Art Chantry has been recognized for his intrepid exploration of subculture visual communication and his fearless celebration of cultural diversity.
For Art Chantry, a designer rooted in the Pacific Northwest and a celebrated interpreter of old-fashioned commercial art, the purest graphic design bears the imprint of a community. Chantry believes design is “the language of culture itself.” Now based in Tacoma, Washington, Chantry is known for his cultural posters and music packaging featuring old-style iconography and production techniques.
When Chantry settled in Seattle, he encountered a boom in art galleries, regional theater companies, and rock bands. Working as a one-man design company, Chantry helped visually define Seattle’s cultural scene. His layered, textured graphics for plays, concerts, and festivals formed a bridge between the energetic designs of untrained artists and the smooth expressions of professional communicators.
In today’s digital climate, collaged retro imagery and rough textures often suggest authenticity. But Chantry pioneered this approach. He creates artwork with stencils, label makers, and multiple passes of imagery through photocopiers. He borrows the jagged hand-lettering of vintage science-fiction paperbacks and the split-fountain rainbows of ink on psychedelic posters. Long after computers brought polish and consistency to design production, he continues to celebrate the look of printers’ accidents—the splotches and registration failures that were common when people had to master unwieldy tools.
For Chantry, it was this struggle that humanized design when it entered the industrial age, and revealed the printer as an unsung creative partner. “Whenever you see a bit of distressed typography, even if it’s a font premade to look distressed, you’re seeing the influence of his thinking,” says Jesse Reyes, a protégé who worked with Chantry on The Rocket and other Seattle design projects. “You see it on Ford truck ads on TV. You see it on microbrewery packaging, and that’s because Art has seeped that thinking into the mainstream.”
Long dismissive of computers as design tools, Chantry has had to adjust to certain realities. Formerly he would create mechanicals, preparing artwork that emerged magically, or with happy mutations, on press. Now he designs comps that are scanned and passed on for digital production. But if he mourns the loss of outmoded technology, he also finds compensations. He is happy that the Internet has become a warehouse for design ephemera. Social media has allowed him to conduct regular online conversations with a large gang of enthusiasts. In 2015, Feral House published Art Chantry Speaks, a collection of his essays on design history that first appeared on Facebook. The shift to the digital world, he points out, “took the language of graphic design away from the elite academia—the world that defined what it was and what it was not—and put it into the hands of the every man.”