Creative Quarantine: Designer Perrin Stamatis

Lyrics of Life, Happy Set 1, Detail | ©Perrin Stamatis

Perrin Stamatis sat down with Esthetic Lens recently and spoke to us about his many observations on the pandemic, taking on interesting new clients, returning to a project from a few years back and the blissful musical surprises that listening to music on shuffle has brought him.

1. How are you holding up?

Wow, thanks for asking! Eh. There is the pandemic itself, and then people’s reactions to the pandemic. I am extremely fortunate to have the essentials, to be working, and to have my family and I and those in our tight circle of friends are doing well (as of now). Everything to do with teaching design classes online, the basics of living, and raising a teenager is challenging and requires more forethought, ice cream, and planning. It’s exhausting but somehow manageable.

Witnessing the wide range of responses to the pandemic causes me the most concern. From my own observations, most people don’t even pay attention to stop signs, speed limits, escalator etiquette, leaving an airplane in a sane manner, etc…We are the most regulated species on the planet for a reason. So, HOW, how, HOW are we going to expect everybody to follow the same set of simple behavior modifications? Especially when the guidelines are in a constant state of change and disagreement.

The idea of a “return to normal” is a mirage disguised as a goal and it weighs me down. But, when I think about moving with it and through it, I feel optimistic as it’s more about adaptation. Things are never ideal, so you do what you can—when you can—however you can.

Lyrics of Life, Exhibition View, 2019 | ©Perrin Stamatis

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Yes, it has. All the conferences and exhibitions that I would normally attend, exhibit work in, or speak at were canceled. A great scholarship opportunity in Europe was canceled too—hopefully, it was just postponed. Some conferences and exhibitions have moved online, but the annual cycle of these hasn’t begun yet. At the STA (The Society of Typographic Arts) we have moved our annual competition, STA 100, to an all-online experience. We’ll miss hanging out with everybody in-person to celebrate the announcement of the winners during the judge’s night event. But we’ll be doing it all virtually. Get those entries in! The deadline is Nov 6.

Keiser .925, Steel punches stamped into paper, 2020 | ©Perrin Stamatis

This has caused me to shift gears on my own. I returned to client work with a very interesting client, Keiser .925, created by Jason Hopkins. He makes the most unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry and clothing. You have to see it to believe it—hence our approach to his logo, business cards, and the materials he would need for a trunk show. Unfortunately, those shows were canceled too. The logo needed custom lettering so that it could function in several mediums: a steel punch, so Jason could stamp all his sliver work with his maker’s mark. The same logo needed to be legible at an extremely small size and also be legible when embroidered into a fabric clothing label, then also work as a metal foil stamp for printed pieces.

Keiser .925, Silver foil logo and business card, 2020 | ©Perrin Stamatis

Embroidered Clothing Labels, 2020 | ©Perrin Stamatis

I also returned to a personal project, a silkscreen print series that I started in 2018, called, Lyrics of Life. It began as an exploration about loss as it all started several years ago when I was driving through a cemetery for a funeral while listening to a blues tune, Reconsider, by Lowell Fulson. The singer was painfully wailing “So, long…oh how I hate to see you go….” That stayed with me as a very true and appropriate juxtaposition. I attempted to recreate this experience, visually, by using typography in a series of compositions that juxtapose song lyrics and obituary pages from newspapers—with the lyric type from blues and rock tunes silk-screened directly on the newspaper. To me, obituaries are the typographic equivalent of cemeteries.

Lyrics of Life, Metals Set 1 | ©Perrin Stamatis

The lyrics form a soft rebellion and protest against the inevitable that lies underneath. Each color is used to divide the lyrics into multiple voices: a phrase in color, (some in white) and in black. Each can be read separately or together. The newspaper is acidic. It, too, will eventually fade, become brittle, and fall apart.

Lyrics of Life 1, Exhibition View, 2019 | ©Perrin Stamatis

After five exhibitions and talking with the people responding to the work—I felt like doing a few more sets of prints that juxtapose more positive lyrics and celebratory themes against the obits. Now that we are 7 months into a pandemic, in Oct 2020, I feel more of an urge to deface the newspaper obituary text with joyful messages. To blot it out with large, powerful words and colors…to cover it up. So, the next series, Happy, which is currently in production uses It’s a Wonderful World, (Your love keeps lifting me) Higher and Higher, and Here comes the sun.

Lyrics of Life, Happy Set 1 | ©Perrin Stamatis

Online exhibitions aren’t the best way to experience these prints—but I’ll take what I can get right now. The very nature of this concept requires an in-person experience—like a sculpture. It’s not dimensional in that an observer must move around it 360 degrees, but the lighting does affect the metallic inks.

Lyrics of Life, Metals Set 1, Installation View Video | ©Perrin Stamatis

More importantly, the viewer goes through a distance-based transformation. They see the largest type from a distance and when they are drawn closer to the print, the meaning of the lyrics is changed by the slow reveal of the obituaries. This is what I have witnessed, observing, and talking to people who encounter these prints.

Lyrics of Life, Color Set 1 | ©Perrin Stamatis

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I’ve added very practical things and even a conscious decision to compartmentalize my approach to work and life. I don’t know if I can retain these things after this is over. Because the main thing that I enjoy right now is being able to do WHAT I feel like doing—WHEN I feel like doing it. I know, it’s so childish and demanding. But it’s very fulfilling and relaxing to be like Veruca for a little while. What an idea: eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, etc…

I’d prefer to work on one thing at a time, doing a deep dive and pushing through the walls, and gaining a very intense understanding of the project. So many connections are made by approaching it that way. But it’s just not possible right now. Unless things drastically change, I also hope I can maintain the compartmentalized approach to living that I’ve adopted during this time as it’s proved to be very successful.

Keiser .925, Steel punches for stamping silverwork, 2020 | ©Perrin Stamatis

I’m up to my ass in alligators with design-related things and managing a design program with my colleague and going through tenure. So, I find I need a break from it all and I reach for music-related things, food-related things, and travel-related things. Hanging out with my daughter brings me an amazing amount of joy and laughter. Things that make me smile and laugh are at the top of my list.

I’m VERY drawn to working with my hands: drawing, silkscreen prints, letterpress projects, building guitar tube amplifiers, tube microphones, songwriting and recording, woodworking, and cooking. So, I’ve been having a lot of solo time doing these things—they’re like multi-dimensional puzzles. I’ll be posting photos to my site on some of these projects:

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

I have no idea. I don’t follow any artists online or off; I simply never felt the urge. I am in awe of all that is happening in the world and there are too many things that inspire me to list. I have no knowledge of how others are handling this prior to reading other articles in this publication. I still have to read the interview with Chris Mars, here, as I just saw that on the website! It’s kinda wild. I worked at Smash Records (the label where his 1st solo album Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was released) and I still listen to that album all the time. I started listening to it as I was running duplicates of all their weekly rough mixtapes from the studio sessions. I then sent the copies back to the parent label record execs so they could follow along with the record’s progress. I think it came out in 1991-92 or so. It’s a great album that has stood the test of time for me. I also have one of his litho prints from that era.

Keiser .925 Photos of products on business cards (back), 2020 | ©Perrin Stamatis

5. Are there any artists, filmmakers, albums, or genres you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?

I find comfort in revisiting some old favorites or things I haven’t checked out in ages. At the same time, it’s also exciting to check out some new things too. Why? All of this is to pacify me until I can get to the other side of the pandemic—whatever that looks like.

The random play mode of my music collection provides great surprises and insight into my mood and what I need. The other day, a tune popped up that I would have never reached for, consciously, and it made me blissfully smile for a good, solid 15 minutes. Van Halen’s “Unchained”. Yeah. Usually, I’m deep into some stuff my daughter listens to and some of my old favs which are all over the place: Bukka White, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Minnie, Blue Note era Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Oscar Peterson, Frank Sinatra, LaVern Baker, Glen Gould playing Bach’s piano concertos, Frank Black, The Walkmen, The Kinks, The Clash, The Pixies…I guess it must begin with the word, THE. All the Kubrick Films have come back to my life. The entire Simpsons collection is now a click away yet I’m also VERY eager to dive into the new seasons of some brilliant series shows like Rick and Morty, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Better Call Saul. I have to be more careful, though, it’s not wise to re-watch The Last Man on Earth right now or a film like 12 Monkeys. They are fantastic, but that was a bad mistake in terms of what I need to avoid.

Perrin Stamatis | Photo Credit: Dirk Fletcher

Perrin Stamatis is a practicing designer, educator, and musician. As the founder of Scratchboard Designs, his career spanned over 20 years of print, motion-based, interactive design, and sound design for a variety of clients. In 2005, he transitioned to teaching design and shortly after earned his MFA in Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago and continued his studies in Basel, Switzerland.

Stamatis is currently a full-time professor at Northern Illinois University. He also serves on the board of the Society of Typographic Arts in Chicago.

Perrin has lectured at many TypeCon conferences and recently presented his research at the Fine Arts Academy in Katowice, Poland. In addition, his silkscreen print series, Lyrics of Life, has been featured in five juried exhibitions across the nation.

Perrin Stamatis can be found online at his Website.