We are honored to share with you our next colectivo futurist as we’ve been very big fans of his work for quite some time. Chad Kouri is a Chicago based artist who blends his many influences and passions into an immensely diverse body of work, ranging from typographic experiments to collages, wallpapers, and full scale exhibitions and workshops spread across the entire United States. From simply browsing Chad’s online portfolio one can tell he’s got a passion for all things handmade and you can definitely feel his close affinity to working closely with raw materials, in particular paper. While we also appreciate individuals who embrace new ways of creating, tt’s great to see artists that are completely connected to the roots of their craft. We hope you enjoy our interview with Chad below, as well as some of our favorite pieces from his vast portfolio.
CHAD KOURI (Visual Artist / Designer, Chicago)
* Tell us a bit about yourself, how and when did you choose graphic design as a means to express yourself and as a way to earn your living?
I actually took my first freelance design job when I was 15. I designed the logo, program and set for a local dance company recital I was a part of in the greater Detroit area. Shortly after that I started working at a friend’s mother’s photo studio. Along with mowing the lawn, I painted a mural for senior portraits and also learned Photoshop over the shoulder of an older woman who was taking portrait retouching classes somewhere in the town. So I was lucky in my high school years, not having that dark grey cloud of anxiety over my head when it came to what career path I was interested in. But my interest in design, subconsciously through written and visual language, came much earlier than I can clearly say. I was diagnosed with Dyslexia at a young age which lead to a bunch of alternative learning exercises and tutoring after regular school hours. These lessons included things like writing words in sand and wearing tinted glasses to bring down the contrast on a page when reading. So, I think I was like 6 or 8 when I was asked to consider how I saw the world around me, and to learn different ways of “reading” it. I think this is another reason why I’ve been able to make a living out of design.
* You’re one of the founding members of The Post Family, a multi-dimensional creative incubator based in Chicago. For those who are not familiar with their work, how would you describe what they do and ?
Our mission pretty much sums it up… “Everything is for the growth of our family members and community by supplying them with the resources and inspiration to accomplish their individual goals.” To expand on that, we are 7 creative types—mostly web and print designers—that were sick of being on the computer 16 hours a day and we all yearned for projects that got our hands dirty, like printmaking and such. So we started a shared printmaking studio and blog between the 7 of us which has grown over the past 5 years to an exhibition and work space for everything from intimate music performances and doodle parties to formal painting shows and late night screen printing/letterpress printing sessions. We started this effort to give our creative urges a place to thrive outside of a client relationship or creative brief. We also hoped to provide a meeting place for other like-minded creatives in the community to discuss passion projects and find the traction and knowledge they needed to get those projects in motion. So rather than taking branding and design projects as a family, we do fine art commissions for offices and homes, curatorial projects, lectures, self publishing, and facilitate workshops and other learning opportunities with various institutions and communities around the world both digitally and in person. One of our main efforts as of late has been to create various scenarios for learning free of consequence, hierarchy, or ego. You can see examples of this in our recent L E V E L exhibition or Pratt lecture and workshop. There is also this great video that Levi’s put together a few years ago when we were a part of their workshop efforts in San Francisco. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
* From glancing at your instagram feed, one can tell you’re constantly traveling around the US. What can you tell us about how that ties into your work? What have been some of your most memorable experiences while traveling?
Traveling is a fairly new thing for me. As more lovely people from Chicago move on to other cities and opportunities, my partner and I find ourselves visiting and working more and more outside of town. Especially since both of us manage our own client lists and don’t have nine-to-five jobs that restrict our travel to vacation days. Also, the fact that the internet takes away all geographical restrictions on a community with common interests, we have made tons of super talented friends by just emailing people who make work that we adore.
For me, some of the most memorable moments while traveling are random social gatherings with friends, new and old, while drinking beers and discussing “The state of the creative class” (for lack of a better, less pretentious way to describe it). Doing studio visits with various MFA students is a ton of fun as well. I didn’t have enough money to finish an undergrad program so I’m constantly looking for opportunities to learn, critique, reflect and discuss process, practice and creative habits. It’s like seeing the faces for the first time in Rubin’s vase. Conversations like these create this strange chemical reaction in my head that feels like my whole brain is smiling. I can’t get enough.
* In your website you hint at your love for jazz, where does that come from and how do you feel it reflects on your graphic work?
Jazz has been a part of my life for a while. I played saxophone for about eight years in middle and high school, four of those years included jazz band classes and marching band on top of the classical training learned in orchestra class. Growing up, most days I spent more time playing music (two to four hours a day) than anything else. I almost went to college for music but decided that I was more willing to be flexible in my design work in order to make a living than in music. Personally, music has way too many emotional attachments for me to ever bring it into a situation where finances lead the conversation. But I constantly draw lines between the design/art making process and playing jazz. It’s very similar. Jazz musicians learn scales, standards and riffs over time that they add to their toolbox, and when skilled enough are asked to create solos and improvisational riffs by chopping up a bunch of elements from their tool box to make something new. Just like a designer utilizes existing typefaces, design fundamentals, color theory and more to create original work. But for now, I leave the music making to our amazing jazz community here in Chicago. I make it a priority to see at least a few jazz shows a month whether I’m in Chicago or elsewhere. It’s almost a medicinal experience for me. What a great way to meditate and hit the reset button on your week, while prepping for the next.
* If you could choose a soundtrack for your work, what would you choose?
So, I have this thing I do with the jukebox at my neighborhood bar. I’ll throw in money for about 10 tracks and smack in the middle of an all Motown or jazz setlist, I will drop in a little thrash metal track just to make sure people are listening. I like music that makes people move their bodies, regardless of the genre. So it would probably be an equal mix of some goofy Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus tracks, finger snapping Motown tunes and every once in a while a Wu Tang or Slayer track that get’s your head moving around like a crazy person. Although, lately I feel like all I ever need to listen to is one of these Astro Nautico mix tapes that come out every year or so. They are great.
* What is your favorite thing about living in Chicago?
Hands down, the people. We’ve noticed from recent travels that the midwestern friendliness and work ethic can be spotted from a mile away. Sometimes during our travels we get into casual interactions with people that seem to be masked in some kind of ulterior motive which is a real turn off. Like people are testing you to see if you are worth their time. But, lucky for us, we know a lot of great people in a bunch of different cities and any good friends of good friends almost instantly become great friends of our own.
* You recently started working with Cody Hudson of Struggle Inc. fame on a new project, can you tell us a bit more about what to expect? Are there any other projects you will be working on in the future that you could tells us about?
I’ve been doing some work with Cody for a few years on and off now, but recently he locked me into a year long contract where I’ve been helping with graphics and art direction for a lot of clients in the street wear world like DC shoes, Stussy, Quiksilver and others. I haven’t done a lot of work in the apparel world so it’s been an interesting and exciting change. I’ve been doing a lot more research into fashion trends and pattern design, which has been influencing all my other work in interesting ways. But in a more general way, we came together on some design projects so that we could individually spend more time on our art practices. So now I can put more time into my artwork and exhibition opportunities without feeling like I should be spending every moment that I’m not designing looking for more commissioned work. We are hoping to push together some collaborative prints and other projects between all of this, but haven’t found the time quiet yet. It will come.