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Interview: Tyler Spangler

by: Katharine Hargreaves of WBR

Special Reporting by Zac Tomaszewski

Tyler Spangler’s work focuses on the formalist relationship between images removed from their original context. He explores the connotations of color, form, and photography through the medium of digital collage. His designs are colorful and unabashedly chaotic. Over the last two years, Tyler has created five 440 paged books filled with his own designs and worked on countless collaborations internationally. He has a BA in Psychology and is an Art Center College of Design dropout. He ran an illegal punk venue for 13 shows until it got shut down by police. Tyler currently freelances and works with clients in the music, surf, and textile industry. http://tylerspangler.tumblr.com

WHOLE BEAST RAG: What role does accident play in your process? In creating a work are you
ever directed by accidents?

TYLER SPANGLER: Sometimes accidents can be amazing. I have actually learned a lot through mistakenly placing elements. Experimentation and accidents go hand in hand.

WBR: How long have you been surfing?

TS: I have been surfing since I was seven, 20 years. I ordered and designed my first custom surfboard when I was 12—it had red and yellow stripes on it. I would say 70% of my inspiration comes from surfing. . . I grew up about 20 minutes from the beach. My dad would take my brother and I every weekend to surf and camp when we were really little. Once I got older, my friends and I altered our parents to drop us off at the beach all day.

I moved in with my dad sophomore year of high school. He lived 2 blocks from the beach in Huntington. I was in Heaven. I was able to surf every morning for my P.E. class. I am now living on my own with my girlfriend on the beach in Pacific Palisades. I don’t think I could ever live anywhere else. The ocean has such an amazing energy to cleanse and inspire.

WBR: When I read that you were a surfer, that connection immediately seemed so strong and helped make sense of it—but I don’t exactly mean that in terms of iconography or aesthetics, but rather this willingness just to let the image play and go where it wants. And as I go through the catalog, I could almost group pieces together as “sets.” Maybe I’ve mischaracterized it, but how would you say that your work relates to surfing, if at all?

TS: I love the feeling I get when I surf. I try and convey that feeling when I design. While experimenting I get so excited. Sometimes if I find a new technique that looks cool I will go crazy and make dozens that have a similar look.

WBR: You still work in the surf industry, what exactly do you do? Is it graphic design or something else related to art-making?

TS: I worked in a surf shop in Newport Beach for five years while I was in college. The whole mentality and lifestyle definitely contributed to the way I approach art. Recently I started freelancing for surf clients, which is really amazing because I rarely have to tone down my work. I work every day for the same company doing their website merchandising and when I get home I hammer out freelance and personal work. It is my goal to freelance full time but as for now, gotta pay the bills.

WBR: You went to Art Center for a while but dropped out—did you have any particular reason for leaving?

TS: The philosophy of the school wasn’t consistent with mine. Essentially their program promoted the designer to be completely transparent. I believe that when you look at a design piece, you should be able to name who designed it. Which is true in the case of people like: David Carson, Wolfgang Weingart, and Ed Fella. Suppressing a designer’s unique voice is the worst thing an institution can do. I also didn’t agree how they prioritized excruciatingly painful craftsmanship standards over experimentation. I concluded that I could accomplish more on my own by re-allocating the exorbitant amount of money I was spending on tuition on my personal projects.

WBR: You have several species of works that you produce. They run from fully abstract pattern and color compositions to pop culture references. For examples of the latter, you have pieces based on the 2001 monolith and Homer Simpson’s head extended to mimic Marge’s hairdo—do you approach this content differently than in other works, or do you treat references to pop culture and advertising mainly as formal elements?

TS: I think it depends entirely on how I am feeling at the time and what type of music I am listening to. If I am in an upbeat mood I will create something clean and quirky. If someone cut me off on the freeway I might create something a little more dirty and torn up. I usually treat all of my work with the same iconoclastic and humorous tendencies. The only variants in style would be in the cases that I described above.

WBR: Are you saying that when you choose to engage with some kind of loaded signs or text— for example, this which is comparatively blunt and direct, opening the image up to a lot of “hot” readings—it essentially all reduces to form and mood?

TS: I can’t really get into people who take themselves too seriously. I was raised listening to people like George Carlin and watching spoof shows like the Simpsons and SNL, which has directly influenced the way I perceive things like testimonial, commercials, and anything where someone is trying to sell something. I hate sales. In this piece I wanted to gouge those personal ads you see on TV about dating and prescription drugs that promise a better life. I thought it would be funny to portray something illegal: bestiality, with a soft blue and gentle touch, mimicking those ads.

WBR: To what degree do you think the iconography of commercial design, i.e., advertising, has bled into your artwork? There are a number of pieces you’ve made which, to me, can read almost as advertisement minus the product, the form minus the subject. It can be a beautiful, haunting effect.

TS: Advertising has definitely infiltrated my work. I don’t think I take it any further than a simple nod. I could totally see the piece that you mentioned being used for a Mentos or eHarmony ad in some twisted alternate universe. I just find it really hard to take advertising seriously.

WBR: When figures do appear in your work, they are usually female. Have you given any consideration to why this is?

TS: I am artistically drawn to females. I feel they exude a sense of mystery and mystique that adds suspense to my work. The role of the female has shifted so much in the past 50 years. As a result, interpretations of their role in my work will always be varied, and I think that is a good thing.

WBR: On the other end of the spectrum, you have something like #8 [below], which is more ethereal and intricate. To me it suggests the tiled bottom of an ornate pool, as seen through the translucent water. Do you think about such physical references at all when building a texture or a pattern?

TS: Bringing it back to surfing and being surrounded in such a beautiful and tranquil environment—I think I try to recreate that experience. I try and make things that I would love to see in the world; whether it is on the side of a building, on textiles, or covering an airplane. I want the piece to be hypnotic. I want it to draw the viewer in.