We Asked James Victore Some Questions And He Gave Good Answer


This morning is our favorite morning. Because a few days ago we found James Victore, and today, he wrote back to us. We always love a little give and take, and his take, kids, is funny. Which is pretty up there, for us at least, with “able to draw” and “makes cool stuff.” His clients include Moet & Chandon, the New York Times, MTV, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

James talked to us about getting kicked out of the SVA (where he now teaches, suckas!), how he sees the graphic design field as pinata, and the relative behaviors of cream and poop. We quote.

UnBeige: My google-stalking shows that you’re self-taught. How did it even occur to you to get involved with graphic design? And how exactly did you teach yourself?

James Victore: I am self taught by default. I failed out of college and then after moving to NYC was asked to leave the School of Visual Arts. They were both right — I was a miserable student. But I was curious and knew what I wanted. So I started looking around and, like a five-year-old, started asking, “why?” all the time.

So basically I learned design the same way I learned to swear. I picked it up on the street.

UB: A lot of your stuff is eye-catchingly controversial, both in subject and form. (The racism and the death penalty poster comes to mind) How do you make sure you don’t veer too far into salaciousness or shock value?

JV: I don’t believe in shock value. But I do believe in the truth. My choice of imagery always stems from an attempt to find some truth within the subject matter.

UB: Why do you teach?

JV: I teach to give back. I have always been given great help from my mentors and friends, so I try to invest in the karma bank and give some of it back. I love teaching. Plus, my students keep me honest. They push me and keep me asking the simple, hard questions. Like “why?”

UB: Where do you see your work fitting into the history of graphic design? Who are your influences? Why?

JV: My work in the “history of graphic design?” Surely you jest! [Ed: Always.] I am just trying to pay my rent and work for clients I admire on subjects I enjoy.

My influences historically are Saul Steinberg, Paul Rand and Henryk Tomaszewski. These great cats have all sadly passed away. My contemporary influences are my designer friends who keep me amazed, and the people I do this work for; my beautiful wife, Laura and my son, Luca.

UB: Looking forward, where do you see graphics, the graphic arts, and their influences heading?

JV: I really dig where the field is heading. It seems to be busting open like a pinata. I like to see the edges between art, design and film-media become more blurred. Interesting things happen when we cross over these lines. I want designers to become visionaries. To widen our peripheral view, show us more of what is possible. That interests me.

UB: We are constantly bombarded with images, marketing, etc. At the same time, it raises awareness of the importance of design. What do you think–are we reaching a saturation point or is there always room for more?

JV: Cream always rises to the top. And poop sinks.

UB: So you get an assignment from one of the many people you design for. What’s the first thing you do? Describe your (typical, as if there is such a thing) process.

JV: Typical process? First, freak out. Then, after I calm down, I try to play. I whittle these complex ideas down to some small kernel of truth. Then, I try to fill that small point full of poetry, humor, sex-appeal, whatever it takes to get my point across and get others to feel it.

When I work I try to surprise myself and make myself laugh. If I do a good job of that it seems others laugh too.

UB: Anything else you’ve always wanted to do and would, given time/money/absolute lack of constraints? (like astronaut, lion trainer, chef)

JV: There are many other things I’d like to do. I don’t have time/money/lack of constraints, but I am doing what I want anyway. I am not a wallflower. The Dirty Dishes show is an example of one of the projects that interest me. I have always wondered what I am capable of, and I am gonna find out.