Culture, Design | Sep 21, 2017

Craig & Karl

The creative duo creating bold and humorous work on a monumental scale

Kanye, Vogue and Colette: not many designers get to work with such a brilliant, broad range of subjects and clients, but Australian duo Craig & Karl are different, appealing across the board with their bold, bright and graphic style.

The pair met at art college and have been working together ever since, albeit in different locations. Craig Redman is based in New York and Karl Maier works from London. “But we both cover all facets and trust and rely on each other’s opinion completely,” says Maier. 
Craig and Karl for New York Fashion Week
Craig and Karl for New York Fashion Week
"The way we approach a physical space is usually to treat it as an immersive environment. We want people to enter and feel completely enveloped by it."
Craig & Karl portrait
Portrait of Craig & Karl

Craig & Karl have brought life to the pages of The New York TimesWashington Post, New York Magazine and Vanity Fair, as well as illustrating for the likes of Nike, New York Fashion Week, Dazed & Confused and the global phenomenon that is the British band The xx. Taking inspiration from a Renaissance painting one moment, and the TV-show The Real Housewives the next, their style is instantly recognisable - colourful, geometric and bold. Inspired by artists David Hockney and Alex da Corte for the artwork they created on the hoardings of the 80 Collins development in Melbourne, they here share their thoughts on 3D printing, Australian kitsch and the origin of colour in their work.

David Bowie by Craig & Karl
David Bowie is... for the Vogue Culture Edit. “We created this piece for British Vogue and its aim was to celebrate the Bowie show at the V&A. The piece mashes together all of Bowie’s most iconic outfits into one.”

Stuart Brumfitt: How has your style evolved over the years?

Craig & Karl: One thing we’ve learnt is that the evolution of your work is essential. Doing the same thing over and over again is a good way to be forgotten, and this is exacerbated now by Instagram and Snapchat. People get bored quickly. There are certainly key elements of ours that have remained consistent (colour and patterns for example), and we definitely try to build our work around a good idea – that will never change. Our evolution is more about asking ourselves - how do we tell visual stories in new and interesting ways? It could be through a stylistic shift, through a new medium, or a simpler message – anything to keep us and the audience from getting bored.

SB: What's the secret to your ongoing creative collaboration?

C & K: Practice! We’re on chat every day, speak on Skype and have a shared Dropbox for all our work. Even though we’ve known each other for over half our lives, there are still times when speaking through graphic speech bubbles (i.e. messaging) loses its charm, so we hang out in real life at least a few times a year, which we like to think of as putting credit back into the human bank. The big plus is that we get to engage with and draw on two completely different cities and cultures.

SB: You've already worked on magazine covers, advertising, installations and products. What's the next frontier?

C & K: 3D is the next big thing and we’ve started integrating it into our work. It’s a natural extension of what we’re already doing, it’s just a matter of creating an installation in a 3D programme, rather than doing it in real life. Things like Google’s Tilt Brush is probably the frontier after that, and we can’t wait to start experimenting with its possibilities.

Le Specs by Craig & Karl
For Eyes – a sunglasses collection for Le Specs. “A favourite, partly because they were a dream to work with and let – even encouraged – us to go nuts with it. It was a really unique and different outcome for us and we got to create a whole world, from designing the sunglasses to the branding and packaging, and creating some pretty wild images to promote it.”

SB: Do you get a kick out of injecting colour and bold design into physical spaces?

C & K: For sure. The way we approach a physical space is usually to treat it as an immersive environment. We want people to enter and feel completely enveloped by it. A simple way of doing this is by using colour. People are accustomed to seeing colour on walls but it really shifts the mood when that colour is wrapped onto a ceiling and floor. Our deliberate use of bright and bold colours takes people to a happy place.

SB: Should the rest of the world be bolder with colour and graphics?

C & K: Of course! The '80s in Australia when we were growing up was a very bright, kitschy place, so this probably explains where our obsession with colour comes from. A lot of Australian artists and designers influenced us, particularly Howard Arkley, Ken Done, Jenny Kee, Albert Tucker, Minnie Pwerle, and Timmy Payungka Tjapangati. We have a relatively consistent palette, mostly of pretty difficult, lurid colours, and we enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make one sit with another. Using blocks of colour definitely helps establish an emotive response, so perhaps it’s part of a storytelling technique too. Also, we’re both relatively cynical, so maybe our over-the-top use of colour is a projection of our secret optimistic side.

Sweet As One – Chinese New Year installation in Chengdu. “With 13 tons of candy pieces, at 607 feet long and nearly 14,000 square feet assembled by 2,000 volunteers over five days, our installation for the Sweet as One exhibition in Chengdu brought in the Chinese New Year. The exhibition was curated by AllRightsReserved to bring awareness to the plight of underprivileged children in rural areas.”
Craig & Karl Ghent
Battles – installation at the C-mine Cultural Centre in Genk, Belgium. “This explores the fine line between love and conflict.”
Doug Aitken Desert X neil Blumenthal warby parker BoF Business of Fashion Voices Buly 1803 Ramdane Touhami Mauro Colagreco P Johnson tailors Sydney OMA MPavilion Naomi Milgrom Kram/Weisshaar Doug Aitken Underwater Pavilion Cyrril Gutsch