Highly politicized times may bring out the worst in some of our neighbors and newsfeeds, but on the bright side, they also bring out the best in artists.
The current political climate is no exception, with many creatives channeling their outrage into inspiration.
Each year, Adweek’s Creative 100 reserves 10 spots for the artists and authors who are creating some of today’s most topical, captivating work. While not all of this year’s honorees are politically motivated, it’s certainly a trend one can’t help but notice.
Here are this year’s artists and authors in the Creative 100:
Artist and Magazine Illustrator
Whether you know his name, you’re doubtlessly familiar with the work of artist and illustrator Rodriguez.
The former Time art director has made headlines—and, in some cases, sparked fierce debate—with his bold magazine covers, including Newsweek’s “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women” in 2015, which showed a woman whose skirt is being lifted by a computer cursor; Time’s memorable Trump-themed “Meltdown” and “Total Meltdown” covers during last year’s election cycle; and this past February’s cover of Der Spiegel, which showed President Trump holding the severed head of the Statue of Liberty along with the headline “America First.”
Earlier this month, he returned to the cover of Der Spiegel to show Trump smacking the Earth with a golf club after backing out of the Paris Accords. Rodriguez, who emigrated from the U.S. to Cuba at age 9, has also done work for brands like MTV and Pepsi, and his fine art creations are even more stark and ominous than his magazine designs.
Poet and Memoirist
Patricia Lockwood has been called many things—the poet laureate of Twitter, the smutty metaphor queen of Lawrence, Kan., a priest’s child, a show-off. Whatever the case, she’s brimming with the kind of creativity that transcends classic genres and literary circles.
With no formal training or college degree, Lockwood became the rarest of birds—a widely popular poet—after her poem “Rape Joke” went viral on The Awl website in 2012. (Read it and, as Emily Dickinson would say, it’ll make you feel as if the top of your head were taken off.) The overnight success was a shock to Lockwood, who was living with her husband and parents in a Midwest rectory at the time. And it secured a deal for her second book of poems with Penguin.
“No one ever expects that to happen with a poem. It was surreal,” she says from her home in Georgia. “It felt like the beginning of a wave of poetry getting more attention across social media. Twitter is an amazing platform for that kind of poetry.”
Lockwood turned heads again when she tweeted “fuck me daddy” at then-presidential candidate Donald Trump from The New Republic’s official Twitter account last year. She was hosting a Q&A with readers, drank one too many Red Bulls and fired off a tweet that was immediately deleted and lauded as protest art. “I can’t get fired from my job,” she jokes. “I know you guys can’t do it, so let me take that burden for you.”
Now she’s promoting her memoir, Priest Daddy, about growing up with a “crazy, gun-toting, naked” father who joined the priesthood after starting a family. Taking on Catholicism wasn’t easy, but “above fear you have to answer to what is art,” she says. “When I was writing the book, I wasn’t just thinking about what is the true version of events. I was writing to what is artistic. If you answer to what is artistic, that is the thing that will help you.”
She’s also working on her next book, Do This, Do That, which explores aphorisms that artists, athletes and others use to describe their processes.
Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg
Co-founders, Monad Studio
Monad Studio’s eye for futuristic architecture and ear for “sci-fi” sounds have led to it becoming a pioneer in the world of 3-D printed instruments. But the dozen designs for violins and guitars don’t sound like classical music. Rather, co-founder Eric Goldemberg describes the sounds from the compositions of plastic and titanium as more experimental and almost “noise-like music.”
“Musicians are faced with these strange forms where they not only just have one or two strings, but they also have an emotional reaction to these forms,” he says of the studio’s creations.Monad Studio has also collaborated with musician Viktoria Modesta, turning the bionic pop artist’s body into an instrument. Monad is now creating its largest instrument yet: a piano through a collaboration with Bluthner. Other new designs include an electric guitar and a wind instrument that coils around the player.
“It’s like an alien piece that surrounds the body and as you blow into it,” he says. “The music goes around you.”
Podcast Host, Science Journalist
In the Every Little Thing podcast, Flora Lichtman turns her science knowledge and keen storytelling ability on, well, every little thing. Recent episodes examine everything from the “horrifying hunting habits of weasels” to the office plant capital of the world. The latter idea came from a friend of a friend of a producer, who found a trove of tropical plants in an alleyway and came to discover the little-known office-plant leasing industry. “We’re going deep and going geeky on all kinds of subjects,” says Lichtman.
The Brooklyn-based journalist first garnered attention on NPR’s Science Friday, in part by making weekly videos for the show in the early days of YouTube. She went on to write for Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World and direct The New York Times’ Emmy-nominated short documentary series “Animated Life,” which tells the stories of major scientific discoveries, through paper puppets.
Gimlet Media partnered with Lichtman to reimagine its show Surprisingly Awesome and launched Every Little Thing in April. The company sees massive potential in infotainment podcasts, and Lichtman predicts the medium is poised for a surge of creativity, with artists pioneering sub-forms and sub-genres. “I think there’s so much more to come,” she says. “I think you’re seeing this explosion of what podcasting can be.”
She gets ideas for her show by paying attention to her surroundings and reading obsessively, saving “tiny nuggets waiting to be followed up on” in an unruly Gmail folder. “You know when you’re walking down the street and something shiny catches your eye? You have this choice. You can go about your day because you have stuff to do, or you can turn around and investigate,” she says. “To me that is the essence of this show.”
“My artistic philosophy is rooted in finding and exploring unusual perspectives,” says Seattle-based photographer Baraty.
That aesthetic informed the huge outdoor mural he created with painter Yanyan Pan in 2015 to mark the opening of an Apple Store in Chongqing, China. The cylindrical installation fused images of skyscrapers and aerial trams with bold patches of color splashed across the sky.
For his “Intersection” series, a personal project, Baraty shot straight down at all hours of the day from urban rooftops, transforming sections of New York, Paris and Tokyo into vibrant landscapes alive with shapes and light. “Everything seems small, finite—and yet, still so grand,” he says.
Baraty’s “Wander Space Probe” sequence presents star fields and planets—all made from terrestrial foods (soy sauce, poppy seeds, salt) meticulously arranged on a photo scanner. “To create nebulas, I scan a large tray of varied liquids, which naturally coalesce to create atmospheric swirls. The same physics at work in the universe are also present on my scanner. These images are, in effect, microcosms of the cosmos itself.”
You can follow his work on Instagram at @NavidBaraty.
Writer and Director, Moonlight
If 37-year-old Barry Jenkins had been able to give his speech when Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture—instead of dealing with the Oscar flub heard (and seen) round the world—he would’ve said, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that co-writer “Tarell [Alvin McCraney] and I are Chiron. We are that boy. And when you watch Moonlight, you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award.”
But Jenkins did. And now that he’s finished judging short films for the Cannes Film Festival, he’s hard at work on an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad for an upcoming Amazon series. And his production company, Pastel, just signed a two-year production deal with Annapurna Pictures.
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Creators of Saga
Saga’s been called a Romeo and Juliet space opera—though even such a sweeping description is probably too reductive for the the Eisner Award-winning comic series. The language is adult; the characters are inspired by many ethnicities, creatures and conflicts. Its creators are writer Vaughan (previously known for Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Paper Girls) and artist Staples (who worked on DV8: Gods and Monsters, THUNDER Agents and Archie’s revamp).
Saga follows a couple from two warring extraterrestrial races and begins with the birth of their daughter, whose mixed-race existence is a heresy to both her parents’ cultures. “Writing ‘Saga’ is how I try to make sense of the war-torn planet I’ve brought my children into,” Vaughan told Telegram.
But story isn’t Saga’s sole strength: It’s got tough women, parental struggles and striking imaginative leaps—such as the alien race that has TVs for heads. “I just try to do something we haven’t done before to make sure each character is distinct and easy to remember,” Staples told the AV Club.
The creative pair takes equality to heart—author and illustrator alternate first billing on each issue.
Creator of TV Opening Sequences
Clair is a creative force behind awe-inspiring television and movie title sequences, commercials and design films that lure audiences into compelling stories and fascinating subject matter.
His title sequence credits for TV include HBO’s True Detective and Westworld, Netflix’s The Crown and Daredevil, and AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire.
“My work is an odd hybrid of design and traditional storytelling,” Clair tells Adweek. “It hijacks existing icons and symbols, and blends them together to tell new types of stories.”
Clair is the resident creative director for the Santa Monica-based filmmaking collective Elastic. He and his creative teams won the 2014 Outstanding Main Title Design Emmy for their work on Season 1 of True Detective. The sequence features the haunting vocals of The Handsome Family and captures the complex landscape and setting of the show in south Louisiana by using live action, mixed-media, character montage and still photography of an industrial, polluted region.
“What we really care about at Elastic is communicating the ideas… is the story strong enough? Is it simple enough? Is it smart enough?” Clair continued. “The more streamlined and clear the execution, the greater the impact, and the more the work will work.”
Artist and GIF Maker
For most, the word GIF might conjure up a funny clip from a reality show or viral video. But in the hands of illustrator Mock, the lowly GIF has become a work of art. Based in Brooklyn, Mock is known for her self-described “quiet, atmospheric images” of everyday life—often inspired by 19th- and 20th-century painting styles—for publications like The New Yorker and New York Times, as well as brands including The BBC, HBO and JetBlue. (She’s also illustrated two graphic novels, Compass South and the upcoming Knife’s Edge.)
Her subtly animated GIFs, which feature scenes like a store sign blowing in the wind on an abandoned Main Street or the pages of a book slowly turning one by one, are especially compelling.
“I just wanted to add a bit of magic to an image,” she says. “In addition to being fun to make, they’re fun to share. They’re challenging, too—I’m not trained as an animator, so each new movement is a test for me, and I love figuring it out.”
Game Developer, Author, Activist
“The internet is a big, complex environment where people are often the problem,” Quinn says, “but people can be the solution, too.” It’s a statement that summarizes much of Quinn’s life in recent years, which saw the independent video game designer flooded with threats and hackings attempts in a sustained harassment campaign known as #Gamergate.
Instead of crumbling under the assault, Quinn has focused her energy in positive directions, creating Crash Override, a support network for those facing online abuse. She’ll also share more advice in her upcoming book, Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate.
She wants her organization, upcoming book and work in game development to create a “healing impact” for people who need a break from the darkest sides of today’s internet.
Get to know the rest of Adweek’s Creative 100 for 2017:
• 15 Chief Creative Officers
• 18 Executive Creative Directors and Group Creative Directors
• 22 Creative Directors and Associate Creative Directors
• 14 Art Directors and Copywriters
• 10 Global Creative Leaders
• 12 Digital Innovators
• 10 Branded Content Masters
• 12 Artists and Authors
• 11 Celebrities and Influencers
• Cover Story: How Kumail Nanjiani Is Becoming an Inescapable Creative Force
Also check out all the honorees in alphabetical order.