Recently, Gary Fogelson’s building super stopped by. “Hey, you’re a designer, right?” he asked. “Can you do an ad for my tile business?”
Other designers might have declined a request to put together a classified ad, but Fogelson has been seriously considering the assignment. “I think there are two connected problems in [New York],” Fogelson says. “The first is the declining aesthetics in the city. The second is this tendency for everyone to think they’re a designer. So I think it was good that my super asked me to help him. He realized that design could offer him something.”
Fogelson is tightly focused on concept rather than decoration, so a phone-book ad might be, in fact, his ideal project. But while his work is direct, it often tweaks the viewer’s preconceptions with dark humor. Weaving together familiar tropes within a tightly structured layout, he uses establishment symbols for pointed commentary. In a drawing for the letters page of The New York Times illustrating the headline “Was Bush Persuasive About Iraq?” Fogelson created an image of a shield, emblazoned with the phrase “Reassuring Slogan.” The notion of empty icons shows up again in an illustration for Good magazine, where insignias from flags are combined in a wallpaper-like pattern, their power as formal emblems reduced by their transformation into blank devices. Even Fogelson’s URL, welcometomywebpage.com, is gently mocking. “I try to include some irony,” he says of all his work. “I like ideas you can talk about without seeing them and they would still be cool projects.”
Fogelson names John Baldessari and Sol LeWitt as influences and says that he likes “guidelines, a system.” He adds, “Graphic design is a set of rules, and when you follow the rules, something beautiful happens.” His cover for Going Postal, a book about workplace massacres, uses the iconography of cubicle life—Post-its and office reference manuals—to hint at pent-up rage, while the jacket for Homewrecker, a book about infidelity, crops romance novel covers into a grid of lusty gropes.
For a young designer—Fogelson, 25, graduated from Pratt Institute in 2004—he is unusually loyal to words and images on paper. “I think printed matter is really necessary. It’s a relic of a particular point in time, whereas things on the internet seem like they could all go away.” Since quitting his job at Open, where he worked from 2004 to 2007, Fogelson has been concentrating on his own projects, including his work with studio mate and fellow New Visual Artist Phil Lubliner and friend Eric Elms (together, the three founded the firm Trouble). Lubliner and Fogelson have also created a number of very personal zines. “The message is private,” Fogelson says. “They’re a way of validating my ideas.”
Since striking out on his own, Fogelson has been intent on developing a client list that matches his sensibility: “I want to spend my time working with clients who have something to say, who are providing worthwhile information.” Whether Fogelson is explaining the American justice system to New York Times readers or revamping his sister’s résumé, he is always thinking about the ideas behind the work. “Design,” he says, “is a way of presenting things so that people can focus on the concept.”