Art direction is asserting a point of view about an aesthetic matter and assembling ideas to convey a concept. Are you more obsessed with being meaningful, harmonious or disruptive?
These three values are complementary in my work as an artistic director, but also in my daily life. I can draw a parallel with my boxing practice and other martial arts. “Judo” can actually translate as “principle of adaption”. In these sports, you have to observe yourself, all the while using the strengths and weaknesses of the person facing you. In art direction, my client challenges me, yet becomes an ally giving me strength, and hopefully we all come out winning.
To deliver good work, how important is to please the client versus pleasing yourself?
I am convinced both are possible. This is actually the only way I approach a task. That's why I prefer the word collaborator to the word client, because we move forward together. I don't get the impression clients just expect a formal delivery, or a rework of something they are stuck with. They want to engage in a dialogue and obtain a vision, an expertise that is tailor-made for them. That's how it gets interesting and gets well done; they challenge me to go out of my comfort zone. I see that when I observe the gap between my first idea and the end result.
What are the benefits of having worked with David James and M/M Paris?
I would say that I grew up a lot at David James, and then went on to assert myself as an adult at M/M Paris. From a creative point of view, established studios were very important to un-educate (partly of course), the stiffer "grid system" I had been taught at my school in Switzerland. They freed me to invent my own rules - sometimes absurd - but still necessary. An important thing I learnt in both studios is the art of compromise, to avoid being on the offensive and to let my collaborators challenge me. I also learned to appreciate the business aspect of this creative profession. To be able to present a project, properly quoted, and assemble the elements which allow working in the best conditions.
Many graphic designers cite album covers as impetus to take up graphic design. You worked on Bjork covers at M/M Paris. Why are graphic design and music so closely linked?
Music needs a strong and unrestricted visual translation. An artwork can convey, mark and engrave something non-tangible, purely emotional, also inscribed in music. In this context I feel that images created for music can be more spontaneous than for another medium. It's nice to knowingly produce an image that is "cool", purposeless, yet fully gratifying. I was drawn to art direction by the psychedelic images of Pink Floyd, and later by the typographic compositions of Designer Republic for the label Warp. It coincided with readily available home CD burners and my own discovery of software. I would burn the CDs and redesign my own covers. Music and visual arts always move forward in unison. Both translate a culture, an era in sounds or images. I think one of the most eloquent examples of this successful interconnection is the extraordinary fertility of the punk movement which nourished not only music but also fashion, literature, visual arts, and so on. This link still holds strong though in music culture today, across all genres, but especially rap and hip hop.
Which job would you be doing today if you were not an art director?
Rockstar! Ok, seriously, bass player. I think it's the ideal position within a collective, and it allows for side-projects. As in artistic direction, one feeds the other. The bassist is often discreet on a stage, behind a singer or a guitar soloist, but in fact he is a pillar in the composition phase. I like this ambivalence. He can instil a simplistic rock base, in appearance, like Peter Hook did at Joy Division, or assert himself by not playing all the notes on the tempo like some funk bassists. I also like the idea of being good at something while also leaving technique aside to reinvent a more personal language.