Radical Traditionalists

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By Jami Attenberg

In Hollywood, you’re nobody unless your job description is a multi-hyphenate. A mere actor’s got nothing on an actor-writer-producer-director-swimsuit model. So it’s no surprise that Los Angeles artists use the same strategies. It’s not enough to be a painter; you must have your own brand of shoes. Being a photographer is great, but what about that T-shirt line?

In recent years, multidisciplinary L.A. artists have acquired a new job title traditionally associated with New York: magazine editor. People like Scott Andrew Snyder (art director), Brendan Fowler (musician), Ed Templeton (photographer), Aaron Rose (gallery owner), Shepard Fairey (street artist), and Dustin Beatty (teacher) have been publishing magazines that cover similar territory—a mélange of street- and urban-influenced underground art, clothing, and music—for clued-in cool kids who prize nothing so much as authenticity.

They champion musicians like Ian MacKaye, Grandmaster Flash, and Lee Ving; streetwear brands like Alife and Supreme; and graffiti artists by the squad-car loads. (The scene was codified last February in an exhibition entitled “Beautiful Losers” at the Orange County Musuem of Art.) But what these upstart editors—who remain friends, colleagues, and rivals—publish isn’t as interesting as how they present it. By transforming their products into collectible objects, they follow their interests and buff their own street cred at the same time.

Snyder, a former art director of the snowboard company Joyride, founded the Hollywood-based bimonthly Arkitip (pronounced “archetype”) in 1999 as a hand-stapled zine. Influenced in part by New York’s Visionaire, he expanded its range and goals to feature a dizzying array of hip artists—Ryan McGinness, Patrick Rocha, Eduardo Recife—who are presumably intrigued by its constant design evolution. (The page size and packaging change every year.) It’s the least designed of any of its L.A. brethren, with plenty of white space to let the work speak for itself. Snyder allows his artists considerable artistic freedom: The “installations”—six to eight pages of original art—appear without commentary and are introduced only by a brief interview.

Arkitip arrives encased in an elaborate plastic wrapper that contains small items—vinyl artist Kaws designed eight full-color trading cards for a 2001 issue; graffiti artist Todd James (REAS) created a porn-star air freshener for an issue in 2005—rendering every edition a collector’s item. Snyder, who publishes 1000 individually numbered copies of each issue, acts more as a curator than an editor. “I could never afford a Thomas Campbell painting or a Barry McGee piece,” he says. “But I could afford a $30 magazine, and in that way, it allows art fans of all economic backgrounds and ages to contribute to and be a part of the art world.”

The editors of ANP Quarterly would rather its readers disassemble each issue and tack the pages on the wall. Founded in 2005 by Fowler, Templeton, and Rose (also a contributing editor of Arkitip), the free magazine has a circulation of 20,000 and is distributed nationally in trendy boutiques, bookstores, and galleries. ANP, based in Costa Mesa, is funded by RVCA, a clothing line, but carries no advertising. (“I feel like we’re in a fortunate position,” Fowler says, “to be able to lose money.”) The first issue, a 48-page, 11″-by-17″ paean to the connection between art and community, wasn’t even stapled together. “We wanted it to be a really intense object, to transcend the idea of a magazine,” Fowler says. “You can cut it up, you can hang up the pages, you can make stuff out of it. It’s like a gift.”

Each issue is packed with gifts: 16 revelatory pages on the late artist Margaret Kilgallen; 18 pages of original art from hus-band-and-wife team Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson; and 12 pages on Raymond Pettibon, offset by a four-page photo spread of the adorable attendees of the Rock & Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. Each issue includes a “Work in Progress,” a portfolio of drawings from artists like Matt Leines and Os Gemeos that detail the evolution of a piece of art. Copies of the magazine disappear so fast that they routinely make the rounds on eBay, to the editors’ great distress. “It’s important to us that it’s not rare or exclusive at all,” Fowler says. “That’s critical. It should be accessible to anybody.”

Less a collector’s item than Arkitip or ANP Quarterly is Long Beach–based Anthem, which Dustin Beatty founded in 2002 to cover street art in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York in the mold of British style books The Face and I-D. Early on, Beatty gave space to people like Fairey and Templeton, but he soon tired of focusing exclusively on art. “The street art and urban culture magazine market, at this point, is so saturated, so vacuous, and so unbelievably trite and boring to me, I can’t deal with it,” he says. Besides, “You can’t really make money off of an art magazine.” So Anthem turned to fashion, where Hedi Slimane, Comme des Garçons, and Jean Paul Gaultier share space with a cover story on designer-director Mike Mills in a 2005 issue. Last spring, an issue themed “This is How We Do it” analyzed the business end of creativity, publishing interviews with director Michel Gondry and comic artist Dan Clowes.

Like ANP, Anthem favors clean, minimal design, rich full-page photos, and the occasional novelty typeface. Perfect bound and glossy like an underground version of Vogue, the magazine acts as a filter for Beatty’s and co-publisher Andreas Herr’s interests, rather than as a medium to showcase their artistic instincts. “We’re merely there to convey information,” Beatty says. It’s a mission opposite that of street artist Shepard Fairey (See Books, p. 106), the proprietor of Obey Giant Art, and Roger Gastman, editor of the defunct graffiti magazine While You Were Sleeping, who founded their sumptuous quarterly Swindle in 2004.

In Swindle, Fairey and Gastman capture key cultural moments from the past and present. A 2005 issue pairs a reflection on the life of L.A. gangsta rap pioneer Eazy-E with 12 pages of militant street art in Northern Ireland. The aged visages of Billy Idol and Steve Jones grimace on a more recent issue’s hot-pink-and-yellow cover; inside, Malcom McLaren muses on the cultural influences of his life next to a charming history of Davy Rothbart’s Found magazine.

Based in downtown Los Angeles and published under the moniker The New Traditionalists, Swindle is a stunning work of editorial design. The young staff of Fairey’s Studio Number One attacks each issue with greedy enthusiasm, creating an experimental playground of type and color. Swindle’s refined street-art aesthetic plays as big a role as the subject matter, down to the headlines, which look like stencils or hand-drawn letterforms and hark back to Fairey’s own street style. And the magazine’s hardcover binding encourages readers to display it proudly on a shelf. “We want something that people will keep, like a book,” Fa
irey says. “We don’t want them to throw it away after the pages get dog-eared.”

Fairey straddles the line between making art and making money by including enough fashion content to attract advertisers. “There is a tremendous pressure to have fashion, because that’s what [advertisers] think will help their brand,” he says. “We try to do it with as much merit as we can. If it gets to the point where we can’t sell enough ads putting out the magazine the way we want to, with the content we want to, I don’t want to do it.”

Swindle’s peers mostly toe that line, although Anthem has the most transparent business plan of the four. Arkitip, with zero fashion content, is flush with fashion advertising, and Snyder is expanding its commercial empire, offering limited-edition prints, posters, T-shirts, and even a painfully hip bag (splatter-painted with pastel colors) on its website. Even though Arkitip functions like a printed art gallery, it’s ANP Quarterly, unfettered with ads, typical magazine trappings, or promotional salesmanship from its patron RVCA, that truly feels like a piece of art. Of course, this result is much easier to achieve with complete financial backing.

At the heart of these artist-editors’ endeavors is the desire to communicate what they think is cool. And they face the same problems as artists anywhere—be it New York or Tokyo—which may be why they see their magazines as global, not local. Beatty doesn’t regard Anthem as a Los Angeles magazine; its fashion photography is shot in New York, Paris, and London. And although Fairey acknowledges that the glut of multi-hyphenated art-television-music-film types makes Los Angeles an easier place to work, Swindle also has a global perspective. Still, these editors seem to keep their eyes on a bigger prize, whether it’s money, credibility, or media immortality. And that might make their magazines more about L.A. than they’re willing to admit.


The newest publishers from Los Angeles are transforming the very format of the art magazine—with paintbrushes, 3D glasses, and limited-edition porn-star air fresheners.

This article appears in the July/August 2006 issue of Print.

About the Author—Jami Attenberg is the author of Instant Love and, most recently, The Kept Man. She can be found at whatever-whenever.net. Also in this IssueThe Girls' Guide to Writing and PublishingFear Not, Gentle Reader