By: Steve Dollar | June 1, 2007
For Thomas Porostocky, art director at I.D. magazine, design isn’t just an aesthetic pursuit: It can also strike a blow for good, all-American populism.
A refugee at the age of eight, Porostocky was born in Czechoslovakia to Hungarian parents; his family soon made their way past the Iron Curtain and fled to Canada. After they settled in Calgary, he became a keen student of American culture. “You grow up with American TV,” he says. “It’s hard to ignore. I was always interested in Amer-ican politics. Being a passive observer, you see how polarized the people are.”
Years later, as a newly minted New Yorker getting his master’s degree at the School of Visual Arts, Porostocky began to think about the limited iconography of the two-party system. He had always been taken by the donkey and elephant that represent the Democrats and the GOP, and wondered, “Why stop there?” A one-off collaboration with a group of friends before the 2004 election produced a newspaper featuring Porostocky’s virtual zoo of new political beasts, from moose to amoeba, in red, white, and blue. The concept went on to become a viral phenomenon. Milton Glaser picked the piece for his 2005 “Design of Dissent” exhibition, it’s been spotlighted in GOOD magazine, and it appears on T-shirts sold through the website morepartyanimals.com, which Porostocky launched last year with fellow graphic designer Ed McKirdy. Porostocky sees the site as a “kick start,” something to encourage diversity in a political monoculture dominated by negativity rather than by positive ideals.
This is pithy stuff, but the art director has no desire to be heavy-handed about it. “I try to make work that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Porostocky, who arrived at I.D. (PRINT’s sister publication) after stints at SEED magazine and as a freelancer for Sagmeister Inc. “I’m a big believer in humor being a great way to grab someone’s attention. I try to incorporate it as much as I can, or am allowed, into my work.” This is abundantly evident in Porostocky’s packaging of the special-edition DVD of photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s Thinking XXX documentary for HBO. Its lenticular cover evokes the flea-market vernacular of porno playing cards, even as it ties together—with a wink—the project’s fine-art elements and the graphic candor of its adult-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 they will change the world. And yet he is capable of making some of the most finely crafted doodie jokes.” Porostocky’s year-long tenure at SEED, where he oversaw the science magazine’s redesign, was marked by a desire to liberate the subject, visually speaking, from its lab coat. “Science is a fascinating subject, but it tends to have some of the most horrible imagery around,” says Porostocky. “We’re left looking at fuzzy shots of microorganisms in petri dishes that look like they were colored by Peter Max.” Instead, for an issue about science and religion, Porostocky screened a classic image of Jesus over a version of the periodic table. “I believe in quick, sharp ideas,” he says. “Not trying or thinking too hard often leads to the best concepts. After all, it’s design, not rocket science.” Ultimately, for the two-time émigré, making a statement and having a good time are one and the same: “If I have fun, I do good work.”