In his own words, Adam J. Kurtz is a pretty straightforward guy: “I’m just a tall goofy dude obsessed with bread and being obsessed with things.”
His design work, however, brings together a complex smattering of internet-culture memorabilia and IRL crafts. Whether through his personal projects found in his Gift Shop or commissioned work for Urban Outfitters and the New York Times, Kurtz’s work is born of a love for sifting through online content and creating a playful, often hilarious, physical product.
Transforming the intangible to something we can touch, use and hold on to is central to Kurtz’s creative output. By blurring the distinctions between the internet and “real life”, we get a better glimpse into how our identities are constantly shaped and reconstituted by the time we spend online — even if it’s just a funny Joy Division shirt. Kurtz told us, “my personal projects are often just physical iterations of these thoughts and updates. I enjoy being able to take language, as shaped by the internet, and put it out in the real world.”
In his quest to liberate internet culture from the digital prison, Kurtz has produced work in a broad variety of mediums: from assorted bric-a-brac like his ultra-popular printed balloons and Internet Conversation Hearts to bigger works like the 1 Page at a Time: A Daily Creative Companion. The multi-disciplinary work is not by design so much as it is driven by Kurtz’s insatiable desire to create; “it’s just what I love doing. I don’t skydive or go bowling or play video games. I make stuff.” Full-time work as a graphic designer frees up the creative process, allowing Kurtz to focus on authentic, personal creations without worrying about selling enough Internet Friendship Bracelets to make rent. “I make all my stuff because I really like to make stuff. It’s not about money. That’s why I have a full-time job. That is how I ‘make a living’. But I also live to make; my life becomes trinkets and doodles and phrases and I preserve and save emotions in tangible goods.”
The online experience isn’t only Kurtz’s inspiration — it’s the primary way he interacts with his audience. “Social media is the only reason anybody knows who I am at all, and I’m grateful for a small audience of friends and strangers who like to see what I’m up to,” he explains. It’s no longer a choice to have an online presence, it’s a necessity. “You need a website. It’s 2014 and no matter what you do, if you don’t collect your output and put it in one place, it’s very hard to prove it exists or have it be attributed to you.” Online portfolio platforms, like Format.com, help bring pieces scattered throughout the web’s sprawl and create a unified voice. “Single pieces don’t always look like much, but as a body of work it becomes clear that this is really me, this is my voice, this is who I am as a designer, artist, and person.”
Social media is the only reason anybody knows who I am at all.
Kurtz’s biggest project to date, the 1 Page at a Time journal, is the best encapsulation of his overarching aesthetic. In his own words, “it’s loosely based on zines and other personal projects, but also a very hefty, 365 page book. It falls somewhere between inspiration and reflection for human beings (creative or not), and a nagging voice that reminds you to take care of yourself. Drink some water, get to the root of a current emotion, and remember that you have everything you need to make it through the next year of your life, one page at a time.” The pages are filled with drawings urging you to write out that text you’ve been too afraid to send or prompts to doodle bananas for 20 minutes at a time.
It’s a philosophy neatly tied up in one of Kurtz’s many personal mantras: Make, Do, and Make Do. “It’s my reminder that all we can really do is be happy with what we’ve got, what we can create for ourselves, and what we have the power to control,” Kurtz told us, “regardless of your chosen profession, career, or job, I hope that everyone enjoys other hobbies and activities and hopefully you have the resources to take them as far as you’d like to.” Even in moments of lighthearted self-deprecation, all of Kurtz’s projects find a way to make you laugh at yourself and keep pushing for whatever brings you happiness; “Physically, I am a sad sack of meat, fat and bone, mentally I am half of a lukewarm coffee, but I’ve got a nice-ass label printer and life is grand.”
original interview date: October 20, 2014