Michael Cina / Ghostly

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Published:  September 12, 2012
Heath Killen
Michael Cina / Ghostly

This month Michael Cina will present at the Art Directors Club in New York as part of a conference on record label Ghostly International, where Cina is a creative director and designer. The ADC describe Ghostly as “Art, connected through a spirit of inventiveness and anti-genre thinking”. I think this definition perfectly applies to Cina too, and that spirit runs through work for clients as diverse as Pepsi, Good Magazine and Facebook.

What I find particularly fascinating about Cina’s body of work is the way that he is able to weave elements of his commissions and experiments into each other. Even when there is no obvious connection between them, there is a sense that his expressionistic paintings provide new perspectives on his designs, and in turn the formal qualities of his designs provide scaffolding for his visual explorations. I spoke with Cina about his multi-disciplinary practice, and the unique aesthetic philosophy of Ghostly.

Collaboration with Sonnenzimmer

How you define the two disciplines of art and design? Where are the absolute distinctions between them, where do the lines get blurry and how do they influence each other in your practice?
I believe they are two different occupations. The act of creating art is a personal exploration who’s voice and approach comes from the first person. Great design is done by speaking for another party in a tone that is honest and appropriate. I do believe there is this new form of work that is being done that merges both, but often it is lacking in one of the two categories (art or design).

My career has been unique in two ways. I have always been involved in the fine arts and that is what lead me to graphic design in the end. My career has also been paved with me making many sacrifices to afford myself the time to do both.

Art has always played a part in my work, even some of my first website designs. In the last three years I have been able to have the luxury of having a client (Ghostly International) who I can explore some of these ideas with. This has opened more space for me to explore.

All that being said, I don’t see boundaries within the arts. This month I have worked on hundreds of wallpaper designs, motion work (corporate), packaging design, two typefaces, website design, LP covers, corporate rebrand (though an agency), art direction for a company, illustration, painting, creating my own product, and writing a forward to a book. It’s not not an easy task to juggle all of this.

Ghostly merchandise

Tapscott (Typeface)

Illustration for Facebook

With such a diverse range of clients, do you need to dedicate blocks of time to each client in order to be in the right headspace for the work? For example, are you able to work on a corporate identity project and an experimental painting in the same day or do you require space and time between them?
I work on everything in the same day. I never miss a deadline but I have to have a list of things that need to be done staring at me. When I need to stop working on one thing, I pick up something else. Normally how I balance it is with projects that need a lot of brain power with ones that do not. So when I need to take a break from taxing myself, I can turn to something else completely different. That is one reason why I like typeface design and art so much. It does afford me to have needed breaks but they use different parts of the brain.

How do you set limits for your self directed work?
I never set limits and that is a blessing and a curse. A project is done when it is “done right.” The hotter projects don’t afford me time to rethink things a lot.

True = True Painting

True = True Painting

Have there been any instances where some of your more experimental work has had an impact on your commercial projects, or vice versa?
They always influence one another in an odd way. After I had spent three months working on a recnet website, I had so many ideas for paintings, it was wonderful. The experimental work certainly influences me on how I use color and even typography in a strange way. I feel like working on such polar opposite jobs opens up parts of my brain and helps me see things better.

Benoit & Sergio - Let Me Count The Ways (2011)

Jacaszek - Glimmer (2011)

It seems that with a design-lead or strongly designed focused record label, you can take one of two routes. A mostly singular voice such as Touch and Ghost Box, or a small roster of collaborators who provide more of a “family” voice such as Warp, and of course Ghostly. How were those initial decisions about art direction made, and how do you make ongoing decisions about preserving the integrity of the label while also pushing things forward and remaining flexible?
Sam Valenti had a vision for the label to have a strong aesthetic, so that integrity goes to his early vision for art and design to be a strong label focus. That’s strengthened by everyone at Ghostly because they all care about design and they fight for it, even if it makes their job more difficult.

A lot of the work since 2008 was done by myself, often due to time or project restrictions. I do collaborate from time-to-time as well. If I collaborate, I will come with a concept and then find someone who fits the direction of what I am going for. I really care about the integrity of the label a lot. It has my name attached to it and I believe in the company. I am a control freak, but I am also reasonable.

Subb-An - The Lovers Night (2011)

Pale Sketcher - Seventh Heaven (2011)

Broker/Dealer - Soft Sell (2008)

What makes an artist or designer right for becoming part of the Ghostly family, and has your criteria for that changed over time?
It is less a conscious decision and more organic in nature. A lot of the times it is either Sam or myself sending links back and forth. I have a long list of people I would love to collaborate with and we talk a lot about how to get them more ‘active’ in creating something. But that something has to materialize or match up.

Matthew Dear - Beams (2012)

A cover such as Matthew Dear’s Beams works so well at different sizes. It’s immediately recognisable on a phone or computer screen, but the larger the image is, the more detail you can see. The nuances of the image become more apparent. Is designing for scalability a concern for you? Are you thinking about how the cover will look in a variety of formats while you work?
Thank you. Yes, that has been something we have addressed a lot. It would seem foolish to let something like that change the way I work, but it is also not wise to ignore the fact that it will be a thumbnail. Typography is almost meaningless when you reduce the image to a small icon so it is often minimized. I still obsess over what type I put on it, but I approach it differently now.

First and foremost, I design for the 12” LP cover. It is the superior format for art. So if vinyl is involved, the focus is always that. If I have to design a CD/Digital release, I just imagine it being a full sized LP cover. The fact that it will be reduced to a tiny icon is always a factor but who wants to design under those circumstances?

Ghostly is a label deeply engaged with their visual artists, and clearly interested in preserving the relationship between music and design. Where do you see that relationship headed in the future?
I know nothing is changing with the route that Ghostly is on, it will only continue to expand. Sam cares as much about the cover art as he does the music. When I design an album, I think about it as something more than what it is. I would like for people to buy the albums I design just for the cover alone. Music is a very important part of my life and I treat the work I do for it as important.

Cina Associates
Cina Art
The New Graphic (Blog)

Ghostly International

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