Q&A: Aesthetic Apparatus distills beauty from poor choices

In a decade that will be characterized by staggering unemployment and one of the greatest recessions in recent history, it is refreshing to hear Aesthetic Apparatus’s story.  Forging a partnership based on a shared love of music, art, and design, Dan Ibarra and Michael Byzewski left their jobs at a Madison, Wisconsin, graphic-design firm in 2002 to do things their way.

Their creation — Aesthetic Apparatus — is a Minneapolis-based commercial art and printmaking studio that has designed everything from gallery art to logos for local pizza shops to concert posters for bands such as Cake and The Black Keys. Leaving a successful graphic-design studio to start something for themselves didn’t promise Ibarra and Byzewski immediate success, but it did set the stage for Aesthetic Apparatus to become modern-day purveyors of pop-culture cool.

Ibarra recently took some time to talk about Aesthetic Apparatus’s unique vision.

How would you describe your artistic styles?

I think that for the most part, if we were to give it a term, it would be “graphic-design ephemeralist.” We’re so inspired by the visual refuse of American culture, but also of our own process. So our misprints and our test prints become a great inspiration to us, and the poor compositions or the strange typographic choices are influenced by the economy of color of mid-and-early 20th Century printing. I think we’re influenced by things that most people would consider bad — we find beauty in all of that. Whether it’s poorly printed or poorly designed or poorly laid out or just poorly drawn, we tend to gravitate towards that.

Two Bettys

On your website, you talk about building a community rather than networking to become successful. How has that manifested itself in your case?

After a decade of doing Aesthetic Apparatus full time, we’ve realized that the majority of any work that you do, or any opportunities that you have, come from somebody knowing somebody who knows someone. And I think that you build trust not through LinkedIn or giving someone your business card but actually contacting them and going, “I think you’re awesome, and maybe you think I’m awesome, and maybe sometime we can do something together.” And if that person shows a mutual respect, you begin to form a relationship that’s built on that trust.

Eyes Without A Face

What is the typical process of collaborating with a musician to create a concert poster?

[In the past] the band was never necessarily the direct client; it was a matter of making something that was appropriate for the music and communicated the emotion or the experience or the ideas of the music. But the band directly commissioning the posters was not as frequent as it happens now. Now it really is much more about finding a relationship of trust between two people. We’ve had some relationships that we’ve had for years that are definitely built on that mutual trust — say, we’ve worked with Cake for a number of years on all varying amounts of projects and posters.


Who are some of your favorite bands?

Michael and I both definitely would say that Tom Waits is one that is going to be there forever. With that said, we always have a required listening of either The Night Marchers or Future of the Left at 4:00 PM every day; it just happens. Lately, we both really like Mrs. Magician. I had a horrible spell with Black Moth Super Rainbow for about a decade. It’s a pretty broad spectrum, but that’s what’s been on the docket lately.

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