerously Until the End solo show at Hope Gallery, Los Angeles, 2008.
Above: (from left) "Quick as Rainbows," "Epic of Gilgamesh," "Fairy Tales," "Live Dangerously Until the End," all works done with spraypaint on paper. Bottom: (from left) "Night at the Palomino," "Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios," "Pink Floyd at the Laserium," all works done with spraypaint on paper.
Above: No Age 5” single series, 2007 Left: Exclusive for XLR8R, 2008
of Architecture, either working on the current publication or a new series of Public Program posters. I drink a lot of green tea. I try to never wear the same shoes two days in a row. I eat a late lunch. I wear all white on Wednesdays. I sometimes wear a suit on Friday (formal Fridays). I have so many projects that my days range based on what I am working on, but it often includes getting frustrated, confused, excited, and tired. What is a classic album cover that you would re-design if you could? David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. I like the existing design, but it’s something that I wouldn’t mind seeing with a solely typographic solution. What's your favorite album cover of all time? There are so many I could call favorites, but The Day the Country Died by The Subhumans was the first punk record I remember buying because I loved the cover, so it’s a bit nostalgic.
What do you like to listen to while you work? Animal Collective, Panda Bear, No Age, Liars, Glenn Branca, The Ramones, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Shotmaker. Sometimes I just listen to sports radio. Who do you consider your influences, artistic or otherwise? The early 20th century avant-garde for their experimentation and innovation with respect to art, culture, and politics. Ian Curtis for his musical and lyrical vision. William S. Burroughs for his words and social criticism. Robert Brownjohn for his wit and conceptual approach to design. Charles and Ray Eames for their timeless, simple, and brilliant approach to thinking. Dieter Roth for the fact that he never seemed to stop working. And, finally, John Cassavetes–the true DIY thinker. What would you be doing if you weren't an artist? I would probably be doing something else and trying to pass it off as art.
Do you still play music? Occasionally Aaron Hemphill from Liars and I will collaborate and make tracks. We have a few hours’ worth of material that we never do anything with. How do you stay financially secure without compromising your DIY ethics? I try to stick strictly to arts-related cultural organizations or institutes. Most of the stuff has been for smaller galleries or museums and bigger publishers, but no real large corporate stuff. Right when I was out of school, I worked for Motorola and I couldn’t hang, really. It was hard to come up with ideas and make things. You have these great ideas, and they’re like, ‘That’s great, but we’re not gonna make that yet. Let’s just put that to the side, and maybe we’ll use it in the future.’ It just seemed like a waste of my time.
Laurent Fetis Interview by David J. Weissberg
Photo by Eric Beckman
This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #66, April 2003.
“Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, with the business man in flames, is an image I've had in my mind ever since the first time I saw it.”
Ask any designer and they’ll tell you: they’d stab their granny in the back with a Sharpie just to hear a client say dirty things to them like “Go ahead and do what you like, I trust your judgement.” Enter Laurent Fetis. His career so far reads like a who’s who of hipsterdom. Plucked freshfaced from school to work on sleeve design for French electro pop band Mellow, he has gone on to design for hep mags The Face and Dazed and Confused, fashion designers like Anna Sui and Bless, film director Lars Von Trier, indie pop band Tahiti 80, and many more. The Coppola family also took a shine to Fetis: his illustrations adorned shirts for Sophia’s boutique line Milkfed and he designed a plethora of elements
(from the title credits to the fake money props) for Roman’s sci-fi feature film CQ. With all this momentum behind him, it’s easy to see why esteemed design publisher Die Gestalten Verlag saw fit to dedicate a book to his career, ABC+:Laurent Fetis. So far, si bon.
Right: Poster for Social Club, Paris, 2008
Left: Selections from the book ABC+: Laurent Fetis (Die Gestalten Verlag), 2004
Above: (clockwise from left) Sleeve artwork for Mellow, 2004; design for Milkfed, 2004; currency design from CQ, 2001
You grew up in the suburbs of Paris rather than the city. Do you think this had any effect on you and your work? Of course, yes! It’s difficult to get cultural information when you're living outside of a city. Without the internet, going to theaters, exhibitions, and movies–especially during my childhood–was a really complicated thing. Internet service is quite an investment, because you have to spend more money to pay for access than people in the city. So you have to develop other ways of accessing culture. Some create their own cultural playground, often linked to music and clothes, and they develop their own travels inside culture. In my case, I discovered literature through [African-American] novels and art through graffiti. At what point did you decide to get into art/design? I started to do posters when I was 16. I was interested in music and started to design some posters for concerts. At first, I studied architecture then I switched to an art and crafts school in Paris. I started working more seriously during this period, as I was art directing the communication of a Paris techno radio station named Radio FG. I finished school in 1999, and by that time my [design] studio was already in existence. So there wasn’t a big transition between school and the real work world.
What do you like about ’70s and ’80s design? Maybe a taste for pure geometry and colorful layout. I’m not really a fan of the computer aesthetic. Any particular designers or artists from that time you admire most? Hipgnosis [famed ’70’s prog rock design house from the UK, who designed sleeves for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and many others] are the kings from this period. Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is really great and so is Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Both these covers are a demonstration of the perfect art piece. Hipgnosis were the first to construct a basis for a new visual language–complex but not formalist and, in my opinion, they made a statement. I guess they also influenced the whole new wave of English [graphic designers], in particular people like Peter Saville. Each of their images was made completely in relation to the record [it’s designed for], but they [also] opened doors for something beyond the music. They succeeded in creating objects of desire instead of mere record covers. It's an extremely sensual relationship when you have a record designed by them in your hand. All these covers manage to stay really modern, and they mark a break with the classic idea of design. It’s simply art. Wish You Were Here, with the [business man in flames], is an image I’ve had in my mind ever since the first time I saw it.
Are you also influenced by films? Yes! I love everything by Eric Rohmer, Solaris by Tarkofsky, The Wickerman by Robin Hardy. I love these because they [break from] the classic [approach] to storytelling, and their use of time is very particular, very slow and very unusual.
weird design stuff was a very strong visual reference. The idea was to design [the movie’s] posters to look as if they were made during the ’70s. So the [assignment] was to find subtle ’70s art references and then to design original things that were authentic-looking for that period.
How did Roman Coppola come to use you for his film CQ ? He called me when he saw the Mellow sleeve designs. We proposed working on a video together for them. I was very proud, because I was still in school at the time. The project didn’t happen, but we still wanted to collaborate on something. We stayed in contact and some time later he called me to work on CQ.
You once said in an interview, "Nowadays, occidental design culture has become quite international.” Is this good or bad? Who knows? Maybe the cultural exchange is a good thing. But is this situation providing an exchange of ideas or an exchange of images only? There’s a [design look] common in every country–the computer look. It's crazy to see how a machine could make uniform the visual language to a point where you could guess every program used to construct these images.
CQ takes place in France. Was Coppola looking for someone particularly French to do design for it? I don’t think so. We discovered a common interest in the ’70s–science fiction films, design, and many other things. So we simply thought that it would be interesting to work on something together. What kind of direction was he looking for? Roman did an impressive iconographic search. He was mostly interested in Eurocine references and art and design manifestos. [Industrial designer] Luigi Colani's
What are you currently listening to in the office? This week I’m listening to a lot of records from International Deejay Gigolo, a German record label based in Munich, in particular DJ Hell. It’s the future of music and their editorial politic is as interesting as the Factory label used to be.
Left: 12" sleeve design for Discodeine "Joystick", 2008;
Below: Beck tour poster, 2003
Ehquestionmark Mysterious British design collective ehquestionmark is best known for their record sleeves for UK avant-hip-hop label Lex Records: the black-andgold crystals littering the cover of DM & Jemini’s Ghetto Pop Life, the coffee-cup stains and Age of Aquarius handstyles of Boom Bip’s Seed to Sun, the neuron-tickling yellowgreen waves of Dr. Who Dat?’s Beat Journey. Though these sleeves subtly nod towards the crew’s graffiti past, they avoid the obvious at all costs, eschewing played-out fonts and themes in favor of mystical calligraphy and dark, satirical details. Record sleeves are just a small fraction of what ehquestionmark does, explains Bhat, the crew’s reluctant ringleader. In 2007, they embarked on (P)origins Of Pommery,
a touring exhibition and a series of films and books based on the crew’s interpretations of the history of the British empire. “The details change from venue to venue,” explains Bhat. “It represents a tomb of pseudo-relics–a surreal delve into our personal English empirical world of masonic antiquity.” ehquestionmark has also developed an aesthetic identity for Pollinaria, a fully-functioning organic farm in the Italian countryside, as well as working on myriad personal projects. Bhat, for example, also designs beautifully cold and futuristic sleeves for experimental electro label Skam under the name Bhatoptics. Where most graphic design crews are only too happy to flagrantly promote themselves, ehquestionmark likes to keep secrets and doesn’t
Interview by Vivian Host Based on the an interview which originally appeared in XLR8R #83, December 2004
suffer fools lightly. “There’s too many pretenders and stale profiteering cowboys in both [graffiti and design] at the moment,” Bhat told XLR8R writer Matthew Newton in 2004. He says it’s a statement he still stands by, along with this credo: “You’re only as good as your last shit. The work’s got to stand up in a decade’s time, at least.” Bhat’s lost none of his fire since our first interview with the crew, as we found out recently when we tracked him down in the Rochdale section of Manchester. He chatted to us about his favorite writers, Bic pens, and the bad things about Britain.
Did where you grew up have an influence on the work you make now? I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland and Manchester, England–part urban industrial and part rural upbringing. Geographical location has had a massive influence on my persona, factors such as climate and economics, but it really depends on social situation within those locations as a second-generation immigrant. I’ve spent a lot of time indoors due to unpleasant weather and lack of funds, having to deal with myself for long periods of time–this, as an adult, has made it easier to reject a social life and maintain a reclusive one. Good for productivity but bad for personal economics with this in-built anti-capitalist ethic. I’m so glad I never grew up in London, though. I love the place but it is draining. How did you get linked up with Lex Records and what is your favorite Lex release? Warp Records (former owner and instigator of Lex) were stockists of our graf mag Hold No Hostage–they liked the magazine design so much they asked me to take care of the Lex print aesthetic in 2001. They also knew of my work for Skam Records, so they were sure of my capabilities. As for the favorite Lex release, that’s a tough one. It’s probably between the Lexoleum
Below: Special-edition CD packaging for Prince Po's The Slickness album, 2004
Above: LP Packaging for Dangermouse & Jemini's Ghetto Pop Life album, 2002
compilation and DJ Signify Sleep No More. Signify is the darker side of hip-hop. He gave me full control so it was nice to go on a horror tip, and with the album using John Carpenter-esque samples it was license to get viscerally scary. The cover represents a coffin lid and the inside is the contents of the coffin. On the inside of the lid you can see scratches–the body was buried alive. The rotten rigor mortis hands are pulling gang signs. I take influence from Stanley Kubrick’s dynamic work ethos: having a go at a context or topic and giving it your all with style and valor. With each musician, I tend to allocate a visual title and concept. Tes: The math. Dangermouse: Bling theft. Dangerdoom: Apocalyptic visionary. Neon Neon: Delorean sex. Shape Of Broad Minds: Cerebral Abyss. Dr. Who Dat?: Cosmic strata. Boom Bip: Shape-shifting slavery. Lexolea and Lexoleum: Linoleum-floor breaks. What piece of yours are you most proud of, and why? I’m not really proud of any–they all have imperfections that are either due to time constraints, economic constraint, or printer’s incompetence. All works lose their charm rapidly as they are plagiarized and I aim to develop in such a fickle manner. I really don’t see my work as pioneering, I just try and it’s just a shame when I see it being bitten by parasites and being subsequently lost in the ether of visual culture. Cover versions of cover versions created yesterday. What is your favorite and least favorite British thing? My favorite is the dialects and vernaculars beyond the Queen’s English. My least favorite is the island mentality: yobbish, idiotic, primitive behavior, plus xenophobia and narrow-mindedness. Who are your favorite writers and why? Karl 123 and Petro of the Fresh Worms crew: progressive and challenging with their use of form and color within the constraints of purist UK graffiti.
What is your favorite thing in your studio? A book on British Rail Design by the Danish Design Council. What are the inspirations for the ehquestionmark stuff versus the work you do as Bhatoptics? They are two different modes of working. ehquestionmark is much more fashionable, organic, commercial, collaborative, and postmodern so the inspirations lie in places like car-boot sales and second-hand shops– disposable contemporary fossils. Bhatoptics is about the personal abstract so it tends to deal with the uglier, unpalatable, dystopian side of life and the influences lie in synthetic modernity and whatever I have personal gripes with. What is your favorite technological invention of the last 30 years? I’m not sure as most of them are in the name of national defense and I think we’ve gone a bit too far with it all really, beyond the realms of mother earth.
What person, living or dead, would you like to collaborate with? Marcel Duchamp.
Above: (from left) Flyer for Lex Records’ Solexium night, 2002; packaging for Lexoleum compilations, 2003 Below: Exclusive for XLR8R, 2004
What do you listen to while you work? Random stuff, but generally I still listen to lots of early electro. Contemporary-wise, anything high-brow electronic and crafted beyond belief is acceptable, eg. Autechre, Aphex Twin. What is your favorite part of your daily routine? I have no daily routine, thankfully. My “typical” day is 30 hours instead of 24, so my week is in constant flux, every day being different apart from the usual animalistic primordial requirements. I suppose it would be defecating, as it’s the most relaxed act in an all-white room with no clock or reading stimuli–sensory deprivation with all attention to my bowel and brain movements.
What is your biggest vice? My time-consuming girlfriend. What is your favorite tool? My staple of Bic biros. What do you find sexy? Honesty. How many people are involved in ehquestionmark? It’s mainly me but it’s also a free-floating collective with many members who are involved as their disciplines are needed. What is one of your favorite album covers, and why? The Monty Python Instant Record Collection. Designed in 1977 by Terry Gilliam, the sleeve packaging folds out into a cardboard box with record spines along the side so it looks like a collection of a hundred LPs. Acid.
Interview by Vivian Host Based on a piece which originally appeared in XLR8R #60, October 2002.
Nicola Kuperus Darkness runs through Nicola Kuperus’ veins but her particular shade of noir is neither horrifying nor bleak. If anything, her photographic world is shiny patent–in her shop, she creates glossy, well-manicured worlds where bad ends befall beautiful women. In the Hitchcock-esque “Flat,” a leggy lady appears to have fainted–or is she dead?– while changing her white-walled tires. More askew limbs appear in “Bicycle Accident,” where a girl lies on the pavement still attached to her granny bike, her knockedover cherry Slurpee mockingly standing in for spilled blood. Like most of her photos, it's a crisply colored and humorously plated murder mysery; the protagonist's face is cropped out of the picture, leaving you to
draw your own conclusions about what’s going on. Kuperus was born in Salem, Massachusetts–a fittingly dark beginning–but migrated to the Michigan countryside as a pre-teen, then decamped to Detroit, where she received a BFA in commercial photography from the Center of Creative Studies. (Motor City’s influence is obvious in the classic midcentury cars that populate Kuperus’ tableaux, which are shot with a medium-format Mamyia RZ67.) America’s forgotten city continues to be Kuperus’ home base–four years ago, she bought and renovated a historic house there with her husband, Adam Lee Miller.
And lest we forget to mention, Kuperus’ other major endeavor is the dark electro outfit Adult. The DIY duo is not only behind a string of spooky synth-punk records–many of which have defined the modern electro movement–but also makes all their own videos, including a recent full-length horror film, Decampment. We found Nicola halfway through her oh-sonecessary morning coffee and talked to her about centipedes and The Cramps.
Where did you grow up and how did it influence you? A lot of places: Salem, Livonia, Atlanta, Memphis, and the thumb of Michigan, just to name a few. I suppose moving to the sticks of Michigan at 13 really impacted me, in that you learn how to be resourceful and entertain yourself because there is nothing there. What is one of your best childhood memories? When I was in the fifth grade I bet my mom that I could jump 12 feet in the long jump. If I won she had to buy me a jam box. If I lost I had to cut the grass for the whole summer. I won. It was great because it had a cassette player. Where do your photographs usually start? I come up with the idea and the color palette, loosely sketch it out, and then I find all the things I need. Do you end up developing a storyline in your mind for what’s going on in the picture? Yes, but I don’t like to tell what it is. I think that is why I often title my pieces in very generic terms. Your photographs appear very simple but elaborate at the same time. How long does it usually take you to set up and get the shot? If I had a model living in my closet I could execute a photo within hours of getting the idea. I think that’s
one of many reasons why I started cropping out heads. I have a hard time waiting for hair and makeup to be finished. When did you start taking photos? Well, I started taking pictures with my parents’ point and shoot maybe when I was in fifth grade. My girlfriends and I would dress up like fashion models and create elaborate backgrounds with pillows, blankets, and flower arrangements found in the house. But it wasn’t until the summer before I left for college that I really discovered that photography was something more than cheap point-and-shoot cameras and it wasn’t until my second semester of college that I took a photography class. From that point on, I was in love with it. What was the most difficult part of making your horror film? Technical knowledge. Even though I have a degree in commercial photography, that’s a far cry from knowing how to make a moving picture look great. It’s also just a matter of having access to all the right equipment, or even just having some money. We made our film with no budget and no crew. That’s when you have to be inventive. What was the last fight you and Adam got in about? Yesterday, trying to fit six-foot sheets of foam core in my Ford Tempo.
Previous: "Hose," 2001
Who was your style icon when you were 16? That’s a funny question. My transition age. I was finally able to drive and leave my town with a population of about 2,700. I had no style influence at that point. What a wreck. I was stuck between heavy metal and wearing “the claw” (really big hairsprayed bangs). A lot changed after that age. A lot of photographers feel like they have to “branch out” and take pictures of different kinds of things. Can you relate? That’s really funny that you ask this because I’ve been struggling with a recent word a journalist used, a comment my dad recently said, and just day-to-day critiques I have about my work. I won’t name the name because the interviewer was really great but they kept referring to my website as a series, and I kept saying, ‘No, you see, it spans eight or nine years. It’s not a series, it’s my work, and I have more of it coming!’ And then just last week my dad and I were talking about my work because I have a bunch of new stuff not online and he says, “You know, Nicola, your work is nice, but really how long can you cut women’s heads off and put them in awkward situations? You
really need to branch out.” Who knows what I’ll do, but I feel like each piece of mine is different from one another and tells its own unique story, and I will continue to make them as long as I have the story and I am interested. What is your favorite thing in your house? A tiny papier maché skull I bought out of a station wagon in front of Frida Kahlo’s house. Lydia Lunch, Cindy Sherman, or Diamanda Galas? Yes. No. Yes. What do you find scary? Basements. Centipedes. Expired food. What is one of your favorite album covers, and why? The Cramps Bad Music for Bad People. I got this album when I was 13. I bought it based solely on the cover. I had never heard of The Cramps or had any clue what they sounded like, I just thought the album art was so amazing that the record had to follow suit! It is still one of my favorite records of all time.
What is the last book, movie, or art piece that you found really inspiring? I’m currently reading the Mark Rothko bio; so far it’s pretty nuts, but I’m only 130 pages into it. And I recently saw Doug Aitken’s latest film, Migration. I found that very inspiring and beautiful. What’s your theme song at the moment? I’m really into this Marlene Dietrich record right now. It’s nice. It’s calming. It feels glamorous. I want it to be my theme song, but unfortunately my theme song is probably more like “122 Hours of Fear” by The Screamers.
Below: "Bicycle Accident," 2006
Above: "Beachball," 2006 Below: (left to right) "Car," 2000; "GTO," 2000
Damien Correll Interview by Vivian Host This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #118, June 2008.
“The division of work isn’t simply black and white.”
“I am not ashamed to reuse a good idea if I don’t think I gave it justice the first time around,” says Brooklyn-based designer/ illustrator/self-described “maker” Damien Correll. His organic, playful style–which references early Sesame Street animations, ’70s interior design, and ’50s product logos–is as diverse as the media he employs, from collage to painting to pen ‘n’ ink. (For a glorious display of his handdrawn fonts see the recent book, Hand Job.) This 26-year-old Pennsylvania native and Futura font fanatic has built a structured career from his seemingly bottomless will to outdo himself. After attending Philadelphia’s esteemed University of the Arts, Correll relocated to Brooklyn and was
soon hired as senior designer for Urban Outfitters. In his two years there, he created dozens of new typefaces and replicas of album covers for ads. Since leaving the chain, he’s collaborated with clients as diverse as Nike, Nickelodeon, snowboard company Rome SDS, and indie labels Polyvinyl and Plug Research. His magazine work has been equally varied, encompassing illustrations for New York Magazine, IdN, and Complex, and work for zines like UPSO’s Faesthetic and Shepard Fairey’s Swindle, to which he regularly contributes. Most recently, Correll has released a series of Zoo York skate decks (with Hand Job compiler Mike Perry), gotten engaged, and begun to work in a
collaborative space with the Rad Mountain collective (which also includes Justin “Demo” Fines, Wyeth Hansen, Garrett Morin, and Ryan Waller). “I think my new stuff is my favorite,” he says. “It feels like I am coming into my own a little. But I’m sure I would have had that same response five years ago, or even five years from now.”
Right: Exclusive for XLR8R, 2008 Above: Spread from Mikosa zine, 2007
Where did you develop an interest in typography? When I was around seven or eight, I can remember having this type book for kids. It had examples of all forms of lettering, mostly bubble lettering and techniques. From then on, I would take books out of the local library on advertising type and other old specimen books. In retrospect, it was kind of a weird and nerdy thing to be interested in at that age. And then, oddly enough, I didn’t even take one type class when I was in art school.
Visually, I’m not sure how much of his work informs what I do, but there is always a level of experimentation with what he did and that is something I always include in my process. I try to push more of a sensibility than a style. I am pretty sure that’s why folk art is a huge influence in my work. Folk art can look drastically different from culture to culture, but it almost always has a similar sensibility. The combination of the carefree gestures, naïve palettes, and universal concepts is just really attractive to me–there’s something unmistakably human about it.
How does typography differ from other media? I think the huge problem with it is that, by nature and sheer definition, it’s too literal. There are only so many levels of abstraction with it. You can’t get more literal than type.
What is your favorite album cover, and why? I think it would have to be The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m a big fan of Sir Peter Blake’s collage work. I would also have to put Peter Gabriel’s 1978 self-titled [album] up there as well–the one with the “scratch.” Such a simple, yet beautiful cover. Storm Thorgerson, who designed that cover, also created a bunch of other iconic covers, including Dark Side of the Moon!
Who are your influences? Lately I have been really interested in the sensibility of [British graphic designer] Alan Fletcher’s work.
Does what you do feel like a job? It’s my dream job, but it is totally a job. I love working, so whenever I get a free moment from “working” I am working on something else. I’m still trying to play around with things and experiment and establish myself as an artist, so most of the time I am trying out new ideas or techniques. But when I legitimately take a break, I love getting lost in used bookstores and flea markets. My dad used to drag me to all of these Amish flea markets as a kid and I never enjoyed them at the time. But now, to me, just wandering around with only the possibility of stumbling upon something unexpected can be kind of amazing. What would you do if you had unlimited time? I’d probably freeze up and mull over everything! As much as I hate crunching for time, I thrive on short deadlines. I think less and do more. It’s a purer expression for me. I’m chock-full of self-doubt, so having a lot of time can be a detriment to my process. How much planning goes into a piece before you start? Everything starts with a sketch. If it doesn’t, it goes nowhere. When working on a new piece, I usually make a bunch of elements by hand and then assemble them, either in the computer or as a traditional collage. Once I get to the point of assembling, it gets super-loose. This is where I really start to refine the concept by adding or taking away things on the fly. Improvisation is huge for me, but I need to first set up constraints to work with.
Doing so much commercial work under your own name, do you find it hard to express yourself in your personal work? I deal with this whole commercial-versus-personal dilemma at least once a day. The division of work isn’t simply black and white. Doing a lot of illustration work, I get to play around and experiment as if I were doing my own work, but it is the subject matter that’s not mine. When I figure out some new things or get some new ideas, that’s great. But there are situations where I end up burning good ideas for an illustration project instead of a personal project. It’s all relative. What’s your biggest pet peeve in art and design? It is really important, as a maker, to know your influences. I always think it is a shame when a young designer or artist can’t pinpoint what movement, period, or artists have inspired them. Fads and styles come and go so fast it seems much easier to replicate than go back and see what may have inspired these second- or third-generation aesthetics.
What do you listen to while you work? Some days, it’s dance music, some days it is psychrock, some days it is No Wave. Lately I have been really into the new Cut Copy record and that Lykke Li record, and the new Ruby Suns album. MGMT is really good and I have also reluctantly come around to Crystal Castles. But I’ll have days where I burn through the entire Kinks discography or listen to backto-back Diplo mixes.
Left: "On the Run," 2007
Above: (top) “Casi30,” 2007; (bottom) “It’s Nice to Be Nice” tee for T-Shirt Monthly and “Tastemaker” tee for Sixpack, both 2007; “Heavy Rock Spectacular” tee, 2008
Interview by Raf Katigbak This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #80, September 2004.
“We know that noise music fans are used to this messy and intricate aesthetic.”
Seripop Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau used to take latenight breaks at their studio to watch men with guns step out of BMW SUVs. “They’d throw these wads of cash into our neighbors’ windows and a minute later bags of drugs would just come flying out!” explains Lum with almost gleeful disbelief. “Then the cops came and raided their operation.” While being holed up in a 30-by-30-foot concrete shack sandwiched between an abandoned factory, train tracks, and armed drug dealers may not be most graphic artists’ idea of ideal working conditions, the duo otherwise known as Seripop has always liked to do things their own way. Now, after a few years of 15-hour work days, Lum and Desranleau have become
major players in the rock poster art scene, enchanting pundits and pedestrians alike with their raw, handmade, silkscreened illustrations and collages. Raised on a healthy diet of ’70s album cover art and comic books, Seripop references anything and everything, constantly drawing from a pile of hand-sketched ideas, found photos, and old book jackets for their wildly imaginative designs. They’ve made posters and album covers for Rocket From the Crypt, Broadcast, Erase Errata, and The Rapture, as well as creating extensive promotional campaigns for noise bands like An Albatross and Lightning Bolt, winning praise and support from poster legends Art Chantry and Frank Kozik along the way. Oh,
and they’ve also got their own noisy No Wave band called AIDS Wolf, where they operate under the musical alter egos Hiroshima Thunder (Yannick) and Special Deluxe (Chloe). XLR8R sat down in their studio (between 10 minute intervals of insanely loud train crossings) to talk bad graffiti, nunchucks, and why stealing their art is a bad idea.
Left: "Even More Sweetly," 2008
Above: Exclusive for XLR8R, 2004 Right: CPC Gangbangs poster, 2007
Above: (left) AIDS Wolf poster, 2008; (right) Blood Brothers poster, 2004
Right: Jandek poster, 2007
All of your work has a nostalgic, organic quality reminiscent of old Hitchcock film posters or those Blue Note record sleeves. Chloe: Sure, Saul Bass (Hitchcock covers) and Reed Miles (Blue Note stuff) are two of our favorite designers. We try and look at what they do and try and decipher why it’s successful. Yannick: Those guys are very influential–their methods, what they're using. It was all done by hand, basically. Chloe: Everything we do is done by hand. Everything is done with technical pens, T-squares, glue sticks, and X-acto knives; even our text is all done by hand. Yannick: There’s warmth in it and people in general think it’s more visually interesting than something super cold, like all this design you see now. Indeed, there’s been a rash of vector overkill these days. And the wide availability of software like Photoshop and Illustrator is probably not helping. Chloe: It’s actually pretty depressing. It's like everyone who has Photoshop considers himself or herself a graphic designer. Even if you have no notion of aesthetics whatsoever, [it’s like] “Oooh, you have Streamline and you took funny pictures you found in a thrift store and vectorized their faces!” or “Oooh, here’s an illustration!” For us, it’s important to
actually draw. At the risk of sounding precious, we want to do stuff that’s gonna have people staring at it. I feel that so much of design is just disposable and graphic design isn’t even something that’s seen as a skilled profession anymore. Some of your most interesting commercial work is the stuff that's hard to read. Chloe: That stuff gets us the most praise and the most criticism at the same time. We’re both into different kinds of hand-done letterform, even the crappy graffiti you have here in the buildings adjacent to this one. Bad graffiti, black metal band logos… all that shit. Yannick: We’re sort of using it as a way to target the audience. We know that noise music fans are used to this messy and intricate aesthetic. We like to push it a little and kind of fuck with peoples’ minds. Basically it's used to chase away the squares. Do clients ever complain that your posters are too messy or indecipherable? Chloe: No, most of the complaints come from people that make Nashville Pussy posters with hot rods and devil girls, like "Uh, we can’t even read your fuckin’ posters! You guys think you’re so much better than everybody else, fucking… indecipherable... mumble…” But the bands, record labels, and promoters we work with are always really happy with
it. Sometimes we’ll get asked specifically to do stuff that’s harder to read. For instance, we did a poster for a show that Lightning Bolt were playing at a friend’s house in Chicago and one of the things that she asked was that we do something that was hard to decipher because she didn’t want everybody to go. What happened? Chloe: Well, they had 500 people show up and the floors were very close to caving in. The neighbors below them had chinks of plaster falling from their ceiling, so I guess we didn’t make it fucked up enough. Most of the time, though, if you have an extreme noise band playing, even if you have their name written in Helvetica bold, it’s not gonna make more people come. You guys are about to go on a six-week, 40-date poster art tour. Where did that idea come from? Yannick: We thought it’d be a good way to hype ourselves and meet people. When we were touring with our old noise band Da Bloody Gashes last summer, we brought some posters with us and the posters were selling more than our merch. I heard some of your posters got jacked at a recent show. How do you feel about that? Yannick: It’s kinda sucky because it’s art but at the same time it’s ephemeral. It’s all been done in pretty big quantity, so it’s not such a big deal. Chloe: Well it is a fuckin' big deal! We have a few copies that are set aside for displaying, and it’ll be the last copy of our print. One of them got jacked recently so now we don’t have any more to display, you know? I think it just shows how some people are fucking wack. I have to confess. I’ve yanked a couple of your posters off the street before. Chloe: Yeah, if it’s on the street… Sure, yank it down! I mean, we yank down cool posters we see in the streets all the time. Anyways, it’s not like our stuff is expensive–you can buy our posters for between five and 20 bucks. But it’s just like graffiti–you can paint over someone’s shit on the street, but you’re not going into a fuckin’ gallery that has a Barry McGee show going on and start fucking tagging over his paintings.
Who do you like working with the most? Chloe: We work mostly with noise rock bands or free jazz bands; it’s stuff we listen to ourselves and it’s a culture we’re actively involved in. We set up shows, DJ, etcetera, and these are bands we are fans of or are friends with. We often refuse stuff from bands we don’t know anything about. We were asked to do stuff for this jam band on Sony in Toronto and that’s a culture we don’t know how to represent. We don’t want to do a half-ass job; it’s not advantageous for anyone, unless they have shitloads of money… Tell me about your Black Rainbow collective. Chloe: It’s a gang not a collective. You mean you beat up other poster designers? Chloe: Yeah, but with our skills. Yannick: ...and chains. And, what are those Chinese sticks called? Nunchucks. Chloe: Basically, there are 18 of us in different cities–Montreal, Berlin, New York, Paris, Providence, Boston–and we’re all in screenprinting. We like working in multiples and we collaborate with each other through the mail. We‘re really into doing themed, editioned art projects (like paper dolls) and we’ll have shows going on in each city simultaneously. We just like pushing each other.
Right: "Hair Police," 2008
Craig Metzger The staggeringly bold silhouettes and graphical shape shifters Craig Metzger creates should merit arrogance. So perhaps it’s the skateboarder in him that keeps him so grounded… or maybe it’s just the crippling insecurities. Uncomfortable with his drawing abilities, Metzger attributes any success to mere will. And upon completion of this interview, Metzger squirmed. “Hopefully I didn’t sound like an idiot,” he worried rather charmingly. Metzger lived the bulk of his life in the crowded NYC art market, so it’s no wonder he’s anxious. The cruel gallery world offered little help at times, so Metzger supplemented his art designing for clients like Etnies, Jack Spade, and Burton. Niche art magazines, like Arkitip and B+W, also began to take notice. After a series of small victories with corporate clients Matador Records, Nike, and MTV, Metzger returned whole hog to his skateboarding roots in the summer of 2002. Disgusted by board companies’ increasingly corporate interests, he launched Instant Winner, a brand that brought skateboarding back to its close-knit roots. Helmed by former Zoo York skateboarder Billy Rohan, Instant Winner became a small wonder in an industry whose intense competition and snooty politics mirror only those of the art world. Dog eat vert dog, if you will. Not unlike Instant Winner’s irony-laden mantra, Metzger’s wildly creative output does indeed “bring the radical oh so hard.”
Skateboarders are notorious for talking smack, so don't disappoint us here Craig. Name the most terrible graphic design trends in skateboarding right now. Oh man, I didn't expect questions like this. Well, it seems like a lot of companies aren't putting much thought into their graphics anymore. There are standouts like Alien Workshop and Anti-Hero, but of course they’ve always stood out since day one. I miss the late ’80s in terms of graphic direction and execution. Skart [skate art] has blown up big time over the past couple years. In fact, I just saw Ed Templeton's work in Details. Would it be a mistake to label some of this stuff fine art? I hate the word "skart.” It almost pigeonholes you as an artist. I think all this new attention to "lowbrow" art is amazing and it's about time. It seems, traditionally, to make it in the art world you had to have some sort of education focusing on a discipline. This whole new attention that these artists are getting is just and deserved. They work just as hard as someone with an MFA. But it is sort of trippy seeing people like Ed in Details, I must say. Once the masses get ahold of it, it becomes a completely new beast.
Interview by Carleton Curtis This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #85, March 2005.
You are quite open about your lack of formal training, naming rogue artists like Henry Darger as influences. Does this type of self-awareness contribute to your artmaking process, or is it merely a "bird flip" to schooled artists? Darger wasn't necessarily a street artist but more of a strange guy who wrote the biggest novel in history and made pictures to illustrate his book. The great thing about Darger is that he never set out to be an artist–his novels were the main focus of work. Darger used all sorts of stuff to illustrate: collage, pencil drawings, watercolor, tracings, ink. If he didn't have the skill to pull off what he wanted, he figured out a way to show that. I really admire that determination. As far as self-awareness, it's merely a way for me to say that all this art that I've been creating comes from real trial and error and, most of all, it’s genuine. Sometimes I wish I had the balls to go to art school when I was younger but I thought I didn't have the skill to be successful. You've described each piece of your art as "an illustration for a story based on fantasy." Must art always tell a story? It doesn't always have to, and a lot of artists battle with this. There is all this pressure for your art to have meaning and relate to something. Most of my pieces
Previous: "My Only Weakness," 2004, canvas print
are my interpretations on experiences or some sort of twisted fantasy–like the type of fantasies you would read while growing up, especially fables. I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons when I was young so I'm sure that has some effect on my work. From Basquiat to billboard saboteurs, it's safe to say that street art has been very well explored. And with large corporations co-opting the art form, it seems as though a lid has been fastened down on its evolution. How do you see street art growing (or wilting) in the near future? I don't participate in street art like wheatpasting or going out on midnight bombing missions. I somehow got lumped in this category and it's cool with me but I don't do any street activities. I do support it to the fullest. I think corporate involvement allows a typically unnoticed art form to get some long overdue recognition and hopefully some money. As far as nurturing the scene goes, I think some corporations are making an effort to shine some light on a scene that normally is left in the dark. But it's one thing to be a patron of the arts and quite another to be a pilferer of the arts. Absolut, for example, could've easily sponsored Phil Frost or Maya Hayuk, but
instead they turned their art into a liquor advertisement. I guess the question is, whatever happened to art lovers buying art? A part of me used to think it was lame when a big corporation would profit from an artist’s work and credibility. Then I started to think about how this country's government is constantly cutting back on the arts, and selling paintings on the regular doesn’t happen for every artist. In an ideal world I wouldn’t back the whole “paint on a bottle or a sneaker,” but when you have to pay rent and put food on the table you really have to put your priorities in perspective. What do you think of those cartoons in the New Yorker? I never read the New Yorker and a part of me thinks this is a trick question. We wouldn’t do that to you. Based on that answer, is there one area of your art that you're most insecure about? Everything [laughs]. I think my drawings are my weakest point. I can't just go with one stroke, for example, when I draw a face. There are, like, 40 lines to make up one cheek. I think if I was more confident in my line work, the drawings would look like normal drawings instead of sketches. This insecurity started
Left: "Feudal Japan", 2007 Right: “South American Vacation,” 2003, cut paper, acrylic, and silkscreen on wood
me using cut paper. I'd draw something and then take an X-Acto blade to it. The knife brought that straight line I was looking for. What approach did you bring to the table, from an art direction standpoint, when making Instant Winner’s first skate video, Nickels And Dimes? I had this idea of basing a video on Coney Island. Coney Island has always been this creepy place to me but also has so much history. I ran the idea by filmer Shea Gonyo and he took it to a level that is super awesome. The video is short (20 minutes) but after you watch it you want to run out and skate. Would you ever take the same career path as Spike Jonze? I think I'd rather follow the career path of [Thrasher and Independent Trucks owner] Fausto and own all of skateboarding and its magazines [laughs]. Karen O or Sofia Coppola? Coppola wine while listening to Karen Black. Okay Craig, what's the smartest advice you've ever received as an artist? Always throw the first punch.
Joseph Campbell would have a field day with visual artist Joseph Ari Aloi. So would Freud. In Aloi’s work, Star Wars, sexy ’80s androids (à la Soryama), tattoo culture, and juvenile reworkings of corporate logos and drug references all collide. At first glance, this could be the artistic ramblings of the kid who sat behind you in class, merrily sketching humanoids onto his Mead blue denim binder, ever-conscious of the Force flowing through his Biro. But a closer look reveals that this version of Star Wars suits
neither for tent-pitching sequelites nor artistically-inclined lightsabreand-spliff wielding Spicolis. SUBCONSCIOTHESAURUSNEX, Aloi’s limited-edition book published by Seattle’s now sadly defunct Houston Gallery, presents the artist as a modern-day Peter Beard. His sketchbooks–drawings from which have been emblazoned on clothing from Brooklyn brand Mishka–are maniacally filled with both art and personal musings, and are startling in their shear denity of
JK5 Right: "12 Weeks," 2008
Why is Star Wars such a prevailing influence in both your work and culture in general? I think at such an early age, without being conscious of what it all meant, we were introduced to dualities of good and evil, a hero and a pirate, unique creatures and Taoist undertones [like the Force]. I was seven in ’77 when I was seeing Wonder Woman, Starsky and Hutch, and most importantly Star Wars. I was amazed at the Force as this element of mysticism outside of my Catholic upbringing. It had a powerful resonance because of its timeless mythology, and it transcends regular science fiction. That’s another thing–as an artist being raised in suburban Italian North White Plains New York, Star Wars was the alternative parallel in a religious universe that applied directly to being both an individual and a creator. You take a certain amount of sophomoric liberties with Star Wars in your work. Everything is sacred and nothing is sacred at the same time. Everything is fair game to dissolve, integrate, and to assimilate, and to fuck with and play with and transform. There’s a lot of amalgams and deeper meaning underlying all this. It’s all there for you too learn about and recreate and channel through your own heart.
images. Star Wars is not a starting point, but a medium unto itself that Aloi has lived and breathed since a child. It’s precisely this kind of authenticity that caught the eye of eager toy fan and Mo' Wax founder James Lavelle, among others in the sea of our generation’s hip posturing cult. In a just world, should George Lucas fail, the director’s chair is waiting, Mr. Aloi.
Interview by David J Weissberg This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #63, January 2003.
And which part of channeling is “I Think Lando’s Had A Few Too Many Carbonite 45’s,” your collage that depicts Lando Calrissian sodomizing C-3PO? [Laughs] That’s from being partially raised in Manhattan, where drinking 40s and being at one with hip-hop culture [is the norm]. I've always been a clown in my work, but serious about it at the same time. Plus it’s always been super-fun to “pornify” Star Wars and take it to that next level. What about the erotic element? I’ve always been a sexual person, and my work has expressed that. It serves as a counterbalance, a reaction to being raised Catholic. In Catholic grammar school, your teachers are telling you your fingers are going to turn into worms if you jerk off too much. Hell and masturbation and anything within that language was taboo in my house. As I got older, I started drawing it all. It’s been a vehicle for all those urges, and for defining my sexuality and its oneness with my creativity. That, and I’m a kinky motherfucker! [Laughs] What was your first big break? Matt Houston [of Houston Gallery] and I were really tight when we were in college at [Rhode Island School of Design]. We always admired each other’s work. He said to me junior year, “Life is a book, and no one
Below: (left and bottom) pages from Subconsciothesaurusnex (Houston), 2000 (right:) "SUCKADELICATALYSTS," for the Suckadelic group show, L.A., 2008
Right: "COOL, WEVOLVE.," drawn on election night, 2008
I know documents that quite like you. You make books. I really want to be the one to publish that and introduce you to the planet.” Five years later, I went to Seattle with [my] sketchbooks and started doing [the book] right there. I had 50 sketchbooks filled and ready to go. [Before he opened the gallery, Matt] was at Microsoft and working on his film Live Nude Girls. Matt’s a workhorse–he wanted to do it and he did it. He bought a book on self-publishing and we worked on SUBCONSCIOTHESAURUSNEX for five years. Once it was done, we got the book to as many heads as possible, people that really inspired us. This was our gift to the world–it would be a celebration of our whole generation. And then there’s Lavelle. Now, I’ve been a Mo’ Wax fiend since the day I heard DJ Shadow playing in Matt’s car and exclaimed “What the fuck is this?” When Matt started Houston, he carried both rare Mo’ stuff and Relax [a Japanese urban culture magazine that often features the Mo’ Wax empire]. Matt called me one day and said, “Dude, if you’re not sitting down have a seat and grab and extra pair of pants cause you’re gonna shit.” On James’s Limited Edition page [in Relax], he had my work splashed all over it. He’d gotten the book. We still had a few books left with the slip case, and I had sent him one with an ill drawing and a note saying both thanks and that I would love to join creative
forces with him one day. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from him saying he would love to collaborate with me on future Mo’ Wax projects, along with Futura. Unfortunately, to this day nothing has come about, [because the] label has been through a lot of transformation recently. But we still have a good correspondence. How would you react to people saying your work is a bunch of scribbles? Fortunately, no one has said, “What the fuck is this? It’s a just a bunch of scribbles.” [My book is something] to absorb really slowly–there’s a lot going on. They are just drawings, but also raw sketchbook revealings. It was also about process. In the finest forms of art, you feel and see and taste what’s in the artist’s head. Oftentimes the finished work to me isn’t all that interesting. When I see a retrospective of artist paintings or prints and then the drawings, and just how raw and physical that dancing human hand is with lots of extra lines that shouldn’t be there, you feel that energy. And that’s what living and breathing creativity is all about.
Interview by Vivian Host This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #96, April 2006.
Below: (left) "Game Over" print, 2006; (right) "Pusher Man" print, 2006
Right: "AZ Star: part 1 of 2," print, 2005
Freegums. The name brings to mind the gummy smile of a senior citizen with his dentures out, or a dish of brightly colored Chiclets. It’s actually the alias of 25-year-old Peruvian Alvaro Ilizarbe, who’s been causing havoc in the streets of Miami, Florida since he was exported from Lima at the age of nine. Flexing a loose, colorful style that incorporates claws, laughing hyenas, palm trees, and clever sayings, Ilizarbe’s graphic design work is a smart, tongue-in-cheek reflection of South Florida and its environs. Ilizarbe works in the art department of ad agency Crispin, Porter, + Bogusky by day, but as night falls this Aquarian dabbles in a multitude of projects. His most visible endeavor is a line of reversible t-shirts, a smart idea that
might actually justify you rocking the same garment for two weeks straight. A coup during December 2005’s art expo Art Basel found him and TypeStereo’s Mike Del Marmol operating as Fufi Fufi; the pair tooled around the city in an ice cream van stocked full of limited edition wares from Hunter Gatherer, Grotesk, and Ben Loiz, among others. We interrupted Ilizarbe while he was drawing “snakes with weird skin patterns” and asked him what’s good.
Below: (top) "Museum Quality Freegums" print, 2008 (bottom) "Museum Quality Freegums" video stills, May 2008
Right: United Tradeshow artwork, 2007
Where does the name Freegums come from? When I was in college, I needed to make money and so I started doing these big house parties. I needed a name to tie them all together, like Mr. Freegums Toilet Swamps and Mr. and Mrs. Freegums Dance-a-lot. That’s how I gave birth to the name. What are your three favorite t-shirts in your closet? The first is a Stop Police Brutality shirt I made years ago; it fits so good. It’s black with a crazy list of names on the inside, which makes people wanna read it. Then there’s a mint t-shirt sample from some blank-maker in Fresno. It fits nice, feels good, and is faded just right. The last is an Eagle Claw "Razor Sharp" promo shirt. I hate it when I remember a good shirt but don’t know where it is... It’s like my washing machine ate it. What music do you listen to when you work? Cash, Madlib, Fleetwood Mac, Daft Punk, Nas, The Wu Tanga Manga Clan, Prince (this guy is at the top of my list), Bloc Party. My favorite song these past few days is "X's And O's (Kisses And Hugs)" by David Allan Coe. If you could collaborate with one other designer who would it be? Herb Lubalin. That guy is amazing: his composition, great type treatment, great publications. Look him up–you'll see why. I hope to leave a lot of great work like he did.
Tell us about the ice cream truck you did for Art Basel. That was one of the best projects I've done. It was a lot of work and it was a lot of fun. I got no sleep for about two weeks and was in a pissy mood but in the end everything fell right into place. It started with a bigger group of people but we all couldn’t agree on a theme and it fell apart last minute. So Mike [Del Marmol of Typestereo] and I embarked on a mission. We went around to ice cream wholesalers and saw postings on the wall about trucks for sale. One came through and we gutted it out, cleaned it up, fine tuned the '57 Chevy engine, put a couch in it with a touch of Astroturf, reached out to a lot of artists and made it happen. We met a lot of crazy out-of-towners and saw a lot of interesting people. Mike's wife Cindy got Universal Studios to buy the truck from us to use for the movie version of Reno 911: Miami. They blew up (the truck) over the Port of Miami. Fufi Fufi blowing up, kid! What is your favorite spot in Miami? Miami is such a beautiful place. It is home to the World’s Steepest Parking Lot Ramp. I like taking people there and just putting the car in neutral and riding down it. You should see their faces–it’s like they are on a rollercoaster for 1.5 seconds. Amazing. Going airboat riding is great too. There used to be a three-story treehouse right by the water and it was like a two-mile hike to get to it but after all the hurricanes it’s barely survived.
What qualities do you most value in other people? When people look at you in the eye when talking, and shaking hands. Also, when people can be themselves and not worry about how they are being perceived. Is the whole hand-drawn thing getting out of control? Not really. Nothing will ever be as bad as how graffiti got, like the really bad "graffiti" fonts people use. Can you talk about the inspirations behind some of your shirts? One of my t-shirt lines was centered around wildlife. I went to every public library in South Florida looking through hundreds of books and found a lot of good stuff. At times I find myself using Spanish words and working them into my designs, like my Muelas Gratis shirt. It stands for “free molars.” I was trying to say “free gums”–that would be “encillas gratis”– but after I had drawn it and everything I was like, whatever, shit looks good. The infamous Freegums Claw shirt came from an early Saturday adventure a bunch of friends and I took to the Everglades. We went airboat riding like crazy rednecks and then walked around looking at alligators. I was mesmerized by their stubby feet; we named one of them "Club Foot.” When I got home, I was drawing one of them and I was like “Ohh shit! This would look great on a shirt coming out of your neck like ‘Arghhhhhhhh, I want you!’”
WK Interact Interview by Mark Pytlik This interview originally appeared in XLR8R #88, June/July 2005.
“It’s not before the motion’s going to start or when you actually see an impact, it’s right between that.”
Growing up in the tiny hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence in Southern France meant that WK Interact (he prefers not to give his real name) spent his formative years surrounded by the work of 21st century giants like Picasso, Matisse, and surrealist sculptor Alberto Giacometti, all of whom spent time in the Provence region. While the aspiring artist enjoyed the obvious benefits of such a fertile artistic environment, it wasn’t long before he realized that his own work needed to come from somewhere else entirely. Eager to tease out a personal aesthetic that looked to everything from photography and film to storyboarding and interior design, it wasn’t long before Interact relocated to New York.
That was over 15 years ago. And these days, the 40-something artist enjoys a modest profile as the talent behind a bloodyminded body of work that includes posters, indoor art installations, and perhaps most notably, a sequence of arresting, larger-than-life street pieces. Done in a highly detailed, monochromatic, ink-splattered style, Interact’s sometimes gargantuan pieces don’t merely occupy their spaces, they cling to them. Rather than stay confined to 2-D wallspace, Interact’s pieces zoom across corners or sidewalks or newspaper stands. With an emphasis on movement and physicality, the often blurry pieces communicate kinesis and sometimes even violence–two
elements he considers core components of life in New York City. Much like his work, the artist himself is perpetually in motion. When we catch him on the phone early one April morning, he’s verbally sketching out plans for exhibits and projects in Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, and Italy, and it’s easy to see how his frantic pieces are just a logical extension of his own torrid pace.
Above: (left) "untitled, 2005; (right) "Kitre Cycle Spray Can,” 2005
Tell me a little bit about your background and how your art brought you to New York. I really wanted to do something where you had that sense of motion and speed going on around you. When I was in France, I did that concept for eight different billboards but I didn’t really like the frame–it felt too static. Then I redid the project in a smaller size on paper and put the papers in the street; unfortunately, [the city would] clean, so over the next few days everything would be gone. Those pieces used to take a month to paint! Because of the work I was doing, I decided New York was the best city to be in. I came here for a few months in 1990. I didn’t really speak English, so things were difficult, but I fell in love with the city and decided to stay. I struggled for a year and a half, working at a really tough job. I used to live in a village where it was easy to work where people would see you, but New York was so gigantic. So that’s when I changed and upgraded my format to actually fit the city and I started to do [big] walls.
What is it about speed and motion that keeps you coming back to it and using it as the basis for your work? I really like trying to find a perfect motion for each different part of the human body. It’s not before the motion’s going to start or when you actually see an impact, it’s right between that. The motion expresses the physical emotion of the people looking at it–it’s interacting with the street and how people are going to see it. It’s so complex that it becomes very important for me to choose the right location. The location gives me the subject, the concept, and from that I create the motion–something that could happen at that corner. You also seem to be preoccupied with armament and weaponry. It’s because of the uniform and the practical aesthetics of it. It’s minimalist and kind of futuristic. But I don’t carry anything… Some people really believe my place is full of weapons! I did this one exhibit in 2002 called Rescue–it was a military, anti-terrorist theme and I did it because of 9/11. For me, it was what I could see the
city looking like in 2018 or 2020. I’m not for war. I like peace and everything, but when people call me to do an anti-war t-shirt, I tell them “You’re going to make $25,000 on this t-shirt. If you want me to do something, I can, but I don’t need to create a design for you; it’s never gonna change anything.”
What goes on at your storefront, Studio 101? It’s very much like my studio–sometimes you see me and sometimes you don’t, but it’s like an open window. There’s no signs, it’s not in the Yellow Pages. I don’t spend money on fashion editorial, but if people pay attention and feel like coming in, they can.
Do you see a lot of people trying to capitalize on the anti-war movement? If I really wanted to be successful right now, I could just take one of my projects–[like] this one poster with a guy twisting someone else’s head–and just replace the heads with Bush and Mickey Mouse and people would buy it. But that’s not what I want to go for.
You’ve done a lot of work for corporations and brands. What’s your selection process? I’m known for turning people down–that doesn’t give me a great image. They think I think I’m a bigshot or whatever, but I’m just very careful. Some of these brands can come in and [ruin] the design. They can kill you–you could be successful for three months but then never work again for three years. You have to understand the power of it. If you only have one style and it takes you such a long time to create that, you become a product.
Can you elaborate a little bit on your name? The two letters, W and K, don’t mean anything. They’re not my initials, but I do like the design of the letters. Later, I added my own fingerprint, because I believed that in the future you wouldn’t have to sign anything, you’d just put your fingerprint on a door and it would unlock it. I like all that kind of futuristic stuff. The “Interact” is because I had a show at this fashionable place called Colette in Paris once and I needed a title. It was one of my first projects being shown inside, and I liked the sound of “WK Interact at Colette”–it felt more like an action.
Could you do this kind of work in Europe? I create a very cold, visceral, and strong image, and it works because it’s from New York. Instead of recreating where I’ve come from, I’ve adapted and sucked up the whole culture of New York. I have a ton of other images, very French things, that if I were to put on the street, they’d arrest me right away. But if I put up something strong, violent, and powerful, people understand. I did some stuff in Paris that was totally different–it was a butterfly woman masturbating. There was no violence–it was completely erotic, and it looks great in Paris and Italy. But where could I put that in New York?
Left: "WK Bike," 2007
Above: (top) "WK skate decks," 2007; (bottom) WK’s arsenal, 2005
A retrospective of visual art from XLR8R magazine. vis-ed.net
Rinzen Kustaa Saks Brian McCarty Superdeux Luca Ionscu Catalina Estrada Brent Rollins Bwana Spoons Andrew Pommier Os Gemeos Matt Furie Brian Roetinger Laurent Fetis Ehquestionmark Nicola Kuperus Damien Correll Seripop JK5 Freegums Craig Metzger WK Interact