With a focus on collaborations between Vancouver’s craft breweries and assorted creators, chefs, and artists, Intersections seeks to contextualize the everyday by exploring how people in two very different disciplines come together to create something awesome and unexpected.
Carlos Mendes (CSM) recently sat down with Nigel Springthorpe (NS), part-owner of Mount Pleasant’s venerable Brassneck Brewery, and Maggie Boyd (MB), the artist behind many of Brassneck’s brilliant growler designs and tasting room posters, to discuss how they came together, why their collaboration works so well, and how fragments of narrative in Maggie’s work enables viewers to create their own meanings and stories.
CSM: So, tell us who you are and how you both came together.
NS: My name is Nigel Springthorpe and I work at Brassneck and the Alibi Room.
MB: Some even might say he owns both of them.
NS: That’s about right.
MB: I’m Maggie Boyd, and about eight years ago I was this gross little skid working at Budgies Burritos. Nigel was a customer, and one day he offered me a job at the Alibi Room. He was like (doing a very respectable Nigel Springthorpe impression), “Look, I don’t wanna, like, poach you or anything, but like, you’re the only nice person who works at Budgies’s right now, so uh, wanna come work at the Alibi Room?” And I was like, “Suuuure.”
NS: You were a hostess when you first started.
MB: Yeah, that’s right.
NS: It’s funny, but we recently had our ten year anniversary at the Alibi, and the other day I was going through all the booklets that we’ve done up for the celebrations we have to mark every hundredth beer list, and it reminded me that Maggie did the cover for the 100th beer list celebration. I actually still have it in my office.
MB: I did the 400th too. I still do a lot of drawing, but back then I was always drawing, even when I was working – which were mostly gross, pervy pictures of people in their underwear.
NS: Mostly your co-workers if I remember right.
MB: And peeing dogs. Man, there were so many peeing dogs.
NS: There’s still a couple of those behind the bar at Alibi, all faded on receipt paper now.
MB: They were always on receipt paper, ’cause at the end of the night when everyone else would be doing their cash-out, I’d be like “This is what I imagine Nigel looks like naked”, or “Is this a good representation of your birth?”
CSM: So, I remember reading an interview a while back with Marco Simcic [of Simcic & Ubrich, the local architectural outfit that designed Brassneck] about the process of putting this space together, and one thing that really struck me was his remembrance of how much thought went into every small detail – despite having a very casual look and vibe. It made me think about all the thought that I’m sure has gone into the visual identity of your beers, despite the fact that they are not packaged or sold through the usual distribution channels. As a growler-focused brewery without packaged products, why is it important for your beers to have a strong visual identity?
NS: When I thought about the kind of identity I wanted Brassneck to have, I basically didn’t want it to be too ‘tight-ass’. A lot of thought went into how we could make the look and the branding not too ‘thoughtful’ and ‘self-conscious’, like so much branding can be. I was already familiar with Maggie’s work, and thought it would work really well, because it’s not just about picking an artist whose stuff you like; there was a connection between us that went back a lot of years. We also really like the juxtaposition between Maggie’s drawings and the straight, simple logo.
MB: Yin and yang.
CSM: It’s funny that you mention not wanting to be too contrived, because I’ve always felt that there is a blend of chaos and control to this space and your branding. The drawings are whimsical, irreverent and fun, but the Brassneck branding is firm, clean and strong.
NS: Yeah, I think that one of the reasons this place works is because of the little bit of chaos from Maggie, the little bit of chaos from my friend Joe [Joseph Holmes-Peters] who did the woodwork, and the clean design. Everyone’s ideas sort of smashing together.
MB: I also think that your titles have a real narrative element to them, and that these drawings are usually just fragments of a narrative too. When you look at them, they’re just kind of a part of a story, and I think they work really well with the titles.
NS: Very true. In terms of process, there are certain times when I’ll ask Maggie to draw something specific, but often she just comes up with something based on the name I give her.
MB: Like the king.
NS: And the iconic fox. That was one of the first ones. That wasn’t me asking Maggie for something in particular. What’s also really fun is when Maggie comes along and has a bunch of new drawings and I put them on the website and try to marry the beer name with the drawing.
MB: Pairing them makes a little bit of a narrative too even if they don’t fit together perfectly, which I love.
NS: I really enjoy that. It usually just ends up being so perfect.
MB: It’s like David Bowie’s cut-and-paste style of writing lyrics.
CSM: Right, like [William S.] Burrows, or even [Robert] Rauchenberg. Putting two different things together and creating something new…
NS: To me, that’s part of it not feeling too contrived either.
CSM: There’s a certain randomness and happenstance about it…
NS: I think one of the things about our process of working together is that you’ve got to be willing for things to happen organically.
MB: Yeah, I get thunderstorms of inspiration, and one day I’ll sit down and just be able to blast out all of these drawings.
CSM: So are there any posters that really stand out for you?
NS: I think the Fox has just become the Brassneck’s image. I like the Naked Yogi too.
MB: Yeah, he’s so creepy and so floppy. I really like the beach blanket sidewalk sale with the cellphone chargers and Big Shiny Tunes 2.
NS: And the troll too; don’t forget him.
CSM: So how did you react to the first time you saw someone carry a Brassneck growler or wearing a t-shirt with one of your designs?
MB: I was super excited.
NS: Have you seen the tattoos that people are getting with your designs?
MB: Yeah, some dude wrote me the other day and asked if he could get the fox.
NS: I’ve seen your Swiss Army knife too.
CSM: That’s super cool. So, as someone who primarily works in ceramics, how does your work for Brassneck fit into your wider body of work?
MB: For me, ceramics and drawing really aren’t that separate. I draw on my ceramics, and my ideas for ceramics start out as drawings, and sometimes even when the ceramics are made they translate into drawings. In terms of living and surviving as an artist, you can sell a cup a lot easier than you can sell something with a butter stain on it that’s made on receipt paper. I also really like being able to make a functional object. I love that I get to make things that people engage with daily.
CSM: There’s a real accessible element to it. That kind of ‘high-art, low-art’ dichotomy; art for the people. And ceramics are something that people are going to own, whether it’s fine china or it’s something they make themselves.
MB: Same with prints too. They are definitely on the ‘craft’ end of the spectrum, where they’re produced in multiples that are affordable and that people can own.
CSM: Like the posters which, as we were discussing, make this space more approachable, adding a kind storytelling element that people can engage with and project their own meaning onto. I really like that idea of the image randomly matched with a beer where the viewer can create their own story and make the connection themselves. It’s a super cool process.
NS: Yeah, for me, when I get the drawings from Maggie it’s a pretty fun process to match the names to the drawings. Sometimes it’s a pretty loose association, but sometimes it feels like it’s totally meant to be.
MB: Like free-jazz. When it comes together, it’s really on.
NS: Yeah, I remember when we first built the place and all of the woodwork and everything was done. It didn’t feel finished until the poster wall went up. And then I was like, “Oh, right, yeah, there it is. Now it feels ready”.
CSM: So do you ever give him beer name suggestions?
MB: Only ones that aren’t possible.
CSM: Too inappropriate?
NS: It’s ridiculous, but I’m always writing down beer names, and Conrad [Nigel’s business partner and Brassneck’s head brewer, Conrad Gmoser] and me talk about beer names as well. They have to be universally approved by both of us, but most of the ones we end up using are from the ‘crazy beer name list’ that I have.
CSM: So Nigel, do you have a favourite artist?
MB: [in a whisper] Say me.
NS: Well, in addition to Maggie –
MB: – Thank you.
NS: I’d have to my friend Joe who did the woodwork for this room.
CSM: Maggie, a favourite beer?
NS: – Doesn’t have to be a Brassneck beer…
MB: Basically everything I know about beer started at the Alibi Room. Before then, I’d drink the cheapest beer possible, thank you very much. Nowadays, I really like sour beers. When I worked at the Alibi Room, I loved Storm’s Flanders Red so much. I really like the Changelings from here too. In terms of design, my absolute favourite is Saison Dupont. It’s the most beautiful design ever. It’s like a JD Sallinger novel. And then Bud Light Lime. You can throw that one in there too.
CSM: Anything specific that you two are working on right now?
NS: Well, yes and no. What’s happening these days at Brassneck is that we are kind of whittling down our selections. We’ve brewed a lot of different beers over the last few years, but we’ve got about 30 now that we rotate through, and so the brand new beers are a little bit less frequent. We just don’t need new drawings as often. That being said, I was actually thinking of Maggie the other day, ’cause we’ll probably do some new drawings soon, have a few things in the planning stages.
MB: Any time Nige, any time.