Since commissioning John Baldessari to create a set of pillowcases, the team at conceptual periodical The Thing Quarterly has been hard at work to send subscribers delightful (and usable) objects dreamt up by creatives—most recently a 12″ LP designed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy of fashion label Rodarte.
The Thing Quarterly’s first installment for 2015 kicks off with a self-compiled monograph, titled “Reproductions,” by the prolific LA-based graphic designer and visual artist Brian Roettinger—and if the name isn’t familiar, his work most certainly will be. While his printed media for cultural institutions and fashion houses like Saint Laurent make up the majority of his portfolio, the former musician (who also runs an independent record label, Hand Held Heart) has become well-known for his album covers, packaging and art direction. The artist has worked with the likes of St. Vincent, Beach House, No Age, Childish Gambino, and notably, Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album (garnering a Grammy nomination for Roettinger).
“Brian’s book came about through different discussions we had with him about concepts,” The Thing Quarterly’s co-editor Jonn Herschend tells CH. “When we realized that he didn’t have any sort of collection of his work, we landed on that and really urged him to pull things together in a way that made the most sense for him. And this book is what that is.”
The result is 416 black-and-white pages featuring photocopied snippets of Roettinger’s graphic design work, arranged not in chronological order but something more raw and instinctual. Perhaps this is why the book is so easily devoured from start to finish, despite the nonlinear narrative. “I’ve kept a pretty good archive on most of the things I’ve ever made or worked on, so that part was easy, but time-consuming,” Roettinger tells CH. “I’m comfortable making books for other artists, but this was different, like writing your own biography only with images. What do you include? What do you leave out? In the end I just included what I liked and discarded what I didn’t. I was OK with redundancy. It was intended to be a bit chaotic and overwhelming to the viewer.”
In contrast to the immaculate artist monographs found in museum shops, Roettinger’s “Reproductions” not only reveals his signature disjointed approach to design (intended to jolt us out of our comfortable spaces) but also shifts our reverent gaze from the finished piece onto the personal nature of the process—mistakes, distortions and all. “I didn’t want it to feel or look like a traditional or conventional catalogue raisonné. That doesn’t interest me at all,” he continues. “Everything was reproduced using a photocopier. I love the image and size limitations posed by the machine, but ever since I can remember I have always been attached to the aesthetics of how the images are reproduced. Although the new machines are almost too good. The quality is no longer crappy like it used to be and as it should be. In some cases I wouldn’t show the entire finished work but just a fragment or a section, or the proofs or the raw images out of context of the final design. I wanted it to be a bit revealing in that way. It felt more personal and intimate.”
Roettinger adds, “The book is also a celebration of collaboration. The other artists’ work has become my work in the context of the books I have designed for them.” In the specific case of album covers, Roettinger describes his process: “Every record is different depending on my role—either as art director or creative director. In any case I always like to know the story, or the idea behind the reasoning for the record. There is almost more to the music. I want to know as much about the record as possible, it’s less important that I hear it and more important that I know where the artist is coming from. Like I said though, every record is different, sometimes I spend weeks or months going back and forth about ideas that are sometimes about design but more so about a narrative. Sometimes it’s only a few conversations and some back and forth about what the record could be and it happens.” And through “Reproductions,” he lets us observe some of these visual conversations that took place.
Issue 25 by Brian Roettinger is available online for $60. Catch The Thing Quarterly at their booth in the LA Art Book Fair from 29 January to 1 February 2015, with three different book signing events. A launch party for Issue 25 will take place upstairs at the Ace Hotel Downtown LA from 8:30PM to 2AM.
Third last and final images courtesy of The Thing, all others by Nara Shin