Art Chantry follow an established form, custom or rule? Never going to happen. The man’s about as orthodox as a brown belt with black shoes.

NB: “From corporate America to South American arms dealers. Versatile and unique…or crazy and absurd?”

AC: “People like to think I’m just nuts. One, corporate doesn’t just ask me all the time. Two, I’m kind of picky – I don’t want to work with a–––– just for the money. You can’t just start throwing contracts and orders at me. With corporations, nobody’s really in charge and nobody can make a damn decision. This is a collaborative art form, and you cannot avoid it. Otherwise…it just ain’t art.”

AC continues: “The persona of normal people…well, there ain’t no normal! Everyone has quirks. Your boss might be a long distance biker and that’s so much more interesting. Studying the languages of subculture in America got me into art. I’ve got one foot in subculture, one foot in mainstream and I’m on the fence. From a right wing, Republican gun-runner who was Christian and a member of an obtuse religious sect that doesn’t allow dancing…to punk rock necrophiliacs…I’m an American. I’ll work with anybody.”

NB: “Your style is often called ‘unorthodox.’ Is this the story of a little kid who was given a box of finger paints and a cardboard canvas and just went wild?”

AC: “Maybe. But it’s been mainstreamed a lot – when it’s on Oakley sunglass, that’s mainstream, right? I want to mainstream my style where I can be mainstream but still be a conduit between the subcultures, a jolting connective force between the two.”

AC continues: “Grunge style…it’s a derivative of the style that I promoted. Look what it did to the world of design –it f––– it up really bad. It made ‘bad’ art look good (like the distorted sounds of the actual music) – and it got people to look at it in the same light as the mainstream s–––. Look at Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S. Thompson. We give them credit for the two or three things they did good and we don’t ever talk about the thousands of mistakes they made.”

AC’s on a roll: “It’s what happens when: commentary becomes factual, prank becomes real and ‘joke’ becomes real – look into how ‘grunge’ even came to be as a term, it was a joke! That’s what I’ve done. It’s like that line from the Woody Allen movie: ‘Neurotics build dream castles. Psychotics move into them.’”

NB: “Artists, performers and famous people in general. People are fascinated by the seemingly endless list of idiosyncratic elements they posses…”

AC: “The truth is, I’m just me. I can’t judge that. It becomes disingenuous and just not real. I think a lot of people exaggerate them. I’m a person with multifaceted interests who likes and does weird things. I can be all those awful words like a–––––– but I don’t think I’m an a––––––. It hurts my feelings – but I can see where they get it. I think it’s funny to say I’m an a––––––. So f––– it, I’m an a––––––.”

AC continues: “How is that different than sticking a dead baby on a rock poster? My life in a lot of ways has become a ribald joke.”

NB: “You like to work with your hands; you hate computers. Does that make your work more ‘real’?”

AC: “The paradigm has shifted so dramatically, completely changing the nature of my look. And I’m not 100 percent pleased with it at all. Computers are very bad production tools, but we use them now so we’re stuck with them.”

AC continues: “Before, my work was more efficient. I had more control…and really, better results. Computers don’t…well, think about this: it’s projected light vs. reflective light. My computer skills are crude at best — but my hands-on graphic design skills are INTENSE.”

AC won’t shut up: “Real? I don’t know if I really…what IS ‘real’?” It’s a new world where ‘do-it-yourself-ism’ is no longer the province of hand. It’s a computer, and it’s where all the amateurs are. Innovation comes from amateurism…from people f––––––– around with s–––. It doesn’t come from academia. Right now, that’s on the Internet…and that’s where the next biggest thing is going to come. Two years ago, MySpace and YouTube didn’t exist. That’s marvelous and as a communications tool, it’s amazing. Graphic design tool? It stinks.”

NB: “Artists don’t really have a season or a schedule. Do you find the flexibility helpful or maddening? What flips the switch to ‘on mode’ for you?”

AC: “Most of the world doesn’t have them. It’s just NOW. I’m a freelancer – I haven’t had a real job since 1978! It’s all just NOW for me. Weekends don’t count. Clients tend to want to dump work on your lap so they can take time off. I didn’t have Christmas and Thanksgiving for 10-15 years – it took me that long to figure out what they were actually doing (to me). And all the sudden I started having holidays again. I don’t have any money…it’s a tough way to live. And it’s funny, all the corporate types, they’re always telling me, ‘I wish I could live like you with that freedom.’ And I tell them: ‘I’ve got the worse boss in the world – his name is me.’”

NB: “Athletes talk about ‘the zone,’ that feeling of almost nothingness where the hoop, field or ball looks like an ocean and they’re the only one swimming in it. When you’re designing, do you just get lost in it – or are you more pragmatic?”

AC: “I think that’s where creativity happens. When I’m really working, when I get in the zone… I’m not thinking about what I’m doing. I’m listening to the radio or…it’s like when you drive a car: are you really thinking about it? The radio’s yelling your favorite song, you’re thinking about what you should’ve said to the boss and you turn left, accelerate…your body does it for you. THAT’S where it’s at. The zone is driving the car – letting your unconscious and your subconscious control your actions by putting conscious somewhere else. Take a simple free throw – I was terrible at it, flunked the test. But when I wasn’t taking the test, I could hit 10 of 10. When I thought and tried, I failed. We don’t recognize it ‘cause we’re so tuned into our conscious, we’re afraid to let go of it.”

AC continues: “People always say, give me your three best ideas. F––– that: I’ll give you one and it’ll be excellent.”

NB: “When someone tells you how much your work inspired them, what does that mean to you?”

AC: “It’s f––––––weird. THAT’S WEIRD. GOOD LORD. Imagine you writing your blog, and one day, that changed someone’s life. That’s power. And it’s scary.”

AC digs in: “I remember the first time I saw a piece of graphics that I’d done for someone tattooed on their skin. I’ve got tattoos – I think everyone has tattoos – but I was still flabbergasted that my work was on his body forever. I wanted to cry – you poor, stupid kid. People read meaning into things. When you’re dealing with language, you put the words out their and change the way people think…and you’re not always in control. Culture takes these things and imports meaning into it. If you do it extremely well, they take a life of their own and contribute to culture in major way. I’ve come close a few times…but never really pulled it off.”

AC goes deep: “Think about the swastika…it’s same way. Every civilization that ever started on this earth, every single one had it in their lexicon in some way. It was even the ancient Egyptian Zodiac sign! It wasn’t until Adolph Hitler – who, oh by the way, was a terrific art director and designer – selected it that the meaning changed. Hitler was instrumental in their flags, their money, their uniforms…maybe the greatest art director of the last half century. But the swastika, what he did with it, it became the symbol for evil. It’s fantastic what the visual language is capable of.”

NB: “You’ve been in the business for 30 years. Fire still-burning?”

AC: “I’m a deep well of ideas. I think the biggest frustration for me is that I’m not an artist, I have to have a client. I don’t give a s–––. I don’t do it for myself; I do it for clients. That’s my crank…my…maybe it’s because I’m still trying to find my ‘parents’ love’ or some b–––––like that.”

(Art laughs hysterically…)

AC continues: “I did work for insurance companies, bankers, etc. and it was f–––––– MISERABLE stuff. Cost me a marriage, but it was sure a great reason to drink! But think about it: you never know where you’re going to be a year from now, a day from now. You could be a serial killer! Now, you probably won’t be a serial killer…or a concert pianist…because those things take too much f––––––– time…but I think you know what I mean. Ideas are something I never have a lacking for…”

Up next: Art talks inspiration, struggles with success and puts on his ‘happy face.’

ART CHANTRY ARTIST SERIES HIJINX now available online in limited quantities.

Read Part 1 of the Art Chantry interview here:

Read Part 2 of the Art Chantry interview here:


Newbear Lesniewski


September 20, 2007