Art Chantry (US version)

Art Chantry (version française)

Art Chantry grew up in Tacoma, WA, and moved to Seattle right before grunge “hit” in the ‘90s. Working at publications like “The Rocket”, and doing artwork for record labels like Sub Pop, Art’s fingerprint was on just about every album cover and magazine from the “grunge” era. Art’s work often comprised of old American advertisements, re-purposed to promote not-so-mainstream rock bands. Today, Art is internationally recognized as not only representing the “look” of the grunge era, but also as one of America’s most innovative and talented graphic designers.

Hello, of course as every Crewk interview, first question: what are we listening to when we come to visit you?

I like to go to thrift stores and buy junked 45's. i make CD collections of these old singles, no matter what i find. then i listen to them as i work - scratches, skips and all. all mixed up. it's wonderful.

Right now, the cd comp i'm playing right now is mostly female soul singers, starting with a 45 by Brenda Holloway ("every little bit hurts") and followed by Barbara McNair ("here i am baby"), the Marvelettes, and Dee Dee Warwick. Then it switches over to some male singers like Kirby St. Romain, Marvin Gaye and Chubby Checker (singing, "everything's going to be alright". i had no idea Chubby could sing like this!)

I have fun.

Can you tell us more about yourself, who are you, where are you from, what do you do?

Well, i'm an old dude, a graphic designer. i've been doing this stuff for over 35 years. I have a huge long history of music graphics, the arts, corporate, etc. etc. I've designed thousands of posters, hundreds and hundreds of LP/CD/45 covers. I've designed several thousand logos. countless brochures, tshirts, etc. etc. My work is in permanent collections in museums all over the world (museum of modern art, the smithsonian the rock and roll hall of fame. my work has even hung in Louvre.) I've been published in over 500 books and magazines and there have been several monographs about my work (including one entirely in chinese that i can't read a word of). A book about my work, "some people can't surf" (by Julie Lasky) is published by chronicle books.

I've taught and lectured for most of my career and i've written many books and articles for publication as well. Along the way i helped legitimize punk design into mainstream circles and actually have been credited for creating the "grunge" graphic style. (for better or for worse). So, that's it in a nutshell (at least what i can remember).

Can you tell us a little bit more on how you find yourself exposed in the Louvre ? When was it ?

It was back in 1986. I did a poster for a local (seattle) theater production of "the rocky horror show." The poster i did was pretty twisted. The result in seattle was that it pissed off local feminists and they grafittied it with words like "this play is sexist. don't go to this play." Calling 'rocky horror' sexist is like accusing water of being wet. it sort of misses the point, ya know?

Anyway, somehow this poster was noticed out there somewhere and it ended up being selected as one of "the most memorable posters of the year" is a unesco display (as the USA entry). I have no idea how all that happened.

That show was displayed in the louvre for a few weeks in 1987. That's how i got into the louvre. No big deal, but it's kinds cool to have something like that to brag about.

When did you start drawing?

I don't draw. i don't see graphic design as a drawing medium. It's an assemblage medium. i put stuff together in interesting ways. it can be my stuff, it can be your stuff, it can be some stuff from over yonder. it's my job to use this shared language of graphic design (we all understand it, we just don't know that we do) to put this stuff together in a way that will make you change your mind about something. i do it for a client - like 'buy this product', 'go to this event', 'vote for this candidate'. we fuck with the mind. we do marketing propaganda for whomever will pay us. it's a very weird artform. graphic designers are very dangerous people, it seems.

Did you follow any course or did you improve by drawing in the margins of your schoolbooks?

I'm self taught. by the time i took my first (and only) graphic design class in university, i already knew more than my teacher. i was making a living doing crummy posters and the like and paid for my college education that way. i have a degree in something unrelated.

Today are you living from your art, or do you do something else for a living ?

I've been surviving from my work for 40 years.

Are you collaborating with magazines/fanzines, regularly?

Constantly. it's a wonderful place to do "free-er " and much more creative commentary. it's one of the few places i can speak my mind with my 'art'.

Where does your influence come from? Is there any artists/graphists you particularly like, what are your influences?

My influences as actually vast. and most of them are obscure designers who are deeply involved with the creation of popular subculture. names like Franko, Harry Chester, Von Dutch, phase two, Ben Nelson, Genesis P. Orridge, Cal Schenkel, Jon Van Hammersveld and a thousand nameless weirdoes.

I also stay aware of mainstream graphic design culture, but tend to be more interested in the more obscure but equally important thinkers. I figure that the famous guys have enough folks listening to them. I like the people that are copycatted but otherwise ignored. Some brilliant minds out there. Guys you don't know, but you copy their work and ideas.

What are the principal steps in your work (from start to finish) ?

Well, it all starts with a client hiring you to do something. This is a collaborative art form. I have to work to express the needs and market desires of a particular client. I have to help sell something for them. If it's a can of beans or an entire aesthetic viewpoint, it's still the same basic effort. It's never about my sole desires or my "muse". I have a client. i speak for others every bit as much as i speak for myself. Sometimes i do it for free, but usually i tried to get paid. It's not at all like a fine artist that makes a piece of art and then attempts to sell it to a collector. That's a completely different conversation.

Do you do everything by hand or on computer?

I do most of my work by hand. most printers will only accept artwork on disk these days. So, my work (unfortunately) has to go into a digital format to get printed at all. it always tends to lessen the impact of my work when it gets digitized. The production paradigm is so different that my base intent usually gets mushy. But, i keep trying to get things done the way i desire. it's harder work to do it now.

How long does it take you to do a poster?

Pretty much depends on the project. some posters with difficult clients can take literally years to finish. But, i can do a poster extremely fast if i have to. Some of my most famous posters have been done in less than a day. I can literally do a (good) poster in ten minutes if i need to.

You have a very distinctive style, are you doing only what you feel like or if tomorrow somebody asks you an oil painting with horses running out of water with a sunset backdrop, is it a problem or are you up for it ?

I have areas of technical knowledge that i just don't know how to do. If somebody hires me to do something i can't do, i usually just refer them to somebody else i trust will do a good job for them. Sometimes, i will contract the work out to get it done for me. but, that will be technical rather than creative in nature. For instance, i don't print my own posters. It would take me years to learn how to run a printing press well. So, i simply hire a printer. No need to learn how to be a master printer. i know enough about how printing works to be dangerous, though.

For which band have you already worked for?

I've worked for hundreds and hundreds of bands and performers. i don't keep track any more.

For which band would you love to work?

I've always wanted to do a cover for the Rolling Stones. It would be a bunch of old wallets that mumble...

Do you choose the artists yourself?

No. I have no control on who approaches me with work. except that i scare people a lot. So, most potential clients don't attempt to hire me because i have such a nasty scary reputation. That seems to keep the creeps away. I'm grateful for that nasty reputation.

Can you tell us which is the greatest band to work with for posters and.... the worst ? :)

Well, there have been so many really clients i've worked with that i can't really pick a best. Among them have been dave crider at estrus records, larry reid at coca and mike stein at chuckie-boy records. Those all were particularly great experiences.

The worst have been corporations. They have money but will figure out any possible way to not pay you. It's the most difficult sort of client to get paid by. Also, the can't make decisions without checking with somebody else. They are so afraid all the time that if you ask your contact for the simplest information, they have to spend two weeks checking with everybody else before they can tell you. It's incredibly expensive and stupid and paranoid. When it's over they don't pay you.

I'd much rather work with small businesses. You work directly with the people actually in charge (the owners) and the only financial credit they have is their own honesty. If they cheat people, nobody will work with them and they go out of business. That's exactly opposite of the corporate clients . It makes a huge difference.

As for "best bands", i can't say. the "worst bands"? Well, i WON'T say.

What is the most difficult part in designing a poster ?

Getting info from the client. Most clients are so confused and ignorant about the process involved that i can't figure out what they want. If i just do what i want, i have to do it over and over and over until it's something they can 'live with'. I need info and a client needs to give that to me. Otherwise, i have to do the single project thirty times to get the client to accept it. Stupid arrogant clients are extremely difficult. No news there..

Do you think you are part of a "Graphic Scene", if so who else ?

No. Not any more. The only scene i'm interested in is my own. I don't even look at 'new' graphic design any more. The books i buy are usually about 50 years old (or older.) The stuff the new designers do these days all look so derivative and ignorant. I can usually glance at their work and tell them who they are copycatting. They have no idea.

At this point in my life, i've seen (and done) so much that the new kids just seem to be copying older better designers all the time. So, it all looks dull. Seen it, been there, done that, wore out the tshirt.

Perhaps that's a good thing, ya know? I don't have to compete with the kids. I'm in a different league now.

A bit of self-promotion, take advantage of it, it's free, where can we see your work , on the web or in real life?

Nah. i don't much care about self-promo any more. Maybe when i was younger. now, i just want to work on stuff with people who already know who i am and what i can do. I don't want newbies, ya know? I can't bear amateurs who think they know more than you do.

The best praise you received lately?

A client bought me a nice lunch as a thank you. that was sweet. I liked that. a lot of the people i work with become good friends after the project is done. That's worth a lot to me.

What are you working on at the moment and what s next ?

Right now, freelance work is slow in america. rock posters have become so popular that people actually PAY THE BAND for the privilege of doing them for free. How do you compete with that and still make enough money to eat? I don't know. so, i rarely get to do posters these days.

So, i mostly do what ever anybody hires me to do. My biggest paying project right now is doing a trade show display booth for a software corporation. That will pay my rent for a few months. On the side, i'm doing a couple of logo designs for a couple of small businesses. I'm also doing a couple of 7" 45 record sleeves for some extremely small record labels. I still love that sort of work and enjoy the chance to do them, even though they really don't pay anything.

What can we wish you for the future?

A gun. a big gun. one that makes a huge scary noise when i shoot it.

Last question (or joke :) ) Do you know anything about french rock posters scene ?

I know almost nothing about the CURRENT rock poster scene. you have great rock poster artists in your history, though. i know about some of those.

How would you explain that rock posters have spread so heavily over america s culture, it is quite difficult to understand for us in france where this art is nearly unknown.

Before the advent of the '' website, there were maybe 100 people in the usa (and the world) doing rock posters in any serious way. After that website showed up, it began a discussion and sharing that suddenly that grew enormously. Now they have something like 10,000 artists represented on that site. Most of them started after discovering the website. For the most part it's an extension of the usual 'fanboy' phenomona - where a fan of a band tries to become part of their fantasy by making posters for that band. actual serious professionals are still the minority. But the fad of gigposters really exploded. The last ten years has given us more rock posters than all the rest of music history all combined. crazy, really.

I think the fad has now started to fade (from 'fad' to 'fade') and the gigposter is starting to become 'uncool' and 'not hip'. So, i think we'll see them become more obscure again. But, it'll never be as obscure as it was before started up. That's what caused the fad.
Thanks for answering my questions and see you soon on the website !!

You betcha, bippy!

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