RECAP: Ben Nunery from Powerhouse Factories

In 1999 two recent design school grads, Pat Jones and Ben Nunery, put their creative efforts into a new venture – a poster print shop assembled in their garage. Their work started as a way to get on the guest list for their favorite bands, but their work took them much farther, giving them the opportunity to work with artists like Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Guns n Roses and Tom Petty, as well as a diverse list of brands like guitar string maker Ernie Ball, energy drink innovator Red bull, Pampers (everybody knows what they make), Tide and Lens Crafters among others.

Ben Nunery, flew out from Kentucky to speak about the work this past week, and AIGA Boulder participated in the event. The poster show was up for a month at the Firehouse Art Center, the city’s creative workspace and the public library, and the artist’s talk was the culmination of the show.

The artist’s talk explored the origin of Powerhouse Design. During the late 90’s, heavily influenced by Shepard Fairey, street art and the underground aesthetic in general, the pair started screen printing and conducting middle of the night raids, papering swaths of campustown with ambiguous posters open to broad interpretation. Their installations instigated debate and wide ranging responses. In one installation, another artist took a poster, modified it, screened it, and pasted the revised work over parts of the original installation.

Ideas about interaction were in the air. Blogs were a thing as early as 1994, and Web 2.0 was an established concept, but there was no true “social media.” Friendster and Myspace didn’t launch until 2002 and 2003 respectively, and to create a visual discourse, artists needed to include physical and environmental transactions.

Ben showed images of the team’s early workspace with a hodgepodge of computers, including an early edition iMac with the translucent blue shell around a CRT screen.

Process was a big part of Ben’s talk. The team explores the theme or band, music, attitude they will represent in the work, sources influences, draws additional material, imports resources into the computer and modifies, building the layers. From there, they print each layer in black onto translucent plastic. The black blocks light when emulsion painted screens are exposed to light. The screens are then washed down and prepared for printing.

“We mix the colors we print with from eight base colors,” Ben said, “and each print is pulled by hand.”

The pair have moved well beyond screen printing, conducting charrettes and ideational design thinking workshops for big brands. Ben showed conceptual work they did for Proctor and Gamble in the early phase of development on Tide Pods. “Power Dots” stood out as the most edible alternative among the concepts presented to P&G.

Ben talked about lessons learned along the way. A big takeaway was that “Authenticity and passion create opportunity.” The duo had wondered early on what they could do with the art they were creating. Their first commission came from a loft building looking for a hip, engaged street approach to promoting their building. From there, they realized that there was a market and an opportunity around their instincts as creatives.

The event concluded with a short walk to two additional locations, and a convergence at Longtucky distillery with a round of drinks and conversation amongst the designers and creatives in attendance.

Learn more about the Firehouse Art Center and the Longmont Creative District

By Alan Murdock | Murdock Media Production
Published July 17, 2018
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