Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The secret to all design is the element of surprise. Surprise is tricky, though. The only surprising thing about shoving a reference into an irrelevant punchline, for example, is that so many people do it. Something has to jump out that makes you look twice. Something has to grab you in a more subtle and unexpected way. And today, we shall see how a lesser meme can accomplish this.

For starters, the word "lesser" goes a long way. It turns that reference into something easy to not get, which is a huge benefit for a design. A.mar.illo's (M)anteater has always benefit from this. "Fuck you, I'm an Anteater" is, for the most part, a relatively isolated phenomenon built purely from a completely understandable source: An anteater on his hind legs, front legs outstretched, looks like he's saying "come at me, punk!" Take a society obsessed with captioning animals, and the result is, well, the interweb'll happily show you. Still, it is the relative obscurity of the meme itself which does a lot of saving. If I can look at a piece and not immediately hone in on the reference, it means my evaluation of the piece is far more unbiased, and an unbiased view is what we should all strive for. It'd save us from hundreds of poorly made pac-man tees, at least.

But further than that, when you take something more obscure, and use it simply as an Easter egg in a more composed piece, you're left with a piece that almost fully erases that original spark. This isn't a piece about a lol-anteater anymore, but a concept in which a huge, Godzilla style anteater eats humans. That pose, made famous by the meme, fits in naturally, as a bad-ass anteater simply would take that stance. This is so important... good parody needs the reference to have a clever purpose, but great reference use makes it so natural that it stops being about that popular reference, but it creates a world for all possible viewers. Unlike even the best Mario shirt, which relies on knowing much about the character, this reads the same whether you know the reference or not.

Still, for someone like a.mar.illo, the thing that makes any of his work so great is his personal style. That's what snagged this a reference in a long-ago contest watch segment, and that's why I still love it. The anteater is distinctively him, but the buildings are some of my favorite things with his work. The perspective goes askew all over the place. It almost feels like the buildings are making way for the anteater, and that bent perspective makes the whole image feel all the more dramatic and otherworldly at once. It lends a sense of discomfort but also a sense of whimsy. There's a fine line at times between style and wrong, and a.mar.illo always falls on the style side. He knows how to work that quirky perspective so it jars the eyes in the best possible way. And those style choices make one focus on the design itself. It's all about putting yourself into your work, and this piece has plenty of personality to it.

This is one of those odd "curated" but not "limited" prints at Tilteed, which means that while the $12 pre-sale is fast approaching the end, you can still pick it up for eternity and such in the catalog. Still, I think we all like $12 more than $18, so hurry if you're on a budget.

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