A Unique Vision
Finding a mode of self-expression through founding his own music magazine, Volume, and a now mythical club night while studying at Yale, Rudnick values the contributions of the past while facing firmly towards the future. It’s an approach most vividly realised in his collaboration with Evian Christ on the recent Waterfall EP, where wistful raindrops envelop amorphous abstractions and brutalist, post-gothic typography.
He’s a man with refreshingly considered and aware views towards graphic design, a field that often finds itself trapped in self- referential, superficial circle-jerking. In short, he talks a strong game. So we caught up with Rudnick to discuss the current state of design, and how he got to where he is.
What made you want to start Volume magazine? Is that how you taught yourself design?
Volume started in the Autumn of 2006, my second year of college. I’d left London to go to college a year earlier, found myself in America, at Yale, and I just remember thinking – naively – that there wouldn’t be any significant culture shock involved in that transition, which wasn’t the case at all. I missed music a huge amount, I missed clubs, dance music, the idea of night as a cultural space, a place where you could experiment with sounds, visuals, identities. Before leaving I was experiencing clubs like Trash in London which were musically unrestricted, straight and gay, rich and poor. I’d had a taste of something that had felt so rich in possibility. I was very influenced by my experiences at Trash and felt strongly that there should be an inclusive focus for the magazine, that we should open up to old and new music, all genres. I think my dream was for something a bit like The Wire. Because it was a student magazine and there was no expected quality level, I didn’t really have anything to lose in terms of not knowing what I was doing design-wise.
Designing the Volume logo was the first time I ever worked with a vector and I remember that for the first few issues I didn’t know how to join shapes together, so for example the base of the L just sat on top of its stem. I loved designing that logo, and I remembered hating the illustrations – I would insist on doing a lot of them because I wanted them to be ambitious, high quality, and then would struggle horribly to actually create that high quality, sophisticated effect. I grew less comfortable drawing the object inside the frame. I became fascinated by the expressive potential that the framing device, the publication itself, could lend to the work, the opportunities it could create. It was funny being able to recognise that, and looking back now in retrospect what that consideration really amounted to was teaching myself some of the basics of ‘Graphic Design’.
Iteration and reiteration, and systems that recur that are designed for you to encounter them more than once; I think it predicates a different language than art demands. For me strategies of art tended towards rupture, towards moments of where the world demands recognition, and language must be mustered by the viewer to make sense of it; whereas design, there was an antagonistic motion towards moments where the viewer is allowed to become familiar, to not require language to explain. I started seeing similarities in architecture too: buildings you would return to, every day, and in the possibility of domesticities, familiarities that become languages that repeat themselves so that you don’t have to build the world from start every day. A form of manifested intelligence, outsourced memory. I think that’s why, in a very fundamental sense, starting the magazines and starting a nightclub were very primal expressions of what I was starting to think design could be; not a strategy geared towards the possibility of objects or cultural forms but rather a strategy that can preserve phenomenal languages, and a strategy that can preserve states of possibility, that you can return to without undue risk or danger – like the way Church was designed to emancipate you from the danger of getting close to God. Same thing with Frankie Knuckles or Larry Levan at the Warehouse or the Garage. I wanted to make platforms where people could explore ideas that they could be confident supported them.
The idea about safe space in which to create is an interesting one.
Architecture’s really the point where anarchism or libertarianism meets its match. That’s to say, without the colosseum, the gladiator match is simply murder. Look at transgressive art from the 60s, 70s: often it is only made possible by the white cube. A man or woman strips down, wails, shouts in the street it’s madness, it’s despair, it’s disorder; but on stage it’s a phrase…
Formal limits justify the action?
Those who venerate the act alone fail to understand the significance of the pedestal. Maybe that’s why I’m not comfortable sometimes being praised for some of the more showy or spectacular work that more easily catches the eye. Socially, and in terms of time, I think real cultural value comes from things that can speak and iterate again and again, and be used by others, like buildings and formats. I think that’s why I felt this enormous, total sense of relief when I found type design.
Because typography is the designed container of words’ meaning?
No, I would say that it’s closer to the stage upon which the word acts. The word can perform as it sees fit, but you can create a multitude of theatres that the word can perform in. I think designing typefaces for me is a very pure, true statement of what I want design to be, in that it’s creating this architecture that others can use to express their meaning, and yet it recognises that there’s always a context to expression: it’s not pretending to emancipate people from that.