Internet Artist Adam J. Kurtz: "Tumblr Is Really Obsessed With Butts Right Now"
Artist and graphic designer Adam J. Kurtz has been making waves on the web with his tongue-in-cheek aesthetics that poke fun at internet culture. From balloons that read, "Sorry I Am Such An Asshole" to his extensive upcoming monthly subscription-based mail project, Kurtz's wide range of work proves his dedication to making Internet art that's more than just a re-bloggable image. We chatted with Kurtz about his upcoming 2013 planner, making online art tangible, and why he won't be making any cutesy butt-themed art any time soon.
Your 2012 and upcoming 2013 planner feature "another year of unsolicited advice and anecdotes." How did the idea to do such an unconventional planner come about?
I think it's a bit of a cheap shot. The idea came from the SlingShot planners, which are sort of more aligned with the punk and vegan scene and they're almost entirely hand-drawn. They're really cool and they totally embody that zine aesthetic and DIY spirit but the thing is, because it's handwritten, when you write in it it's hard to see the difference between your writing and theirs. So I had this thought: I love paper goods, that's totally my thing, and calendars are a really great gift for the holidays, so I wanted to do something that was half DIY and half legibly-designed object. So it really just started as a personal Christmas gift that I made for my friends last year. I made a few too many and posted them [for sale] on Tumblr and I got tons of emails about them. It never occurred to me that it would be something that people wanted.
It definitely does have that perfect balance: all the ordinary aspects of a planner, but with some really fun pages, like the pizza-rating page. What's your favorite part of the planner?
Actually the pizza-rating page is special to me because, when I lived in Baltimore, my old roommate and I would go to every single pizza place we could get to and we would rank them. So I sort of included that in the planners as an inside joke. There's also a sort of paper Foursquare where you can actually cut out these little badges and make them into pins. There's also a page called "Instant Gram" with squares and in the squares there are things written, like "a picture of salad" or "the sky right now." So that page is meant for you to photograph in a pinch if you don't have a particularly great sky photo for that day. There are also tons of coloring pages drawn by some of my closest, oldest friends. I know so many talented people, so to be able to loop them into the planner has been really awesome.
A lot of your work carries themes of social media and having an Internet presence and it can be so hilariously relatable, like your "I Love You, But I Hate Your Twitter" buttons.
I think a lot of those little things that I make like the pins and the post-cards prints is sort of a gut reaction that I have to Internet culture. That used to be something that I would just post on Tumblr, and I've been on Tumblr for literally five and a half years. It was only more recently that I thought, hey I can take this online culture and bring it offline and sort of create a tangible object. Those pins were very much that for me. They feel like something you would tweet that would exist for two minutes and then it would disappear. Taking that offline is sort of a way to make it exist in a more tangible sense. Yeah, it seems like you really value physical design and production, like taking things from the Internet and making it into a physical version to give to people and even just through the collection of your weekly scraps. Now you're coming out with your 2013 Mail Project. Tell me more about that.
I have never been more excited about anything I've been doing. Truthfully, mail is how it all started. In 2011 I did a Postcard of the Month Club and it was a monthly membership club that started out with about five members and by the end of the year had 40. The mail project is sort of culmination of everything I want to do. It's physical; it has that element of surprise. It's also very low budget, and that's important to me in addition to aesthetics. I want everything to be affordable. You pay this amount up front and I will just make you stuff all year. It really is like a subscription to my brain. I've already designed a bunch of stuff for the project, like the t-shirt and the initial materials. The Valentine's Day postcards are done. I've got post-it notes on top of post-it notes with ideas; my mind is already racing. The mail project is this way to always keep me producing stuff; that's what I'm in it for. What I need in my life to be happy is to make postcards and zines and objects. And I retire objects so quickly because I'm always on to the next thing.And you've made so many different types of things, websites to t-shirts to planners. Is there anything you haven't made yet that you're really dying to make?
I've wanted to coffee mugs for a really long time. I want to do pillow cases. I had this thing that was a one-color print of a map [to print on the pillow.] It was maybe a little too Etsy for me though. I'm always very self-aware. Sometimes there are things I want to do but I'll stop myself because it's overdone. Like, Tumblr is really obsessed with butts right now and I will never make a card that says "nice butt!" with like some squiggly drawing. It's not that I think I'm better than it, it's just that other people are doing it too. Maybe I'll eventually do a pillow though, one that screams at you to fall asleep or something. I've been getting a little edgier, a little more personal. I did an installation at a contemporary art show in September and it was called Well Hung. It was a little sexual, the humor was a little darker and more adult. I think I'm starting to head more in that direction. My goal is to sort of move on and work with some sort of agency here in New York and do bigger campaigns. I'd love to do massive shows. I would love to do a mural and build sculptural installations. I guess the short answer to your question is that I want to do everything. I think with the Internet, it's so easy to get things produced. I'll tell people, oh you made a t-shirt? Go sell it. Go print post-cards. I want to keep living with that idea in bigger and bigger ways.
Visit Adam J. Kurtz's online store here.