Guess what icon of underground illustration has moved to the St. Louis area: Painter Robert Williams? Comics artist Charles Burns? Robot-girl-pinup king Hajime Sorayama? Nope, nope, nope. How 'bout Art Chantry? Who's he, you ask? Well, you may not recognize the name, but you've surely seen his work.
Chantry is a prolific graphic designer responsible for about 3,000 concert, movie, theater, event and social-cause posters; 500 album and CD covers; 5,000 band and company logos; and innumerable magazine layouts and print ads. His work is most closely associated with the Seattle-area punk, garage and grunge (Chantry hates that word) scenes that evolved simultaneously with the designer himself. His 1985 book Instant Litter was a unique look at hundreds of cool posters promoting punk bands that he ripped off the telephone poles of the Northwest and collected for years. Last year, Chronicle Books published a jumbo-sized monograph on Chantry himself, Some People Can't Surf.
Headquartered in Seattle for decades, Chantry -- explaining that his girlfriend got a job in St. Louis, many of his friends had moved away, gentrification had ruined everything and that the residents of his former city generally seem to think their shit don't stink -- relocated to the Lou less than two years ago. Enticed by the City Museum's Jean Steck to show off a chunk of his oeuvre, Chantry positively invades the space this week with a display of hundreds of densely packed posters and record and CD covers.
His creativity can only be described as relentless. To achieve various looks, he has used spray paint, garbage, fonts from monster magazines and clip art from old menus. He once ran over a proof with a car to get that special trash-from-the-street effect. He has even placed objects inside the spine of a CD jewel case. Until recently he did not use a computer at all, making him an especial iconoclast among his peers. (He has to use one now "to generate typography," he laments.)
"Everything in my show is done on budgets of zero," says Chantry. "It's all done with pieces of junk, Xeroxes, label-makers, letters cut out of newspapers -- it's rubbish, and it's all done for extremely low-budget clients and it's all done with cheap, cheap, cheap printing processes. A lot of them were literally printed in people's basements."
His posters can be funny, grave, jubilant, disturbing -- you name it. In the introduction to Can't Surf, designer Karrie Jacobs writes that Chantry's work is "sophisticated ... subtle and controlled in a culture that placed a high value on barely articulated rage."
Chantry says that clients sometimes come to him seeking what they consider his signature recycled look but that it's not necessarily a good thing. "The best design around us, the hand is invisible; it's there as an influence," he says. "It's there to kind of change the way we think about things. That's what graphic designers do, is, we fuck with people's heads. We use all these tools at our disposal to kind of change the way people think about a product, a client, a candidate, a cause, a concert."