Thomas Porostocky

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By: Steve Dollar | June 1, 2007

For Thomas Porostocky, art director atI.D. magazine, design isn’t just an aesthetic pursuit: Itcan also strike a blow for good, all-American populism.

A refugee atthe age of eight, Porostocky was born in Czechoslovakia to Hungarianparents; his family soon made their way past the Iron Curtain and fledto Canada. After they settled in Calgary, he became a keen student ofAmerican culture. “You grow up with American TV,” he says.“It’s hard to ignore. I was always interested in Amer-icanpolitics. Being a passive observer, you see how polarized the peopleare.”

Years later, as a newly minted New Yorker getting hismaster’s degree at the School of Visual Arts, Porostocky began tothink about the limited iconography of the two-party system. He hadalways been taken by the donkey and elephant that represent theDemocrats and the GOP, and wondered, “Why stop there?” Aone-off collaboration with a group of friends before the 2004 electionproduced a newspaper featuring Porostocky’s virtual zoo of newpolitical beasts, from moose to amoeba, in red, white, and blue. Theconcept went on to become a viral phenomenon. Milton Glaser picked thepiece for his 2005 “Design of Dissent” exhibition,it’s been spotlighted in GOOD magazine, and it appears onT-shirts sold through the website, which Porostockylaunched last year with fellow graphic designer Ed McKirdy. Porostockysees the site as a “kick start,” something to encouragediversity in a political monoculture dominated by negativity rather thanby positive ideals.

This is pithy stuff, but the art director has nodesire to be heavy-handed about it. “I try to make work thatdoesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Porostocky, whoarrived at I.D. (PRINT’s sister publication) afterstints at SEED magazine and as a freelancer for Sagmeister Inc.“I’m a big believer in humor being a great way to grabsomeone’s attention. I try to incorporate it as much as I can, oram allowed, into my work.” This is abundantly evident inPorostocky’s packaging of the special-edition DVD of photographerTimothy Greenfield-Sanders’s Thinking XXX documentary forHBO. Its lenticular cover evokes the flea-market vernacular of pornoplaying cards, even as it ties together—with a wink—theproject’s fine-art elements and the graphic candor of itsadult-movie-star subjects.

“Thomas is simultaneously humble,hilarious, brilliant, and downright wacky,” says McKirdy.“He has ideas and perceptions so smart and new I am convinced theywill change the world. And yet he is capable of making some of the mostfinely crafted doodie jokes.” Porostocky’s year-long tenureat SEED, where he oversaw the science magazine’s redesign,was marked by a desire to liberate the subject, visually speaking, fromits lab coat. “Science is a fascinating subject, but it tends tohave some of the most horrible imagery around,” says Porostocky.“We’re left looking at fuzzy shots of microorganisms inpetri dishes that look like they were colored by Peter Max.”Instead, for an issue about science and religion, Porostocky screened aclassic image of Jesus over a version of the periodic table. “Ibelieve in quick, sharp ideas,” he says. “Not trying orthinking too hard often leads to the best concepts. After all,it’s design, not rocket science.” Ultimately, for thetwo-time émigré, making a statement and having a good time areone and the same: “If I have fun, I do good work.”