Brian Standeford: Pop Art Surrealist
Artist and musician Brian Standeford is a Seattle legend, but deserves to be an international one. Though now based in San Francisco, his musical and artistic influence still resonates across the Northwest. For many years, his distinctive and iconic band posters leapt out from the telegraph poles of his home town. His art has since made a natural and award winning transition onto gallery walls. He is also increasingly using his unique talents to bring something luminous and subversive to the world of graphic design. As both a pop art surrealist and punk rock psychedelicist, Standeford keeps pushing the boundaries of his style. We spoke to him about his long, strange trip.
You are a musician and artist. Which was your first love?
Brian Standeford: Well, I used to draw a lot as a young kid, but music was definitely my first love. I became absolutely obsessed with it (primarily the punk variety) as a teenager and never looked back.
How does the music influence the art and vice versa?
Well, the visual aesthetics of punk rock have always been of great interest to me and my current interest in art dates back to making T-shirts, record covers, etc. for the band I was in at the time. These days they tend to meld in to one another in the sense that they both make up the creative side of my life (for lack of a better term). In so many ways they are similar in that I'm trying to focus on rythm, contrast, and mood amongst other things. It's also a great way to stimulate yourself when you get bogged down working on one because you can use the other as a diversion which I've found tend to gets my brain churning around ideas again.
You are well known for doing concert posters. Do you remember the first one you did?
The first one I did was probably one for my own band back in high school, but I couldn't tell you the show. The first one I tried to make in earnest and that got some attention was for a band called Police Teeth, I think at the Crocodile. It was Ian Dury's head poking in from off the page and barfing out all the text...A pretty shameless Chantry rip.
Do you ever do posters for bands that you don't like? Is that hard?
Yes and no. It's not so much that I've done work for bands that I actively dislike as much as bands that I'm unfamiliar with. I don't find it difficult because often times I just do my own thing regardless of having heard them. Often I times I don't even check 'em out, which arguably makes me a poor designer and kind of a turd.
Do you think doing band posters typecast you and make it harder to be taken seriously as an artist?
I don't really take myself that seriously as an artist, so that's not that big of an issue for me. I will say that it has probably typecast me as a specific kind of designer. One that isn't taken that seriously by other, more professionally established designers working in fields other than music.
Is it true that (Sup Pop designer) Jeff Kliensmith first encouraged you to take up design because you we're so opinionated about the cover for your old band, The Catheters', album.
Something like that. I was very opinionated about our Catheters records, but pretty light on ideas which I'm sure was a pain in his ass. I did a collage for our second record, but he handled the rest (and very well at that). I was blown away at what he got to do for a living and as I began to burn out on music I started to view design as an alternative and possibly something I could even make a living off of (ha!). By the time my second band Tall Birds were releasing a single on Sub Pop I was bringing him artwork and asking all these questions about his job, how to design, etc. and finally he said, "You know what? You should just lay the whole thing out." It's pretty rough, but it was a good learning experience...That guy is a champ man. He's been a great source of inspiration of information over the years. He's so crazy talented and yet so humble and encouraging.
Has the art taken precedent over the music in recent years?
I think in some ways it has, yet I'm always going back and forth between the two. Art can be more exciting for me in that it's newer and I approach it as much more of a novice. I don't have a lot of expectations making art and I seem to care much less about what others think of my work, which I think is healthy. I have a much more dubious relationship to making music. It's fraught with anxiety and sometimes can become pretty unpleasant for me.
You have an instantly recognizable style. How did it evolve?
Thanks, that's very nice of you to say. Um... I don't really know how it evolved per se other than I started out trying to mimic things I admired and as I got better I worked harder to bring something new to the table. Not to say that I'm of the opinion that I'm all that original or anything, I just work off of styles and ideas that interest me and I consciously try to tweak it in some way that I think puts some of myself in to it. It's just been a lot of playing around and the things I think have been successful are those instances when I'v surprised myself.
You've always used a lot of manipulated, photocopied images. How did this technique come about? What appeals to you about it?
The photocopy thing definitely comes from an interest in the visuals of punk music and of a great interest in Art Chantry. I'm not sure what appeals to me about it. I like the grittiness and texture it provides, and I love the contrast it creates when you pair it with flat slabs of color or big geometric shapes. I'm just a big fan of collage and photo montage.
After a while, a few people in Seattle started to copy the Standeford style. How do you feel about that?
There have been times when I've felt a bit territorial, especially the few occasions where I feel a specific thing I've done has been copied. I can't think that way though because I've benefited so handily from other folks' ideas. For all I know Ron Liberti (look him up) will see something of mine one day and think "that little fucker ripped me off!" He'd certainly have a point... Every creative pursuit has it's foundations and you can usually trace innovative back to something that came before. I just hope I'm putting something of myself in the things that I do and not just looking for a quick and easy fix.
Although it is sometimes hard to define, your work usually seems to have some kind of story happening within it. Do you have a narrative in mind when you are making a piece?
That's something I think I learned from Jeff Kleinsmith and Dusty Summers and comes out of my attempts to be a designer. Both of those guys are so great because they are able to draw you in to a story or reality within the work that is sometimes literal and sometimes really ambiguous or bizarre, but always communicated very strongly. I think because I'm still learning and because it interests me I veer towards the bizarre and ambiguous side of things.
Your work could be described as surrealism meets European pop art. Do you agree? who are you favorite artists from these movements?
I'm not that educated when it comes to art history, so I'm going to agree with you here because it makes me seem fancy and intelligent. I really admire Andy Warhol, Eduardo Paolozzi, Tadanori Yokoo, Martin Sharp, Barney Bubbles, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and a whole bunch of other stuff I can't remember at the moment.
Your art has increasingly used less and less "found" imagery. Is that a conscious decision?
Yes, it is. I want to switch it up and push myself to change and become better at drawing, painting etc. It's always intimidated me a bit, but I'm getting bored with the style I've adopted and want to learn more.
You are also doing more traditional graphic design, is that something that you want to pursue?
Absolutely. I love graphic design. Mostly of the old, swiss variety. I think most of my attempts at art are really attempts at graphic design and as I get better I'm learning more and more how to edit myself.
Why do you love pink, orange and cyan so much?
I just love bright, vibrant colors and how they contrast with stark black and white....and I need to diversify my color palette.
You recently moved from Seattle to San Francisco. Were there any creative reasons for this?
Only in the sense that I needed to shake up my surroundings. I love Seattle with all my heart, but I'd been there almost my entire life and all that beautiful scenery was getting a little stale. San Francisco is exciting, dirty and gorgeous. Everything is so new and I'm hoping that invigorates me to work harder and be more creative.
Your work somehow seems more naturally suited to SF, do you agree?
Not really, because so much of my work has to do with Chantry, Kleinsmith, Mudhoney, Gas Huffer, Sub Pop, Murder City Devils and all the Seattle stuff I came up on. Seattle is not the same place that I grew up in though, so maybe SF will become a better fit. We'll see...
How do the art scenes in Seattle and San Francisco compare?
I don't know! My girlfriend smiles politely at me in both cities. I'm still exploring, but hopefully a will find a handful of like-minded folks here as I did in Seattle.
You said in an interview "I don't really feel like I know myself or what I want." Has that changed?
Man, I'm so full of shit. I think deep down I'm always figuring out what I want and who I am as a person, which in my opinion is healthy. I do tend to have a grass is always greener attitude, but that's not a personality trait I'm particularly stoked on. I'm just doing my best to stay focused on the things I enjoy doing when I can and hope good things will spring up from that.