Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Know Your Rights Revisited" OR Bloomberg Businessweek's International Cover

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a late afternoon call from the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek asking if I'd like to illustrate the upcoming international cover. Who wouldn't. "Of course!" I enthusiastically agreed, then listened with growing apprehension to the brief: In the run up to the commencement of the London Olympics, various local and national government agencies have been hard at work attempting to tamp down any social unrest as to put the UK's best foot forward with literally, "the whole world watching." The memory of last summer's incredibly destructive riots is still fresh in many minds, but as is often the case almost anywhere with these national and international media firestorms, the threshold between increased vigilance and draconian clampdown is often wide and blurry (NYPD actions during the 2004 Republican Convention at the height of Bloomberg's barely believed and still somewhat troubling extended WWF-esque pretend right-wing conversion come readily to mind).

To illustrate this on the cover, I'd been assigned to conceptualize and create illustrate* a grimy wall of graffiti, littered with language cribbed from various avenues of social discontent currently coursing the UK. This would then be "papered over" with the Olympic logo and a headline in the official 2012 Olympic type face, itself a confused beast of beauty and brutality. 

Initially a bit concerned about timeline, execution and direction, I soon remembered: 

I own a copy of Combat Rock.

AND there's a new a reliable coffee shop half a block from my studio.

A late-day cuppa and few spins through side 2 super confuser "Overpowered By Funk"**,  I felt ready for something. 

Books were borrowed, internet research commenced. Between some classic shots of the graf blanketed MTA of the 70s (for which I've always had a naive out of body nostalgia) and some grabs from UK street art from the last 10 years, I felt like I had sufficient visual reference to use as a jumping off point. Here's a few of the images I cribbed from (sometimes heavily):

With the rough layout secured, i cobbled together the above sketch.

The language, scale and density were pretty quickly agreed upon, the only suggestion being to make the final feel more "angry." I was then free to start building the thing. I'd have about 24 hours...

I'm happy to report that my studio came with an old industrial vent fan, left over from the building's early days as an actual pencil factory. It makes working with mildly hazardous materials like spray paint and various solvents a lot easier to deal with...

Most of the text was assigned or agreed to at the sketch stage, though a few of the more textural images and phrases were culled from in jokes or nods to various friends and colleagues. More imagery was included beyond what the spray paint drawings above, though I find that those are far and away the most interesting components. I also grabbed some quick crops of the wall in my studio that i work on to fill in as bleed and background texture where needed, hopefully lending the piece the feeling that it's been there for awhile, accruing layers of text and grime of a long period of time.

And there's the final piece, digitally stitched together in all it's gross glory. That said, I'm super pleased with how it turned out and how cohesive it feels for having been assembled via scans and shaky iphone photos.

A huge thanks to Richard Turley and the rest of the team at Bloomberg Businessweek (especially the production folks who did an ace job finessing the more visible seams of my rushed photoshopping) for the privilege of making such a mess of their cover. Seldom has this job been as much fun of blissfully exhaustingly messy. And as always, thanks for reading!

*I have more than a few friends in the city who are serious and lauded street artists, and I have the utmost respect and enthusiasm for their work. I just want to make it clear that I absolutely view this piece as an illustrated facsimile and not a serious attempt at or a legitimate piece in that vein.

** "Overpowered By Funk" features a spirited if awkward rap from NYC graf legend Futura 2000 (reverse engineering the assignment by proxy and on a level of real artistic legitimacy with sexy results) and is one of the most confusing pop songs ever recorded. It's impossible to tell whether it's a mocking ironic turn, a particularly sharp piece of self satire, all of the above, none of the above, it's just straight weird. The Clash also recorded a stand-alone follow up single with Futura, "The Escapades Of Futura 2000" which falls pretty short of its already confusing predecessor, despite noble intentions and what feels like 100% earnest investment from all parties involved. Don't get me started, I could fill 2000 words on "Overpowered By Funk" alone. If I ever achieve sufficient notoriety to contribute one of those "33 & 1/3" books, Combat Rock would be high on my list of choices. I'm no Jonathon Lethem but operators are standing by all the same.  

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