An exhibit of graphic designer Kelly Salchow MacArthur’s work is on display in the Sage Center for the Arts until Nov. 19. Called “Repercussion,” the collection features digital designs with ecological messages. MacArthur is an associate professor of studio art and co-coordinator of graphic design at Michigan State University. She also competed in rowing in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
Why did you choose to emphasize environmental conservation in your exhibition?
I think my awareness of environmental issues was heightened in that I spent 30 years rowing on different waterways around the world, so I’ve seen firsthand how we are either treating our natural resources and our environment well or not. Environmentalism just seems to be an urgent and imperative focus that I really believe should be brought to the forefront of dialogue.
In my show, there are some large posters that are very bold and clear, and then there are also more subtle, personal approaches. I’ve learned in teaching at MSU that there are different kinds of learners, and so I may need to explain the same thing in six different ways. So I’ve kind of taken that approach in terms of how to convey the message of environmentalism in my work.
What do you find most unique about graphic design, as opposed to traditional art?
I think they are very related in that we are working with the same elements of visual form — point, line, shape, plane, and color. But I think graphic design perhaps is more explicit in terms of the messages that we’re conveying to the viewer. Graphic design relies on typography — words — and imagery, and a combination of those to create messages that will be understood by the viewer. Anytime we have words being included, there’s a clear message that’s being conveyed.
You seem to prefer to do graphic design work by hand, instead of on the computer. Why is that?
I really enjoy the process of creating something. When I began my undergraduate education in graphic design, the computer was just starting to be considered a possible tool for graphic design, so I ended up having to work by hand in a lot of my projects from beginning to completion. By the time I graduated, we were all taking the computer graphics class, but I’ve tried to work by hand as much as possible because I think I can figure things out more quickly that way. It’s more experimental, and it’s a more natural way to work, as opposed to the division between maker and object that the keyboard may introduce.
Do you employ other kinds of art?
As a graphic designer, I’ve been exploring how I can bring three-dimensionality into the work, and industrial design and architecture helps me understand some of those ideas. I also regularly use my own photography in my work, so anytime you see photography in my exhibition, that’s my own photography. And I rely on drawing a lot in my process, so I’m starting with many, many sketches before I start to narrow down my idea.
What brought you and your work to Hillsdale?
I met [teacher of graphic design] Bryan Springer a year and a half ago at an AIGA [the professional association for design] conference. I think he looked at my work on my website and thought that I could be a possible candidate for an exhibition at Hillsdale.
How do you think your work was received at Hillsdale?
I heard some great questions. I was lucky enough to talk to a few students at the reception the other day. I heard a few people say that it was a show that was different than what they had seen at the Sage Center for the Arts, and I think that’s great.