Julian Montague applies his bold graphics to many mediums – paint, print, large-scale murals, and digital formats, among others. His earnest yet playful work is now featured as fine art prints in the Shop. Here, the New York-based artist talks about his practice and inspirations.
How do you use text with form to create visual impact?
Text appears in my work in different ways depending on the project. I’m very interested in the way that words and images interact with one another. As a graphic designer, I engineer those interactions on a daily basis. I love book covers, posters, and record covers because they are the most efficient/dynamic platform for that interaction. The meaning of an image can be completely changed by a few words, and the meaning of the words can be changed by the image. With my fictional exhibition posters, the effect can be particularly magical. For example, a random photograph I took of a pile of debris becomes a 1970s land art project with just a one-word title. With my landscape pieces, I’m more interested in using the text to draw out the ambiguity of language in relation to the image. In “Peak,” which depicts a simplified mountain top, I want the viewer to wonder maybe why it isn’t called “Summit” or “Mountain” or “Massif” and so on.
Your fine art (for lack of a better word) is influenced by your graphic design practice. Do you approach original works differently than multiples, conceptually speaking?
Although I use the tools and techniques of graphic design in my artwork, the conceptual difference between that and my client-based design work is critical. Even when I am using a similar visual language on both, the work I do in the service of a client’s ideas is design, and what I do in the service of my ideas is art. The fictional posters are a good example of how the two can be different. When I design a poster for a client, I’m given, at the very least, the information that needs to be communicated. When I create a fictional sign sometimes I have an image first, and then I make up the title and the artist’s name. It’s technically a poster, but the creative/design process is in reverse.
"Back in 2016 I had the idea that doing a project around a fictional art gallery would create a conceptual space where I could develop a lot of ideas and images that might not have a place in my other work. What I like about the exhibition poster is that it presents itself as a fragment of some larger body of work that the viewer has to imagine into being."
You created a series of works based on exhibition posters for a fictional gallery. Where did this originate from?
I started making fictional book covers and posters as part of a multi-faceted project I did about the intersection of animals and architecture (it was largely about spiders). At the center of my project was a kind of undefined author figure. I realized that I could make a series of book covers that addressed the theme of the project and present them as the reading materials of this character (complicated, I know). So I took old library books and put my invented covers (with titles like “Intuition and Pest Control” and “Wildlife Incursions into Modern Architecture”) underneath the worn cellophane book sleeves.
The effect was that they looked very real, and the viewer, whether they understood if they were fake or not, had to think a little about what the contents of the book might be. It was a way of prompting an imaginative process that informed the other parts of the project. Back in 2016 I had the idea that doing a project around a fictional art gallery would create a conceptual space where I could develop a lot of ideas and images that might not have a place in my other work. What I like about the exhibition poster is that it presents itself as a fragment of some larger body of work that the viewer has to imagine into being. I set the Thorold Gallery in 1970s Britain. I like this period for the style of late modern graphic design and because at that time, most of the big ideas in contemporary art were present, so there was a wide range of possibilities. I started thinking of it as a small commercial gallery, but then it started growing as I made up more posters, so now it is huge with a screening room, sculpture garden, lecture series, etc. Ironically, I started making paintings for my fictional artists, and then I tried showing them along with a text explanation of their convoluted origin. I quickly realized that once the paintings were on the wall, I had lost control of the conceptual narrative and that they were, in fact, “paintings,” so I decided to try making them with more (if not absolute) sincerity.
Do you have any hidden or secret influences?
I generally wear my influences on my sleeve — lots of mid-century modern graphic design. Less visible is the influence that the late 1980s skateboarding aesthetics had on me. I was obsessed with it as a kid, and I think it shapes a lot of how I see things now. When I got older, I realized that Transworld Skateboarding Magazine had been art directed by David Carson (later of Raygun Magazine). So without knowing it, I was consuming some of the most radical graphic design of its time! I was also influenced by the album cover designs Vaughn Oliver did for 4AD Records. I was obsessed with that kind of atmospheric photo-illustration approach, but I ultimately went in a very different direction in my own visual work. I also count Tintin comics as a foundational visual language for me.
Discover more at montagueprojects.com.