Not everyone knows this about James Victore, but he actually doesn’t use Sharpies anymore, his weapon of choice back when he first started scribbling dirty words and other provocative drawings across plates and hand-made posters. He packed them all up in storage a few years ago, opting instead for paint pens, and more recently, Japanese Sumi-e brushes. “Sharpies are a line I know,” the Brooklyn-based designer explains. “I’m doing a job right now for Bobbi Brown cosmetics, and using a Sumi-e brush with India ink precisely because I suck at it. It’s so much more interesting than being good at something — I like the idea of chance and mistakes. I can’t wait until I’m 80 and have that shaky old-man handwriting.” For Victore, a self-taught designer who dropped out of SVA in his first year and who seems to recoil further from computers each year their influence swells, un-learning can be its own kind of growth.
Other likely and unlikely signs of growth: his first monograph, and the increasing revelation of what he calls “my sentimental side.” When he recruited longtime collaborator Paul Sahre to design Victore or, Who Died and Made You Boss?, which comes out from Abrams in September, “our mission statement was badass,” says Victore. It’s a label he’s cultivated for the last decade, feeding into it with provocative work — copulating flies in a condom ad, George W. Bush’s face turned into a pirate flag — and happily promoting himself as a guy who says “fuck” a lot. When Sight Unseen asked him to name his eight biggest creative influences for this story, among the early options he submitted were Evel Knievel and Johnny Cash flipping Nashville the bird. “My heroes have always been cowboys,” he says. But these days, he’s just as quick to revel in the wimpier aspects of his personal life. “What fills the walls of my studio are these cornball love notes I’ve written to my wife,” he says. Inspiration number seven is his 13-year-old son Luca, with whom he likes to draw on paper tablecloths when he’s out to eat. “My reading library is full of Deepak Chopra,” he laughs. “I don’t have little porcelain figurines or anything. But I’m also not that other guy, the big 8-foot-tall papier-mâché figurine of James Victore.”
That’s not to say he’s no longer prone to cursing about the oil spill and threatening to storm the beaches of Louisiana with a shotgun, or that he’s going to stop flaunting his daredevil persona anytime soon. His rebellion against design’s status quo is just as important to his work as the evolution of his signature child-like scrawl — moreso, in fact. To understand his work is to get to know both sides of his personality, a glimpse of which is presented in the slideshow here.
Someone like JP Williams has enjoyed plenty of validating moments in his 20-year career as a graphic designer: Getting to study under one of his design heros, Paul Rand, at Yale; winning more than 100 awards for projects like his kraft-paper tea packages for Takashimaya; discovering that his collection of baseball cards from 1909 was worth enough to buy his wife and business partner Allison an engagement ring. All well and good, however none of it really compared, he admits, to the feeling of being validated by Martha Stewart.
The 28-year-old graphic designer Kostya Sasquatch makes thick, vector-like graphics on a PC, all cartoon colors and geometric shapes, odd logotypes that create iconographies for systems that seem to exist only in the designer’s mind. (He has a whole series called Donut Control.) They’re the kind of designs that could be from anywhere, but they might not have looked anything like they do if Sasquatch wasn’t from Moscow.
Ah, the impotence of the urban dweller. Ever since the Best Made Company axe debuted this spring, you’d be hard-pressed to find a New Yorker who isn’t dying to snap open that wooden case and heave the Tennessee hickory–handled thing at… well, what, exactly? “At first I thought a lot of New Yorkers would buy them,” says Peter Buchanan-Smith, the New York–based graphic designer who founded the company along with his childhood pal Graeme Cameron. But it turns out the best audience for an axe — even one with a handle saturated in gorgeous shades of spray paint — is a person who actually might use an axe.