This article was originally published on November 10, 2014 but we think it still rocks!
There's a galaxy's worth of Star Wars art out there, from pixel art water colors, to costumed photography, to Banksy-esque murals. DB Burkeman developed a way to organize the cream of the interstellar crop into one coherent body of art: the curated online catalog, Star Warps.
Burkeman set his roots down in the art world with the success of his first book, Stickers- from Punk Rock to Contemporary Art. Burkeman tells The Creators Project, the one thing that drives him has, "always been the same thing really: a desire/need to collect and curate."
The idea for Star Warps was born when Burkeman's art career introduced him to a wealth of creatives, including The Sucklord, Bill McMullen, JK5, and Kostas Seremetis, who shared his passion for art, culture, and a galaxy far, far away. "I suspect I subconsciously started collecting images for this project years before I met those guys," he said. "When I started talking to the guys about the idea of a book of art inspired by Star Wars, they were psyched."
Due to copyright in the age of the internet, the guys soon realized that a book, the format Burkeman had become familiar with while making Stickers, wasn't the best way to present this type of art. Gathering it all on the internet, beautifully, and for free was the only way to pin down the grassroots art movement germinating in the Star Wars fandom. We spoke to Burkeman about how to make a digital book for the internet, how he curates, and why he thinks artists love Star Wars so much.
The Creators Project: How did you first begin talking to your collaborators about curating an experience like Star Warps?
DB Burkeman: I suspect I subconsciously started collecting images for this project years before I met those guys actually. I was just stashing them away in some filing cabinet in my brain. Sucklord put me in touch with a guy who had done an unauthorized, but high profile, art-related Star Wars project. I wanted to understand if this was a project that could be published as a printed, commercial book. What I took from that phone meeting was that it might be possible, but that the artwork copyrights would need to be owned by Lucas Arts (now, Disney). I knew that the fine artists I was interested in showing were not going to give up their rights any time soon, so the idea of creating something that could only be viewed for free, online, was born.
Can you tell me about the design philosophy behind the Star Warps website?
The only design direction I gave my partner, Phil Kuperberg, the real genius here, was that I wanted it very clean, almost to resemble a museum or auction catalog. Text on the pages would be simple credits: artist name, title of work, medium, size, and year created, and credits would then vanish after ten seconds, leaving nothing but the art floating on white.
What qualities were most valuable in engineering a digital book experience?
This was a labor-of-love project. There was no team, there was no money, this was just me on the art, and Phil on the tech. He just kept trying new things and we kept simplifying the design. Clean, intuitive functionality is key to having fun with the book. There are design elements that seem simple and obvious but were difficult to get just right, like fine-tuning the splash page to have the stars' direction controlled by the mouse, getting the chronological order sorted correctly, and the incredibly effective "search."
What was the most difficult challenge you had to overcome in launching this project?
In the final days before we launched I had a couple of sleepless nights, stressing that Disney/Lucas were going to instantly shut it down, and the two years of real hard work was going to vanish before our eyes. We were very careful not to have links that would direct the viewer to an artist's shop where they might be selling unauthorized Star Wars art. My anxiety level decreased a little once I typed Star Wars into Etsy's search and something like 33,000 items showed up. This led me to believe, or at least hope, that the all-powerful guardians of the brand know that having fan-driven stuff out there is a very positive force for them...excuse the pun.
You've spent a lot of time as an influencer in dance music and DJ culture. How has your experience as a DJ influenced your process in composing what is essentially a massive Star Wars art playlist?
I've recently been thinking about what actually drives me, and I feel like it's always been the same thing really: a desire/need to collect and curate. Even at 14 or 15 years old I was making up mix-tapes on cassettes, using the pause button for edits, then using another cassette recorder to make copies just so I could give them to friends. It was the need to compile music that worked well together that drove me to become a professional DJ. In the early 90s that drive turned into real skill, and I was hired by Profile Records, where the majority of my A&R role was compiling Techno, House, & Jungle compilations. I'm now working on curating art books, which will be giant playlists of other topics. I want to create books for people who are not necessarily art-educated, but who have an appreciation for it, especially if it's presented in a down-to-earth way. My first book, about the history and culture of stickers is totally sold out now, which is unbelievable, but the biggest thrill for me was getting a text from my sister in London telling me the Tate Modern was selling it! Same deal here at the MoMA, and the Pompidou in Paris.
Fan art is notorious for the disparity between amazing and amazingly awful artworks. How do you decide whether a work of Star Wars art is "good enough?"
Editing is always tough for me. I like the majority of this stuff, even the really "bad" art. It was simply impossible to include everything, though, as the book would have been thousands of pages. We also had an issue with like minded-people creating the same, or very similar works. So whoever was the first to do it "won."
Other than the guys mentioned above, my personal preferences are at the opposite ends of the "art" spectrum. I really love the fine artistry by the likes of Tom Sachs, KAWS, John Baldessari etc, and also the culture jamming stuff that's often totally anonymous. Possibly my favorite of those is the GIF of the X-Wing endlessly flying over the radio waves from the dying star, designed by Peter Saville for Joy Division.
One work I have not been able to include yet, because I didn't get good images when I saw it in Miami a few years ago, is a conceptual piece created by the anonymous artist collective Bruce High Quality Foundation. What I remember, and my memory can easily be faulty, was a big multimedia sculpture of the earth, with video and audio playing on vintage TVs that were stuck into the globe. As I passed one of the TV's I heard a conversation by two people who were acting out the moment when George Lucas is telling his idea of the Star Wars saga to Steven Spielberg.
I'd love to know if the scripted dialog was based on a real, or totally imagined, conversation. Maybe being featured here will open their previously closed door to me.
What do you think makes Star Wars that is so attractive to creators?
Hmmm, I can't even really explain why I was so attracted to it, let alone what drives an artist to make their work!
Visit the Star Warps website to explore the galaxy of Star Wars remixes Burkeman has curated there.