Interview: Artist and Set Designer Gary Card

Ahead of Us by Night, the multi-disciplinary artist and set designer tells us about the chaos of creation

Multidisciplinary artist and set designer Gary Card boasts a long list of clients and collaborators—from Nike to Kenzo, the Sanderson Hotel, Dazed magazine, to emerging artists and fashion designers. His bright, bold work is often a multi-layered psychedelic trip. Further enhancing the experience, Card converts his imaginings into 3D sculptures. He even crafted his own collection of toys, called Breakfast Boys, with Unbox Industries.

His most recent project, HYSTERICAL at the Phillips Berkeley Square space, turned the gallery walls technicolor. From smudges of deep purple and bright red to ombré progressions of yellow to orange, the installation afforded each of Card’s mediums the opportunity to coexist. But, to fully understand Card’s work is to converse with the mind behind it all.

Fortunately, we were granted the opportunity to do so before he speaks to audiences at Us by Night (26-28 September). The annual nocturnal affair—where guests are granted access to a slew of keynotes and an all-night market for food and drinks—in Antwerp gives artists the chance to present their work and touch on many of the same topics we discuss here.

First and foremost I’m a maker, and that means that the stuff I make tends to be quite immediate and tactile.

You’re known as a set designer, but your work is far greater than that. Did the love of creating space push you toward making all of the different elements that can fill it or did you see an opportunity to create immersive worlds by combining painting, sculpture and illustration?

More the latter. Set design employs so many disciplines, from painting to interior design—even sometimes architecture. It’s a job that constantly shifts and changes, sometimes to suit the thing I am excited about at the time. I’ve got quite a broad range of skills—from illustration to sculpture—but first and foremost I’m a maker, and that means that the stuff I make tends to be quite immediate and tactile. Every set design approach is different. I tend to feel my way around a space, and make what feels right. Whereas a lot of set designers I know are more practical and technical, I’m sure some of my set design contemporaries would think my process is crazy, but it works for me. In terms of a love of creating spaces, I guess that stems from my father. He was a builder and I spent my childhood on building sites with him constructing stuff, so it’s in my blood in a way.

How has technology influenced your work? Does it enable visions that you have or does it inspire new directions you might not have thought of?

I’d love to tell you that I’m at the cutting edge of technology and new groundbreaking processes, however technology rarely informs what I make I’m afraid. I’m way more hands-on and earthy—the most sophisticated piece of software I use is Sketchup (a 3D design software), and I don’t even know how to use it. I have wonderful assistants who draw on Sketchup for me as I direct them—I’m sure for them its an absolute nightmare—we tend to stick with what we know build-wise. I’m not opposed to technology, though. It just rarely comes into what I make.

You’ve launched a toy line earlier this year. How is making commercial product different from your previous endeavors?

I guess the most satisfying thing is to have total control over what I make. I enjoy having a brief and reacting to what the client needs, but creating things that are totally from my own point of view and aesthetic predilections is a dream come true. There is also pressure there as well as it’s totally my responsibility if the product isn’t a success. Thankfully so far the toys have been a hit; I’m thrilled with how they have been received so far. The response has been overwhelming and has meant our second series is on its way—this time bigger and better.

Can you share a little bit about what you plan to present at UBN?

I’m going to be discussing HYSTERICAL, my latest show for Phillips‘ London gallery this summer. It’s the biggest and most exciting project of my career and I’ll be talking about the process of creating it and possibly the hurdles along the way. There’s a lot to cover. I could probably write a book on the turbulent experiences that brought us to the show’s final form—maybe I will.

To be in the audience for Gary Card’s presentation at Us By Night, simply purchase tickets online. Entry to the dynamic festival grants access to plenty of panels and an evening-long night market. We’re excited to partner with Us by Night to help spotlight the 70+ artists in attendance and celebrate the creatives in attendance. COOL HUNTING is a media partner of Us By Night.

Images courtesy of Gary Card