Few designers or design firms manage to create a collecting frenzy over the things they design. The posters created by Aesthetic Apparatus become things of value, joy, longing and inspiration. From the coldest confines of the Midwest, Dan Ibarra and Michael Byzewski bring us some of the freshest/baddest posters of our time. And find the time to chat with us.

Aesthetic Apparatus, set of album covers for John McCrae's 'Cake'.
Aesthetic Apparatus, set of album covers for John McCrae’s ‘Cake’.

Speak Up: A few printing methods are experiencing a revival of sorts. Letterpress and Screen Printing being two of the most popular choices among designers these days. What is it about these methods that not only attracts you but makes it so appealing to both clients and designers alike?

Aesthetic Apparatus: The reason that it’s grown in popularity is probably the same reason that we started doing it ourselves. We wanted to get away from the computer for at least a couple hours and make something with our bare hands that was more tactile than working at a computer can provide. The computer is a great tool but it’s also a lot of fun to go out, get dirty and sweaty and have an object to show for it that you can feel and hold in your hands.

SU: You guys obviously love what you do; we can all see it in your work. Is there a time when you say ‘please, not another band poster’? Do you feel like you are carving a niche that one day will make it very difficult to get out of, when you wish to pursue other interests in the Design field or any other field?
AA: We’ve already carved one. We get e-mails all the time from people that would like a poster done and want to know if we know how to do “any other kind of design.” We’ve put up a design portfolio section on our site now, which should help a lot, but when the poster work is 99% of the total work, it’s going to be a person’s first introduction to us. It will always be a challenge to let people know that we do a whole lot more than just posters.

SU: The Meat Puppets poster (red ski mask). Seemingly your most popular one, the one that put you on the map with the rest of the world. At least me (I’m being brutally honest here) had never heard about Aesthetic Apparatus until I saw that poster in every design annual for the past year or two. How do you feel about that poster in particular? Do you feel it has been overexposed or that people expect to see something of that nature when they hire you?
AA: Wow, we’re on the map? That’s pretty cool. As far as the Meat Puppets poster goes it’s definitely one of our favorites. Overexposed? Never! I don’t think we’ve felt any negative repercussions of that poster appearing in several magazines.
SU: Art Chantry. Ames Brothers. Patent Pending. A certain style is common to all. What separates you from these groups of designers?
AA: One big separation might be the fact that we print all the posters ourselves. That doesn’t make them better or worse posters, but it definitely adds another aspect to us as designers that we can put this extra bit of ourselves in each poster. By extra bit of ourselves I mean we spit in the ink.
SU: How much concept is behind the posters you design? Some, like ‘Volante’ or ‘Lydia Lunch’ seem to have more meaning. Other posters, and I say this with no disrespect, seem to be things that just “look cool silk-screened” like ‘Noah Jon’s Deer poster’ or ‘Femi Kuti’s tiger’ poster. I understand your target audience is quite different from those targeted by Annual Report companies, but do you ever feel like you are just making things look pretty?
AA: Concept is kind of a weighted word, especially when it comes to designing rock posters. Every poster we do has some kind of idea behind it. Whether it’s inspired from the name or a song lyric or just how the band makes us feel. We do put a lot of thought into the imagery and the feel of posters and for us making a poster that at least conveys a sense of the band or what they’re about is really important. As far as the Noahjohn or Femi Kuti poster are concerned; the Noahjohn album “Water Hymns” (which we also designed) has a photo of a deer inside the CD package that the illustration is from. It’s just an image that we thought would be appropriate to use in the poster also. The Femi Kuti poster is inspired from a quote about Femi and his relation to his father Fela Kuti. Something like “the son of a tiger is always a tiger.” That’s probably not a direct quote. So the tiger was an important image to represent what Femi was about and the color scheme is set in the colors of the Nigerian flag.
SU: There is obviously a sense of uniqueness to your work. The limited hand printed runs add to the appeal towards your company. So being completely honest, do you consider yourselves artists or designers?
AA: We both enjoy fine art and try to think about ways to have some of our work cross over into that world but neither of us really associate directly with the fine art community and to tell you the truth it seems like the fine art community doesn’t really like to associate itself with the design community. We have gotten some opportunity to do some gallery shows but it has at times been difficult to explain to some people why we think they should give us a show. We’re probably more like the bastard children of both. We can’t be considered artists because we’re doing this all for commercial profit and we’re not just designers because we also have a craft.
SU: Thanks guys.