By Jason Foumberg
The line separating advertisements and visual art barely exists anymore. Today, graphic artists are to branding as court painters were to monarchs several centuries ago. The visual language of advertising not only co-opts and mirrors much of today’s visual art, but many artists are finding their mature voice as advertisers. Cody Hudson, or struggle inc, and Chuck Anderson, aka NoPattern, are both graphic artists with current exhibits in Chicago. In both cases, the context is the contemporary art gallery—white walls, clean presentation, explanatory labels—elevating the designer’s practice to a meaningful endeavor where it is elsewhere a vehicle for delivering product.
A recent uproar at Takashi Murakami’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, over the sale of the artist’s specially designed Louis Vuitton purses underscored the fact that many still believe in the sanctity of the art museum as a place for reflection, not shopping. Granted, every museum boasts a gift shop with branded merchandise, and art galleries are simply glorified boutiques. Murakami’s purses break high-art boundaries, crossing art with fashion and breeding the object of contemplation with the commodity, and yet this barely troubles anyone on the design side of the game.
Cody Hudson and Chuck Anderson, both Chicago-based graphic artists, have made designs for t-shirts that retail at Threadless.com, and now Anderson’s wall art hangs in Threadless’ inaugural exhibition in their gallery and new store in Lakeview. Anderson has created ads for Reebok shoes and an album cover for Fall Out Boy, and now exhibits product-less landscapes and designs. On view at Threadless is a wide range of the artist’s output, from drawings and prints to printed ads, or from play to work. Seemingly, the range of media exposes Anderson’s artistic process and his scope, including subject matter such as landscapes that are trying to appear too beautiful and an armless shopping zombie with a dollar sign imprinted on his forehead.
Anderson is an ace at creating the visually pleasing in a trendy tone. His moniker NoPattern accurately reflects his design taste, which is often an all-over composition or horror vacui. Crowded in the pictures are all sorts of characters and digital artistic strokes, some sleek and shiny and others as dirty as the urbanscape they depict. These compositions are not emotionally moving, but they are full of attitude. No doubt they move enough product to be certifiably hip. Lucky for Anderson, his personal aesthetic is not compromised when translated into ad form.
Cody Hudson has also designed his share of album covers as well as snowboards and just about anything else worthy of a graphic design element. Hudson began his design career making rave fliers and has since fearlessly tackled artistic media from printmaking to sculptural installation, all on view at the MCA. Many of Hudson’s aesthetic choices for this current show, including colors and pattern motifs, are drawn from mid-century design benchmarks. From Modernism to psychedelia—all are appropriated to seamless effect in Hudson’s works.
“Acid Test,” a sculptural wall work, includes a television on an Eames chair and acid house music, in addition to industrial design quotations, such as the red plastic party cup and colored masking tape, and old Life magazine covers interspersed with original drawings. These all become color or shape elements in the grand composition, a sort of celebration of Hudson’s influences and achievements. He re-interprets a classic Bracusi column using 1950s disposable cups and balances the whole piece with carefully situated spray-painted dots.
Hudson’s work is very aware that its palette references a certain retro style and how this effects a viewer’s affinity toward the object. Quite differently, Anderson’s palette is so au courant, shiny, bright, translucent and slick, that in twenty years’ time it will be the perfect expression of this moment, like a dated now.
Unlike the abstract art of Kandinsky or the finely tuned compositions of Cezanne, Hudson and Anderson’s designs do not emote, although their compositions do express visual harmony and a disposition toward refinement. Mostly, their compositions deliver an attitude, and underneath that visual character is nothing; it’s all surface, a perfect vehicle and a perfect mirror.
Chuck Anderson shows at Threadless, 3011 North Broadway, (773)525-8640, through November 23. Cody Hudson shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)280-2660, through December 2.