James Victore in 2016

Excerpts from a 2016 interview with James Victore from Please Make This Look Nice: The Graphic Design Process:

“The designer Henryk Tomaszewski would spend hours arranging and cutting and juggling on a page, to make it feel like it was just born there. You look at his work and wow. You can look at these pieces today, and they’re timeless, completely appropriate today. But I know that it took a lot of work to make that.

On the other hand you have Massimo Vignelli who was all about perfection, ‘This is perfect, that isn’t.’ I can’t believe how people get all wet in the pants for his shit since perfect assumes a number of things. It assumes that you are right, that you have the answer, and that you’re smarter than your audience because you have the rules. This is Massimo’s work since it leaves no room for the audience to be involved. It’s empirical.

I’m much more of the bloody, hairy Grapus-ian, Tomaszewski, Ungerer school. Where there’s a level of humanity, not business. With that said, someday I will be 90 years old – it’ll happen – and I hope I won’t be like two of my heroes – Sam Peckinpah and A. M. Cassandre, who both died penniless.”

“People say they have a love-hate relationship with technology. I definitely do. I really don’t trust it… I did a talk recently with Bonnie Siegler and Ellen Lupton. They asked me to pick a project and show and talk about it. So I picked this project that was done for Mudac in Switzerland – an exhibition that we did all the stuff for – banners outside, posters, catalog. It was big Swiss-style silkscreen in fluorescent orange and black so you could see where the black went over and where the white showed through. I started the talk and I was showing the poster and I said, ‘Listen, technology sucks, because this poster, there’s a pentimento, there’s a feeling.’ And someone said, ‘Aw, technology doesn’t suck!’ And I’m like, ‘No, technology sucks because this, in real life, has an otherness to it, a beauty to it that you can’t see. It’s fluorescent orange, which you can’t see on your fucking screen.’

I’m not satisfied looking at stuff on a screen. I don’t understand the headlong diving into the Kindle or whatever. I don’t think it’s because I’m 50. I think it’s because I love what we do and I love touching things and using my hands. I also don’t believe in having all of our eggs in one basket – and not a sturdy basket at that.”

“These days I don’t do as many iterations physically, because you do something long enough, you get good at it. There’s so much of it that just happens in my head, that doesn’t come out on paper. Or it’s literally a sketchbook full of words, explaining to myself what it means.

One of the things I learned from Pierre Bernard and the Grapus guys a bunch of years ago – I asked him, ‘When you’re doing your lettering, do you write it fifty times and then cut? Take the ‘E’ from here and put it here and fix it up?’ He said, ‘No, we usually do it about two or three times, and we always choose the first.’ I know that’s a lie, but it’s a lie to illustrate the truth. And the truth is, the first one is always best because you’re not thinking about it. If you start thinking about it too much, it just becomes a mess.”

“In Zen archery, it’s all [exhale]. It’s all large beautiful sweeping movements you make with the bow. And hitting the target? Who the fuck cares? That’s not important. That informs my work – it informs everything I do.

I never cared about the reward. I never cared about the target. I didn’t do things for money. I turned Pentagram down twice. I made decisions because I wanted a life, and I wanted to make and have choices in my life.

It’s not just about the work. It’s a life thing. That’s how it manifests itself in my work and life. I’ve said a million times, I’d rather die with the reputation I have now than fifty bucks more in my pocket.”

“I hope you got good stuff from me. I hope you’re getting the stuff you want from other people. I hope they’re being as honest and forthcoming as I tried to be.

I know that there are successful design studios that are basically run by MBAs who figure the business out. They add this ‘pentimento’ of color and typography on top of their work and they can all rot in hell.”