MICHAEL THORSBY — Interview
Michael Thorsby, art director and graphic designer based in Paris, France.
Hello Michael Thorsby, how are you?
I’m very good thank you.
Can you introduce yourself? Tell us more about you.
I am an Art Director based in Paris, originally I’m from a small industrial city in the middle of Sweden. But I left the country 14 years ago and have since lived in Copenhagen and London but mainly Tokyo before settling in Paris a couple of years ago.
Since I came to Paris my main focus in my work have been the fashion industry but I started in the music industry and have worked with a rather diverse spectrum of clients since I graduated and became a full time freelance in 2005.
Where does your interest in art direction and graphic design come from? What is your background?
It goes back to my childhood fascination for anything digital and computer generated. As a young boy I was sitting in front of the TV recording synthesizer jingles with a microphone and my older brother and I were hunting for early computer animation. When my family got our first Mac in 1988 I soon stopped drawing by hand in favour for MacPaint. Later I got involved with a group of DJ’s and electronic music producers and my place in this group was to make the graphic design of posters and to design the labels of the records they pressed up. So by the end of high school I knew what I wanted to do. I begun freelancing while doing my five years of Master Visual Communication studies in Copenhagen and London and couldn’t wait to become a full time freelance. I moved to Tokyo a week after graduating and it all took off from there.
You lived and worked in Tokyo, Copenhagen, London and you are now based in Paris, how different is the graphic design scene in these different cities?
When you see good work in Japan it tends to be the best in the world in my opinion. When I visited Tokyo and later moved there I was really trying to free myself from the rather stiff Scandinavian logic I have inherited and embrace what I thought was a much freer perspective on design.
Tokyo is an amazing city in many ways but when I got a deeper insight into the scene I was amazed how few people that made good work, it is after all a city of 34 million. The older generation view freelancers as people who failed to get employed and as the older generation rules everything it create a climate that is far from optimal, especially as everything in Japan is ruled by old men. When cycling through the ministries in central Tokyo I used to sing a version of Young Jeezy’s “All White Everything” that I called “Old Men Everywhere”.
The situation in Copenhagen is amazingly good today compared to when I got there in 2000, then there was nothing to be inspired by. People like my co-students WoodWood have done amazing things to improve the visual culture of that city.
During my time in London I was working very conceptual, making videos based on mathematical formulas and developing methods of creating visuals with minimal aesthetic choices, this came as I was amazed by the intellectual level of the lectures. My jaw dropped when I once went to a graphic design lecture and the lecturers discussed the visual symbolism of 9-11. I was used to a chronological walkthrough of graphic design from my studies in Copenhagen and a perspective that in my eyes had managed to transform the extremely progressive ideas of Bauhaus to something conservative.
Out of all the creative sectors in Paris I find the fashion industry to be the most progressive. As with everything in this city it’s very defined but within these very set frames people do extremely free-minded work. So that’s where my eyes tend to move towards. There are a handful of people doing really fantastic visual work so I think the climate is really good here, I’m very happy in Paris so far.
You created a pattern design for Sixpack France. Is fashion design a field you enjoy working for?
Absolutely. I would say most of my works, especially the past year, have been related to the fashion industry, for the reason I stated above. Since a year back I’m also the graphic designer and art director of Baserange, a great French-Danish womenswear brand and our collaboration is constantly deepening. We’re slowly rolling out a re-design of their visual identity but it takes a while to get the production right as things are being done in several places in the world but I’ll get it all in place this autumn. Lately I’ve also done some work for Larose Paris and Three Animals, a couple of small but very nice brands based in Paris. And much more is to come. I no longer work with Sixpack but I’m very happy with the pattern you mention. I have done quite a lot of work like that in the past, for example for larger brands like Adidas, Head and DC Shoes but wish to make it for smaller, more experimenting brands.
Are there any projects or experiences that you have done and that you enjoyed more than others?
In general what I love is the variation, sketching on a logo and identity in the morning and building a still life set in the afternoon with small breaks of drawing.
Regarding specific projects there are a few that definitely have stood out, and it usually involve a physically challenging process, as I spend so my time by my desk I really love when I can feel a project in my body. The exhibition I made at Diesel Denim Gallery in Tokyo was a clear example of that, I slept three hours per night during a couple of weeks and had to show up with a smile to keep the spirit of the team up. My hands were sometimes completely covered with glue and it happened that I cut myself but no blood came out as the glue held the skin together. I don’t work like that anymore though, more complicated things have to be outsourced.
I would like to do more challenging photo shoots, I have a few nice ones in the past that I don’t show on my current website but there will be more of them to come.
Is there any designer you appreciate a lot?
A couple of my heroes are Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda and Mitsou Katsui. But I mainly look at fine art and there are people like James Lee Byars, Ann Veronica Janssens, Tino Seghal and Camille Henrot. When it comes to fashion Christophe Lemaire, Juun J and Dries van Noten are probably the ones I like the most.
Which books are on your bedside table ?
Right now I don’t have any bedside table. My girlfriend and I just moved into new large apartment and we decided to destroy and recycle all the old furniture and build everything ourselves. I love to build stuff but right now it’s pretty sparse as I’m still fixing all the walls and floors. Doing work-work during the day and apartment work in the evenings I find very little time to read right now, but if I had time and a bedside table I would read Camille Henrot’s book published by Kamel Mennour and a book about Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister that got shot in 1986, those books are next in line.
The last word…
I think I’ve said enough. Thank you!
Interview : Dennis Moya & Tiffany Baehler – 11.14
Images ©Michael Thorsby.