Thursday, February 12, 2009

Contest Watch: Week of February 5

This week was epically difficult to narrow down... Threadless alone could have doubled the length of this post... but in the end, we must be editors always. Here's what would have pained me too much to pare off.

We start at Design By Humans this week, who have unveiled a new layout. I am ever resistant to change, but at least they have added some very useful features... a forum, for starters, as well as a ton of reprints and, best of all for me, a more user-friendly vote interface. It's therefore only fitting that they should be our headliner... and what a bang they do start off with. Above, you see Rhanga, a collaborative effort between design powerhouse Jimiyo and Chris Parks. I see pure Jimi, though, with the smooth vector lines and skillful detail one expects of his work. But the killer here is the color. The golds and reds and whites are as mystifying against the black shirt and each other as the Balinese mythology the image is based on. It totally evokes that east-Asian imagery and brings out that exotic beauty... a creepy beauty, but beauty nonetheless.

As I said above, Threadless this week kicked my ass... but one of the ones I could not pass up was RecycledWax's Original Sin. I'm a big proponent of the idea of natural lines... something that looks organic other than digital... but RW is a total pro at using those smooth, rounded vector lines to his advantage. This particular piece is a take-off on the Adam and Eve story, but the touches make it much more devious. Eve is blank-faced, emotionless, offering out the apple as if she knows exactly what happens next. It's not surprising she might seem so hypnotized, as there are eight snakes to the expected one. The best curveball, though, is that the snakes actually make up the tree, giving it a much more ominous feel. The whole piece has a soulless feel to it, which is a compliment for this... it really hammers home the darker aspects of the story. It gives off that brilliant creepyness that the girls in The Shining do. Also, the snake is the incarnation of the devil, and really, the devil should be soulless.

Shirt.woot's heartbreak theme, otherwise known as "Derby 81: Crap," actually had a handful of gems hidden beneath the plaintive cute critters and the, well, scads of literal takes on the topic. The one most worthy of mention, Drakxxx's Hi Ho Heartbreak, isn't even safe... admittedly, it is one of the worst shirt titles ever. Thankfully, though, we do not wear shirt titles, because the art here is, as usual, top notch. The "broken heart" is not shattered, but simply malfunctioning, making the concept already head and shoulders above everything else. Making the heart have a steampunk flair really makes the piece more visually interesting. But besides the literal aspects, the robots themselves are heartbreaking. They're little more than drones, slaves to the upkeep of a constantly breaking heart, and their faces betray... nothing. They're empty. And that makes the design itself heartbreaking.

Despite having a lot of great work to look through, my favorite by a mile was a Threadless piece: Vortices, by josephwilliam. I love everything about it... the bold color contrasts (one of my favorite combos, no less) make it a likely buy alone, but the style of the deer/antelope is equally attractive. I enjoy the grasslike shoots at its feet, and praise the skeletal structure drawn out behind the textures of the creature's hide. The white is more contrast, and the idea itself adds a lot of offbeat flair to the piece. While I'm not normally a fan of huge geometric expanses of ink, the triangle here is positioned in such a way that the animal escaping it fills a good enough portion to evoke jumping out of the void. The fade where the void and beast meet is just one more detail I find praiseworthy. As a whole, it's just one big, bold piece... brazenly and shamelessly artistic, powerful without having any solid objective, and perfect for the medium. I can picture this as a tour shirt for the latest indie band, most likely something akin to Pretty Girls Make Graves. But I don't want a band shirt. I want it as it stands, and God do I hope some shirt company picks it up, because this may well be my favorite shirt in a long damn time.

DBH has the daunting task of trying to outdo that kind of praise, and it simply is not going to measure up. Still, there is something undeniably magical about Aquarush, by AlexBeltechi. The soft colors in soft-focus meld together fluidly and work together skillfully against the intricately illustrated oceanic oddities crawling throughout the shirt. I'm a big believer in execution taking simple concepts into the stratosphere, and much like his recent DBH print took the tired tree and did something big with it, this does the same for the oft-utilized sea life it portrays. This will be a perfect summer shirt, and I have to hope DBH takes the reins and makes it so.

So that's that. I wish the pieces I had to pass up all the luck in the world... I still love ya, guys! Check back here next week, when hopefully such difficult decisions won't need to be made.

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