Champion Studio Geoff Mcfetridge Contact      
Steven Heller Interview 2006      

SH: You've built a practice that transcends traditional graphic design definitions. You work with graphics, print, film, video, and even toys. What inspired you to be so multi-media-ed?

GM: I feel like the root of it all is that I have always looked pretty critically at the world around me. Anything conventional has always made me uncomfortable.
When I started to learn about making graphics there was such a thing as "Commercial Artists." My undergraduate program was called "Visual Communications." You had to draw and learn about type, and a lot of felt pen stuff. By the time I graduated we had a Mac Lab and they changed the name of the school to the Alberta College of art and DESIGN. We were always pushed to chose between being an Illustrator or a designer, but the logical choice was neither. It always seemed shortsighted to think that way.

SH: So where did you veer off?

GM: I grew up – from high school until now – making art for skateboarding and snowboarding. So while instructors around me were telling me to choose I was just doing it. I was drawing and designing stores, doing clothing lines and posters, designing entire lines of snowboards. It became clear to me that the people around me had great knowledge of craft, but operating from an archaic view of what being a designer was. Then I went to Cal Arts for graduate school, a place where there was no craft going on, but rather an amazing critical and conceptual take on design. At Cal Arts they really supported the belief in the designer as author, which seemed radical at the time. My essay to get into Cal Arts talked about applying these ideas to the youth culture world, instead of the high design world.

SH:There is a Mcfetridge style, but you also defy getting mired in constricting styles. Still, one of the most characteristic traits is a love of decorative elements. How would you define your graphic sensibility?

GM: An analogy: In surfing, longboarding in particular, there is a thing called "trim;" the point on the wave, and on your board, where the wave is propelling you forward, but the board is braking enough to keep you there, so you do not move too forward on the wave and over the shoulder. Invention must be countered by consistency, complexity with simplicity, decoration with purpose... That is where the energy that propels forward motion comes from. Purposeless Reductivism, Shape Based Poetry, Drawing with Cliches, Minimalist Psychedelia, Familiar Inventiveness, Cliches you have not heard before....

I also think that the narrow themes that I find throughout my work help to give me some leeway in the styles I am able to work in. Most of the work tries to find a sort of clarity, which in itself is an endless quest. Exploring visual language is endless... finding simple and universal images and re-task them to talk about familiar ideas, often it seems like an endless game of chess or checkers, you don’t add pieces, you just move them around. When all the pieces are gone its over.

Hopefully when you look at my work it really reveals itself for what it is. That is sort of the point. A lot of the work seems familiar, but new. Some of it looks very simple, and other times it has a labored stream-of-consciousness-sort-of-doodled feel. I like the work to be clear, not tricky or pretending to be something that it is not. If i was a magician I would be do tricks and then immediately reveal how they were done. I want people to look at the work and say "I could do that" but then then also feel like "I wish I thought of that!"

SH:How important are the digital media to the form and content of what you do?

GM: It is pretty important to getting everything done, but I more often hide the digital-ness of what I do.

SH:In your mind, do you isolate your animated and filmed work from your print and textile work?

GM: No, I go back and forth. Right now I have a lot of the film and animation work on hold because I was not feeling inspired. Now a years worth of graphic work I have done is starting to bring about some film and animation ideas.

SH: You speak a lot about personal work for a mass audience. Are you trying to change minds, move mountains, or merely emote feelings?

GM: If you can affect someone in some way, if you make someone cry with a plastic cup you are changing the way they perceive things. If people were more critical of what was going on around them I would be happy. We all are prisoners to our perceptions. Personally I am always trying get to a clearer view of my world. My work is doing the same.

SH: The billboard you produced that looks like the bulletin board in your studio was a wonderful public space piece. But I wonder was it art or design? Does it matter?

GM: Can I call it all design, but then call myself an artist? In reality, I call myself a designer, i have always done so, but then call the things I make art. So I "designed" an art piece? So much of what I do plays with delivering art as design. It is back to playing with perception, people’s relationship with the thing, we let a lot more design into our house than we do art. Our closets are full of it. I did many pieces based on the bulletin board idea. Each piece is part of a collage, and subconsciously we assume that one person has put up all these different pieces. The randomness starts to infer a personality, the "someone" behind it all. In the case of the billboard: a giant.

SH:Back to the digital: What are you able to accomplish that you couldn't have accomplished without this “new” media?

GM: Quantity. And everything. I couldn't have done anything I have done without it. There were many people doing what I was doing before me, but I was part of the early days of designers to work solely on the computer. I know that the snowboards i did 1989/90 were some of the very first every to be delivered as digital files. Then when I went on to do motion graphics I watched the same revolution happen. The benefit of this has been to work and know a lot of the old ways as well as the new ways, learning from the optical printers and camera operators while everything started to go digital.

SH: A decade ago we heard that desktop publishing would change the means and distribution of creative activity. In your experience is there more to change?

GM: Now a lot of opportunity and responsibility has been put up the designer, so now there is a bit of a scramble as to what to do with it. Maybe we are all authors now, but what are we going to write about. I hear a lot from frustrated designers who want to be self sufficient, not to have jobs. but they are also finding that the world does not need another T-shirt company.
I believe that these young designers will wrestle design from the greedy hands of corporations. There is no reason for graphic design to be solely a tool of marketing. I think the kids are starting to figure that out. My coup was to work independently in a corporate economy, the next generation will have a completely independent economy of its own.

SH: Would you advocate that designers, especially those entering this multi-media digital world, focus on one or many competencies?

GM: Think broadly and when the time is right work to your strengths. If your strengths are broadly spread pursue them. If you are going to work in many disciplines it means you have to be really efficient and focused. I do many different things, but do it in a pretty systematic way, being multi-faceted is only worthwhile if it helps to propel you forward, it is not interesting in itself. Michele Gondry USED to play in a band, USED to draw comic books.




















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