Among the items posted on the website of Ric Wilson, graphic designer and assistant professor of art at MU, visitors will find a thoughtful declaration of teaching principles, one that provides Wilson’s would-be students a not-so-subtle insight into the rigors of their coming course of study.
“Because graphic design is an integrative field, combining art, social science and technology,” he writes, “a well-rounded design education requires that students understand and demonstrate a level of expertise in each of these areas.”
The statement might also be seen as a window into the workman-like sensibility of the artist himself. Wilson’s own creations, a selection of which is reprinted on these pages, shows the artist, social scientists and technologist all crowding into the compositions.
Boldly colored serigraphs, a type of screen print, liberate counter-culture icons of the beat-era from their gray-scale familiarity, their black and white forms splashed with sheets of audacious pigment, their thoughts reprinted in layers of energetic but less-than-fully-comprehensible type. Others create new contexts for 19th century anatomical studies, physiological renderings set in evocative color fields and annotated with lighthearted acknowledgement of these body parts’ second lives as figures of speech.
Wilson also works in relief prints, woodcuts and letterpress compositions depicting the energy and dignity of urban landscapes and the people that call them home. These are images that deliberately call attention to their pre-digital antecedents and a mode of production that remains unapologetically working class. Wilson, in short, is an artist who wears his ink stains proudly. This undoubtedly has much to do with his chosen mode of expression, and may also reflect the decade or so he spent earning a non-academic paycheck in the graphic design and advertising trades. Still, when he’s describing to computer-addicted undergraduates the complex interrelationship of the creative arts and professional crafts, there’s no question in Wilson’s mind about which comes first.
“As I explain it to my students, a graphic designer needs to be trained as an artist first and then as a graphic designer,” he writes. “The role of technology in design education must be seen as a production tool, not as a design tool. I require my students to think first, experiment with sketches and ideation second and, finally, use the computer to produce their ideas and concepts.”