Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Susi Art... Bucking the Narrative...

There's been a lot of "Boston Pride" shirts to come out over the last year... very few of them from Boston companies, or Boston natives as far as I can tell... and most of them more or less exploitative of the marathon bombing.

I won't get into it any further here, but I'm not interested in that at all.

That said, I love the city of my birth and childhood. I wouldn't want to live there anymore, given the politics and traffics and cost of living, but I still love it, and I go back and enjoy it when I can.

At the moment, I don't have any "Boston" clothing other than a couple of Patriots hats and Jerseys. Most of what's out there, I don't like, but I've had half an eye out for something classy, or interesting, or just... not like all the rest of the "Boston" crap.

I Like this one... a lot: Susi Art - Boston Respect Tee

It's classy, it's simple, it tweaks the normal expectations (it looks like the rest of the generic "Boston" stuff, until you look a bit closer), it appreciates the history and culture of our town... I like it, and when I can grab one, I think I will.

Actually I like most of what Susi Art does. They're mining the rich area of pop culture appreciation, but in a way that tweaks or twists... even satirizes in some ways (some of their pieces are really very funny, or dark, or have a VERY skewed point of view... just not the ones they're using to sell commercial design with on their website)... both the straightforward, and the hipsterish or ironic appreciation of it.

I like that.

Here's another piece of their design work (done for another companies product line):

It's the Beantown Sully doll, from the "Talkin Townies" line of plush dolls. Yes, it talks, and yes, it doesn't speak english, it speaks Bostonian...

Done wrong, this would just be condescending, exploitive, or stupid. Done right, as this is, it's funny and affectionate. It's gently mocking our own ridiculousness.

Understanding that you can appreciate and love something, and still be self aware and make fun of yourself for loving it... without ironic detachment from it, and with an appreciation of it's historical and cultural context... That works for me.

Of course it does... I'm a geek, and a pop culture and history fanatic, without being a fanboy... The statements are almost synonymous.

What really works for me, is that while Susi Art's pieces are certainly commercial art, they reflect a genuine point of view, expressed sincerely. It's not just a gimmick or a technique to sell to folks like me.

Most importantly, the work is truly reflective of the artist behind these pieces.

It doesn't matter how commercial something is; if it genuinely reflects the artists point of view, sensibility, passion, experience... THAT'S ART.

I would feel that way, and like the work, no matter what... But there's something more to it.

What's really interesting, is that all that stuff I talked about above, tweaking expectations etc... it's not just a point of view, it's also the artists life story.

I've known Frank Susi since we were both in grade school, and have been friends with him for something like 25 years. He's an interesting, funny, very smart, incredibly decent, and genuinely nice guy... but he's still more than a little twisted.

...And he stands peoples expectation straight on their heads.


Frank could have had an "80s teen movie heart throb" life.

He's a great looking guy, standout athlete in several sports (he could have played AAA baseball, and certainly had the opportunity to play college ball), a good student, and his family has run a number of successful businesses for many years.

If Frank had followed "the script", he would have gone on to a business degree at Boston College, maybe an MBA, come back to run the family business, married the beauty queen, and lived happily (or unhappily depending on who wrote the script) ever after.

For a while, it looked like that was just what he was going to do... at least from the outside.

But that's not what he wanted.

Instead, he flipped the script and said... "Hey, that art stuff that I really love? That I'm passionate about... Yeah, I'm actually going to do that instead, because that's what makes me happy".

Now... that story has been told more than a few times as well... it's just a different kind of script... Sensitive artists type bucks expectations to sacrifice for his art etc... etc...

What I haven't seen done to death by hollywood, is a story like Franks.

Frank didn't go mope around New York and "suffer for his art" living in bohemian squalor etc... etc... Hoping for a "big break".

Frank decided to make it happen, with brains and hard work, and without being "precious" about "purity" of his art.

He studied fine arts at a tiny liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, and went around absorbing and learning about what he loved...

...And then he got down to work, and started hustling to get his art out there. He took his grounding in the family business, and in dealing with small businesses around New England, and saw how he could try to make a living, and make a business, with his art.

Importantly, Frank understood that to be a successful business, he had to do what his customers wanted (and would pay for), as well as what he wanted.

So in addition to Franks original artwork (and the work of other artists who they work with), Susi Art does commercial art and design work, custom and promotional work, screen printing, t-shirts, signs and the like... and they do them very well, on time, and on budget.

You know... like a business is supposed to.

Frank isn't selling out, he's making a living with his art. That's something many people claim to want more than anything.

Unfortunately, it seems that many of them don't know or believe it's necessary to (or think it "shouldn't be" for "good art"), or don't seem to be willing to; put in the hard work, OVER AND ABOVE the hard work of their art (believe me, I wouldn't ever deny that art can be hard work), that it takes to be successful.

Well... Frank has been doing it for 15 years now... so he must be doing something right.