Ben Clark is an American graphic designer currently living and working in Los Angeles. A designer with a hefty list of studios and clients on his CV – Wieden+Kennedy, Mother, Apple, Nike, ESPN, Facebook, The North Face and Facebook all feature – it was his most recent personal project, Dogs In a Pile which caught our attention.
A Risograph-printed zine, Dogs In a Pile features 11 abstract works produced during a vulnerable time in Ben’s life. The publication takes its name from a line in the song He’s Gone by The Grateful Dead: “Cat on a tin roof, Dogs in a pile. Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile.” Ben tells us: “I had been battling some pretty intense feelings of depression since before the birth of my daughter Georgia last July. Simultaneously, I rediscovered The Dead. The few things I was able to do to mitigate these feelings was to make work and listen to The Dead with Georgia. It brought me joy.” With several pieces completed, and unsure what to do with them, Ben reached out to Colour Code Printing ahead of LA Art Book Fair who helped turn the project into the resulting zine.
In response to his situation, Ben produced these works which undulate between green, yellow, purple and orange circles featuring in each piece as a visual motif. These kinds of works feature heavily in Ben’s personal practice which, on the whole, he tries to keep separate from his day job. “Although,” he adds, “it can be nice when they overlap.” One example of this, he goes on to explain, occurred last year when Red Bull Music Academy asked him to create a series of six abstract paintings for a series of stories it was running about devotional aspects of music across several cultures. “The resulting work was something I’m really proud of,” he explains.
While Ben’s commercial work is slick, his more abstract side projects reflect his introduction to graphic design, particular in their colour palettes. “I guess I spent most of my childhood looking at punk and skateboarding graphics and trying to figure out how they were made,” he recalls. “I remember redrawing Flameboy and Ed Templeton’s Toy Machine graphics out of old issues of Thrasher.”
Visually, Dogs In a Pile explores the form and order that Ben had been trying to escape in previous iterations of his personal work. “Most of my past abstract works relied heavily on pattern manipulation and the uncontrollable results of different layers blending together,” he tells us. “For Dogs In A Pile, I wanted to make something that played with mathematical manipulations of form and pattern over time.”
Technically, Dogs In a Pile is no mean feat. “Nothing about the zine was easy,” Ben jokes. First, he had to recolour each full-colour piece based on Colour Code’s swatch book. Then, when he sent it off for printing, Jenny from the studio “kindly informed me that it would be nearly impossible to print without heavy colour separations,” he continues. Anyone who has worked in Risograph before will feel Ben’s pain as he proceeded to take on the task himself. “I offered to do all the separations, sent it back to them and the rest is history.” The result is visually arresting thanks to its combination of non-representational graphics and adept printing techniques; the colour of each page unlike anything you could achieve using different processes.
Techniques aside, however, the sentimental significance of Dogs In a Pile outweighs any experiment with colour swatches or printing. At first appearing to be a joyful expression of colour and shape, Ben’s honest description of the work gives it narrative and substance. “Thankfully,” he concludes, “I’ve been able to pull myself out of that dark place and been able to embrace my new role as a dad first and designer second.”
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