Chris Gray is a UK based designer and illustrator currently working in the studio at Love Creative working with clients like BBC, Christian Aid, Playstation, Bollocks to Poverty, Absolut and Dr Martens. His whimsical, iconic aesthetic reduces complex thought systems to catchy graphics that evidence a strong sense of color and play. Chris Gray recently designed Beautiful/Decay’s smash hit “Sex” (pictured above, for purchase here) and “Casual Apple” shirts. Read his full interview after the jump!
I read that this year you’ll be having your first solo exhibition in Manchester, as well as launching a new art label “Toy.” Can you talk a little bit about these upcoming projects?
I have been incredibly fortunate this year to be following on from the likes of Jim Medway, Jon Burgerman and Guy McKinley for my first show. Common(www.aplacecalledcommon.co.uk) has always hosted awesome exhibitions so it’s a real privilege to asked to design the space. I’m spending the next two months in preparation for the launch at the end of April which will be myself and a team of friends to help paint will be completely re-doing the interior and hanging a series of prints.
Toy (www.thisistoy.com) was started last year after talking with other artists who had an amazing ability but were unsure what do with it, or they were paid a mediocre amount for the work they produced. When I was at university there were those individuals who performed above the cut of the year but they had no interest with becoming a Graphic Designer for a traditional advertising agency or designing brochures and instead ended up disappearing into obscurity. The plan is to create a place for those people to come. It is still in it’s infancy but we have just finished working on an international Playstation campaign and creating work for the British Science Council.
Can you talk about your creative process- from the inception of an idea to its completion?
I studied and worked as a Graphic Designer for 5 years so that had a huge impact on how I approach my work. I spend the majority of my time thinking about what I’m trying to say and how simply and effectively I can say it. The moment I get to a point where I think the idea is solid, when you get that feeling in your stomach that you’re onto something good then I start creating a visual treatment for it. If I come back to it 24 hours later and Im unsure, then it has to go in the bin and I’ll start again. The style has always been dictated by my thought process, sometimes it can be a considered line drawing and other times I can draw something up in seconds.
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
The first job is to get the bulk of my e-mails sorted out first thing in the morning and always make time for people who write to me or students asking for my input on their work. Then the music goes on and I make a list of everything I have to do before I can go home which is usually far too long, but it keeps me focused. All jobs are started with a pencil and paper before any commitment is made to build it on a computer. My downtime is usually spent not being too serious and making sure there is still a sense of play to what I do. So there is usually some sort of shenanigans going on in the office. We had a Feng Shui guru in the studio last year and he said the area of the office I sit promoted misbehavior, sex and dark thoughts. Awesome.
What are some of your favorite images, ideas, that inspire your works?
That is such a hard question as I try to influenced by as many different subjects as possible so I don’t think I can pin down one piece of work that summarizes it all. I’m fascinated by classic cinema at the moment and having been making my way through those film lists of thing to see before you die. I watched ’12 Angry Men’ the other day which I loved. TED Talks are amazing too, I’m subscribed to their Podcast and some of the people who talk are an inspiration to us all. 60’s Graphic Design has a big impact on my work too, I think I was born 20 years too late.
A lot of you works seem to take a very bold, graphic, iconic approach, while still remaining a bit playful. Can you talk about your imagery and aesthetic?
It’s hard to know how I ended up at a certain style. I spoke to a good friend a while ago about it and it felt as though I was listening to the wisest man on Earth when he explained his understanding of it. I can’t quote it exactly but he said something close to. “It is not about style or what you can do with a pencil. How valuable you are as an individual is not dictated by ability to draw but your ability to see things in a way in which I cannot.” I didn’t realise my friend was the second coming of Jesus until that point!
Can you talk about your recent designs for Beautiful/Decay apparel? What was your thought process behind the “Sex” or “Casual Apple” designs?
The shirts were originally done as a personal project to create 30 t-shirts in 30 days. At the time I was really bored of horrible War iconography and overly complicated compositions being used on t-shirts. I searched and searched to find simple bold shirts that I would actually wear but they were a rare find. ‘Sex on Legs’ was just a simple idea that came from shirts being almost billboard like for personal vanity so I wanted to do something to ridicule those shirts you find in cheap high street shops that usually read “I’m a professional breast inspector” or something equally horrific. The other shirt which was originally called “Paul” was based on a conversation I had with someone in the design industry and after about 10 minutes I realised he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and his entire image was a total facade.
Who are some of your favorite design heroes, and what do you admire about their work?
My biggest hero of last year has to be Geoff McFetridge, he is just an unstoppable machine. I love how he can create work for a gallery and then follow it up with some opening titles for a Hollywood film. His cleverness is just bewildering. A friend of mine knows him and has since asked him to send me some goodies which I’m ludicrously excited about. I’ve always been a fan of Soul Bass and Alan Fletcher for obvious reasons too and I’ve recently come across Kim Hiothoy which I really like.