Analog collage artist Argyle Plaids elicits as much of a hallucinatory dream world with his work as he does with his moniker. Based out of Seattle, the visual handyman crafts worlds where wavy construction paper gets torn and cut into plumes of smoke, blobs of ink with vintage magazine cutouts creating a surreal focal point. Children relaxing around swirls of greens; a b&w man with rainbows flowing from his mind; a scuba diver jumping into an iTunes visualizer. Elements taken from the world around him to create a world both unfamiliar and enticing.
To only select a handful of examples of Argyle Plaids' work for this feature story is a true exercise in discipline; I wanted to showcase every upload to Instagram, every available item on Etsy, every piece of his impressive website. Instead, I consolidated and talked with the Pacific Northwesterner about his history with his craft, his musical preferences (and organizational obsessions), and what he has planned down the road as both Argyle Plaids and James Short.
How has 2017 been treating you?
Obviously, the world’s a bit fucky at the moment...especially if you’re a Yank like me and Donald Trump is your leader. But, personally, I’m super dupes. Highly fortunate in how I’ve got nothing legitimate to (personally) complain about.
What’s the origin story behind your moniker/handle?
My best friend from childhood/young adulthood and I had a synthesizer/darkwave band in the 80s. 'Argyle Plaids' was a rejected band name our friend Jen came up with that we thought was hilarious at the time, since it sounded so dorky/nerdy (and our music was so earnest and serious). The name stuck around with me for some reason throughout the years, and I officially started using it in 2003 as a record label / brand name for my own music and art releases - in homage to him (he passed away in 1992). Now, since I’ve been using it for so long as a social media handle and what-not, I’m kinda stuck with it, for better or worse. It definitely is more Google-friendly than trying to compete with the other 10 bazillion James Shorts’ in the world.
Your oldest post on Instagram is from last fall. How long have you been doing collage art?
I made the switch from photography and digitally-produced mixed media works to full-on, analog collage art sometime in 2010-2011. I was late to Instagram because I had it in my mind that it was strictly for photographs or iPhoneography (which I hadn’t been doing any of for many years at that point).
How would you describe your art to a stranger on the street?
”Garbage. Only...cut up, rearranged, and glued back together again, so it looks more intentional, artsy-fartsy, and less garbage-y.”
I caught on to your art back in March when you did the cover for Badmixday. Have you done much work in the music world?
Apart from obsessively creating my own mix-tape cassette and CD covers from National Geographics as a kid, I’ve only had one other legitimate art-and-design music-release credit back in 1998 or 1999: The Melody Unit's Odds Against Tomorrow. I suppose there’s also my own self-released album of poorly realized instrumental music I recorded in 2003, if that counts. It is strange I never pursued more music-related art or design work, since album art (specifically, Vaughan Oliver and v23’s work for the 4AD label) was the major influence on my professional path in graphic design, and in turn, my need for more open and free forms of expression through art and collage.
I’ve been following quite a few collage artists on IG, and your style is so unique and independent of what others seem to be doing. How did you find your ‘voice’, for lack of a better word?
By taking notice of what qualities I liked in other admirable works, and trying any and all ideas that floated through my headspace along the way. Mostly, I arrived here after just ‘doing’ over and over and over again. Trying different things out for the last 20+ years has led me to what I’m doing right now. I spent so much time creating things I’d invariably end up disliking. It almost became a personal obsession to make art I would still like and/or value after a certain amount of time had passed. It really is a journey, as corny as that sounds, and I feel like I just fully stepped on board. That’s definitely what it’s all about for me; constantly growing and doing my best to top myself - for my own self-worth and satisfaction.
What are some studio essentials?
Part 1: Stacks of used/vintage books and magazines. Part 2: Varying sized scissors and hand cramps. Part 3: A ridiculous amount of space to spread out with my mountain of clippings, papers, card stocks, substrates, and a camera to document the pieces-in-the-making. Part 4: Acid-free spray adhesive, mediums, acrylic, mod-podge, brushes, UV protectant spray.
Outside of collage art, do you have any other hobbies/interests?
I used to get up to all sorts of things...windsurfing, skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, diving, surfing (poorly), skating (poorly), world traveling, seeing lots of shows, etc. Now?...Man, am I ever boring. These days, I’m pretty much happy just being home with my wife and animals...making collages and what-not.
What have you been listening to/reading/watching recently?
I’ve been on a kick of making massive, months-in-the-making, definitive compilations from my music library sorted by decade. So lately, I’ve been listening to tons of personalized collections of 70s, 80s, and 90s tunes (the next couple of decades are to follow). As far as current bands go, I’ve fully worn out the likes of DIIV, Real Estate, Tame Impala, Cass McCombs, Blonde Redhead, Duster/Helvetia, man...so much more...that Badmixday release definitely had me floored with its inventiveness and beauty...New albums from Grandaddy and Ride are exciting prospects this year, as well. TV-wise: Master of None, Walking Dead, GoT, Fargo, almost all the heavy hitters...Lately, all I seem to want to watch is comedy, though - whether it’s high quality or not. (I’ve probably seen every Parks and Recreation episode over 3,000,000,000 times at this point.)
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Keep on making / start peddling. My wife’s been constructing these awesome paper houseplants and flowers, as well. (@and.polkadots) We’re planning to do all sorts of shows and events together this year - art walks, craft fairs/shows and the like. Our first outing is going to be on August 12 at the Ballard Art Walk here in Seattle. I think our stuff is really going to look amazing together!
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
Pretty much the same sentiment I expressed earlier. Just keep on doing, keep on trying, and most importantly, be true to who you are - follow the path your own neurons clear out for you. If possible, with confidence! Don’t dilute what makes you unique and special by attempting to emulate what others may be doing/trying. Also, I try not to work with a specific audience in mind - just myself. If I can successfully please my own self with a piece and it also ends up resonating with other people out in the world, it feels so much more successful on a personal level. Like, I’ve connected with other humans in an organic and authentic way.
Do you have any final thoughts / words of wisdom?
Creativity is not a competition!
All you need is love.