Introduction to the 2008 New Visual Artists

 
Traditionally, anniversaries are cause for celebration: You get a card, a diamond, or one of those romantic every-kiss-begins-with-Kay moments. We don’t have a card or a diamond, and we’re not wild about those commercials, but this year, PRINT is definitely celebrating. The 10th edition of our New Visual Artists Competition begins with a look behind the scenes of the 200 NVAs we’ve featured over the past decade. We revisited every profile, Googled every past winner, e-mailed as many as we could find, and asked them to tell us about what’s happened in their lives since. In the issue, we’ve charted their ages and other vital stats, diagrammed their diverse influences, and shared their advice and hard-won wisdom with the next generation.

The overall picture should inspire anyone who is concerned about the future of design. The past 10 years have seen mammoth changes in the industry, from both a business and a creative perspective. Our past winners have anticipated, adapted, and persevered through these times with exhilarating grace and vitality.

Our 2008 New Visual Artists have similarly rich histories. They hail from Armenia, New Jersey, New Zealand, California, Switzerland, Taiwan (by way of Costa Rica), and practically everywhere in between. Others have globetrotted to Alaska, China, and Argentina; their worldliness informs their work and at the same time reminds them of the importance of finding a place, a home, and above all, family. Mike Perry and Mario Hugo are each working on projects with their brothers; the two partners of Topos Graphics, Seth Labenz and Roy Rub, created an ad campaign for Columbus Bank & Trust, which Labenz’s father runs in Nebraska. Travis Stearns designed a tribute to the flat-vowelled accent of Minnesota, his home state, and Birthe Steinbeck’s Doll zine is a fan letter to her closest Stuttgart compatriots.

Not that there aren’t contradictions—what young person doesn’t have them? But the ways in which our honorees balance these opposites is central to their strength. Ana Bagayan’s illustrations are playful and also sinister, and Laurenz Brunner’s posters manage to be restrained and gorgeous simultaneously. Jonathan Harris, an admitted Luddite, builds interactive online systems that organize our collective narratives; Phil Lubliner’s playful approach and Stephan Walter’s spatial artistry both place type in very different three-dimensional environments.

Best of all, these designers will make just about anything— mini-dioramas, paper toys, blogs, notebook doodles, classified ads for their apartment supervisors—and practically dare people to hire them. Their influences range from the Flemish masters to America’s Next Top Model, from Flickr to Bruno Munari. Multidisciplinary designer Holly Gressley says, “I don’t care about the form of the project that much; I just like doing a new thing.” That spirit of openness could apply to any of these designers. Disciplines blur, work and play become intertwined, and friends and family morph easily into collaborators. Anniversaries, eventually, recede into history as another marking post, and we’re already looking forward to the next. In the meantime, we’re proud to offer a blend of the past, present, and future.

 

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