Speartalks: Chris Rubino

Posted on May 9, 2008 Under Design

From the looks of things, Chris Rubino knows how to mix work and play. The NYC based designer, a 2006 ADC Young Gun and possessor of a shining list of lustworthy clients, hasn't abandoned his personal pursuits in order to achieve success. In between putting in hours for the big boys (Banana Republic, The NY Public Theater, and Uniqlo to name a few), Chris spends his time making museum quality posters for his favorite bands and jetsetting across oceans to display his artwork at solo shows.

Read on as we chat with this young whippersnapper about art, design, and all the stages in between.

Joshspear.com: Tell us about your personal history in design.

Chris Rubino: When I moved to New York right after graduating my portfolio was full of paintings and clips of bad abstract animation. I was lucky enough to find a job in which I was told "we can teach you how to design but not how to draw." I made a bunch of bad record covers, a good friend and discovered typography. Over the next few years I was given great opportunities with a couple higher-end design firms until I felt very ready to be on my own. Seven years later I am still sitting here, hopefully moving forward.

JS: What inspired you to go into design?

CR: Album covers and a paycheck. I don't think too many teenagers dream of being a graphic designer — I had no idea that was even a job. However, in retrospect, pieces of what I was already interested in were pushing me in this direction. Once I realized that people actually created the objects in my life, I wanted to know how to be part of that. Seeing a piece I've designed out in public really makes me feel like I am participating in a very small part of the world.

JS: You were chosen as a 2006 Young Gun, which theoretically makes you "young," which thereby makes your client list even more incredibly impressive. How did you go about creating, developing, and selling yourself?

CR: From the beginning I've always tried to work on my own work, as well as on client-based projects. These have often overlapped, resulting in something that I've personally been happy with. In my experience, clients never show up asking me to work for them because of the corporate work I've done, but rather the self-initiated projects I've produced. Also, I strongly believe in luck; there are many people capable of doing what I do, I just feel like I've been fortunate in crossing paths with interesting people and good clients. You truly do get back what you put out there. Being in New York for the past 11 years has helped with this a great deal — I put myself out there as much as I can … or at least when I feel like I should.

JS: You've done a lot of work with large corporations like Banana Republic and Kenneth Cole. From a creative freedom standpoint, what was the experience like working for such big brands?

CR: Those clients are great. When a brand is that big they often have so much confidence that you can get away with a bit more. I was just looking at the new Saks 5th Avenue bag that Michael Bierut designed. There is so much confidence in that design. Deconstructing a classic trademark — you won't see middle sized brands taking those chances. I definitely enjoy working with small clients and big ones; it's the middle that often gets messy.

JS: Unlike a lot of designers, you have a pretty active career in solo shows across the globe. How does the work you present in those shows — and the process of creating that work — differ from what you produce for clients?

CR: The work I'm producing for exhibition comes from a very different place. I am proud of this, and at the same time less sure of this work, which makes it quite exciting to create and to receive feedback. People often see things that the creator could never imagine and I find this very satisfying. The pieces I'm creating for those shows quite often represent me trying to work something out, allowing me to experiment more freely and to get a few things out of my system. It feels good to get things done and to move on. My art helps a lot with that.

JS: It looks like your design and screen printing company, Studio18Hundred, has given you the opportunity to work on some really fun projects. How do you attack turning the sound of a band into the look and feel of a poster?

CR: I work with bands that I am a fan of. I would listen to this music regardless of any working relationship. Music has always been a source of inspiration for me. I believe that I may be tone deaf — I'm talking full 12-tone-failure tone deaf — but sound has always translated to color and shape for me and often to something more specific. I use all of this when working on one of these prints. It's a very enjoyable, sometimes slow process to hit on what I feel is right. It's fun to participate in the music that way — it's the closest I want to be to actually being in a band.

JS: What has been your favorite concert poster to work on so far?

CR: The Brian Jonestown Massacre series. I've done four or five with them. I’ve been a fan for over a decade and am so happy to be a part of that story. Anton [the lead singer] has always been able to create beauty out of chaos. I have tried to do this with every piece of art I've created for them and they have always been very appreciative of that.

JS: Judging from the identity systems you've worked on for clients like Penguin and SugarHead Quarters, it looks like you really thrive on directing a company's visuals across the board. Would you say this is true, and if so, what do you love about it?

CR: When someone comes to me with a project the first thing I think is, "what else can this be?" I never come back with just what the client has asked for, but rather a list of ideas that they might not know they even want. I think as designers it's up to us to create our own work and not wait for someone to ask for it. It's fun to see where I can take this each time, specifically with those clothing companies. I'd love to do more fashion related work.

JS: What's coming up for you and Studio18Hundred?

CR: I have a solo exhibition opening May 30th in New York City, and a group show with three other artists in Tokyo that is opening June 6th. This summer I want to drive to Mexico, do some drawings, and take a nap near the ocean.