Artist of the Month: Sam Wiehl

The Double Negative grabs five minutes with inaugural Artist of the Month (and apparent polymath) Sam Wiehl…

Sam Wiehl is a busy man. On the day we meet in a packed Fact Cafe, it’s our fourth or fifth attempt at grabbing an hour with the in-demand co-founder of acclaimed design studio, Burn Everything. We can hardly blame him, he and his wife have just had their first child together, so the fact he makes it on time is a minor miracle in itself.

Originating from Bradford, he’s just returned to Liverpool from Brooklyn. What, we wondered, took him to the states? “I got a work visa to have an adventure; we went out there 3 months after we’d been married, no work lined up, and no real plan.”

If they were worried about any of this, it turns out it was unfounded. They moved into a neighbourhood in Green Point, Brooklyn, just below Queens. Wiehl describes it as having a rep for being “dangerously hipster, at a time when there is a lot of negativity around [the hipster] in the New York press” – surely not more than here? “Oh yeah”, he quickly confirms, “but it was really cool, a really nice place.”

He then set about looking for a studio space, and met a collective, 5 in one, counting writers, designers, artists and illustrators amongst their ranks. He immediately began work on various projects with the group, where their mercantile ethic and his DIY practise met somewhere in the middle, complimenting each other very nicely. Moving to Manhattan, the collective became something more akin to a business, with Wiehl freelancing for them on various projects.

While there, he met people (from MAS event + design) who produced events for “pretty large clients.” Wiehl became their art director, and one of those pretty large clients he mentioned, just happened to be Google. How did this square with that DIY ethic we mentioned earlier? “For all they have the reputation as a money making machine, it seemed pretty altruistic – it was pleasantly surprising, to say the least.” Alongside these large-scale commercial projects affording an opportunity to “explore new avenues of work and different technologies”, Wiehl adds that he was also working on various more personal projects, for ‘zines and record sleeve design.

“It changed my life – coming back from NY meant I couldn’t just go back to doing what I had beforehand – it would have made NY feel like a dream”

Why the return to the UK and Liverpool? “As I said it was an adventure, something we wanted to do, and an opportunity to try new things. But we were always coming back.” There must have been an element of culture shock about that move, we suggest. “It changed my life – coming back from NY meant I couldn’t just go back to doing what I had beforehand – it would have made NY feel like a dream.”

Burn Everything (with Dave Hand) was one of the things that changed. “We both knew we wouldn’t continue BE – we still work together on projects but now it’s on to the next thing, and NY definitely made that a natural cut off point. The worst thing would have been to slot back into the old life. Some things had to be different.”

The main difference, he has found, is the freedom that comes with not being tied to the studio. Involved with Hive Collective, Behind The Wall of Sleep, and playing in bands Spitting Cobra and Eyes, what does he define himself as? “I am currently putting more focus on my art projects, but I’m also a designer and an illustrator, and still enjoy commercial design jobs, but I always have 4 or 5 projects going at a time, and they’re all things that make me happy. Perhaps you don’t really need a definition. I play in a band and don’t consider myself a serious musician – it’s something I really enjoy, and we put gigs on but I don’t think I’m a promoter necessarily.”

With greater freedom has come an insanely productive level of output. This week is the Behind The Wall of Sleep Winter Solstice Party, featuring GNOD, Gigantes and Spitting Cobra at Mello Mello. The New Year sees BTWoS celebrate their first birthday, and in February Wiehl will be taking up a week’s residency with Metal at Edge Lane alongside 6 other artists potentially producing work commissioned by Metal on the theme of the Olympics and propaganda. We could go on. Oh, and did we mention, his latest work is that incredible banner adorning the top of our site. Thank you Sam Wiehl, our inaugural artist of the month!

Posted on 18/12/2011 by thedoublenegative