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August 14, 2004

{     Interview : Bobby Dixon     }    

In a state full of shitkickers and rock snobs, Bobby Dixon is a man apart. Fronting Kollective Fusion, the soon-to-be maverick design firm, he's cracked the gig poster scene wide with designs that explode the traditional formats- serving up work that goes beyond expectations and offering up a healthy dose of old-school cool while he's at it. He's postered for everybody from Al Green and RjD2 to the Darkness and Fischerspooner, in addition to currently working on several mixed-media paintings. (Gallery curators take note.) I even caught him teaching underprivileged kids about graphic design on his day off.

Adam: I spent a few years growing up in east Texas, south of Dallas, and had a typically small-town miserable time of things. The town I lived in was the kind that actively fought desegregation, and there was a lot of that attitude lingering. It's one of the main reasons I was happy to leave. So- "Texas" and "Hip-Hop" aren't words I usually find hanging out in the same sentence together. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the Lone Star scene, drop some names, and just fill us in on the flavor.
Bobby: Texas right now, as far as hip-hop culture, is in a pretty odd spot in my opinion. We definitely have the "dirty south" label attached to us right now and it's to the point where if you're not dirty no one feels for you on a national or international level. It's not that I'm hating on it, but there's so much that Texas has to offer to the global hip-hop community and we're only selling one flavor. Cat's like Bavu Blakes at Word4Word and Nick Nack at Crowd Control Records have been putting out quality shit for a minute and they're just now really bubbling beyond the Lone Star state. There are a lot more MCs, DJs, b-boys/b-girls, artists and designers in Texas that are just as good, if not better than most of the stuff you see and hear out there today, we just need a few to reach that next level so more eyes look towards us. I've been in Austin since 1991 and I've got to say I've seen the scene grow and try to acquire an identity for itself, but it's hard to become an influential hip-hop scene in the "live music capital of the world" when Austin is still a backwoods, country town that only looks out for certain types of music. It'll take time, but the talent that's here will show and prove before you know it...well I hope it does because lord knows there are several folks down here who have paid their dues.

How did the idea for Kollective Fusion evolve?
Kollective Fusion was born with the idea of power in numbers. Similar to what I was saying before about hip-hop culture in Texas, it's really hard to establish yourself in the "urban" art/design international community when folks still see you as country. A good friend of mine, Stephen Donovan and I began Kollective Fusion together with intentions of combining our resources and talent, along with other Texas artists, to make some noise across the nation. Recently Stephen took a hiatus from KF to focus on his own artistic endeavors but I'm keeping it going with big plans and collaborations in the works. The direction Kollective Fusion is going now is beyond just Texas artists and so far the response we've gotten across the nation has been great.

Are you designing clothes as well? What can you tell me about that?
Back in '96 I started Asiatic All World, a clothing line consisting of mostly t-shirts, hoodies and caps. I took a break from producing new product when the American and Japanese economies went into recession, but it should return to market by 2005, hopefully with strong financial backing.

It looks like you spent a little time at South by Southwest, doing the Flatstock thing. With the festival larger than ever, are you feeling like things are getting better or getting worse for poster artists in the shadow of SxSW?
The gig poster scene right now is great! SXSW is probably my favorite week of the year. So many bands, so many styles of music, great people, alcohol is flowing, the shit is crazy. You throw Flatstock into that mix, and Austin has got to be the best city on the planet. I've met some of the coolest folks due to Flatstock and gigposters.com and the talent that these people have is inspiring. Nowhere else in my experience can you get a ridiculously diverse group of people together, have a great time, sell some work and establish lifelong friends within a 2-3 day period like you can with Flatstock. I only see the poster scene getting bigger and better, and I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity to become a part of the scene.

Do you have any good SxSW stories? What was the most impressive thing you checked out?
Man, I don't want to incriminate myself. This past year I can honestly say I didn't have to pay for a single drink all week. Participating in my first Flatstock was definitely the highlight. I saw Joan Jett perform live and got to hang with Shepard Fairey. The music and the shows are the best, and being buzzed for an entire week is alright with me. Everyone needs to check out at least one SXSW in their lifetime and pick up some posters at Flatstock while you're there. You can also just kick back and make fun of all the fashionistas trying hard to play the role.

Independence is certainly an indelible part of the Texas spirit, and your poster clientele reads like a "who's who" of indie hip-hop and rock, and other artists known for doing it their way. Is this conscious hand-picking on your part?
Pretty much. When it all boils down to it, and most other poster artist are the same way, I do posters for groups that I'm feeling. Kinda like giving back to the music, as cheesy as that sounds. To me it's like a personal, artistic reaction to the music I love, because you definitely don't do it for the money. The one thing that is great about doing gig posters is the independent artistic license you have in most cases. Of course you can get that by strictly creating your own artwork, but the relationship between your artistic vision and the music that has inspired it is so much more direct and instant in a gig poster.

Thinking about the music, what are you listening to right now?
I'm filling my iPod on the daily. EPMD's Greatest Hits, RJD2, Diverse, Zero 7, Robert Randolph, a lot of Def Jux stuff. Recently I've been getting into other stuff; The Darkness, The Killers, The Strokes, (anything with a "The" before it), Jet. For the most part though, I'm consistently listening to rap from the late 80s to mid 90s. And slow jams, definitely slow jams. Everything from Teddy Pendergrass, Keith Sweat, Jodeci, Maxwell, Force MDs, Art of Noise's "Moments In Love", to Guy.

I think the first piece of your work I noticed was an Al Green poster up on Gigposters- it kind of blew me away because it had this very "back in the day" feel, but was obviously fresh too. I actually had to date-check it to make sure. A lot of your work seems to grab that retro vibe, and I'm curious as to what influences led to this look and feel?
It's definitely the music. It's almost like you could throw a group, or a particular song, or a certain lyric at me and an image pops into my head instantly. Part of the retro look is to due to my love of older gig posters, album covers, and flyers, but you still have to flip it and make it yours.
Someone brought up a very relevant fact that that particular Al Green poster may not be suitable to the Al Green of today, but when I think of Al Green and his music, that is the image that comes up. As a poster artist I believe you have a duty to represent a group and its image with your artwork and sometimes that just comes naturally depending on the music and what it does to you emotionally.

Your recent Robert Randolph jersey poster is the kind of thing that turns a lot of heads, and it works so well with the band in question, fits them so perfectly, that I'm guessing you must be a fan. Not only is it a great example of the gig poster format at it's best, but it's a truly inspired and memorable piece. Is it easier when you already know and love the musician you're postering for?
Thanks, I'm very happy with the way that one turned out. At times it can be easy to do a poster for a band you love, but it can also be very difficult.
You want to do your best to capture the image of a group you love and sometimes you don't feel that what you've done is worthy enough to represent them. It's not so much about impressing the actual band, but more about doing justice to what their music has done for you and their fans. Like, if I ever got an opportunity to do a poster for Rakim I'd probably get an ulcer trying to make it something that truly represents what his music has done for me. Ultimately, if you have a true love for something and you put your soul into it, you'll come up with something memorable and inspirational because you won't allow yourself to do anything less.

Pieces like that, the DJ Mel "Jordan" piece, and the Snoop Dogg bandana piece, show you using the poster format in some really nontraditional ways. You're breaking with the form and doing some really innovative work there. What has the reaction been like from your clientele? How are the poster-heads feeling about it?
Response has been great. Unexpected even. Other poster artists have been very encouraging and supportive, and these are the folks that I consider nontraditional and innovative. I can only hope to return the support that has been shown to me.

Conversely, your recent Darkness, the Raekwon samurai robot and the Fischerspooner dominatrix posters stick pretty close to the accepted "form" but take the graphic design to new places with some really nice layering and images- you're practically giving these artists new logos with every poster. How do you decide which direction a poster will go, and what inspires these slick logo-esque images?
The direction lies totally with the way the music takes me. Every choice I've made has had the music first and foremost in mind. Of course, this is my take on how I see music so it may not relate to a viewer the same way. On all my posters I'll fire off a few concepts while listening to their music and then further refine and develop one of them, but every once in awhile one comes along that I think is perfect from the get go.

My obligatory question for all poster designers- Who's your dream design job? Who would you most like to poster for?
Eric B and Rakim. Without a doubt. I owe it to them. I have to constantly stop myself from thinking about that possibility because it keeps me up at night thinking what I'd do artistically if I had that opportunity.

In scoping your online portfolio, I noticed some nice graf work and what looked like some canvassed paintings. Do you still pick up the brush or the spray can?
I've got about 20 unfinished painting right now, hopefully to be finished this year, and I've got some art prints coming up in the near future. I can't afford to get knocked doing walls anymore, but the desire is still there.

Any aspirations towards the gallery?
Definitely. This year I'm in a few group shows and I'd like to get into a few solo exhibitions. It's funny though, because I can't stand the gallery "scene".

There's been a lot of graffiti/fine art crossover, more so in recent years especially, and I was wondering if there's anybody out there that's really impressing you?
Doze Green. Futura. Haze.

When doing design work, do you still like to sit down with a sketchbook, or are you usually sitting at a computer screen?
Both. It depends on the direction, but ultimately it ends up in the computer at some point, mostly for speed and convenience, but I still carry a black book with me every day. To me, the computer is just another means to an end; another tool. One day, time permitting, I'll cut some red and rock it old school.

Do you have plans to tackle other formats- such as working in 3D with some urban vinyl or putting out some music as a label?
There's a good possibility for some urban vinyl. I'd love to do toys.
Besides sneakers it's my latest addiction. There's no limit to what I'm going to try to do; there just aren't enough hours in the day. When it's all said and done, I just want to make cool shit.

I know you've done some branding work with logos for some pretty big names in the corporate world. You seem to have a real passion for creating those images- is this all just a means to an end (paying the bills), or is it something you feel like you'll be doing for the rest of your life on the career tip?
Art and design are a necessity in my life. Both creating and appreciating it. I love it and as long as I can make a dollar I'm going to keep on keepin' on. Everyone should try to achieve their passions and do what they love career-wise. I mean, do what you've got to do to pay the bills, but you've got to have love for yourself at the end of the day.

Speaking of careers, I don't wanna show the softer side of Kollective Fusion, but I understand you've been doing some work with the Austin Independent School District, showing the shorties some love by showcasing non-traditional career choices at the LOOK! Conference. What was KF's role exactly?
The softer side. That's funny. Like I'm all hard 'n shit.
LOOK! was a great experience that still continues to this day. A couple of friends of mine are middle school teachers here in Austin. Let's just say these aren't the type of schools Mr. Hilton would enroll little Paris and Nikki in. The general public doesn't expect much from these kids beyond a blue collar job after high school. My friends put together these workshops where we go in and interact with the students on non-traditional careers. DJs, B-boys, music journalists, artist and designers, we all go in there and basically show them other career paths and get them thinking about their future. I go in and break down what a graphic designer is and what they do. Get them to think about all the different areas of design that there are. And these kids have some talent. One 8th grader got inspired to do a clothing line so I got him to design a logo and I got it printed on a run of shirts that he sold and gave to his friends and family. It wasn't so much about what we were teaching them as it was about somebody that they could relate to that actually gives a damn about their future.

Bobby's work is featured in The Art of Modern Rock, published by Chronicle Books as well as Panda Meat published and edited by Frank Kozik and distributed by Last Gasp. You can also catch up with Bobby when he hits Flatstock 5 at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival this Labor Day weekend.

See more at:
    » Art of Modern Rock
    » Panda Meat
    » Gig Posters/
    » Kollective Fusion

Comments

i got a kollectivefusion t-sirt from a hiphop shop in Austin Tex. next to the university and i want more t-shirts and outstanding(pimpshit) art. I found an artitle about the store and it had a number but it was to a reality agency. hock up the 411 on the store wher you sell them in texas or anywhere were i can order & check out the goods. thanks. made props to your art work.

Posted by: King Slosh Josh at October 29, 2005 5:10 PM

where do i find kollective fusion t-shirts and art work? help me get some kollective fusion please.

Posted by: king slosh at April 13, 2006 8:50 AM
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