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Art Chantry Speaks

Tacoma's famous graphic designer releases new book

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Art Chantry is Tacoma's most famous graphic designer, known worldwide, or at least USA-wide, for his rock concert posters and album covers. He's done work for Nirvana and Hole, and his art has been shown in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Museum of Modern Art, Seattle Art Museum, the Smithsonian and the Louvre.

Book publisher Feral House will release his book, Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic's History of 20th Center Graphic Design this month. The book is a history of graphic design from Chantry's admittedly warped point of view. He describes himself as a "virtual cultural propagandist of the lowest order - a (word that can't be printed in this paper)."

The book is a collection of essays he's written over the years.

"Most of these essays were written daily in a single first draft, then posted warts and all," he writes in the forward.

There are no pretentions. This is in no way a scholarly work, yet it could and probably should be taught in college design classes.

A list of some of the essay titles provides a good understanding of the scope of Chantry's informal research into the history of graphic art and a good indication of his irreverent style of writing. A few of these titles are: Manufactured Style: From Prissy Victoriana to Art Deco; Modernism is Just Another Retro Style; Hallmark Psychedelia; The Acrimonious History of the Happy Face; The Fine Art of Making Lowbrow; Norman Rockwell and Corporate Sentimentality; The Lost Art of the Print Process; and Matchbooks, A Tiny Design Canvas.

In the section titled Modernism is Just Another Retro Style, Chantry discusses the end of modern art (and thereby the beginning of post-modern art). He says the modernists reached a point at which a painting "was simply a one-sided, portable, prepared canvas stretched on a frame and emblazoned with a pigment covering its surface. To be a painting, there is no need for image, illusion, depth of field, or texture, or emotion."

He said Frank Stella epitomized painting as thus defined with a painting of concentric squares, "getting smaller inside of each square until he ran out of space." He says the piece "killed painting at that point."

Chantry goes on to say that modern artists committed intellectual suicide, but that the fine art world was "too big of a business to just roll over and die."

What came next was post-modernism, which is marked by artists and designers appropriating styles and ideas from every period of history - everybody stealing from everybody. Those are my words, not Chantry's, or more precisely, that is my interpretation of what he seems to be saying in many ways throughout this book.

Art Chantry Speaks is loaded with informative and entertaining history as well as Chantry's ideas about art and society. It is opinionated art history. It is also loaded with full-color illustrations of book covers, ads, posters and all manner of commercial art, good and bad.

One drawback is that it is often unclear what some of the illustrations are or who did them. This is because the words are taken directly from his previously published essays and apparently reprinted with little or no editing. As a result, there are references in the text to "this cover" or "this poster," and it is not clear to which illustration he is referring. In the original essay, the cover or poster was probably reproduced on the same page and may have been the only one on that page, but in the book, it may come a page or two before or after the illustration, so the reader may often be unclear as to what picture he is referencing. I also wish there were more examples of his own work.

For anyone who likes graphic art, this book is a must-read. For more information visit

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