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Monthly Archives: May 2008

This years Australian Graphic Design Awards Have been announced and will be presented in my good ol’ hometown of Adelaide. They’ve taken an interesting and some might say, controversial approach in their call for entries promotion – here is how the awards website describes the concept:

It has been said that the only people who bag Adelaide are those who have never been there and those who have never left. When the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, dropped his famous “backwater” comment about Adelaide, blog sites lit up with all manner of interstate opinion about our little town. Nine of the most popular opinions were taken directly from these blog sites, posted by real people, and given to Adelaide artists to interpret. Yes, we know that Adelaide can be a little weird, but that’s what makes the place interesting. We also enjoy having a laugh at ourselves.

It’s true, Adelaide seems to be the butt of jokes for the rest of the nation, especially those darn eastern states highbrows! 🙂 What the denizens of Melbourne and Sydney often fail to realise is no matter how much you keep telling everyone how cultured and sophisticated your town is in comparison, it doesn’t actually make it so. In Adelaide, we just tend to get on with things and leave the bravado to those with the insecurity problems! We can take it, how about the rest of you guys?

Anyway, the promotion for the awards came to members by way of one of nine A1 posters created by Adelaide artists, shown here with the ‘quote’ they based the artwork on. All the images were taken from the AGDA site and are of course © to the respective creators.

Daniel Noone
“Ah Adelaide, ya gotta love it, like a boring relative. A quaint little stop over on way to Perth. Full of Church’s, Fish’n Chip shops and Lesbians.” Posted by: Brad of Syd

I’m sure this poster looks great and lush at full size, it seems a very Advertising Awards solution which may not be a bad thing, it reminds me of something they might have done a few years ago, though the days when an image like this would truly shock anyone are long past.

Sam Barratt and Chris Edser
“No problems with Adelaide. I go there whenever I need Torana or Cortina parts.” Posted by: Bobby Bling of Bris Vegas

This is probably my favourite of all the posters and the most difficult of all the quotes to illustrate. Sam and Chris have run with it and created a wonderful, leftfield concept incorporating imaginary creatures that are ‘unique’ to Adelaide, unpretentious and fun.

Samantha Jarrett and Mash
“Adelaide is like that pathetic friend you can’t get rid of. Sure you go to his house ‘cause he’s got a ping pong table, but he’s a loser and a bit weird!” Posted by: Boxed Head of Ballarat

A great photo and really captures that ‘not quite right’ quality of the quote and an ‘otherness’ that Adelaide seems to embody to the rest of the country. No surprise that Mash are involved with the concept, as they seem to be becoming masters of portraying a uniquely Adelaidean off-kilter design aesthetic, ie: their work doesn’t look like it could come from anywhere else.

Danny Snell
“LOL … you must be kidding! Beautiful, peaceful Adelaide? That’s why it’s got the nickname “The Murder Capital” of Australia! SA’s you are pathetic bogans!” Posted by: Samantha Jones of Melbourne

Danny Snell is one of the best illustrators in Australia, and he doesn’t disappoint here. You don’t often get to see his work on such a large scale, so this must look fantastic at A1.

Benzo
“Cost of living is low, drug supplies are high.” Posted by: Wildcoug of Adelaide

Interesting style and nice inclusion of the eponymous Adelaide icons, the frog cake, Farmers Union Iced Coffee and Pale Ale. I really hate the shadow silhouette around the edge of the artwork though.

Nahum Ziersc
“The city that always sleeps.” Posted by: Ron of Sydney

My least favourite of all the concepts, this style of illustration just does nothing for me, and I’m not sure I see the connection between the quote and the artwork – I’m probably in the minority there though!

Fontaine Anderson
“Adelaide is like an annoying small dog that yaps, barks, jumps around and makes alot of noise about nothing, trying to be like a big dog.” Posted by: Vic of Melbourne

I love Fontaine’s artwork, but there’s something about this that doesn’t quite gel for me. There’s obviously a lot of work gone into it, maybe it comes across better viewing it at full size.

John Engelhardt
“Thought people in Adelaide were living proof Tasmanians could swim.” Posted by: The Swanny from Sydney

John Engelhardt is quickly becoming one of my favourite illustrators and pulls off a blinder with this fantastic single colour illustration. I would say he had the hardest quote to illustrate and executes it beautifully. I want him to design my full back tattoo when I finally become senile/pathetic enough to actually get one.

Timothy Ide
“It’s pretty much a small going nowhere town with a lot of dark seedy murders/child mollestations/rock spiders/ etc etc not the sort of town one would move to in a hurry. It has nothing going for it and is boring and gossipy. Turn the clock back to the 80s is what this boring town is all about. Who wants to go there? Delta Goodrem’s mother lives there and Lleyton and he’s a mindless jerk. Who else? A few nobody celebs might call Adelaide home. Why is anyone’s guess.” Posted by: Vic lover of Vic

There’s always been something a bit creepy about Timothy Ide’s work, so he seems the perfect choice to illustrate probably the most controversial of the quotes, he falls just short of crossing the line. If any of these pieces are likely to raise an uproar, this one’s it.

So there you have it, at the very least, some nice illustrations and a pretty interesting concept. Kudos to Voice as well for their ‘boots ‘n all’ logo for the event, at first I thought it looked too ‘alchohol promtion’ but it has since grown on me.

If this has picqued you’re interest in the Awards, you can get all the details at the AGDA website. It’s always an interesting event, despite there being too many categories, too many awards, too many judges, too self inclusive and too damn expensive to enter – but that’s another article! 🙂

James Victore Is a Nice Guy!

For some reason James Victore has garnered a reputation as being ‘the angry man of graphic design’ so it was with a little trepidation that I contacted him about the possibility of meeting and talking to him while I was recently in New York (I know, I’m a pussy!) Let me dispel the myth. As well as being one of the most talented designers plying his trade today, he’s one of the nicest and most generous individuals I have met on my travels. Maybe this ‘reputation’ comes from his unwillingness to compromise his ideals or the honesty with which he speaks about the profession. In discussing his ‘bad boy’ image with him, he seemed to take some pleasure from the perceived ‘rock-star attitude’ persona. So my apologies James if it’s burst anyone’s bubble and you find your doorstep inundated with design graduates now reassured that you won’t spit on their folios and make them cry. Following is a transcript of a brief interview I did with the great man – and he only says ‘fuck’ once.

Chris Bowden: With some of the most recognised design names in the world residing in the New York environs – how do you get yourself noticed and bring in clients?

James Victore: I’ve never really thought or concerned myself with that much, partially because one thing that I think goes on in the city is that there are a lot of graphic designers and they all do the same sort of work that looks alike to a certain extent. All I have to do is try not to be a graphic designer. I don’t consider myself an artist but I think a lot of designers would think that I lean more towards that side than to the graphic design side, so I really don’t worry about it that way. Because they ‘look like a duck and smell like a duck’, they probably get more of the ‘graphic design work’ than I do. It’s something that I shy away from but also something that I probably suffer from – not being the quintessential graphic designer.

CB: Is New York as a market so big that it can encapsulate all of these designers and still provide plenty of work?

JV: There’s nice work if you can get it. A lot of it seems to me to be too easy, big money work. Take work for land developers for example, there’s tonnes of work and I’m sure it pays extremely well, I just can’t figure out how to get it! If I did get it, it would probably be the kind of work I wouldn’t do too much to. I don’t think there is much I could do that would be that much different from anybody else. I would just get Shawn (designer in James’ studio) to do it and he would do an excellent job. There are a lot of designers in the city, there’s a lot of clients, but the thing I’ve found with those clients and with the city is that it’s actually all pretty conservative out there. They’re not really concerned with new or interesting, they’re just concerned with work.

CB: When I spoke with Paul Sahre, he thought a lot of the most interesting work was coming from the ‘young guns’ working out of their bedrooms.

JV: It’s true, but once they have bigger bedrooms and higher rents and mortgages, then their work will change, that’s what happens.

CB: A lot of your most recognised work tackles particular social and political issues, they obviously express a personal viewpoint , is it important for designers to express themselves in this way?

JV: No, it’s a personal calling. You either view it or you don’t. In general, I don’t think designers are particularly qualified to express those opinions. To a certain degree, I don’t think it is something that you can be asked to do. A lot of those things I did were self initiated – just something I thought of or felt and got it done. Either I went and spent my rent money doing it, or I found some client who was interested in my opinion and got them to distribute the stuff. It isn’t really in the designer’s job description to be socially active.

CB: At design school we were sort of pushed towards believing that you shouldn’t see too much of the individual designer in the work, that the work should be produced for the needs of the client.

JV: That’s hogwash. I spent a little bit of time in design school and I felt that we all went in with this empty shoe box and we were handed out these particular tools and these particular answers and as soon as we got out of school, we would be a success if we looked alike and acted alike. I thought that was the job. I think you could work in New York city and be very successful doing that, having no opinion, having no look, just melding to the client. It’s just not something that I can personally do. You’ve spoken to Paul (Sahre), Paul would probably err towards not having himself in the work, but he’s all over his stuff whether he knows it or not.

CB: I brought that up, he doesn’t see a particular style in his work.

JV: He must have been drunk! 🙂

CB: He did concede to having a certain ‘character’, I always see a subtle irony at play there.

JV: I think my work has too much character at times and looks too much like me. It’s hard for me to get away from that, it’s hard for me to remove myself unless I just did flush left, Helvetica on a white background all the time.

CB: Your work would never be mistaken for that of anyone else, unless they are directly copying you.

JV: I actually like the feeling and ideas in Paul’s work so much, that we’ve actually started working on the big book that says ‘Victore’ down the spine. Paul is designing it because I want that from him and I don’t want to see my own ‘handiwork’ in my own book. He can put the ‘aggressive’ in there but he can also put the ‘smart’.

CB: Do you get offered work that you just won’t do?

JV: No, I wish I got that! I don’t get it too often. I think that for better or for worse, 15 years ago I kind of professionally shot myself in the foot in doing this poster with a dead indian on it. I’ve said this before that because of that poster and subsequent work, I’ve gained a certain reputation. I would actually be happy to die with that reputation, rather than have the money from those ‘other’ jobs in my pocket. We get to take cabs, have nice wine, etc. I sleep really well. I would like a new this or a new that, but there are trade offs. There’s this great line about getting work and getting certain types of work. It’s from an E. E. Cummings poem: “There is some shit I will not eat.” We sometimes get a call from a big agency for work, so we give them an estimate. All they want is a price, they don’t can’t so much about the work as much as who is going to do it for what price. Then we never hear back from them. I don’t know what it is that keeps me from the big money stuff, but so be it. I also think that those are jobs that I really don’t want to do, but there are enough zeroes in them to make them interesting. What I’m trying to do instead of doing those jobs is a lot of other things. For instance, this school I’m doing with Paul Sahre and Jan Wilker, product designs I’m doing with surfboards and plates. I’m starting another program with the school that I teach at, The School of Visual Arts. We’re starting a retail store for them, I’ll be the director of that. Instead of going out on my knees and trying to get those clients with ‘that money’, I just figure out other ways of doing it. That way I can love the project, it can be my thing. I can still have an opinion, I can still have my attitude and just diversify.

CB: Can you tell me a little about your plates project.

JV: The plates are just a funny thing that came about a bunch of years ago. As a young designer I was a bit of a barfly and I would always have paint markers or sharpies with me. I would draw on the plates, glasses, wine bottles etc, when I had finished with them. In my heart, I’m a customiser, I just change everything. I draw on my equipment, I’ve got type on myself. I would use them to start conversations, or give them away as gifts. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who has a small gallery in Brooklyn asked me if I wanted to do a show of my work. He meant the posters but I really didn’t want to see them up anywhere, it’s not that interesting to me. I told him that I would think about it. Laura (James wife) and I took a vacation to Austin where she’s from and where we like to spend a lot of time. I went to a friends studio and on his wall was a tiny little plate with a funny little drawing on it. I saw it from across the room and my immediate reaction was ‘That’s fucking nice’. Then it dawned on me that I had actually done it for him when he had been in town previously. I went back to the gallery guy in Brooklyn and told him that I had an idea for a show, I draw on plates, I’ve done it forever. He said “great, how many do you have?” I said “none, I give them all away, but I know where I can find some blank plates”. I drew up some plates and did that show. When that show came down, it went up again at a big retailer called Design Within Reach. There are plates up now in a gallery called Future Perfect which is down in Brooklyn. I was just talking with a museum in the Netherlands to do a show there at some time. I haven’t been pushing it really hard or looking for a retailer to carry them, but it moves along at it’s own funny little pace. If I just dropped everything else and just concentrated on the plates, we could probably make an interesting go of it, but it’s not what I do. I’m involved in a lot of different projects, the plates are just one of them.

CB: Do you think designers self initiating projects and putting them out in the market is a good strategy for having more control over their work?

JV: I think there are so many people doing that these days, designers and illustrators – to me, the plate thing partially started when I was a kid. My mother showed me the work of Fornasetti and I really liked it. Then when I was about 28, for the first time I went to Paris and visited the Picasso museum. I first saw his plates there and from that the idea blew up in my head. The plates have been sort of a lark, but if they turned into something professional, that would be awesome, and a complete surprise to me!

CB: Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which have given you the most personal satisfaction?

JV: It would be today’s project. I’m not one who is easily satisfied. We have a project that we just finished today, the new Yohji Yamamoto fashion stuff and I really like what we came up with for that. We’ve also just finished this thing for a museum in Florida, it was a totally free job and it was just dragging me through the mud, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. When we did finally solve it, it was just awesome. I think it just comes from my personality. The ones that interest me the most are the ones that are just over the ‘stoop’. Like this wine job for Chris Ringland at the moment. I’m like, “My God, what am I going to do?” It has to be great, which is kind of scary, but we’ll see what happens.

CB: Is it for export to the US market?

JV: No, it’s a wine offering. He’s got his 2002 Shiraz coming out, he sends it out, I don’t know how many pieces, whether it’s 1,000, 5,000 or 500. I have to make that mailing. When we’ve done that, we’ll probably roll that over into some other labelling for his stuff. That will be interesting for me. Wine labels are such a cliche, how do I make something that’s not completely outside of the cliche, but something that is still interesting, still sexy and marvelous. Something where people will stare and think that they have to look at it.

CB: South Australia is known for it’s wine regions, and subsequently, some excellent wine labels from the likes of Tucker Design, Parallax and KS Design, you’ll often see them in the design annuals.

JV: I keep saying that I did design the easy way, I came to New York. If I was really good I could do it from Minnesota or Adelaide or wherever. I think there is always room for good.

CB: Any projects or clients that you haven’t worked on that you would like to?

JV: The answer is always the same for that. I like doing work that real human beings see. I don’t like doing work that just graphic designers see. If I do a book project, I want to do a book that gets out there. Even if I’m designing surfboards, there are probably like 3 people on the planet who are interested in my surfboards, but I want everyone to see them. I did this crazy ass job for Esquire magazine recently, it was a big full page with a big thing on the other page. The fact that a lot of people will see that interests me. These past couple of months have been crazy. The job I really want to do now is any job that is worth $100,000 and would take me 15 minutes just to do a little doodle! The Yohji Yamamoto stuff is kind of interesting. The problem is that they don’t advertise in magazines. To get a full spread in a fashion magazine would be wonderful. It doesn’t matter what it pays, I like to put stuff out there and make people go “Oh my God, that’s nuts!” Like Paul Sahre’s work, he can do something with Helvetica that makes people go, “What the hell? Nobody has the balls to do that!”

Thanks once again to James, Laura and Shawn for their generosity in giving up their time to talk to me and for taking me out to lunch as well. Hopefully we will see James out here in Australia some time soon (if you’re listening, get onto this AGDA!) As was mentioned in the interview, James, along with Paul Sahre and Jan Wilker are conducting a week long workshop this summer in New York. Applications have closed for this year, but he school will be conducted again next year, so start saving now. I’ll be sure to have the details up on the site as soon as they are available. In the meantime, you can look at the workshop site here. All images are from James’ website and you can browse some of these items for sale at his online shop, (US residents only, unfortunately!) James even finds time for a blog!

The design work of Peter Saville is synonymous with the output of legendary record label Factory, but his work is only part of the story. The covers that Central Station designed for The Happy Mondays encapsulate the bands heady, trippy, go for broke attitude and seem the antithesis of the cool refinement that Saville was producing at the time. The Creative Review site has an interesting look back and interview with Central Station (still going strong) discussing their work and influences here.

Speaking of Paul Sahre, while I was in New York , he showed me his latest self-initiated book project called ‘Leisurama’, which he describes as such:

“What kind of idiot buys a house at a department store?

Sounds crazy, but then again, why not? Even if a prospective owner didn’t succumb to the smartly designed, full-size, fully-furnished Leisurama model on the 9th floor of Macy’s at Herald Square, or swallow the advertising (which boasted the ultimate in convenience, “Just pick a few colors and start enjoying your new life of leisure”), or be convinced by the price tag ($490 down and $73/month), a well-designed house this cheap–and by the beach–could hardly be believed.

And so (in 1964) 200 people did just that, and if the company who sold them hadn’t gone bankrupt during the construction of the first phase, many more would have followed. The initial development plan called for 800 Leisuramas in Montauk, Long Island alone.

Since being built, these identical (and identically furnished) houses have been in a constant state of change. I was introduced to these odd little buildings as a renter in the summer of 2001 and almost immediately began research for this book, which was conducted almost exclusively door to door”.

Naturally I purchased a copy, and as you would expect, it’s fantastic, not only well designed but well written. I’m not sure whether it’s available in Australia yet – I’m sure it will be eventually at your local ‘design bookshop’ at the usual steep markup. It is available on Amazon at a more reasonable rate I’ve sure here.

My fondness for all things music albumy should be pretty apparent by now. While trolling through the inter-web I came across this great little compilation album of electronica and ambience called Ghostly Swim. I love the cover (above) and best of all, the compilation is free to download, which you can do here.

Speaking of James Victore, he designed one of the covers for the latest issue of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people (above). There are five covers in all, the other designed by Neville Brody, Euro RSCG, and two by Chip Kidd, you can see all of them here.It looks like you can only get the Chip Kidd cover in Adelaide, a pity, because I think James’ is the best – it’s an excellent graphic but not at the expense of not looking like a ‘Time’ cover ( a bit of a failing on the part of the other covers in my humble opinion – Time magazine has one of the most recognisable cover identities around). So congratulations to James, one of the nicest people I met while away – it’s great that his work will get to be seen by such a wide audience as the Time readership.