Art in Advertising Week

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Last Thursday we held our premier art event, Hearts & Minds, at the Art Directors Club in Manhattan, welcoming four intensely arts-minded individuals to talk on their experience while simultaneously exhibiting art from people in the advertising industry and crowning a winner of our Penguin cover contest. (To see who won, click here.)

Keynote speaker Will Gompertz, director of media for the Tate and patron to a slew of award-winning campaigns on behalf of the Tate Britain and Modern, took the stage first to talk about the importance of collaboration between the art world and commercial creativity.

After an entertaining annotated history of the Tate, Gompertz went on to describe the goals behind Tate Media and emphasize the importance of working with sponsors and other media outlets to help bring fine art down to ground level. "We're not trying to worry about art or work with artists," he said. "The job is to tell the story of that art and bring it to the people. It's easy to take that story to an educated audience but much more difficult to a broader audience." Gompertz also heralded the Tate's willingness to take on nontraditional tactics, such as Tate Tracks, broadcast programming partnerships with the BBC and Fallon, London's Grand Prix winning pamphlet and poster effort encouraging visitors to think up their own exhibit themes and its recent street art series. "MoMa's a great place but it's quite structured," he said, identifying the New York-based institution with a more traditional form of museum. "Whereas the Tate is complete chaos. It's an incredibly exciting place where weird and wonderful things can happen."

Up next, digital artist and Flash pioneer Erik Natzke took us through the evolution of his style, and how he moved towards greater expressiveness in his personal work in a presentation entitled Beyond the Knowledge: The Art of Play.

Initially, Natzke turned to a sketchbook when he found himself wanting to do work in remote locations, or outdoors, but found "outside the confines of a tool" his expression expanded and now spends time toying with decidedly analog forms before getting in front of the computer.

Natzke also said he looks to photography as a form of "rapid prototyping," borrowing structures, colors and detail from nature to recreate in his work. Using getPixel to "mosiacify" images, Natzke samples their colors and uses them along with various brushes and combinations of iterating code to create images.

By building ribbon brushes and customizing them according to his needs, Natzke was able to create more complex works, and toying with symmetrical images, he wrote code to create near-similar color and shape patterns on two hemispheres of a canvas. In looking for expressive gesture, his work continues to evolve. Natzke closed the talk by playing a video that showed his process creating a piece of work for Wired's NextFest. See more of Natzke's work at Flickr and in his online journal.

Canadian-born typography artist Marian Bantjes followed Natzke, taking the Hearts & Minds audience through her recent work, mapping her inspiration back to matters of the heart. Bantjes started out as a type-setter, segued into graphic design and now works somewhere between the two disciplines with type-based creations that verge on illustration. She discussed techniques and influences on such pieces as her sugar drawing for Stefan Sagmeister, the laser-cut "Design Ignites Change" poster for Academy for Educational Development and the Saks Fifth Avenue "Want It!" campaign commissioned by Pentagram's Michael Beirut.

Bantjes says the initial type treatment for "Want It!" was a standard interpretation of her characteristic, organic style. She was surprised—and delighted—that the client wanted her to challenge herself for phase two: make the 10 must-haves, like the cape and winter white, into word-symbols, words that actually look like what they denote. Last, illustrating how the people she loves are a part of her work, Bantjes read from a series of type-centered stories she created. Each page combined a testament to an important person, from her mother to design inspiration Debbie Millman, nestled in type style that embodies the sentiment. She said her favorite page was the collection of teeth on a red background, an ode to her dentist: "o beloved dentist. Your rubber fingers in my mouth. Your voice so soft and muffled. Lower the mask dear dentist, lower the mask."

For the final presentation, legendary Wieden + Kennedy creative director Jim Riswold gave a speech that toggled between biting humor and poignancy, prefaced by a warning that noted, among other things, that he "likes to say f*** a lot." Recovering from a lengthy bout with leukemia and related pneumonia, the 51-year-old mastermind of the Michael Jordan/Mars Blackman and "Bo Knows" Nike campaigns detailed his battle with the disease and how notorious historical figures like Hitler saved his life (as outlets for his own contemporary art)--an extended version of the now well-known 2005 article he wrote for Esquire.

Using purchased toys and found items relating to historical figureheads like Hitler and Jesus as photography subjects, the Portland-based Riswold has launched several controversial gallery exhibits throughout the Northwest. Interspersing factoids on various individuals who passed away from leukemia, Riswold humorously described the success, as well as the backlash he's encountered in his second creative calling. To end, Riswold closed with a flourish, throwing his speech notes up in the air--kind of like confetting falling on his storied, continuing career.
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