Words by Anthony Thomas
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) are an artefact of a time when Coco Pops and Cheese TV commanded my undivided attention. Though no longer actively involved in the plot, a deep-seated love for that masked quartet remains buried in me. So it was with great anticipation that this month I had the chance to chat to with one of the current members of the TMNT design team, Michael Boswell. We caught up for what turns out an extended Skype call and I find him to be more than your typical illustrator.
After graduating with a BFA in design, Boswell moved from Denver to Detroit to complete graduate studies at theCranbrook Academy of Art, a two-year experience that defined Boswell’s current ideals on creativity. “Their studio practice was more of a fine art, self-driven emphasis. It was a space to interact with people from other disciplines, from painting to sculpture. I started making a lot more fine art and exploring my own ideas.”
Work at various agencies as an undergrad led people to quickly notice his flair.
Now a full-time member of the off-air creative department at Nickelodeon, Boswell is part of the team responsible for maintaining the TMNT brand image. If that doesn’t put Boswell’s finesse in context I don’t know what will. Operating as an illustrator by day, he maintains a thriving fine art presence in his spare time. Sharing an open-plan studio space inBushwick with other artists helps foster his creativity, says Boswell.
“It has a screen-printing focus but there’s no segregation, people do a little bit of everything. Bushwick is an artist community. It started out as raw warehouse and loft studios because they were cheap. It’s a real nice neighbourhood A lot of us are Cranbrook grads, so we all have a similar foundation.”
Boswell tells me that Nickelodeon’s culture of continual brand innovation permits him a work environment relatively free from creative chains, allowing an intersection between commercial and creativity. “It’s always going back and forth. My job is more illustration than design on a daily basis but there’s definite cross-pollination. I’ve become more and more interested in characters and exploring different ways of making work.”
His ongoing series, Fur Jackets, is an interesting example of this notion. Beginning with experiments in Cinema 4D and a wealth of surplus fashion magazines, courtesy of his fiancé, the project has become a focal point for Boswell, telling me the fashion scene is informing and influencing him increasingly. “A lot of things were going around that made this so interesting. There’s a lot more that could be expanded upon, deeper meaning and developing more abstract forms. The idea is to keep pushing it and seeing how the form develops.”
This approach to creation Boswell puts down to his graduate education. “Cranbrook taught almost post-facto rationalisation, working with all the symbols and elements before bringing them together allowing them to form their own language. You come to understand the meaning of it as you sit with the piece. There are ideas nested in it that will develop as I keep pushing and letting the work develop. It’s a non-restrictive, illustration experiment.”
Having never been to New York before I ask Boswell, who has called Brooklyn home for three and a half years now, to describe it. “Brooklyn and New York have a really rich, dense art scene, there are so many vibes going on. InWilliamsburgh, Bushwick and North Brooklyn it seems to be really prevalent, just the sheer amount of people creating. You constantly meet new people who are doing interesting thing, all within your trajectory of creativity. Everybody’s always out having cocktails and talking about what they’re doing. The exposure and culture is bumping, it’s really, really awesome.”
Curious to know if the scene is gallery oriented, he tells it is but not in the way we might recognise. “Manhattan and Chelseaare quite blue-chip, democratised and difficult to tap into so the Bushwick scene has really risen. We have the Open Studios events that allow anyone to be involved. I have a couple of friends who have monthly openings in their apartment!”
This DIY framework of creation naturally led Boswell to become involved with group exhibitions. His work featured besideElliott Earls, Patrick Hill and Margie Weir in a recent show, Hypertension. An experience Boswell reflects fondly on, sending me links as visual cues as he talks. “I loved that show and working with other types of artist in that atmosphere. It was probably one of my favourite experiences installing work and really inspired me to seek out more opportunities to that kind of thing.” It’s past midnight our time and our chat is weaving on and off record, allowing Boswell to offer my digital presence insight into his world.
“I’m actually getting married and need to get started with planning the wedding. If my fiancé keeps seeing me draw those jackets then I’m going to be in big trouble.” He does mention a strong desire to make a book out of the Fur Jackets project. While not set in stone, it remains a glimmer of hope to cling to until his next concrete plan.
Boswell is a designer and an artist, gifted with both a keen eye and creative insight that Splinter would be proud of. Perhaps most important though is his relaxed, warm and cheeky character.
Boswell is the anti-thesis of the elitism and pretention associated with art. A breathe of fresh air everybody’s respiratory system should have the pleasure of processing.