The Art of Practices interview series explores the ways creatives operate and kicks off with Los Angeles-based designer Brian Roettinger.
Bettina: Tell us about your new project with THE THING?
Brian: THING QUARTERLY...you can sort of do whatever you want, you give them suggestions and they give you suggestions. It's very collaborative. Two artists, John Herschend and Will Rogen, they're sort of like the managing editors. From the beginning I knew I always wanted to do some sort of publication, some sort of book, but I wasn't quite sure what -- it took me a couple months to figure out what it was. I figured I'm gonna take everything I've worked on in the last however many years and make a book out of it but reappropriate it -- not make it a sort of normal or conventional catalogue or monograph of someone's work but have it be a collection or something that felt like fragments or documents or an index of an abundance of work. So for a particular project, I wouldn't show the final project, I would show the photographs of it in a rough state or show the proofs of it -- showing it in process or pre-process and by doing that, allowing it to feel way more personal and way more intimate. It would be more revealing in that sense.
Does it serve as a kind of archive of all your work?
You operate in different roles depending on the situation. Are there distinctions in terms of how you present projects that reflect your role, whether it's an artist project for you or you're acting as a designer or creative director?
That's what makes the book fairly messy or chaotic. It's not entirely clear because you may see one spread which is, say, a book that I designed and then the next spread could be something that I didn't design at all but was the art director for. As the viewer, you're not clear of what my role is, but there is an index in the back that outlines what everything is and explains what it is in short form, like 50-100 words, sometimes just in one sentence. In that sense, there is an outline of it, but throughout the book it's all mixed up. I thought this was the perfect way for me because that's just how it is. One day I'm working on something where I'm sitting at my computer designing a small artist book and then the next day I'm art directing a massive photoshoot and then the next day, you know, it could be something totally different.
Do you think that working like this is a model that's always been around or do you think that the last 10 years and the emergence of more accessible tools to production has made this way of working more prevalent?
I think it's essentially more common now, but it isn't a new way of thinking or working. You can take it back to the school of the BauHaus where Laszlo Moholy-Nagy or van Doesburg, who were commercial artists -- which then meant graphic designers - also practiced as artists making photographs, making short films, making furniture. They never took on this label of "I am a graphic designer" or "I am an artist" -- they did what they did and whatever format it took, whatever the final project was--
And how did they describe themselves?
--it depended on what it was. So a book of photographs was Moholy-Nagy's photographs or Theo van Doesburg's collages or Theo van Doesburg's furniture. Sometimes you got a photographer sometimes he would be an artist sometimes he would be--
It's interesting because in this book you're not acknowledging those things...
I'm not acknowledging them. I'm not defining them just because I think that does a sort of disservice to what I do. I think it's easier for people to just be like, "oh, he's an artist," and a lot of times I'm like "umm i'm actually not an artist -- I will make art, but I don't want to be called an artist." It's hard because I feel like it's also a disservice to people who just practice art.
What do you hope your Issue 25 of THE THING Quarterly does for someone who gets it?
First, I hope that it interests not only designers but people who are visual artists, performance artists, people interested in music, people interested in typography. I hope that they can read it as a visual biography and maybe it says something about designers having the ability to not worry about aesthetics and style but worry about content and how in the process, you could take on different roles. A testament to process and your role as a designer. Just because you're a graphic designer doesn't mean you always need to make graphic designs.
Can you talk a little bit about how your studio functions?
It's quite collaborative. I act as a creative director for the studio. All the projects go through me and I delegate certain responsibilities or expect certain requirements from the others and then it will always come back to me and I'll finish it.
What's a kind of dream project for you?
Dream project -- there's a few. I'd like to redesign American money with scientists, artists and cultural figures like MLK, Malcolm X, Andy Warhol, Bukowski -- they should be on money. That would educate, that would make our culture more artistically interested. I would also love to rebrand -- do the branding and designing -- a new L.A. sports team. I feel like it's such a massive thing, it touches a large audience. It seems like the most daunting thing for someone to do but...
What advice would you give someone from Asia traveling to Los Angeles?
Don't always go where the tourist books tell you to go. Don't go where the tourist books tell you to go. There's so much more to see that is not in a tourist book.
What's an example of one place you would send someone?
I would send someone to Palm Springs.
What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
I have always wanted to work for myself -- I did always want to have my own studio. Working at SCI-Arc for all those years -- I enjoyed that -- but my ultimate goal was to have my own studio. I wanted to choose the projects that I was going to work on, work with the people I wanted to work with. Work isn't always about work, it's about the friendships and relationships you create while making and talking about work.
What is the best way for people to follow you?
On Instagram @brianroettinger
Who are five people that you love to follow?
@junkmagazine @caramelbobby @imogenevonbarron @sirheffington @iammarkronson
"Every artist should have a cheap line." from More Than You Wanted To Know About John Baldessari, Volume 2.
While this quote has a humorous tinge, it represents a truism that has often defined the identity and function of artists and creatives. The Practice of Art interview series explores the ways in which artists, designers and other thinkers and makers operating today are taking on varying roles in the production and development of creative projects, particularly in Los Angeles.