Smile Politely

A Guy Named Art: Parkland Showcases Graphic Designer on Thursday

Graphic designers don’t get much exposure in art galleries. As commercial artists, our work is seen in the marketplace for a brief period of time, then trashed and forgotten. There are exceptions, of course, and Art Chantry’s work is one of those exceptions. Starting today, you’ll have a rare opportunity to admire the work of a great commercial artist in an art gallery setting at Parkland College.

So what’s so special about this guy named Art? And why does he deserve all this special treatment? Well, for one, his work is already recorded in the history books and he’s not even dead yet. Another reason? In this day and age, when almost all graphic designers are addicted to Photoshop and the latest digital tools on their Mac, Art Chantry still prefers to work without a computer. But perhaps graphic designers admire him most is the fact that he appropriates other people’s art and re-purposes it for his own use.

Like Minneapolis-based designer Charles Anderson, Art Chantry loves vintage clip art. Clip art, by definition, is generic art, drawn by anonymous artists and sold cheaply. When used without irony, clip art cheapens graphic design and the result is usually “bad” art. As a professor of graphic design at Parkland College, I forbid my students to use clip art in their portfolio samples. But in the hands of a master like Art Chantry, using clip art and other found art becomes cool in a twisted way.

When Art Chantry uses clip art, he does it in subversive ways, using the wrong art from the wrong period for the wrong client and for the wrong reasons. Not unlike the Dadaists and the Futurists of the early modern era, he pushes the envelope just to see how far he can go. The result is sometimes surreal, sometimes amateurish, often arbitrary, but hip all the same time. It’s punked art that carries the anti-establishment chant of rebellion and shock. It’s low art turned upside down and transformed into high art. The result is both disturbing and playful — and very appropriate for the bulk of Art Chantry’s clients — Seattle’s indie bands and their labels.

I’m a big admirer of Chantry because I can’t do what he does. Trained by University of Illinois professors in the 1980s in the Swiss style of graphic design, I tend to think analytically and logically. While Chantry designs like a kid on acid, I’m enslaved by rational order and grids. Where Chantry relies on chance and luck, I rely on meticulous planning and deliberate visual hierarchy. For me, looking at Art Chantry’s work is like being tickled by inmates of the asylum.

When you walk into the Parkland Art Gallery to see this show, you’ll see a well-rounded retrospective of Art Chantry’s crazy posters spanning 20-some years. You’ll also immediately recognize a consistent attitude and visual style in his work. Not unlike the psychedelic San Francisco poster artists of the 1960s or the post-postmodern work of David Carson, Art Chantry’s work is distinctively anti-corporate, low-tech and authentic. His work is often imitated, but most artists fail to capture the spirit of fun that’s so visible in his work. When looking at Art Chantry’s work, you can just tell that he enjoys what he does and has loads of fun making his posters.

As part of this exhibit, Parkland will be flying Art Chantry in from Seattle for several speaking engagements. If you want to meet the guy behind the art, you’ll have four opportunities to do so this week. First, he’ll be giving a free artist’s lecture on Thursday, November 6 from 1–2 p.m. at Parkland College in Room C118. Later that day, Chantry will be giving a gallery talk during the opening reception for the show from 6–8 p.m. Immediately following the reception, there will be a party in his honor at Parasol Records; see here for more information). Lastly, Art Chantry will speak at a benefit luncheon on Friday, November 7, 12–1:30 p.m. at Parkland College in Room D244. Tickets are $25 and a portion of each ticket will support the Parkland Art Gallery. Reservations are required for the luncheon and can be made by going here.

“My Name is Art: The Life and Work of Designer Art Chantry” opens today at Parkland Art Gallery and will be on exhibit until December 6. For gallery hours and directions, please see or call 217-351-2485 for more information.

More Articles