The Visual Communi-gator
Illustration has always been an important part of Herron's curriculum since the school's founding in 1902. After the Eskenazi Hall facility opened in 2005, the school added "Design" to its name in order to more accurately reflect the wider scope of Herron's curriculum. Students studying drawing and illustration, along with those enrolled in Herron's Visual Communication Design major, comprise the largest group among current students. Given the large numbers of students studying these related disciplines, launching a series of exhibitions focusing on the best in illustration and graphic design seemed consistent with the gallery's goals to support the curricular needs of the school and, increasingly, IUPUI as a whole. David Plunkert seemed like the obvious choice for the inaugural exhibition of what we hope will be an exciting exhibition program. It's clear that Plunkert's work is exemplary; moreover, his practice straddles the world of traditional illustration and graphic design, often in service of some of the leading print and online media outlets today, as well as a wide range of clients in publishing and the arts.
Based in Baltimore, Plunkert runs Spur Design with his wife, illustrator Joyce Hesselberth, developing publication designs, promotional materials, and branding for clients as varied as Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Capital Records, the Baltimore Theatre Project, Netflix, The Criterion Collection, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, Warner Bros., and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Posters are a central part of Plunkert's practice. He has created hundreds of iconic posters in recent years, including one he designed for Yo Yo Ma's 2018 performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and another for an independent film about the band The Kinks. Plunkert's ongoing magnum opus, one of the more satisfying design projects of his career, consists of the posters he has created over a period of nearly 20 years for the Baltimore Theatre Project, many of which are on view here. Two of the artists outstanding book illustration projects include Frankenstein: The 200th Anniversary Edition (2018) and Edgar Allan Poe Stories & Poems (2014). Plunkert has extended his range even further with a recent pair of music videos for the band They Might Be Giants, one of which is included in this exhibition. Earlier this year, Plunkert created an image, also on view here at Herron, for #COMBATCOVID, a PSA that joined several others on more than 1,800 digital screens and billboards in New York. A series of U.S. postage stamps celebrating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) added to the artist's diverse body of work and, in part, earned him recognition as one of the most innovative graphic designers and illustrators working today.
When speaking of his process, something of fundamental importance for art students, Plunkert notes that, once a job is secured, it "typically means reading whatever text or brief is supplied and letting that percolate overnight if time allows. If I start sketching the next morning over a cup of coffee at my desk, I will usually land on something that I find satisfying in several hours or less." He continues by observing that "[s]ome projects require more or less trial and error depending on their format, scale, or scope. Once the idea is decided for an editorial illustration, it becomes a simple matter of production. A design project, on the other hand, might require a bit more back and forth and the possible tossing out of fairly completed solutions until the right one is landed upon." Going further, he says that "I still think of myself as a graphic designer and not really an illustrator. 'Mark-maker' is probably more accurate" to describe a style he has referred to in the past as "primitive pop surrealism with dust."
With influences as disparate as Picasso, Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser, Ben Shahn, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Paul Rand, Bill Traylor, Jack Kirby, and George Grosz, and also including some of his contemporaries, such as Paul Sahre, Brian Cronin, and Gary Baseman, Plunkert is informed by the past while remaining deeply connected to the zeitgeist of the particularly strange (and troubling) time in which we find ourselves living. Plunkert's ongoing body of work with the Baltimore Theatre Project, seen en masse, is hugely informative for students of graphic design and illustration. With more than 75 posters extant, he uses their creation, in his words, as a form of "visual R + D," and sees working for the same client again and again not as a limitation, but as an opportunity to push his creative practice to new, exciting places. For Plunkert, the posters are the means to explore multiple styles, visual printing systems, and printing techniques. Whether looking at a group of theatre posters, a one-off such as the poster commissioned by the Graphic Arts Festival (Fête du Graphisme) in Paris for an exhibition there, a book illustration, or an editorial work, gallery visitors to this exhibition will experience a compelling masterclass in graphic design and illustration.