I'm really excited to bring you this interview with Brad Klausen. Many of you know him for his work with Pearl Jam and many other bands. What you may not know is how much thought and planning he puts into his work. What started as a question turned into a conversation over 4 days of emailing at which point I said hey how about doing an interview for my readers. I knew he was creative and smart before, but through our conversations I learned just how damn intelligent he is and gained a whole new level of respect for him and the work he does.
One thing I found out is our appreciation for the music of the Gutter Twins, so with that I asked if we could giveaway his Mark Lanegan poster. So go to the top of the post above the picture and click on comments to leave a comment to have a chance at winning the poster. Don't worry if your comment does not appear immediately I have to approve them before they are published. I will use the random number generator to pick a winner. Entries are limited to ONE PER PERSON PER HOUSEHOLD. Please leave your name with the comment, comments without names will not be accepted. Entries will be accepted until midnight Saturday July 16 that's three days to enter, with the winner announced on Sunday.
Now I give you Mr Brad Klausen :
Hi Brad thank you for doing an interview for my readers, When did you start drawing and decide you wanted to be an artist?
I always liked to draw when I was a kid, but I don’t know when that started. As far back as I can remember, drawing seemed to be something I enjoyed doing. I never decided I wanted to be an artist. That thought never crossed my mind. I enjoyed drawing, but never saw it as a career path. It wasn’t until I went to college, studying graphic design, that I figured I would enjoy having a job in the creative world. Up until then, it wasn’t on my radar… one of those you don’t find the way, the way finds you type of deals.
Did you go to any formal art school to sharpen your skills ?
My mom picked up on the fact that I liked to draw, so she was always finding drawing and art classes to stick me in. When I went to college, I got a BFA in graphic design, and you had to take all these prerequisite studio art classes for that along with the design classes, so things like figure drawing, color theory, stuff like that. It was a good mix, to go from the clean computer lab to the studio art room next door where you got to get your hands dirty and make things the old fashioned way.
Have you lived in the Seattle area all your life ? Does Seattle and the northwest influence your work ?
I lived in Seattle for about 10 years, and just recently moved out of the city to Kingston, WA… which is not like Seattle at all. Seattle is a city, Kingston is the country. But yeah, living in Seattle had a big influence on my work. There are so many fantastic poster artists out here. For most of the 10 years in Seattle, I was going out all the time to see bands play, so I was always surrounded by all the flyers and posters hanging up at the clubs. Plus there’d be posters up at all the local record stores. There’s a lot of poster history in Seattle, a lot of innovative, creative people who helped build the foundation we all stand on… Art Chantry, Jeff Kleinsmith, the Ames Bros, to name a few… so being exposed to all that on a regular basis influenced me tremendously. I love the Pacific Northwest, the mountains, the trees, the water, the wildlife… and now that I live right out in the woods in the thick of all that away from the city, it’s affecting me and influencing me in ways I never imagined. The Pacific Northwest is one of my favorite places on the planet… the more I get to travel around a bit, the more I love coming home to all the trees and the green.
Eddie Vedder likes to have input in his poster designs, has he ever asked for your input into his music ?
Ha!.. No he hasn’t. There was one day when we were laying out the album art for the avocado album, and Ed and Jeff were in my office. One of the songs on that album, Army Reserve, was originally called Geronimo… I mentioned that Geronimo was a much better song title then Army Reserve, and Ed, in a joking, sarcastic way said “Yeah, sorry we didn’t call you about that.” That’s the most input I’ve ever attempted to have.
Eddie Vedder likes to have input into his posters as we know, does he suggest the imagery and/or draw elements of the poster how does that work in terms of the subject matter ?
Usually he doesn’t suggest imagery when you start things, but as you go along and start showing him work in progress, that gets his wheels turning and he’ll start making suggestions then for what he wants to see. The only thing he’s contributed that he’s created himself would be his calligraphy. But he is certainly involved in the process,… for the 2008 Chicago poster, he had thrown out a few ideas for subject matter: the Picasso statue, the two lions in front of the art museum, wrigley field, and the marquee of the Chicago theater… I went with the lions. He wasn’t into my initial mock up, and we were running out of time, then at the last minute he threw out the idea about putting the Picasso statue in place of the bus out in the woods from Into the Wild. So for that poster, that was his concept (as well as his typography), and I just put the pieces together for him. To me, that’s his poster, I was just the engineer in the studio who turned the knobs. But that was the most involved he was in a complete concept from beginning to end. As I mentioned in the book, he’s probably one of the toughest people to figure out what they will respond to visually… it’s hit or miss. He has a relatively distinct style and it seems like it should be easier to get things pegged down for him, but whenever I think that, he proves me wrong. So you just go into it like a crapshoot and hope you hit it. But it’s 50/50 odds…
What makes a great Gigposter?
For me a great gigposter is one in which image and type have been incorporated seamlessly. Where the type is in resonance with the imagery. So many times you’ll see this great image or illustration and the type is just some shitty lackluster font slapped over it that’s not integrated into the whole piece. I think the best gig posters are the ones that merge illustration and graphic design. I’m not talking about the ‘ol illustrator vs. designer debate here… but about an understanding in graphic design concepts, in visual communication and structuring the delivery of information. Gigposters aren’t just art, they convey information: who, where, when… that all needs to be placed into a hierarchy along with the imagery. People like Ken Taylor, Jay Ryan, Aaron Horkey, Kevin Tong… all illustrators who not only illustrate well but their posters are designed and composed well, they’re balanced,.. the way the type interacts with the image and how the whole piece fits together, how the information is structured. And the imagery is a brand new drawing,… it’s introducing a new image to the world that didn’t exist until they drew it, some snap shot from inside their head or their heart. Something that when you look at it, you think, “how the hell did they come up with this..?” There’s a lot off illustrators out there that are technically great illustrators but they don’t have the design side of things down,… they aren’t good with type or composition. So when they venture into the poster world, they usually don’t pull off as successful a piece as they could have. I love typography and I love creating and drawing letterforms. I am always amazed at people who are amazing illustrators yet won’t draw letters. I have no problem at all with fonts, sometimes fonts work far better then custom made type… but when there’s no thought put into why you are using a particular font and choose something that doesn’t match the quality and style of the image, I can’t stand them.
A great gig poster has some element of weirdness to it… not a lot, but something that’s a little off, something you’d only see on a rock poster. The gig poster world has a long history of interestingly bizarre subject matter, tweaked perspectives and random associations that you’d never think you’d see combined. Again, something that when you look at it, you can’t for the life of you figure out how they came up with the concept because it’s truly original. Oh and a great gigposter is also one that fits the band and the music… there’s that whole thing too. SO something that fits the band, is thoughtfully composed and balanced with well integrated type and image, and is conceptually kind of weird or slightly tweaked somehow. Something that’s technically and conceptually well thought out and executed.
Have you ever slipped in little subliminal messages or words in to a poster ?
Never in the literal sense, I’ve never put hidden words in there, but there are a number of posters that have subliminal messages or concepts or symbols hidden in plain site. It makes it more fun for me when I can pack imagery full of more information then just what’s on the surface. Symbols and shapes are more powerful then most people realize. They speak to both your conscious and subconscious mind… they are mutli-dimensional… something the ancient Egyptians understood, their language is made out of symbols. If you see a hieroglyph of a bird, it not only can mean “bird” or a particular type of bird, but it can represent things associated with birds, like flight or something that has an airy quality to it.… you can say a lot in one simple shape. Something the marketing industry understands quite well, it’s why our world is full of logos. Logos are small, simple packages full of information. We don’t pay that much attention to them because they are everywhere, but in the back of your brain, it’s picking up all the subconscious information. It’s why branding works. We are receptive to symbols and shapes, even when we don’t know it. You can use that for evil like they do in the marketing world, but you can also use it for good to convey positive ideas and concepts that aren’t trying to make you buy something. I don’t do it all the time, but it’s always fun when you can find ways to add dimensions to a drawing or composition.
What are your feelings on the movie poster craze of the last few years ?
I have split feelings about it… On the one hand, I think it’s great and am very happy for all the success that it’s created for all the parties involved. It’s generating more exposure for so many talented artists like Tyler Stout, Ken Taylor, Martin Ansin… their work is getting to be seen by a lot more people who maybe weren’t watching the poster scene and that is introducing more and more people to the big pool of talent the poster world has to offer. On top of that it’s generating income for those artists, which is allowing them to continue honing their chops and making them better artists every poster. I also like it because it’s partly the manifestation of the madness of Rob Jones. Rob is a wonder… they certainly broke the mold when they made him. Not only is his knowledge and memory of film uncanny, but his knowledge and memory about everything is uncanny. The few times I’ve spoken with him on the phone, have been these surreal treats… he just goes off on all kinds of tangents about all these scenes from movies you’ve never seen or heard of, and you’re on the other end just nodding you’re head and pretending like you have any clue about what he’s talking about. But he can do that with everything. At one point in a conversation he started talking about old pinball machines, and even there, he knew about every rare old pinball machine from way back when. Phone calls with Rob are awesome, it’s an experience… it’s one of those times where if you were so inclined, you could put the phone down for an hour, go do something else, come back and he’s been going off the whole time riffing about anything and everything. So I’ve come to the conclusion that Rob knows more about everything then everyone else…seriously, he’s like a crazy computer. His memory is inhuman. But it’s just because he’s so passionate about all this stuff. So it makes me happy to see that he has been able to bring so many other people along for the ride into his love of film and art.
On the other hand, on the creative side of things… more and more I am finding the movie poster craze a bit boring. I had done two posters for Mondo, and was asked to do one for Spinal Tap. I love Spinal Tap, and was really looking forward to working on this. I had planned on doing a 3 set poster, one for each guy in the band. The more I started working on it, the more I became uninterested in the project. With movie posters, there’s a pre-existing built in established visual association, concept, theme…the visual association being mainly the actors. So when you sit down to work on a movie poster, you’re working off of pre-existing imagery. With rock posters, usually there are not a lot, if any, established visual associations (unless it’s a poster for Kiss or Gwar)… so for rock posters, you aren’t as limited, you can create anything, skies the limit for your imagination. You might be slightly limited by the genre of music, but even there you can still create anything you think of it just needs to fit for a metal band or a jam band. Every rock poster is hopefully bringing some new imagery into the world. Be it cats watching an erupting volcano outside their window or a semen soaked moonscape crossbow battle, it’s something brand new out of the mind of the artist. Music is auditory, so there are no visuals, you create based on how the music sounds or how it makes you feel. Ask 10 artists to make a poster for the same band, you’ll get 10 totally different posters. You ask 10 artists to make a poster for the same movie, they’re all obviously going to be similarly themed and have similar visuals. With movie posters you can get an amazing illustration or composition, but the subject matter is based solely on something we’ve all already seen before… it’s the Dude, or Yoda, or Alex from Clockwork Orange.… granted maybe we haven’t seen it drawn or composed a certain way by a certain artist, but nonetheless it’s somebody else’s original idea or concept being rehashed. Currently, it seems we live in a rehashed world… there aren’t a lot of original ideas out there at the moment. It’s unbelievable how many movies and tv shows are just remakes. It’s like the scene from the movie Jarhead, where there out in the deserts of Iraq during the first gulf war and a helicopter comes flying overhead blaring some song by the Doors and the guy says something like “That’s Vietnam’s music, can’t we get our own fucking music?!?” It seems more and more that we don’t have anything new, that belongs to now, … and you see it everywhere not just tv and movies… things like the Tea Party nonsense… it’s just rebranded sentiment, they can’t even come up with their own identity and way to express their feelings,…. Or in the art world, you could say Fairey belongs to now… which is unbelievably fitting considering the majority of his work is built off of other people’s concepts, photos and designs (the prime example being the whole “obey” concept was lifted directly from a movie). I want to see new things, rather then redrawn imagery and rebranded sentiment.
I came to this realization working on the spinal tap piece, and ended up losing all interest in it. I only did one of the 3 guys, Nigel, and it’s hands down, one of the worst pieces/drawings I’ve done, I can’t believe I submitted it. And thankfully the Mondo people didn’t accept it. I told them at that time it would appear the movie poster thing was not my cup of tea and that I don’t think I am going to venture down that road anymore.
It all reminds me of the “Chris Farley Show “ for SNL… “remember the robot from the terminator..? That was awesome!”
But that’s just my own feeling, I am not trying to put down anyone who loves movie posters… too each his own. If you love them and collect them, great, it’s keeping a lot of artists working so more power to ya. And I wish only continued success to Mondo and Mitch and Rob and all the artists involved and hope the wave is a nice long one they can continue riding…
What can we do to stop all the played out pop culture references from being used anymore ?
I think it’s going to run it’s course in the next few years, and over the course of the next decade, pop culture is going to go by the wayside for a bit. People are losing their homes, their jobs, their savings, fiat currencies are dying across the globe… we’re on the cusp of a massive paradigm shift...socially, politically, economically, environmentally, magnetically… the world is entering some serious growing pains which have only just begun. So pop culture is not going to have an audience for a while, because most of us won’t be paying attention, we will be struggling to survive.
Why do you think some artists continue going back to the pop culture well instead of creating fresh new images ?
Mainly, because it sells. People gravitate towards what they know and what’s familiar, both on the consumer side and the creative side. But it sells because we are children of pop culture. Myself 100% included,…in the movie poster question above I made two pop culture references to put down pop culture. Not to mention, I make posters for rock bands and music is just as much a part of pop culture as TV and movies. If you grew up in the last 30+ years, you were raised by television. Pop culture is everywhere. It’s even in your pocket now on your “phone”. And it’s not just for celebrities anymore. Any jackass with a camera can film themselves being a moron and put it on YouTube and, overnight, enter themselves into pop culture. And we eat it up. Or rather it has eaten us up… it’s eaten up tremendous amount of space inside people’s minds where they used to generate their own ideas. Because of the saturation into every pore of society, our brains are just as heavily saturated with all this meaningless filler. Modern society is very loud and noisy. We don’t exist in a very quiet world where one can actually allow themselves to look inward and hear their own true internal voice. We’re continually bombarded with information, be it useful or meaningless, and now more then ever we’re always seeking stimuli from the outside world. However with the internet, we don’t actually have to go out to the outside world, it’s wired into our homes and we can take it with us everywhere we go. We’ve become like the mice in the Skinner’s box addicted to pressing buttons for instant gratification, for a some minute morsel of any new news on whatever subject you choose, or a new email, or a new thread to post in…we constantly have to be updated on something. Go on a train or subway or to a coffee shop, everyone is plugged into something. So it’s not surprising to see a lack of fresh imagery… we’ve unplugged our own internal source to plug into technology. It’s a reflection of the times, of this rehash world I was talking about. Warhol did the Elvis and Marilyn Monroe thing, so it’s not new, but there was no internet in Warhol’s day. There weren’t tvs in the back of car seats or at every bar and every gym or at the checkout stand in the market. There weren’t multiple 24 hour 7 days a week “news” channels which survive by feeding us propaganda and unnecessary drivel about pointless things we’re led to believe we need to keep up with to be “informed”. You didn’t receive information about events seconds after it happened across the globe. You couldn’t follow 140 characters worth of inane narcissistic mental noise from everyone and anyone. Things have amped up astronomically since Warhol’s commentary on pop culture. I really wish artists wouldn’t defer to it for their ideas, I find it horribly uninspiring. It’s one thing to take images from pop culture to create some kind of social commentary, but more and more that’s not the case… it’s not being used as commentary it’s just being used because it’s familiar imagery. I am so tired of seeing Mario or Ferris Bueller or Robocop or any of the other marginally interesting pop culture characters that people feel the need to cling to. I think one of the major roles of the artist is to make the invisible, visible. To help communicate the intangible aspects of the human experience. Art is like the shaman of society, it can travel between the world we live in and the other realms we can’t see and come back to us and help give us a better understanding about things we'll never fully understand, like love or the point of existence. Art can shine light on the invisible structures that the visible world/experience is built on. But these days it seems it’s not about making the invisible visible… it’s about making what’s already been blatantly visible, even more visible. That’s not art, that’s marketing. There’s been more and more group shows where a bunch of poster artists are asked to contribute a piece to a gallery show, and that’s been exciting, that the poster world artists are getting a little more notoriety and exposure… but the theme of the show is always pop culture based… movies, TV, shows, video games. Based off something visual that someone else already created. It’s all just very uninspiring… there are certainly technically inspiring elements, the way an artist has crafted and composed their image, but the subject matter is painfully boring. It’d be great to see a show showcasing all the talent and creativity of the artists in the poster world in which each artist was asked to create something original and new, pull something out of their own experience.
Are there any artists that you would like to collaborate with on a project ?
It’d be fun to do something with Ken Taylor… I think our styles would maybe mesh well together. Maybe Justin Kamerer (Angry Blue)? I had spoke with Emek about collaborating on a poster for Tool, but we never heard back from Tool. I don’t know if I’d be a good collaboration partner… I think I am too much of a control freak… so I think a part of me has never sought out any collaboration work because I have a feeling it might not be something I dig. But who knows… maybe I’d like it just fine.
You and I share a love of Aaron Horkey's work, what is your favorite piece that you own ?
Well… that’s a tough question. I really love the pieces he did with Jay Ryan, the Spring piece is probably my favorite piece of art I own. The Black Grist series is amongst the top of the list too. One of the things that I am always amazed at with his work is how he layers his colors, how he shapes things and builds depth and dimension with color… but in the BlackGrist set, they’re only 2 colors. There’s just something about those that I love, they remind me of Escher’s earlier pieces where through using only variations in line thickness you can show so much depth and form. That wood cut/etching line quality where you only have black and white to visually show dimension. It’s that mastery of light and shadow. Aaron can define a shape and bring it to life like nobody else. He shows you not only the form, but all the dents and dings and ripples in the form. Every little detail has well defined shape, from the type down to blades of grass. The Croaton painting is a piece I don’t own, but another one of my favorites… so wonderfully weird. What I am waiting for more then anything from Aaron, is a book of all his sketches someday. When I was putting together my own book, that’s all I could think about… how I can’t wait for Aaron to put out a book so we can all look over his shoulder into his sketchbook. The few sketches I’ve seen online here and there, make me want to see them all. Plus knowing his pension for insane detail and craftsmanship, the production of the book would be ridiculous… I can only imagine what embellishments he’d use for the cover and the physical book itself, or all the little details like page numbers or the table of contents. It would be some crazy leather bound embossed book with inlayed metal or something over the top like that… inside and out it would be quite a piece.
Unlike most artists these days you have not gone the route of producing variants of your posters, what made you decide to only release one version ?
I don’t know… it just never seemed like something I wanted to do. But I do understand the desire to see how things would look on different paper and with a different color scheme. With photoshop you can change all the colors of a design with ease, so you can see how it would look if you change it up. And sometimes there’s multiple colors ways that strike you and you have a tough time choosing and you want to see how it will print on colored paper. Plus it’s like any collectible, it makes things more fun if there’s an elusive one off variation. Like colored vinyl… a certain percentage of people love that stuff… having something where there were only 3 ever made. It’s just one of the aspects of the limited edition collectible world. But obviously variants are mostly a way to make a little more money. If you make your living making posters, you need all the help you can get… so I can’t fault folks for trying to help pay the bills so they can continue to make more art. I can’t speak for everyone, but for a lot of artists, making money just allows you to keep making more art… everyone likes having money and being comfortable and secure, but most folks aren’t out there trying to break the bank… they’re just trying to exist and not get a day job so they can keep doing what they love.
With your large body of work is there one that is your favorite ?
Hmmmm… I think the Black Keys Amsterdam print.
Any new artists that have caught your eye and blown you mind ?
In the poster world, well I wouldn’t say necessarily new,… but Ken Taylor is unreal. His work just gets better and better every year. He’s put himself in a whole different level then everyone else. He’s probably the biggest driving factor in my own work lately, he makes me want to be better. Martin Ansin is a fantastic illustrator/graphic designer. Kevin Tong is always cranking out great pieces. Angry Blue is another favorite. I like all the illustrators. Doublenaut and Doe Eyed have been knocking out a lot of really strong, solid work as well.
In the non-poster world…the last “new” artist I saw was a few years back at Roq La Rue in Seattle, Chris Berens… his work is unreal, out of this world stuff… not only conceptually, but technically… you have to see the pieces in person to truly grasp what’s going on, and even then, you won’t know what’s going on with how he’s made these things. He creates multiple images of the same parts and layers little bits of the “painting” (it’s all ink) on top of one another, that’s why you can see all the patchwork squares. There’s also this insane photo-realistic quality, sometimes you’ll swear a particular part of a piece is a photo. There’s a video online of him talking about his process… and it’s crazy… his work is a perfect example of technical and conceptual mastery… insanely well done weird other worldly images
What music are you into these days ?
The same music I’ve been into for quite some time… Tool, Radiohead, QOTSA, Big Business, Black Sabbath… I haven’t listened to the radio, be it online or in a car, for years.… I used to pay a lot closer attention to new music and up and coming bands, but these days, it’s not something I spend any time doing… I used to love going out to see bands and catch the openers in hopes of being turned on to some great new band… but I rarely go to shows anymore... it’s not where my head is at these days. So I am not up to speed at all with whatever new music is out there. I’m too busy making an old man cane to shake at all the kids.
What does the rest of 2011 look like for you ? Any upcoming projects you can share with the readers ?
In the next couple of months… 2 Soundgarden posters, an art print for Pangea Seed (a whale shark this time shown above), two posters for one band and one poster for another band… but mostly, learning to be a gardener and landscaper and a lumberjack and potentially a welder.
To see more of Brad's work visit his website http://www.artillerydesign.com/