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May 5, 2004

{     Interview : Seripop     }    

In the two years that Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau have been working together as the printmaking collaborative design team Serigraphie Populaire they have managed to spread their work across the globe- in magazines, on the street, in books chronicling the history of rock poster art, and in art galleries across the US and Canada. They aren't stopping there. With a work ethic stronger than steel, and an ideology more powerful than a locomotive, Seripop is moving faster than a speeding bullet to become one of the most renowned forces in the printmaking world, and they're doing it all by hand.

Adam: You two are by far the hardest working duo in the screen printing/poster business, cranking out hundreds of prints a week, and doing it all by hand. When you're not taking commissions you're working on your own fine art prints, doing design work, producing a series of custom paper dolls/puppets, cranking out t-shirts, hitting the road for gallery shows and poster conventions, and playing in a noise-rock band (and I know there's stuff I'm leaving out). How the hell do you do it? Chloe and Yannick clones? Dump trucks full of crystal meth?
CL & YD aka Seripop:

Well, we have 3 GREAT helpers- Heath Cairns, Matt Moroz and Chris Taylor.
We also drink assloads of Vanilla Coke and hardly ever sleep. The lack of rest makes us grumpy, spiteful and paranoid.

Aside from the sheer physical exertion involved, this must put an incredible strain on your creative juices. How do you keep things fresh?
Our freshness is debatable... Most of our inspiration is pretty vintage. To keep getting ideas we try to spend a fair bit of time at museums, flea markets, junk shops and we watch lots of films and buy lotsa books - mostly old dusty ones. We try to buy new art and comic books but a lot of the stuff is so slick and "hip" looking that neither of us really relate to it at all. We are pretty unhip and don't really know about most of the current cool artists. We rely on our helpers and friends to fill us in. We only found out about Barry McGee 2 months ago! Also, the cool art mags are EXPENSIVE especially here in Canada. For instance, we pay $12 for a magazine here, but for 12 bucks we can get like 20 crappy home decorating and fishing books at the Salvation Army. Mostly we get inspiration from our friends- members of our art collective BLACK RAINBOW. The work our peers are doing raises the bar for our own work. Being in Montreal and seeing the work of our hero Vittorio Fiorruci on the streets inspires us and excites us- he proves that fresh, cutting-edge graphics can be carried throughout an entire career. A lot of ideas come from listening to music and reading books.

In just a couple of years, you have really managed to distinguish yourselves within the ever-growing poster/print scene. I know that you have fought hard to get where you are, and that in a lot of ways you are still fighting- despite having made a name for yourselves. How have your lives changed as a result of the successes you've achieved?
We work a lot more and now we're getting to travel a fair bit. We still don't seem too have any more $$$.

What's the best thing that's happened to you in the past year?
Getting Black Rainbow off the ground and getting our first group project done. (This includes spending time with our crew in various cities.) Also, getting gallery shows (7 so far in 04!) and going on tour with our work. That was pretty cool. It would have been better if we had the van we have now and if we didn't bring any annoying deadweight people with us, but all in all it's been a success. We've also had some luck getting our work in magazines. Oh, and hooking up with cool bands. AND meeting Derek Meier (Solid PR). I guess a lot of great stuff has happened this year. A buncha shitty stuff happened too, but overall things are rad and hopefully will continue in that direction.

Do you two get lots of love form other designers, or does it come down to some pretty intense rivalry? Would you characterize the scene as being more like a soap-opera with lots of petty jealousies and bitterness, or more like a sitcom where everything turns out for the best and you all have a good laugh before going home?
I guess a bit of both - In the poster scene we have our enemies as well as our allies and luckily so far every artist whose WORK and WORK ETHIC we admire we've become pretty tight friends with. (In real life even!) It's sorta like a big sleep-over, we travel and also stay with and party with other poster artists. (Well, we go to comic shops, vegan restaurants and museums- that's partying poster-nerd style.) When we first started we got ALOT of flack, mostly from older artists working in a VERY different style. It got to the point where we were getting nasty emails at least once a week, saying shit like "You guys are talentless dumb kids who'll never amount to NOTHING! Plus I've never heard of the bands you do shit for, so you MUST be failures!" Doing stuff that was different from the established rock poster standard and working for some of the more DIY bands got us labeled as snobs pretty quickly. It was really fucked and we both got depressed and lashed out at a lot of people.
Now the type of art we do is getting to be semi-hip, and many of the unknown bands we were doing stuff for are turning out to be some of the biggest names in the indie scene. We just wanted to do stuff we were proud of with our friends and their bands. There was a real change-over in poster art, all these new faces came in. Many were people doing work we respected and whom we could relate to, and they felt the same way about us. We all became fast friends and as Seripop just kept doing more and more stuff and getting props from outside the gig posters scene the haters kinda shut up or just faded away. I don't think they RESPECT us by any means but at least they see that we are doing a lot of hard work and that we have engaged a totally different audience. So while they might not like or relate to our stuff it "just might be valid" after all. We try to spend more time BUILDING a scene where new types of graphics are encouraged, as well as lots of traveling, swapping, collaborating and doing group shows with our peers in the poster scene. We tend to spend a lot of time visiting other's studios and talking shop. (Talkin' shit too. shhh!)

How does the rock poster audience differ from the gallery crowd- do you find one group more critical or scrutinizing of your work than the other?
We really have no idea who likes our work. I guess our friends like it. Most of our clients seem unsure. We certainly don't get any interest from galleries here in Canada.

How does it feel to see your work in a gallery, to receive that type of attention?
Feels like it's about time! Ideally we'd love to be able to show in lots of galleries and sell more fine art stuff. As it is now, it's hard to find the time and money to do non-poster work because with posters we at least know where and how to sell them. Our art prints are a different beast entirely. Now that we have made a bit of a name for ourselves it's our year to diversify. We have lots of ideas for installations and 3-D work involving prints. We'd like to paste directly on the walls and floors of galleries, build spaces covered in prints over structures of chicken wire and wood. We have lots of ideas, it's just a matter of getting time, space, and cash to do it all. We plan on doing more fine art, as well as comics and chapbooks. We're also trying to do more theatre and cultural event posters. We have been trying to get a t-shirt line off the ground for MONTHS, so hopefully we can pull that off this summer.

What would you describe as the main differences between your gallery pieces and your other work? Is it a question of subject matter, a more involved level of printing, a smaller more exclusive run of prints, or a combination of all of this and a bunch of things I haven't touched on?
A combination of the above. Our fine art tends to be less crazy than our poster work. I'm not really sure why, it just comes out that way, I guess because we aren't relating it to anything external.

Which "fine art" piece are you most proud of?
The birds on LSD!!!!!

You have some evident influences in terms of postering and printing, though your work is certainly a thing of your own creation. When it comes to the fine art/gallery end of things, who are you a fan of and who do you look towards for inspiration, or consider to be an influence on what you do?
We don't really differentiate between influences in our fine art and poster work- our influences are the same in either field. We like Saul Steinberg, Niklaus Troxler, Vitorrio Fiorucci, Nathan Gluck, Micheal English, Jesse Ledoux, Art Chantry and a million other people, there are a lot of names we don't remember. Lots of our influence comes from junk- grocery store flyers, pizza menus, plates, fabric- just random crap.

The "Riding a Coattail to Heaven" show seems to have been a success. Was the concept for the show something that Foundation gallery came up with, something you generated, or a compromise of sorts?
We don't even remember. We met Michael and Elizabeth last summer while we were on tour showing at the Texas Ballroom in Chicago and bullied them into giving us a show. We seemed to remember them wanting to show art prints, so we made some art prints. 10 of them! And they can only bee seen at Foundation for now.

Elizabeth and Michael have done an amazing job of finding artists with a common aesthetic for Foundation, dealing with people whose work is accessible yet not excessively lowbrow, intelligent but not obscure. I think Seripop embodies those concepts. You were even able to further scramble the line between fine art and the poster by offering both during this show. Which side of what you do got the most attention?
We don't know what got more attention, we pretty much just talked to other poster artists we know in Chicago the whole time. (Chicago is like the poster art capital right now). We are both pretty quiet and shy around people we don't know and I'm not sure if most of the people at the opening even KNEW we were the artists. They probably thought we were hoboes scamming on the free food. I do know that a lot of our test prints sold. That's always kinda weird and neat that people want what is basically our garbage. We'd prefer if people were more into our art prints and posters but test prints generate a lot of interest because they are one-of-a-kind. We feel that people see them on par with paintings and don't necessarily see the editioned work as REAL ART. At the same time, with our test prints nothing is planned, nothing is laid out so they aren't really our creations but are more the by-product of our art.
On another note we are really excited that Foundation and other cool galleries are springing up. We REALLY DO NOT RELATE AT ALL to the whole lowbrow art thing- graffiti art is cool but the slickness in that scene today is really far removed from our personal experiences, so it's great to finally see support for other types of underground art coming up too.

I was hoping you could discuss the idea of the "Poster Tour"- how you've mirrored the labor of touring as a band by producing a series of gig posters that are unique to each show. How did this idea come about, and how is it working out?
We just did the first installment of it for Daughters and The Chinese Stars- friends of ours and two of our favorite current bands. The idea came when we were on tour ourselves last summer. We figured it would be a good way to get our shit on the road without having to leave our house (we like staying home) AND to support some bands we think are really amazing/exciting/relevant. The first installment of 16 posters took almost a month to do (along with our regular load) and cost us 2 grand. It was WAY more work than we expected but we feel pretty rad that we were able to get it all done and feel that as a series it's strong and represents our style well.

Which bands are you working with on this project?
Next in line are An Albatross, Death From Above, hopefully The Locust, maybe our friends The Unicorns, and some other bands. It's a bit vague right now and depends on managers and booking agents being organized and not sucky.
We'd REALLY like to ask Lightning Bolt but are WAY too intimidated by them.

I know that (more than any other members of the poster scene) you two have been very careful and specific about which bands you choose to work with and which projects you accept. Since, in turn, your work is perpetually associated with those bands, this makes a lot of sense. Who is on Seripop's dream list, in terms of somebody you'd love to work with but haven't yet?
Oh my! First of all- we are both in love/lust with Dance Disaster Movement. We met them in Detroit and missed their show but traded art for records- the records BLEW US AWAY. Then we got to see them at CMJ where they were the most exciting band we saw all week. We would be really proud to be associated with them in any way. Their music is fresh and sexy and reminds me of The Contortions in a way but very NOW. We'd also LOVE to do more stuff for US Maple.
As for other bands we'd kill to do graphics for - Pink and Brown (Do they still exist? We never go outside.) SONIC YOUTH - longtime favorite of both of ours, Sun City Girls, No Doctors, SLAYER, !!!, William Parker, Shellac, Country Teasers, Oxes, Flying Luttenbachers (again do they still exist?), Test, Mindflayer, Motorhead, and I'm sure there are a million more. We're basically just big groupies who are too dorky/ugly/lame to do more than graphics. We'd really like to go back in time and do posters for Blue Cheer, Hairy Pussy, Black Flag, Arab on Radar, UT or Led Zepplin.

I love the print you did for the "Yo! What Happened to Peace?" group show in LA, and I know you have some strong feelings when it comes to the current political climate. As Canadians, you're also subject to a Prime Minister who may or may not have been rightfully elected and who is most certainly a conservative, right-wing fuck. Those of us in the US have suffered through four years of a very similar injustice. With all the warmongering and money-grabbing going on, I thought I might give you some space to give us your take on things�.
Seriously, every time we talk about the political situation we wanna run away and live in the woods. Life is bleak right now. We live in 1984, under constant surveillance. Everything in Canada is eroding fast: culture, health care, education, environment, literacy.Farm land is being turned into condos and water is unsafe. Democracy is a scam because most people are too ignorant of what is going on to make a judgment call at election time.
The war is bullshit and we are all going to die.
Probably slowly and painfully.

    » Check out their work at Seripop.com


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