Being an arts project we get great pleasure from all mediums of art and design. From paint and pencil, to print and sculpture, there is always something new being created that excites us. It has also been great to find so many artistic creatives across the globe, thanks to the project, who are also battling with IBD but in the same token not letting it, control their creative outlet. So with that; It gives us great pleasure to welcome Creative Director of Burlesque Of North America (BRLSQ) and fellow ‘Crohnie’ Mike Davis to have a few words with us.
Hi Mike, you look out of the window today and what do you see? Where are you located? And what’s on your desk?
Well, right now my view is top notch as I'm spending two weeks in Hawaii to relax and eat myself into a stupor. Here's a view of the sun rising between the Mokulua islands, taken just one block from the house where my wife and I are staying. But back home in Minneapolis, the view out of my office window is a car dealership.
Where are you from? What was life like growing up? Did art and creating play a big role as a kid growing up?
I was born in Nashville TN, home of country music and the Grand Ole Opry. Art was a huge part of my childhood. When I wasn't playing with my brother and sister, I was spending time drawing my own comic books and making my own stories based on movies and cartoons that I loved watching. As I got older, I started learning how to play piano and guitar and got really into music.
Did you go through a college system and design education? Did you have a defined path you wanted to follow, what was the bigger picture when you started out?
I went to art school and got a degree in Graphic Design. By the time I got to college, I was fully into graffiti and studying signs and little graphic details around me. I really didn't know where it would take me, but once I realised that graphic design, typography, and making logos were things that someone could do for a living, there was no turning back. I knew that's what I wanted to do.
Did you illustrate, print or publish any material in your younger years you want to talk about?
I'll never forget walking around outside my high school one day in Nashville when some guy on a skateboard we'd never seen before came up to hand my friends and I some small black & white booklets. They were collaged collections of strange cartoons and stories and I'd never seen anything like it before. Turns out the guy was Harmony Korine (this was about 2 or 3 years before "Kids" was released) and he was handing out copies of "Yiz Yum," his very first zine. Wish I still had the copy today. After seeing it, I became pretty obsessed with the idea of making and distributing my own zines. I starting getting into it and made a few, mainly with my band towards the end of high school.
What and who were your influences from an art point of view?
In rough chronological order from childhood to now: Jim Henson, Star Wars, Jim Phillips, Pushead, then Nashville-based graffiti artists Revok, Tackz, Beno, Rex2, and Sever, Beastie Boys, Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie Maclean, Milton Glaser, Herb Lubalin, Lance Wyman. Most recently, I'm inspired by the everyday designs I stumble upon - logos for trucking and travel companies, Japanese food packaging illustrations, logos and little vector doo-dads I find on Instagram. When my wife and I get back from this Hawaii trip, I guarantee you most of her photos will be of mountains and sunsets while mine will be of trashcans and sides of boxes from the alleys of Chinatown.
You have a Graffiti background, how did this come about? Who did you paint with? Was this a rebellious release or purely a creative outlet?
I grew up in Nashville during a time when a lot of prominent graffiti writers were getting their start. My younger brother and I had never really seen anything like this world before, and we ended up navigating it ourselves, trying to figure out what made the best letters, how, where, and when these things were painted, who was doing it, all that. He and I painted together, then when I moved to St. Louis for college, I met some more writers and got really into it. It was slightly about rebellion, but definitely more so about the creative side of things. I was starting to study graphic design at the time, and those two things were starting to influence each other more than a little bit.
Who did you look up to as an aspiring illustrator and graphic designer?
Same answer as up above I suppose.
You’ve been involved from the beginning of Burlesque, could you give us a timeline of the history of your involvement in design and print at BRLSQ? How did the company start and who was the founding team?
In 1997, I met a group of artists from Minneapolis who started their own graffiti magazined called Life Sucks Die. It was like nothing I had seen before. I became friends with these guys when they would visit St. Louis to take part in Paint Louis, a big hip hop festival I helped my friends put together.
The guys from LSD invited me to contribute some writing and design work to their magazine and we ended up working on a few small side projects together as well. As the magazine slowed down and design / screenprinting-for-hire came to the forefront, I decided to pack up and move to Minneapolis to start working with them full time. While the magazine was running, we were getting asked to take on a handful of design projects, so the transition seemed fairly natural. This is when Burlesque moved from a casual side thing to a full-steam-ahead business.
At this point, the in-office team was Wes Winship (my creative partner in Burlesque to this day), George Thompson (now living in Southern California, working as an artist and still collaborating on projects with us), Skye Rossi (now working with the crew at Rhymesayers Entertainment), and myself. This was 2003. In 2006, we had picked up Ben LaFond as a screenprinter and moved into a new space with much more room to grow. Since then, we've picked up office manager Jodi Milbert and screenprinter Sarah Schatz and we've got a pretty strong team right now.
What do Burlesque offer as a service? How have you become such a go to company? What is the key to a successful business like BRLSQ?
We describe ourselves as a creative studio focusing on graphic design and high end screenprinting. We love working with visual artists and developing / publishing bodies of screenprinted work with them. Over the years, we've been fortunate to work with some incredibly talented artists such as John Baizley, David Choe, Jacob Bannon, Aaron Horkey, Jennifer Davis, and Marald Van Haasteren. To be honest, we just kept doing what we truly loved and just did it over and over again until we got really good at it and people started to notice. Is that the key to success? I'm not sure. It's gotten us to the point where five people can pay our bills and feed ourselves by doing what we love.
Who are your favourite clients to work for? What has been your biggest job? And if you could choose a project to work on what would it be? (Other than GCASFM haha!)
Some of our favorite projects from the last few years have been designing and printing Arcade Fire tour posters and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival posters, curating and developing art shows in our CO Exhibitions gallery with the likes of Jacob Bannon, John Baizley, Marald Van Haasteren, Aaron Draplin, and 123Klan, plus building relationships through screen printing and publishing works from artists like Richey Beckett and Brandon Holt. Dream project would be something for NASA or the National Park Service.
We found out from the design powerhouse 123Klan that you have Crohn’s disease? How long have you been dealing with the condition?
This is true! I've been engaged in gastrointestinal warfare for more than half of my life.
When you were first diagnosed what was your first thoughts? Had you heard of IBD? Did you have to make major adjustments to your life? Or have you managed to deal with it without major disruption?
I was 16 years old when I first noticed something not quite right with my stomach. It began as just ulcers in stomach, then it spread throughout my digestive system. The doctors were reluctant to call it Crohn's at first, but that's what they ultimately landed on and what I've been treated for over the years. I've been on several different medications and have had some really nasty episodes and even a small bowel resection surgery, but lately things have been fairly under control. I know which types of food will set things off, so I know what to avoid. Beyond that and keeping up with regular doctor visits and medication, I've been fortunate to have been in good health lately.
As a fellow sufferer, I can relate to the daily grind. How do you manage your day?
I have good days and fair days. If I wake up and feel less than perfect, I'll know I should cancel plans for a heavy meal later that day. But since I've been able to take things like popcorn, nuts, and excessive dairy out of my diet, I'm able to stay on top of things.
Do you have a good support system both medically and in the work place?
I do. I've moved around to a lot of different cities, so that's meant meeting a lot of new doctors over the years. I like my current gastroenterologist a lot. We've got a good family vibe going on in the Burlesque office and everyone looks out for one another. My team knows I have Crohn's and they're understanding about me needing to take time to go in for doctor's appointments as well as Remicade infusions once every couple of months.
Do you find that your artwork and creative direction act as a form of therapy?
When I was younger and my health problems were more upfront, I turned to music to distract myself. I still love listening to and playing music, but that and creative work function less as therapy these days. I don't know - I think I can work more clearly on design and art when I'm in a good mood as opposed to feeling down or unhealthy.
Were there any strict dietary changes or do you eat what you like, without the fear of flare! And a quick step to the bathroom! (Kinda mentioned this above)
We’ve embraced many creative avenues within the project, from the sticker designs, which have created the backbone of the project and more recently music and photography. What is your musical shuffle of choice?
Lately I've been super into Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna Tropkillaz, A. Skillz, and Kaytranada.
More people need to be more aware of IBD and that’s why we started this project. Do you think more should be done globally to remove the stigma attached to these illnesses and make people feel more comfortable with their conditions?
Of course. I'd like to think the worst is in the past as far as my own disease goes, but I know there a lot of other people who still have to deal with it every day. Hopefully one day there will be a simple cure. Thanks so much for providing an outlet for spreading the word and helping to build awareness!
Ok, we best let you continue with your day, but one last question, what can we expect to see from Burlesque in the future, are there any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Lots of exciting things coming up! We'll be displaying and selling our screenprinted posters at Flatstock 53, part of the SXSW music festival in Austin TX this month. Then we have a solo exhibit of our work at Compound Gallery in Portland Oregon on April 7th and we'll also be part of the opening exhibit at Bond Street Print Shop, a new gallery opening in New York on April 16th. Lots of new print releases and other gallery events coming up this year. Can't wait to keep at it!
To find out more about Burlesque of North America and Mikes work check out their website.