It’s quite a task to sum up Sally Thurer’s practice in one sentence. Meandering through different modes of image-making, cultural critique and graphic design, the Brooklyn-Based multihyphenate has ventured into the realms of illustration, art direction, animation, graphic design and is also “the only employee ever to hold the title ‘Head of Experiential Methodology and Critical theory’ at MTV.” With a visual language that features a lot of green slime, “sexy robots”, shiny chrome surfaces, mixed with a hefty dose of CGI, Sally’s critical design practice reaches beyond what we can see with our eyes.
“Graphic design is a piece of a much larger puzzle. Culture is what excites me,” Sally tells It’s Nice That. She’s constantly making references to a broad array of cultural materials – from Chris Maggio, Hans Christian Anderson, a book about Tibor Kalman, the classic Chinese cleromancy text I Ching to internet artist Brad Troemel’s popular Instagram account that’s always on the nose when it comes to internet culture and the art world.
“I really wanted to be a music video director or a fashion photographer, but making images and websites was something I could do on my own,” Sally says. “For a while, I had a popular website about Björk’s outfits which I would redesign top-to-bottom every couple of months. I was also interested in scanning images out of magazines and removing all the type – excavating them from layouts.”
After receiving her MFA from the Yale School of Art, her work has often involved a critique of design forms and cultural systems. She often works with the idea of the counterfeit for instance. “I’ve been running an Instagram account called Bootlegwiki which functions as a casual research project and informal platform for discourse on appropriation and piracy. I love knock-offs and bootlegs,” she says. With regards to an old meme she made in the past, Sally further elaborates on this. Bootlegging luxury brands is a practical way to appropriate these cultural heavyweights that symbolise consumerism, taking advantage of the changing landscape of intellectual property today.
Her designs and illustrations often feature CGI bodies with retextured surfaces, stray limbs and eyeballs, a reflection of the chaotic nature of the globalised world that makes stable identities a rarity today. Entangled in a digital fantasy with the kind of ironic energy that’s open to interpretation, the work’s ambiguity becomes a serious statement, just like scrolling through a particularly controversial day on Twitter.
“A few years ago I began working with tools that allowed me to digitally replicate the chrome look of Hajime Sorayama’s sexy robots. I’ve always really loved his work and my favourite projects are the ones where I can use that chrome effect,” Sally says. “I’d love to do more print design. I miss making magazines. Whenever I see a cool new typeface or look at Chris Maggio’s Instagram, I feel nostalgic for Mass Appeal and Missbehave,” she adds, referring to her stint as the creative director the now-defunct women’s magazine in operation between 2006 and 2009.
Additionally, the illustrations she did for Ssense’s taxonomy of Louis Vuitton also reflect her practice very well. “[Nicholas] Ghesquière’s most recent collection for Louis Vuitton is inspired by the Pompidou, so the illustrations were a mix of Pompidou pipes and Louis Vuitton collaborations. I made an alphabet with letters inspired by Calder, Gehry, Kusama and Murakami,” she explains. In other work, her designs for New York Times’ DNA testing article feature robot eyeballs that follow a cotton bud as it swabs a disembodied mouth. And with her diverse practice still evolving, Sally’s work mimics the sleek-yet-chaotic nature of living online today.