It seems like yesterday that I not only interviewed artist/designer, Geoff McFetridge but also commissioned him to design a cover for, Anthem, the magazine I published for eleven years. At the time, Geoff’s public persona was connected to a crew of like-minded artists, designers, sculptors and ‘disobedients’ whose roots grew out of youth culture and a DIY aesthetic. It didn’t take a crystal ball to predict that over the next decade Geoff’s work would appear on gallery walls the world over, in films and as part of Jeffrey Deitch and Aaron Rose’s seminal exhibition, Art in the Streets inside Los Angeles’ own MOCA Geffen Contemporary.
It’s easy to connect the dots and see why Geoff’s work landed on the fronts of Patagonia tees or on the top sheets of Salomon skis. His aesthetic connects the language we use to describe a feeling, a sense of freedom, adventure and mindful consciousness that transcends overpowering logos and buy-now-billboards. Here he expands on where that comes from, what it’s like to be yourself and my personal favorite, how he came to own Hank Williams Jr.’s Land Rover Defender.
Your career spans a pretty substantial list of clients ranging from Nike to Patagonia. Was designing for outdoor-related clients a conscious decision based on your interests?
All your decisions are conscious and gravity pulls you towards things. My studio is just me so I can work on projects that I like and ones that reflect my interests. I also really like variety and I like change so whether I’m asked to design t-shirt graphics or a pair of skis I take on what I like.
My work with Patagonia was the pinnacle of working for an outdoors company; they make the best gear. I just so happened to know someone who worked there and through him we found each other.
It seems like they were able to work with what elements were already there like you already had ideas for drawings and graphics.
I like using what’s already there—what builds an identity and communicates something. I’m interested in that conversation versus the idea of, “Look at this; buy it.” Patagonia really didn’t need me. Their stuff sells itself based on their values, quality and history. I had to figure out a way to work with them that honored that.
If you look at your work as a whole a lot of people might not be able to deduce that you spend so much time in the outdoors.
No one really knows through my work that I’m really interested in the outdoors [laughter]. However, I’m really interested in the conversation of where work and interests overlap. With certain clients I can directly put my interests into it.
A lot of people define success by authentically doing what they love and making a living. In fact, most everything I’ve seen you create for clients has been signature Geoff McFetridge like the ‘Live Simply’ campaign for Patagonia.
With that collection I wanted to create a line within a line that was inspired by being around Patagonia people. Their catalog really inspired people to get outside and buy gear. When you went into the store you could tell that was their voice; however, when I hung out with Yvone [Chouinard] and designer, John Rapp I got to know their sense of humor and their personalities. That’s the story I wanted to tell through my work with them, that things didn’t have to be so serious but at the same time the conversation returned back to their core values.
What was your interpretation of what you came up with?
In order for people to become more conscientious they need to become more conscious environmentally. Be more present. Live a full life. If you’re going on trips, buying fuel you’re doing things in a more considered way. The nuances of that conversation was what I wanted to communicate through art and design. Graphics have the ability to define the grey area and abstract thinking.
Is that a two-way conversation? Are there any interesting stories of people who have contacted you because of that work?
Definitely. Those graphics speak to ski town people, adventurers, climbers. A guy who does a polar exploration book series e-mailed me the other day. People like him are the most interesting to me. He’s doing something way beyond what I do but I want to reach as far away as I can for inspiration.
Your work with the LA-based, Golden Saddle Cyclery is another example of an authentic relationship.
I met Kyle [Kelley] when he first moved here through friends of friends. We ended up doing a Cyclocross team together and I designed all the suits. When I heard they were doing a bike shop I asked to do the identity. We’ve got similar tastes. I feel like when you go into a bike shop you want to see something you can’t get anywhere else. I wanted to make their look very unique.
You own what many would consider the ideal adventuremobiles. Can you tell me about your Land Rovers and Euro Van?
I like big, slow cars that are interesting. My Land Rover 90 is a 1997 and my daily driver since 1999. I got the Eurovan in 2004. The Defender 110 is a 1993, which I’ve had for a year and a half. It’s from Montana and was Hank Williams Jr.’s. [laughter] It was the first 110 ordered and I guess he’s a huge Land Rover fanatic. I Googled him and an article came up that talked about the first person to order a Defender 110 and it was him!
Evidently he was climbing a mountain and got really hurt and I bought if after he got rid of it. Conceivably, it was the first one that was pre-ordered because in 1993 they couldn’t give them away. They’re just perfect design-wise.