Chloe Lum blanches at the word aesthetic. Perhaps she thinks it's privy to the goatee-strokers. "Crappy" is a term she prefers to use when describing the screen-printed gig posters she makes with Sérigraphie Populaire (Seripop), the graphic design team she shares with her boyfriend Yannick Desranleau. She might also call it "messy," as in childlike--refrigerator pieces reinterpreted by art school students.
"We like doing stuff that's kind of fucked-up looking," Lum says, speaking by phone from Montreal. The perkiness of her French-Canadian accent resonates in Seripop's vibrant work. Working primarily with noise- and art-rock bands from Lightning Bolt to the Unicorns frees the liberal duo to experiment with an acid palette: eye-burning pinks and greens, melting stars, a rainbow of colorful horned beasts, and lots of nonlinear text cobbled together and scribbled along the page. The hastily scribbled lettering on a poster that promotes a Seripop art show in Montreal resembles expressionist Cy Twombly's cursive writing; manic motion lines electrocute the shadowed male figure who is hiding behind the words. An advertisement for "Friendly Fest"--an ironic title for an agro-noise event--is decorated with molten lava and wormlike figures in the background. A poster advertising San Francisco's damaged-pop group Deerhoof features a bulbous, crudely drawn figure like something from Roger Hargreaves's Mr. Men children's books. He toils behind cotton candy blooms, covered in snowflakes the color of grass and sky. What he may be doing behind those bushes probably isn't kid stuff.
Lum and Desranleau do all their work by hand, choosing to highlight their own imperfections--like carelessly scrawled lettering and amorphously sketched creatures--rather than perfect them with computers. "We're both really into underground comics and outsider art," says Lum. "[We also like] random kitschy junk: lots of '70s and '80s punk rock hardcore graphics, '60s modern advertising design, and Pop art." Excitedly, she chats about her favorite artists: illustrator Saul Steinberg, who created mountainous landscapes with thumbprints and urban architecture with sheet music script, and Montreal-based comic artist Marc Bell, whose work is reminiscent of both contemporary Pop and late '30s ad propaganda. Bell's art has been published by Highwater Books, a cornerstone of his hometown's sizeable art community. In Montreal, zines can be bought from vending machines, and cafés hold monthly "Comic Jams" where artists get together and draw. When Seripop works with local comic and graffiti artists, they represent a community that's often considered too edgy for gallery owners.
Since many of Montreal's galleries are aimed at tourists, featuring nature scenes and work that, Lum jokes, "goes with the couch," local artists often forego galleries' lengthy submission processes and set up in warehouses instead. "We'll rent a commercial space for a month and have an art show there or at a loft," Lum says. "There are a lot of art auction parties, and people have shows at their studios. It's all pretty much outside of the gallery scene."
At 26, Lum and Desranleau are already veterans of the Montreal underground. Since the posters they created for their former noise band the Electric End got them noticed back in 2001, they've dedicated themselves to hyping the fruitful avant-rock scene--home of both maudlin rock label Constellation Records (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and the avant-pop label Alien8 (the Unicorns, Les Georges Leningrad). "The scene that we've had here has always been locally based and never received a lot of outside attention until recently," she says, noting that spread-out provinces and customs checks can make touring difficult for Canadians. Also, she says, "Canada's always been not that happening compared to the States."
Lum's love of punk inspired Seripop's old-fashioned rock 'n' roll-style tour. "We produce about four prints a week, and print them all ourselves," Lum says. "Since we're printer-designers who are really obsessive and don't have lives," she deadpans, "we decided to base our tour around Black Flag." "Get in the Van," named for Henry Rollins's chronicle of Black Flag's constant touring, brings Seripop and Madison-based husband and wife team Little Friends of Printmaking on a 5-week, 22-city itinerary that comes to the Soap Factory on Saturday, August 28 and Sunday, August 29. The tour will primarily make stops in galleries, differing from a previous Seripop tour that involved shows in all-ages venues and bars.
Lum and Desranleau don't spend much time in bars anymore. Though they're fans of the bands whose names grace their posters, their schedule leaves little time to watch the shows they've helped promote. Going out usually means a trip to the bookstore, where these self-described "dorky nerds" stock up on old copies of National Geographic and Avant-Garde to serve as inspiration for their designs. Seripop has contributed illustrations to several art and lifestyle magazines like Tokion and XLR8TR, but they sometimes feel misplaced among these rags' high-style content. Lum says wryly, "We're not really hip people, so all this slick, fashion-y stuff is alien to us. It's cool and interesting, but who are these people? Where do they come from? We're really grateful to do illustrations for some of those magazines. But I'd really like it if we could do stuff for Harper's." For a duo as literate as they are idiosyncratic, a visual accompaniment to a Norman Mailer article might not be out of the question. In fact, it could reinvent their aesthetic.