Justin Hunt Sloane

NYC-based artist and designer Justin Hunt Sloane's fascinating, interdisciplinary work demonstrates the value of an experimental, iterative approach to the creative process.

Describe your work in three words...
Searching for equilibrium.

How did your interdisciplinary approach to art and design develop?
I came to design through working in silkscreen shops from age 15-19. My dad’s friend had a shop outside of Sacramento, California, and I started working there in high school. Silkscreen printing production was a nice marriage of physical and digital processes and it set me up with an understanding of how to manipulate individual steps of a process to generate different results.

I moved to LA in 2006 to attend junior college, and I started showing bad paintings at galleries in LA during that time. I applied and ended up getting a scholarship to study at Art Center in Pasadena the next year. I was enrolled in the graphic design program there but took a lot of classes in industrial design and fine art. While I was in school I also started an experimental publication with Jesse Hlebo, a photo student at Art Center; we maintained this project from 2008-2014.

I moved to New York in 2010 and worked as an artist’s assistant and fabricator. I worked for the artist Anicka Yi and also worked at a printmaking studio that produced large scale oil based print editions for Dan Colen and other artists represented by the Gagosian. In the fall of 2014 I started working for Wolff Olins as a senior designer—I kept that job until the end of 2015 and have been working as an independent consultant since.

Tell us about a recent project you've particularly enjoyed...
I have an ongoing dialogue with the Sharp Type foundry that is becoming an interesting and vital case study for me. I started off working with them in early 2016 on their brand and the UI of their website, I have continued to work with them on producing brand materials, specimens and animations for their social media channels. I enjoy that the project is sprawling and holistic and designed to grow.

How has collaboration with other artists and designers shaped your own practice?
I have a close circle of friends who I am constantly learning from and being motivated by—we have an open dialogue about sharing resources and ideas. I wouldn’t have the same practice at all if I didn’t have people around me on a similar wave.

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Website brand and color system for Sharp Type Co.

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Website brand and color system for Sharp Type Co.

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Website brand and color system for Sharp Type Co.

What's the relationship between your self-directed projects and more commercial work, and how do they feed into one another?
I’m very fortunate in that the majority of the commercial work I end up doing is part of my practice or has a relationship with my personal work. In 2016 I designed stagecraft for the summer music festival at MoMA PS1, designed photo books for the Aperture Foundation, ongoing work with the Sharp Type foundry, and worked at 2x4 as part of the brand team making images, textiles and environmental graphics for Prada. All of these projects either provided me with work that makes sense within my practice or gave me some kind of social connection to good work happening in my industry, even if it’s not fully my own.

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After the Museum, The Museum of Arts and Design, Exhibition brand and printed materials, 2013.

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After the Museum, The Museum of Arts and Design, Exhibition brand and printed materials, 2013.

You describe your Simula typeface, featured on your website, as not being based on re-drawings of existing characters. What inspired you to create a typeface in this way, without a historical origin?
I wanted to approach the typeface in the way that I approach gestural drawing. I make drawings quickly and evolve a single idea through repetitive quick iterations—the results are a product of editing and selection from a large body of work, rather than labouring over a singular result. In this way, it’s similar to a photographic process.

The font itself started out looking like a monospace slab-serif coding font based on simple geometry, a single circle and a few different blocks. Over time I’ve moulded it into a modern serif display font. It still retains proportions and character from the original drawing but now has a roman and an italic in three different weights.

The italic has evolved as a counter response to the friendliness of the original font, it has an aggressive black-letter texture that challenges the openness of the roman.

The name Simula is taken from an obsolete programming language developed in 1965 at the Norwegian Computing Center in Oslo. The impermanence and constant evolution of programming languages is interesting to me, a piece of immaterial technology waste, a dead language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simula). Outputting a set of drawings as a piece of software, and evolving it through versioning and improvement, is relatable to my practice as a whole.

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Simula, Font family, 3 weights, 6 fonts, work in progress, 2015–2017.

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Simula, Font family, 3 weights, 6 fonts, work in progress, 2015–2017.

What attracts you to the form of the book as a vehicle for ideas and a tool for experimentation?
I think the book form is another thing that eases my anxiety about permanence and singularity. A book as an art object is nice because it allows me to build an idea through many associations and use a sequence of images and textures to bring a visual idea together.

This process came out of our process for making the Underscore Quarterly publication. The issues would work as a call-and response between the editors and different collaborators brought in for each issue; topics ranged from simple visual ideas (Sea, Musical Notation), to vast sociopolitical concepts (Violence, Societal Oppression, Land Division).

The books I make of my own work revolve around single ideas that have been at the centre of my exploration during a long period of time. The books all ruminate on ideas about perception and psychology. My first book, The Patio, The Small Room, The Long Walk, is an attempt to reconstruct a dream. I made collages out of found imagery to reconstruct the three stages of my dream, drawing from the collective subconscious on the internet to reconstruct my own.

The second book, Body, deals with attempting to locate the body and understand physical disassociation people commonly experience. A lot of the text in this book is taken from anonymous YouTube comments and trolling behaviours online, body disassociations. The imagery deals with sensations like pain, pleasure and hallucination, moments when the body is the central focus.

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Body, Self published book, 150 pages, measures 4.25x6.87”, 2014.

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Body, Self published book, 150 pages, measures 4.25x6.87”, 2014.

What would be your advice to aspiring interdisciplinary designers at the beginning of their career?
The way that the design education system is structured right now makes it really difficult to do more than one thing. While I was in school, economic instability made it seem really difficult to justify being a generalist because the end-game was always a job. And jobs are usually given only to specialists with a singular focus on one thing (graphic design, art direction etc..). Classes in different disciplines are offered but ‘multi-disciplinarian’ isn’t really a valid career path to students entering design school.

This is strange because many of the people I feel have had the heaviest long term impact on the design industry have been generalists—Rodchenko, Vignelli, Kalman, or studios like Nendo or 2x4. There are definitely individuals taking that model and running towards something different. I think we’re in the era of the individual rather than the studio, most studios have too many financial overheads to take on interesting work.

The only advice I can give is to go slow; being interdisciplinary doesn’t mean you are working on 5 things at once. I try to work heavily within a single discipline for about a year before moving on to another project. Spreading yourself really thin over five things usually leads to five mediocre things rather than one good thing.

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Affinity Sculptures, Mixed media table sculptures that can be reassembled in various compositions combining contrasting materials, 2015.

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Sculptural Furniture Study, anodized aluminum, rivets, rubber, 2015.

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Sculptural Furniture Study, anodized aluminum, rivets, wooden dowels, rubber, 2015.

What are you working on now, and what's next for you?
Trying to finish the typeface is the consuming task right now, I’m looking forward to completing it and moving on to other projects. I have been doing a lot of research into early computer interfaces and outdated GUI, and I am trying to translate that into a graphic language I can use across drawings, small sculptures and textiles. I applied for a table at the New York Art Book fair, so I am hoping those things will all come together by then.

justinsloane.com

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Mixed media and charcoal composition, 2011 — 2015.

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Mixed media and charcoal composition, 2011 — 2015.

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Underscore Quarterly Publication, Dimensions Variable, Mixed Media, 2008 — 2014.