Phil Lubliner’s world is layered with language. In his illustrations as well as his fine-art installations, a lexicon of evocative words—“soapy,” “frontier,” “lightning,” “rice”—falls out of the sky, flashes from electric signs, and floats on the surface of the American landscape. Hand-drawn or molded from clay, each word has a personality made manifest by Lubliner’s sweetly scribbly aesthetic.
He suggests that his love of letters and landmarks might stem from memories of his childhood vacations, from “being on the road and seeing all of that very repetitive imagery of small towns in the Midwest.” Lubliner’s grandmother was an interior designer; his father is an antiques dealer. “We always had a house full of weird antiques—really cool pieces of type and Americana, old ’50s and ’60s vernacular American advertising, and Old West stuff.” While other children were at summer camp, Lubliner was accompanying his father on road trips to antique malls and fairs.
A native Chicagoan, Lubliner graduated from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. His first major freelance commissions came from Nylon magazine, then art directed by Andrea Fella—coincidentally, the daughter of Ed Fella, the graphic designer whose experiments with hand-written typography are an inspiration to Lubliner. The young artist’s Nylon work was bright and fizzy: a witty map of American summer musical festivals; a list of essential soundtracks with the movie titles relettered as though patiently doodled by a teenage cinephile. “There’s definitely a childlike feeling to it,” says Lubliner. “I don’t really trace things out; I make mistakes and work them into the pieces. My line quality itself is a little bit shaky.”
Lubliner worked as a full-time staff designer at R/GA before taking on stints at Renegade and Framfab NL and working on assignments from small magazines like Good and Arkitip. Jonathan Notaro, the founder of Brand New School, admires the humor and intricacy of Lubliner’s work. “I don’t see anyone with the attention span of Phil,” Notaro says. “He can sit there and spend forever drawing one letter.”
Lubliner now works from a tiny storefront studio in Brooklyn. He shares the space with Gary Fogelson, with whom he created The Holster, an art-zine collective. Lubliner’s zines add a touch of surrealism to his sunny vision of American leisure time: In one spread, divers leap from a flying pizza into an inviting lake.
Lubliner seems most excited at the moment about his installation pieces, which he calls “mini-dioramas,” of painted clay lettering situated among “landscapish things” and set in found frames. He’s happiest when his fine art and commercial work merge, as they did when he helped design Comcast’s TheSlowskys.com website, developed by the New York design studio Honest. The Slowskys, two turtles who really like slow internet speeds, have mistakenly imagined that a web-site is something that can be built in the physical world—in this case, out of a dresser-like piece of furniture, decorated with hand-lettered signs, in their living room.
The Slowskys’ roof deck is outfitted with a swimming pool, slide, and palm trees. It’s a very Lublineresque scene that neatly sums up his meticulous craftmanship and mellow personality. He blushes and admits, “I like to chill out a lot.”