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Meet the Rinzens: Adrian Clifford, Part One

Juxtapoz // Thursday, 03 Sep 2009


Regardless of his remote location, Adrian’s words are eloquent, his designs mystical, and his wit sharp. Adrian is gifted in joining all three of these aspects into a single image to communicate layered concepts through simple lines. While drinking ginger beer in his studio, Clifford contemplates whether or not there is one universal story to be told. He looks to mythology and legends for wisdom, working to uncover a new visual culture.


Keep your eye on Adrian Clifford and read this interview for a potent dose of inspiration.

Interview by Kirsten Incorvaia


How does living in Queensland compliment your lifestyle and career?


Living here compliments lifestyle more than career I suppose; I have friends and family here, it's a fairly relaxed place and the weather is mostly great (barring the odd hellish summer). That's all a nice counterpoint to the realities of working alone in a studio for long hours each day. The flipside is that it often feels intensely remote from the more culturally thriving parts of the world!


Consistently working with four other designers is unique in your field. How do you deal with criticism from your colleagues?


It all comes down to the manner in which it's given, ha ha. I feel really lucky to have what is essentially a full-time support group of like-minded peers who I respect – it's easy to forget that that's not the case for a lot of creative people. It's also easy to tie yourself in knots working on some of these projects, so a fresh perspective or crucial bit of advice can end up saving a lot of time and anguish in getting to a better solution faster.


Does the pressure of pleasing a client ever bar your creativity?


There are good and bad clients in the same way that there are good and bad relationships in any part of life; as far as clients go we've had our share of both. The initial brief for any commercial project is not a problem - those restrictions are really the food for the creative process, the grit that forms the pearl.

Ten years after the founding of Rinzen, its members are about to take individual credit. Why?


It's probably something we should have done a while ago; there's no grand imperative for doing it now other than that we seem to have reached a kind of critical mass of certain styles of work, which makes it easier to group them by the artist rather than the application.


When we started we wanted to put a focus on the collective idea, and gradually over the years noticed that people were intrigued to guess at the authorship of the different pieces. At this stage it seems almost willfully dishonest to make it more of a mystery than it needs to be!


I hear you are an avid writer. How does writing tie in to your design work?


Besides the visual art I’ve been working at writing and also music (my much-abused and neglected muse). I wrote a lot when I was very young, making up stories and even drawing the occasional picture book (spoiler alert! They were really bad). Rinzen's work has always featured world building and characters; eventually it seemed obvious to close that circle and start working on actual narratives. Once you put your antennae up into the world of stories, you quickly realize that there are endless ideas all around us at every moment, and the hard part is not catching them but giving sympathetic shape to them.

What have you written?


The most notable piece of writing that I’ve released into the wild is the story “Algol” that appeared in Rinzen's Care Pack book. Beyond that I have a folder at bursting point with notes and drafts of other things - usually it's quickly obvious what format a story wants to take, so there are bits and pieces of short stories, children's books, comic scripts, and a novel swirling in the pot. Natural selection will determine which lives and which dies! That and the free time needed to complete them.


What kind of story did you write for Rinzen's Milky Night Care Pack?


It's a reworking of the tale of Perseus, specifically the parts of his tale that deal with the gorgon Medusa. It's less of a Boys Own adventure and more of a star-crossed love story (with snakes).


I dove back into old myths and legends a few years ago in an effort to get grounding in the foundations of how and why humans tell stories to each other – grab some of that primal clay. I'd read a lot of this stuff as a child, but revisiting it as an adult you immediately see a lot of the broader patterns at work, and get ideas about how to take some of these fantastical building blocks and re-combine them in ways that draw out the less obvious themes and metaphors and foreground them in ways that seem relevant for today. It makes you wonder whether there is really just one universal story and a billion different ways of telling it.

How does the creative output of writing compare to that of artmaking?


It's a difference of approach rather than destination, and different people will take different paths with each. I certainly wouldn't say that any idea is only at home in a single medium; probably the biggest difference is that if you're telling a story you need to be aware of more of the world therein than you actually end up depicting, whereas with visuals you can focus more on the suggestion of a thing as opposed to a mapping of it.


By combining words with images, are you able to express more than if you used either medium alone?


Not inherently - it's certainly not a case of more is more. To use them successfully together you can't just pile two approaches on top of each other, you have to navigate a third wholly distinct course which is more than the sum of it's parts (and if you took it to pieces, those parts wouldn't individually equate to a prose story or a painting).


In some ways having words and pictures together only provides you even more avenues to mess up, or more blind alleys to wander down. When it's done right, though, it's an amazing thing; I treasure good comics and animation because in every case the very mode of representation is as unique as the idea being expressed.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of Adrian Clifford's interview.


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