Archive for Express!

Blast from the past: Express!

In 2002 begon ik een hardcore fanzine, dat ik Express! noemde. Ik voltooide één nummer, waarvoor ik zestig pagina’s (op A5-formaat) in m’n eentje volschreef. De inhoud: interviews met MM, New Winds, One In A Million, Mike Ski (over zijn artwork), Dan O’Mahony, Sri en Act Of Ignorance, een artikel over Gorilla Biscuits, een column en een kleine vijftig recensies. Ik heb het echter nooit uitgebracht. Tegen de tijd dat ik het blaadje goed genoeg vond om naar de copyshop te brengen vond ik de helft van de inhoud eigenlijk alweer te gedateerd.

Onlangs vond ik op mijn zolder een uitgeprint exemplaar terug van dat enige nummer van Express! Toen ik het teruglas vond ik eigenlijk dat met name het interview met Mike Ski te interessant was om ongepubliceerd te blijven. Dus bij deze, met negen jaar vertraging, alsnog.

This interview was originally not intended to be a fanzine interview. This is how it came together.

A few months ago, I got an assignment from my art history teacher. I had to write a paper about a graphic designer who was born after 1950. And because I always try to combine school assignments with my biggest hobby, music, I knew I just had to go for someone who designed concert flyers or CD covers or anything like that. Pretty soon I decided that Mike Ski had to be the one.

This workaholic played bass for Run Devil Run and sings for Brother’s Keeper, but also designs CD covers, T-shirts, tattoos, logos and lots more, mostly for music related projects. He is very allround and gets most of his influences from the streets: graffiti, advertisements and tattoos.

So I wrote Mike an e-mail, asking him if he wanted to answer a few of my questions. Unfortionately I didn’t get a reply. A while later, I went to a Brother’s Keeper show. My friend Filip was also there, and he wanted to interview Mike for his fanzine Definite Choice. Some other friends and me joined him and it turned out to be a very cool and long discussion that lasted for over two hours. Mike turned out to be a very cool guy. I told him about the paper I had to write for school, and that I never got a reply to my e-mail that I’d send him. He apologized about ten times and gave me his private e-mail address, instead of the overflooded commercial address that I had e-mailed to earlier.

So a few days lated I e-mailed him my questions and that same day I got a pretty long e-mail back with very detailed answers. I think the interview turned out too well to just be used for my school paper, that’s why I’m re-using it here.

For which companies did you work as a designer?

“While I was in college, I worked my way through both as a freelance designer and a tattoo artist. Because I was doing so much work, I created the name “Art Inferno” that I used as my own sort of company identity. I mention this because I think it’s interesting that a lot of people I meet ask questions about it, they think it is a store or a shop… Or whatever. In my case, it was me in my spare room at my apartment or at the computer lab at my college through all hours of the night. I had business cards and a website, so people assumed it was this big thing. I did do tons of work, I ended up pying my way through school this way and contiued after I graduated. I still do it and plan to expand in the near future. Through my work and from my relationships with many of the bands I work with, I began doing freelance projects for some bigger bands through Blue Grape Merchandising in New York. From their experience working with me they asked me to come to New York and interview for the position of art director. I did so and a month later I moved there to work for them. It was really the first “real” job I had in years, but it was really cool and a fn athmosphere. I was in charge of all the artwork and ended up doing stuff for some crazy bands like Slipknot, System Of A Down, Type O Negative, Coal Chamber, Fear Factory… I have since moved on and worked at a tattoo shop in Long Island called Lotus Tattoo (which is owned by Civ – JvG). I worked there full time for a bit until I left to go on tour with my band Brother’s Keeper. We toured the US and Europe for over two months, so now I’m back home and doing freelance stuff for my own Art Inferno.”

Is your work in any way influenced by your own principles and political views?

“I can say that I am straight edge and vegan… And it is through my involvement in the hardcore scene and issues that I have come into contact with that has largely shaped my world view. I am a strong supporter that artists should use their talents to promote ideas rather than products… So I try to reflect that in my work, even when it is for someone else’s band or whatever it may be. It’s important for me to be familiar with the message of the bands or clients I work for as to not contradict my own attitudes or feelings.”

Who had or still has the biggest influence on your work?

“I’m really influenced by tons of things in small doses. Sometimes I’ll find myself in a video store or a record store just looking at CD or movie covers… Seeing cool logos and photos, an idea for a cool way to fold the package, etcetera. Posters in the subway, on the sides of busses, or something I read in a book. Maybe it’s just one sentence or a phrase or even a word that sets off an idea. As far as people’s work… I love the work of Shepard Fairey, the photography or Glenn E. Freidman, the tattoos of Brady Duncan, Scott Sylvia, Civ, Seth Cifari. I read Adbusters Magazine, which really influenced my design “philosophy” so to speak. Also, I listen to a lot of music which inspires me… My professors in school had a big influence on my work, not in terms really of the way it looked or what it was, but in motivating me. I was lucky to have a lot of talented instructors who really got involved with me and helped me out along the way… Ever since the time I was in 8th grade, my art teacher really inspired me.”

When you get an assignment, how do you start, and how does the process usually go?

“It depends on the project really. Since I do a lot of record covers and it”s one of the things I enjoy the most… I’ll use that to illustrate a typical mehodology: first I have the band send me all the lyrics for the record so I can get a feel for what the record is about. It helps to actually have the record first, but that’s not always possible. I don’t work with bands I’ve never heard before… I always require some sort of sample of recorded material first, but most of the bands I do stuff for, I know them already or have some knowledge of the band’s identity. Next, I require the title of the record and a description (if any) of what ideas the band has and what look they hope to achieve. Sometimes this can help or hinder the final product. Sometimes I just do whatever I want! A lot of times a band wants that, but sometimes it can backfire… The band will hate it and I lose a lot of time… So it’s helpful to have a band that is both open and has good ideas themselves. I like to think that I thrive under pressure and can turn things around quickly, but it”s always best to have the most time possible so you can think about it for a while. I always say that my stuff is 80% thinking and 20% doing. A good concept is worth a hell of a lot more than something that just looks cool. I don’t do “cool”. I like things that reveal themselves after you look at it for a long time. You see it and it looks interesting, and two weeks later, you”re like “wow, that’s awesome… I get it now”. Of cours ethat always depends on the client too, so I try to factor that in when I do things. There”s usually a lot of back and forth, bouncing ideas off the client and getting their input. It”s bet to get most of that out of the way before you even start. In the end, hopefully you get something that you both feel is successful.”

How do you see your future as a visual artist?

“I always want to keep learning and stay open and flexible. One of my main goals is to be well rounded in my artwork. Stay diverse and able to pick up an airbrush, a camera, a tattoo machina, a paintbrush, pencil, or a computer mouse and be able to make something awesome. I’d like to focus more on just making artwork as well. Everything I do is “for something”. I have a ton of ideas that I wish I could just do for myself sometime… A huge project that I am just beginning to undertake is to launch a magazine. It’s going to be directed towards teenagers and young adults and promote anti-corporate, anti-consumerist ways of living. It will examine art, music, fashion, etcetera, and challenge people to re-examine their perspectives on those and other issues. It’s a really huge project, and I’m excited about it and have been planning it for a long time.”

How did you develop your style?

“It’s funny that you ask, because I always try to get away from having a style so to speak. My favorite thing is when people can”t believe that I did something. I guess I’m really known for the whole tattoo style thing, but it just became something that I was known for early on. I still enjoy that type of thing, especially when I’m tattooing of course. But when it comes to being a designer, that whole thing really pigeon holed me and made it hard to convince people that I could do anything otherwise. I had to go out of my way everytime I approached someone or at least reassure them once it had begun that “it won’t be some bright, colorful tattoo drawing”. That doesn”t work for everybody, and I”m not really happy only doing one thing. I like to keep people guessing and on their toes.”

Which materials do you use?

“Uhm, geez, it’s hard to say. Again, it depends on the project. When it comes to graphic design I always like to do as much of it “by hand” as I can. I had a big thing in college against all the kids who just got into it because they sucked at art and they thought they could make a lot of money by faking it on a computer. I started as an illustrator, so I like to have my hand in anything I do. I also have a minor in photography and like to incorporate it in my work when it is called for. One of the fun things about what I do is the search for how to get the right look. Sometimes it’s something as simple as scribbling with a marker or tearing up a piece of paper and adding it somehow. Some of the most succesful stuff I’ve done was made by scratching all over it with a crayola crayon.”

What do you think is your best work?

“I only like something for about two months, then I wish I could do it all over again. That’s the curse of always trying to progress. You always hate everything you’ve done.”


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