Graphic tees are an art form. The medium is ink and the canvas is cotton jersey, screen printed and heat pressed (among other methods) with a message to say. Whether that message is profound or not, is another question.
It could be a tee to represent your alma mater or your local pizza joint, to commemorate an event, or to support a movement like Black Lives Matter. For many, it's a way to show your allegiance (or sense of irony) to your favorite band.
Band tees have been pumped out for every album release, world tour and local show, but what about other artists? What about pivotal art exhibitions? That's what the team behind Flat File had in mind when creating the brand.
The side project of the denim brand 3sixteen's Andrew Chen and Wesley Scott, and graphic designer Jordan Butcher, Flat File launched this year with the approach of making something like a concert tee, but for artists. The team released their first capsule in late April and featured exhibitions of Isamu Noguchi, Sol Lewitt, Ellsworth Kelly and Alexander Calder. The second release drops today and includes Constantin Brancusi, Donald Judd, Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock.
To learn more, we talked with Wesley Scott about the project.
What is Flat File? What’s the concept?
We think of Flat File as a bootleg art merch project. On multiple occasions, Andrew and I left museum exhibitions or gallery shows wishing there was some sort of merch we could buy that was well-designed. I think that harkens back to buying merch at a concert. There's that feeling of leaving a show with something to memorialize the experience that is so impactful.
For Flat File, we’re making merch for shows we never had the chance to see. It’s our way of memorializing some of these major events in the art world’s history. For example, we have a Donald Judd t-shirt this drop from his first solo sculpture show. That show marked huge shift in his career and for us, as Judd fans, it’s exciting to be able share that moment through a t-shirt. All of us at Flat File come from graphic tee backgrounds in some form so t-shirts are the vehicle to share our interests. Our graphic designer, Jordan Butcher, has an incredible ability to take exhibit or show posters and flyers and distill them down to something that feels reminiscent of the bootleg tees we love without losing the artist’s ethos.
How do you select the artists and posters for each drop? Do you think of the artist first? Do you come across an art exhibit poster first?
Honestly, it all starts with a good poster. We have a Slack channel and Pinterest board where we are constantly uploading photos and screen grabs of great exhibition posters. For each release we might have 25 posters we are discussing until we eventually land on four.
Sometimes, though, it does start with the artist. Like this Brancusi tee for example. We knew we wanted to do a Brancusi tee and found a show that resonated with us. Given how long ago he was showing, it’s much harder to find information on his shows than others we do so that took more digging to pull all the elements from this show in place rather than just pulling from one poster.
What else is coming up for the future? Can we expect to see more lesser-known niche artists, or even up-and-coming contemporary artists?
We’re definitely going to be releasing some niche artist pieces in the future. Initially, we wanted to share some heavy-hitters that we love, but with each additional release there will be more niche artists or movements appearing. The three of us have a wide variety of interests, so I’m excited for some surprise that will come in future releases.
Our dream one day is to get the opportunity to design and produce promotional merchandise for museums or galleries in the same vein as what we’ve been doing.