AN INTERVIEW WITH JIM FORD:
THE 22 MAGAZINE: Tell me a little about your artistic history. You seem to have a lot of experience in typography, how did you get started in that?
JIM FORD: Well, I've been drawing since I was a kid. Right after high school, I spent a month in Italy taking it all in, which kind of reconfirmed that "this is what I was meant to do." Typography and type design specifically was an interest that developed in college. When I was riding the trains and buses to and from school, I read Frederic Goudy's chapbook where he compiled all of his notes and the stories behind his 100-something typeface designs. I was very moved by that, I admired his prolific career and character, and most of all, his independence—the way he made things happen by inventing his own means and methods. Goudy was an individual and an underdog, and his legacy was very admirable to me. I've always developed skills by teaching myself in practice and wanting to master things. I never wanted to be lumped in with "graphic designers." Type set me apart, and it was a strong force toward the end of school. I had my eye on the prize a year or two before I graduated, so I went out and got what I was after immediately.
THE 22: What was your main focus in school? When did you move into collage art?
JF: At first, I thought I was going to be an ad man, so I studied and worked in that field for the first couple of years. When I decided that I wanted to be a type designer and wanted a more colorful portfolio, I switched to graphic design. Advertising simply wasn't visual enough, it's salesmanship, and I wasn't in art and design just for a nice paycheck. My interest in collage art developed slowly over the years. It was born from my musical activities and interest in hardcore punk and such…but I wasn't really serious about it until I started working as a poster artist and getting my feet wet in that scene.
THE 22: What appeals to you about collage or even assemblage that you don't find in other mediums?
JF: Hmm, well I like the speed and spontaneity of it, and since I learned about art history, the pioneering German Dadaists, Marcel Duchamp's musings, and also Robert Rauschenberg were very influential. Duchamp was the real deal, an anti-artist who challenged the establishment of art and changed the game in doing so—made people think differently, which I respect. Assemblage came later, after exploiting collage art for a while, it was naturally the next step. I'm constantly trying to one-up myself and continue moving. So, I needed a break from collage—or to explore a different approach—the two mediums seemed very relative, so I gave it a shot. I cannot stress enough how difficult it is for me to continually do the same thing, and I know a lot of people have built successful careers that way, but it's not for me.
THE 22: You also do a lot of poster and design work. Any favorites from you or others?
JF: Did a lot of posters. It's more of an occasional thing now. There are so many great artists and illustrators (and printers, which I am not) in the poster scene, it's hard to narrow down or pick a favorite poster. My favorite poster that I've made, however, is the first edition for Cobra Skulls at Beat Kitchen. I call it my flagship, because if I was working a personal style and sticking to it, that would be the exemplar.
THE 22: Tell me a little about Rebeletter Studios, how that came to fruition and where it's headed?
JF: Rebeletter…the name was one of a dozen ideas that developed as a backup plan. I had worked strictly as a type designer and lettering artist for 5 or 6 years at Ascender—it was very black and white, the job was corporate, and I had ideas and aspirations which were deemed subversive to the business and my colleagues. I got burned out with the black and white routine, so when I left, it was time to breathe color into my career. Where it's headed, I can't tell you, but there's not a whole lot that I won't try.
THE 22: What are some of the design projects you have or are currently working on?
JF: Well, because of my expertise in type design, I've been an independent contractor for Ascender, which is now merged into Monotype. There's no question that type has been the breadwinner. I have a pretty tight understanding with type director Steve Matteson, we were like a tag team, the drawing department if you will. The design projects I've done under the Rebeletter hood are pretty random, so I won't go into that. I'll design just about anything, but websites are not my forté.
THE 22: Tell me a little about how you and Helen met and decided to form Rebeletter?
JF: Like I touched on before, Rebeletter was a backup plan to my type career which I had to act on, as a means of living. It was frightening at first to have everything on my shoulders, to make something out of nothing, but I thought about it a lot and was enthusiastic about pursuing dreams. My relationship with Helen was purely of romantic nature at first, but after some time living with her and having her at my side when I was trying to develop as an artist…she kinda just fell into place. She was my biggest supporter and confidante. Eventually we got engaged and decided that partnering up might be a good idea. She has gifts that I do not possess, so I always wanted her on my team. In more ways than one.
THE 22: You have a great interest in vintage objects, particularly LPs. Tell me a little about how that started and where your "Stereovisions" series is headed?
JF: Vintage is a dirty marketing buzzword, a trendy word for "antiquity" and I'm guilty of using it. It's more so history that is, and always has been, fascinating to me. That started as a kid. "Stereovisions" comes from my fantasy and obsession with album covers and music. When you realize you're not in the position to make a career in music, the next best thing is making the artwork! I'm not one to wait around to be asked, I need to prove that I'm worthy because there aren't that many opportunities in the Midwest and I dream big. I keep telling bands, "give me a 12 inch format to work with!" but most that I've come across don't have the budget for it. "Stereovisions" was an answer to that frustration, a design solution for an artistic venture, and is currently headed toward 36 pieces. It may go further, we'll see.
THE 22: Your work seems to straddle the line between Surrealist, Dada and Cubist. Is this intentional? Do those movements appeal to you in any way?
JF: Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head there. The first few decades of the last century was a Golden Era of art, in my opinion. After Pop Art, not a whole lot stands out to me. So much was born in the early 20th century. It was a period of challenging and changing the establishment, and through studies and obsession, personal development, I just relate to those movements in art. Not to say I don't think about what's ahead, but I despise most things about the present world. My dream car is a time machine! You become cynical over time, through experiencing the pains and drudgery of life, ya know? I started early, so I've always had a big non-conforming middle finger for society and the ways of the world.
THE 22: What's next for you both design wise and artistically?
JF: That's a question I wish I could answer concisely. Probably education, because as self-absorbed as I may seem, I found that sharing and helping to guide people makes me feel really good. I'm doing as much as I can independently, trying to be patient for doors to open, but I'm also searching. Currently influencing my work is an obsession with mythology, astrology and symbolic storytelling and such; it's my way of feeling connected with the universe and understanding human conditions. I will say it: most artists are in some way or another crude, self-serving and egotistical; that is important, albeit ugly at a glance, but I'm no different. So I can't thank you enough for the ink! I worry that people confuse ambition with arrogance, but the people who know me personally can distinguish the difference here. And Eric Burdon said it best, "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good…"