Interview: Bijan Berahimi
February 15 2015
Less than 2 years after earning a BFA from CalArts, Bijan Berahimi has already hit a major professional stride. He’s done solid work for Nike Soccer’s 2014 World Cup effort, has illustrated for publications like GOOD and lectures at the likes of Santa Fe University of Art & Design. The contemporary art and design gallery he co-founded in Portland, FISK, puts on shows, concerts, performances and hosts artists and various organizations visiting Portland. His personal practice spans art direction, package design, editing and printing and that is, according to Bijan driven at its core by materiality.
For this Sunday, we caught up with Bijan and talked about the daunting task of designing for Nike, mastering the French press and how design should never be confused with templates.
How do you take your coffee?
Typically an americano with a splash of half and half. It used to be my morning ritual, a way to get out of the house since I work from my basement studio, to walk to the local coffee shop. But I’ve recently purchased a French press, and have been pretty into that. Mainly for it’s convenience, although I still haven’t mastered the process. I may never, it’s not as easy as it looks.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
I don’t have any specific thoughts on this, I don’t discriminate. I don’t like bread that is very hard to chew, it hurts my jaw.
What’s your Sunday ritual?
Usually working, ideally brunch, and a walk around town. Oh and I’ve been apart of a Sunday dinner for the last few weeks, that’s a ritual!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a cookie cutter suburb about 30 miles outside of Los Angeles called Santa Clarita. I played basketball and rode bikes with the neighborhood gang on the daily. I drew in my free time and went to a public high school that didn’t promote or support the arts a whole lot. Mainly football. I’m still close friends with quite a few people from there. It’s a weird relationship since I also went to college in the same town, CalArts was just 10 miles away from my parents house. Although I made it a point to not live at home (love you mom).
We hear CalArts is intense. What was your experience there?
It’s intense and it’s crazy. It’s not easy. But it’s a very special place, magical I’d say, and unlike any other place in the world. It’s very close to my heart, it changed my life and I owe everything that proceeds to that place and the people I met there.
Everybody who goes to art school has trouble with one medium. Which was yours?
Although I’m interested in both web design and motion graphics now, I was not very good at them in school. Mainly because the programs were hard and the classes were not so interesting to me.
A lot of your practice centers upon “further understanding aspects of materiality.” Why is materiality central to your work?
There is nothing more special to me than holding a book or object or looking at a print in person. I’m also a nerd when it comes to production, I love all of the possibilities and different printing techniques out there. I’m most excited about projects that I can see from concept to reality. Generally I produce a lot of my own personal work and I’m an avid print maker.
We’re always intrigued by boundary-pushing work done for clients whose own brands are strong—and they don’t come any stronger than Nike. Was doing design work for them constraining or intimidating at all?
It’s both constraining and intimidating. Both I think are important to my design practice and in making good design in general. It’s exciting to make things that actually function in the world. It’s also fun to make things that don’t function. Both are important to me.
Doing work for Nike is constraining but overall they have an insanely high standard of quality. I’ve been able to do things for them that I would have never been able to otherwise. Both with production and execution methods, not to mention that millions of people have seen my work. It’s made what I do easier to understand, people don’t always get what graphic design is, but they definitely get what Nike is. That’s been nice.
You did a really interesting map of Occupy Nation for GOOD. Were you involved with the movement at all?
No I wasn’t involved at all, besides following it online and doing that infographic. It was an insanely scary and sad time to be in school. Seeing other students like yourself being pepper sprayed, arrested, and dragged on the ground by cops.
Tell us about FISK and what else you’re up to lately.
FISK is a project I started back in 2009 at CalArts as a collective that made a zine and published a website focused on promoting student work. It’s changed quite a bit since then, it’s now a physical space in Portland, Oregon where I reside. And functions day to day as an art and design gallery. It still has the same intentions at heart, it’s an aspect of my practice that is focused on relationships and the community, mainly through curating, editing, and hosting events. FISK has seemed to adapt to whatever environment I’m in.
Even now it’s constantly evolving, we have a main programming where we host an artist (primarily artists outside of Portland) for a gallery show and produce a few products with them. We’ve been expanding on the objects we create and I hope they get more interesting as we move forward. I’m in the process of creating a partnership with a larger organization in town, so when we bring an artist from New York or London we can host lectures or workshops to the general public. I’m trying to curate a specific experience for our artists.
Our current show is New York based illustrator Tim Lahan, his work is stellar and we’re thrilled to bring him to Portland. We’ll be releasing a set of pillowcases, a tee shirt, and a set of prints with him.
What brand would you love to totally redo?
I’m not sure if I like the idea of redoing brands. I feel like I see too many classic brands that are redesigned for the wrong reasons. But if I have to pick then I would say the branding of the city of Los Angeles. I like the idea of designing things that I’m culturally connected to.
What’s the future of design?
I have no idea. I just hope it doesn’t get taken over by robots that streamline the design process and convince the general public that you don’t need a professionally trained and educated designer when you could pay $7.95/month for a beautiful website. Fuck that. Design is a craft that shouldn’t be a template.