Category: Main

Street art is NOT vandalism

Street art was once considered vandalism. Seen by many in society and the art world as a menace, graffiti was stereotyped by hoodlums roaming around the street at night vandalizing property. Oh how times have changed.

Since the boom at the beginning of the eighties, street art is now one if not the most popular form of popular contemporary art.

Part of the criticism was drawn by the artistic class – the art gallery owners and attendees whose identities were entirely wrapped up in the classic exhibition.

What street art presented was something completely visceral, any in many ways punk in its philosophy and aesthetic.

First of all, their pieces of art were free. They were not owned by a gallery, nor did viewers have to pay to see them. They could view them whilst walking down the street. This expanded art beyond its usual stuffy means of a gallery, and opened up artistic expression to a wide range of the public who would never think of entering a gallery.

These large scale graffiti pieces which used entire factory walls as their canvas. The artist was no longer restricted by the canvas.

The art also came to represent the urbanisation and decay from the mid-seventies. As industries around the Western world began to fall into decline, so the explosion in graffiti art happened. The youth no longer spent most of their days in work, because there was simply no work to go to. If you look around at cities with the most graffiti have experienced masses of urban transformation – Berlin, Prague and most recently Athens. As Greece has been plunged into economic hardship, so has the increase in graffiti art taken hold.

Today, the most famous artist has made his name from his street art: Banksy. His pieces are known worldwide – from his stencil graffiti on the Gaza strip, to the simple pieces he has created in his home town of Bristol. Banksy has become a brand in his own right, releasing a feature length film, publishing a book and whole other host of side-hustles.

Banksy has even faced criticism from within the street art culture, being challenged by rivals for being commercial and not true graffiti due to his almost exclusive use of stencils in his art work.

Arguably as a result of Banksy, graffiti has now come full circle. Where it was once shunned, the doors have now open and street art pieces of all kind have become a staple of the gallery.

Whether its Banksy opening his own unique brand of art to the masses, or a graffiti artist for hire being commissioned to draw pieces for a particular exhibition. The viciousness that graffiti and street art once had has almost entirely disappeared. It’s safe to say that when your grandparents know who Banksy is, you can no longer consider it an ‘underground culture’.

This puts us at an interesting cross-roads for the future of contemporary street art. As the world becomes more divided by politics and ideology, what outlet will the artistic youth use to express themselves?

The future is uncertain, but whatever it becomes it will guarantee to disrupt.

Trampoline

FROM COLLECTIVE EIGHT

Under the studio name of Trampoline, Melbourne-based art director Sean Hogan creates graphic design work for clients across the globe. From experimental album packaging for British pop giants Duran Duran to a compelling visual card game for graphic designers, Hogan’s client work spans from branding to large-scale graphic installations. He also busies himself on numerous thought-provoking self-initiated projects, which he says are imperative to the evolution of his practice. Collective chats with Hogan about Trampoline’s extensive portfolio, and asks him how his work and his process have progressed over the years.

What was the idea behind establishing your studio? What motivates your work? 

I first started Trampoline the day after I left university with two of my classmates. Like a lot of graduates, we thought we could change the world of design and we were very experimental. However, it wasn’t long before we realised we lacked the business knowledge needed to run a successful studio. So we all got work in other studios so we could build up the experience needed and continued our Trampoline work after hours.

My two friends ended up leaving Trampoline to pursue other avenues of design, but I decided to keep the studio going and was then approached by UK design collective Tomato to work with them on the Federation Square project. I worked on that project for nearly five years and once it was finished went back to Trampoline with a much more solid idea of the business of design, work ethic and design knowledge.

In those early years I was very interested in the idea of chaos and the overlapping of forms to communicate an idea. ‘Don’t confuse legibility with communication’ was one of my mantras. This idea was fine for my design theories but was hard to translate into a foundation for the business and client work.

As time has gone on I’ve become much more interested in how you can visually communicate an idea with as little as possible. So in a sense I’ve transitioned from chaos to minimalism.

Has it been a conscious decision to focus on print in your work?

I think you naturally gravitate to what you like. I have always loved print and I like to design for print. I love the smell of the ink and playing with the endless possibilities of the printing process. For me print isn’t just the output of your design, it’s an integral process of forming and informing your design. I have done a lot of work that ends up on the web and it’s just not as satisfying for me as physically holding a beautifully printed poster or book.

In a world that is more and more dominated by screen culture, print is becoming a much more interesting and considered process. Letterpress, foils, varnishes and specialist finishes are adding a tactile experience that the screen can’t. This is why print will never die.

Colour seems to be something you have strong understanding of in your design, can you share with us how this element, in your work, has evolved?

Colour is such an interesting topic. It’s quite intangible like listening to music. Colour is hard to pin down; it can affect you on an emotional and psychological level.

I mentioned earlier about moving towards a minimalist aesthetic and philosophy and part of this process has been the interrogation of colour. I use colour as a tool as a way of communicating an idea or emotion. I think artists like Mark Rothko or James Turrell use colour in the same way.

I had some artwork on exhibition many years ago and the main response from people was how much they loved the colour. They weren’t too concerned about the imagery in the works or the meaning, they only connected with the colour. I found this really interesting. Of course, colour is quite an abstract notion. Everyone will view and respond to colours in their own unique way and this brings about a sense of ambiguity. This interests me immensely especially when applied to visual communication. What happens when graphic design is ambiguous?

When I first went overseas and came back to Australia I realised just how bright, harsh and vivid our light is here. I have wondered if this has had an impact on the way I view and use colour. I often take a Pantone swatch book out on walks to play with colour combinations. Have you ever tried to map all the colour combinations on a gum tree? It’s quite a task.

How important are self-initiated projects to your practice how do they impact upon your client work? 

Self-initiated projects are integral to my development as a designer and artist. I have always generated my own projects outside of my client work and it is essential – it allows me a space to develop my own thoughts and ideas, helps me grow, and exercise my design and thought muscles. Hopefully the more I do this the more I improve. I think time for research and development is also really important. I’m of the opinion that you can never learn too much and I’m constantly visiting Melbourne art galleries and museums, watching films, listening to music, reading and trying to learn as much as possible across a broad range of subjects.

Self-initiated projects should always be fun. The idea of ‘play’ is underrated and I consider it an absolute must. Being unburdened from all the restrictions and considerations that often come with running a studio or designing for a client, allows me to experiment with ideas and discover new techniques. I often use the outcome of these experiments in client work.

I must say it goes the other way as well, and I may have an idea triggered by client work that I will use in my own projects. Both of these ways of working are constantly connecting and informing each other.

My latest project Untitled Geometries is a good example of this. This series seeks to subvert our instinctive understanding of visual codification by disrupting meaning and challenging presumption. What appears as studies in formalism: colour, space, line, volume, mass, balance, composition and scale are actually typographic in nature. Using a well-known and established visual code that represents letters of the alphabet, these works can be read as words if you have the key to decipher the code.

The colours and compositions are deliberately harmonious and pleasing to the eye, which is the antithesis of the words: obscenities intended to offend, to create discord. This paradox creates an interesting friction between what the eye sees and decodes as meaning and the true meaning of the works, hidden in full view, communicating from behind the façade.

We’d be thrilled to hear about your work on the cover art for Duran Duran’s Astronaut, and the collaborations involved in this project? Also, how collaborative is your practice?

Surprisingly, I don’t collaborate with that many other creatives. I find that true collaboration works when all parties bring something unique to the table. There is no point in me working with other graphic designers, as we both do the same things. I do work with photographers on occasion (and where needed) but I am much more interested in trying to generate alternative processes to create imagery or designs.

With Duran Duran’s album Astronaut, John Warwicker from Tomato secured the design of all artwork relating to the album.

He selected a series of creatives from around the world and our brief was to supply him with any kind of artistic bits and pieces we had produced: illustrations, photos, patterns and mark makings were all supplied to him, which he combined and used to create the artwork for the album, singles, booklets etc.

This was a wonderful, unusual, remote collaboration with people from all over the world who had never met. A few months after I had sent John my contributions I was in the city and walked past a music store and the whole place was decked out in the album artwork. It was quite a trip to see my mark making experiments (some scanned from my small moleskinenotebooks) on the cover of a Duran Duran album.

These interactions all lead to knowledge and experience. Collaborations are also about connecting with people and building your own network. You learn who you can trust, rely on and work with well.

Your recent project for Desktop was the Mindset card series, it’s a fantastic concept, can you share with us the process behind the cards, and what the future plans for the project are – will you be commercialising the project? How how they been received?

I was set the challenge by Desktop to create something that could change human behaviour or thinking. I was only given only two weeks to find a solution, produce an outcome, record case studies and document the entire process as an essay. It was a very tight time frame considering printing of the cards alone took a whole week.

In terms of the concept, I knew I had to create something I was interested in and understood – there was no time for research. I am a fan of Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt and this was the catalyst for developing a set of cards that you could play with to instigate a change in your own thought patterns.

As I developed the cards I realised that by playing with only colour and form (non-representational imagery) it allowed for an openness within the set of guidelines that I wanted. The choice to make them physical cards was also a consideration, as I wanted it to be a tactile experience – to get off the screen and use your hands.

Instructing users to randomly select only 12 cards out of the deck of 40 and arranging (or designing) them in a pleasing manner, achieved a balance between direction and freedom, allowing the user to consider a problem and have fun at the same time.  Instead of looking for the ‘right answer’, the focus became about balance, harmony and relationships between the cards, and from what I observed in the case studies, everybody dealt with these elements in their own unique manner.

When you become engaged in this kind of problem it frees the mind to perhaps solve other problems or think about things in a different way. It’s a technique I often use when designing – to give myself restrictions to push my thought processes into alternate areas.

The response from everyone who has played the cards has been incredibly positive and I have had a lot of requests as to when they will be available, which made me consider turning the prototype into a product. I have had some external interest and am in the middle of preparing a proposal for this, but I’m also developing a strategy to produce a small run myself if this doesn’t come through.

We are interested in the Noise in My Head award winning book you designed, how did that project come together?

I have worked with Melbourne Books for a number of years, designing publications for RMIT that they published, and have built a great working relationship with them

They called to say they had a manuscript for a book they thought I might be interested in designing. Once I read it, I was in. Author Jimi Kritzler compiled a series of interviews with fifty of Australia’s most innovative and significant bands and artists currently at the creative peak of their careers.

I loved that Jimi, a musician himself, was part of the scene, so the interviews and stories felt real, raw, honest and often brutal.  The fact that this wasn’t a retrospective book but a reflection of what was current also interested me greatly.

The difficulty in designing this book was how to represent a variety of bands, appeal to their visually literate fans and also be enticing for newcomers.  I convinced the publisher to strip the book back to two colours and put the print savings into a hard cover.  I felt that the music and the stories carried a gravitas and weight that I wanted to be physically felt when you held the book.

I purposely avoided all visual cues that certain music genres communicate. I kept the layouts and typography clean. I pushed the title Noise in My Head to the corners of the book: a marginalised heading for marginalised music. The contents page was designed so you had to turn the book vertically to read the list. When viewed horizontally the list appears like a queue of punters lining up to enter the gig (or enter the book in this case).

Each interview was treated in exactly the same way so there was no hierarchy between bands – everyone was equal. This was one of those jobs that was a delight to do and I am incredibly proud to have been involved.

Finally, can you share with our student readers one piece of advice that you feel is imperative to their future as designers?

I know this is more than one thing but I would say: be true to yourself, your abilities and work hard. Be kind, open and truthful when dealing with people. Be humble with your achievements.

Confetti

Can you tell me about your background?

Ok well my story is relatively short I suppose. I haven’t been in the industry for all that long (relatively speaking) and I certainly haven’t done a stint overseas under the direction of a high flying, big shot, high-net worth creative director or anything like that. I guess I’ve been bluffing my way through it all since the day I arrived for my uni interview at RMIT seven years ago. And it worked. At the end of the interview they said I’d be too bored with first year and plonked me straight in to second. I think ‘bluffing’ gets such a bad wrap these days but it’s such a good way to throw yourself in the deep end and thats a good place to be. And it’s so much easier than you think, you’ll surprise yourself – like the time my friend surprised herself by farting at a job interview.

Any who, By the time I was doing my honours year, I had a decent job as Art Director for a good magazine, as well as a long list of freelance projects under my belt. I wrote a thesis on foreign writing systems and experimental typography somewhere in there too. It was a busy time. I got addicted to the deep end after that so after I graduated I had a chat to my long time pal, Kevvy Mac, who was kicking goals literally and metaphorically, and Confetti was born. That was about three years ago. Since then we’ve found ourselves bluffing a little less each day. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it. Either way I reckon it’s goooood times.

Can you tell me about your design ethos? What rules do you live by when designing?

This one is always tough because it’s hard to apply the same set of rules to every brief. The context changes every time. In this way we could say one of our rules is to stay liquid. As in, be open to adapt and change with the needs of each project. Get inside the head of each client to understand their needs and who they need to speak to. Then gather all this information and throw it around in your head or in the air or in your dog’s bowl or in your aunty’s over-sized hat until you create something. For Confetti, this “something” should never ever be lazy. We try to push every brief in some direction that places it beyond what’s expected. It’s not always possible and it doesn’t always happen but when it does it’s magic and that’s what we’re chasing. So yeah, stay liquid and chase the magic. I’m gonna try and convince Kev to get some t-shirts made of that. Or maybe some stubby holders. Maybe throw an illustration of a crystal in there and sell it to T-bar for 50 schmackers.

How do you collaborate as a team?

We try to make sure the studio feels like a big squash court of multiple little tiny bouncing idea balls at all times. Speaking of convoluted metaphors that don’t work, we have these floating air plants in the Melbourne website design studio that are in the shape of a tear drop or an idea light bulb (kinda) and we hang them above our heads at our desks so it always kinda looks like you have an idea. Anyway, I think some of our best ideas have come about in discussion between overzealous mouthfuls of the chicken parma we get at the pub around the corner. That one’s not a joke.

We’ve also got a great team and network of ridiculously talented developers and suppliers who are always on the same page. This way we can make sure the project is executed in the best possible way from idea conception right through to its application across all touch points. There’s no point having a juicy concept that just gets diluted as it’s applied. You need the right team to keep the concept potent and on-point every time it’s printed/coded/3D printed/smelt/touched/hung/thrown/etc./etc.

As a designer, you often have to juggle creativity with client interests – how do you collaborate with a client to deliver the best possible result for both parties? How do you stay in control of your design DNA?

We’ve been very lucky with our clients (give or take a couple of duds). It’s all about trust. They’ve got to trust you and you’ve got to trust you. The second a client senses that you doubt yourself it’s all over and they’ll pick your concept to pieces and feed it to their pure bred afghan hound. Google that dog. We get really excited when we have a good idea and when the client senses that they just let us do anything. I think clients love to see that you’re excited about their business and that you’re, to some degree, emotionally invested in it. It fills them with confidence. I get this weird thing where if I’m really pumped about an idea while I’m presenting it, I get these little pricks in the back of my neck. It’s called the ‘prickle zone’ and I’ve had a 100% success rate when presenting while in the P Zone.

You were a finalist in the Premiers Design Awards for your work for Spilt Milk – can you tell me a bit about that? Why do you think there was so much appreciation for your project?

The phrase “Spilt Milk” has a very obvious and literal connotation, so the challenge was going to be to create something unique yet concise out of that. I think we achieved that. It’s a simple typographic metaphor without actually directly referencing any milk itself. Also, by creating the variations it starts to become a visual language that is adaptable based on it’s application whilst still always being easily recognisable. The variations also touch on the unpredictability of the spill which i think resonated with people.

Since you started the studio in 2012, how has the work you produce changed? Has your design aesthetic evolved or have you seen it stay the same over the years?

Well your work is always going to be in some way an extension of yourself. I mean, you created it so why shouldn’t it be? We are always growing and changing, learning new things, letting go of old things (hopefully). This all influences your work. I think the work you create is a product of what you learn and see. And I don’t necessarily mean ‘see’ in the context of design and art. Without getting too deep, I’m talking more about experiences that might make you ‘see’ things in a new light which can affect your whole design process whether you know it or not. You multiply this theory across all the people working on a project and you’re definitely going to see some degree of change over the years. Change is good. Otherwise we’d all still be those little fish creatures with stumps for legs still trying to crawl out of the water.

Any projects youre particularly proud of? Why?

I liked Spilt Milk. That was a goodun. I guess I’m proud of different projects for different reasons. The Maha rebrand was a huge project. So much research went into that logo. I think I read everything short of the quran itself to get a feel for arabic script. It took such a ridiculously long time to draw up. There are also some projects on the go at the moment that I’m looking forward to seeing in the real world too.

Im not sure if Im meant to ask this question, but whats your favourite genre of work? What kind of projects do you love getting involved with?

Restaurants are good because of the food. I reckon I ate my weight in slow roasted lamb over the course of the Maha rebrand. And that lamb cooks for at least eight hours before landing on your plate. It’s so good. In terms of the work itself it’s hard to say. I like having a mix of work on. I love editorial projects but if we were exclusively running magazine projects for two months I’d be itching for some branding and vice versa. I feel like music packaging is good to throw in the mix too because it doesn’t necessarily follow the same rules as other work. There is an opportunity there to be more expressive with looser, more abstract concepts. Im sorry, I’ve dodged your question Martyna. The answer is all of it at once.  Forgive me.

Whats the thing that sticks with you most from design school/whats the best bit of advice you can give our students reading this?

Get in the deep end.