Chances are, you've seen Brian Stauffer's illustrations. You may have glanced at his magazine cover artwork at the grocery checkout or while sipping your morning coffee over the New York Times.
Since the mid-1990s, the Phoenix-born illustrator has provided smart and satirical cover art for major magazines including Rolling Stone, Time, and The New Yorker, as well as New Times. Through March 3, you can see a collection of Stauffer's published illustrations in "Issues in Print" at Yavapai College's Prescott Art Gallery in Prescott, where he grew up.
Stauffer often is tasked with illustrating stories with highly sensitive subjects — issues of child abuse, the dysfunctional prison system, police violence, the pharmaceutical industry, xenophobia, terrorism, and gay rights, to name a few. He transforms these emotional and politically charged topics into powerful, conceptually minimalist images. Using a combination of hand-drawn and computer-generated techniques, his methods adapt to whatever is necessary to convey the idea most efficiently.
Thus, in a recent illustration for a Courrier International cover story about the terrorist attacks in Paris, Stauffer shows an ISIS-member pointing his gun straight at the viewer as a young woman perches atop the barrel, waving the French flag in his face. In a 2005 image for the cover of SF Weekly, Stauffer presents the lower half of a Catholic priest's face and neck — within the white space of his clerical collar, a hand reaches for the silhouette of a young boy.
In a 2012 print for The American Prospect Magazine, the silhouette of a boy is doused in white paint, his lower half in rainbow colors; the image accompanies a story about a boy who suffered the trauma of anti-gay therapy and described the experience as feeling white-washed. In an image for UCLA Magazine, men walk in step to form a chain-link fence, the statue of liberty in the distance, in a symbol of anti-immigration sentiment. For Stauffer, the aim isn't to be clever. He hopes to give people a deeper understanding of the central characters of the stories. "I try to put readers in the subjects' shoes," he says.
At 8 years old, Stauffer and his family moved to Prescott. He remembers it fondly, noting, "It was like moving to where you went to summer camp." In the small town, he went camping in the mountains and played in abandoned gold mines. In high school, Stauffer was drum major in the marching band.
When Stauffer enrolled at Yavapai College to study music, he felt free to follow his passions because of the example set by his parents. His mother, Bonnie Stauffer, taught art classes at the college and eventually became dean of the Performing and Visual Arts School. His father, who rarely missed a day of work at the phone company, went back to school and became a social worker. "Both of my parents had a late-bloomer kind of thing," Stauffer recalls. "They taught me the notion that you don't ever peak. So I always try to find the next challenge."
Stauffer soon realized his friends in music were much more passionate about the subject than he was. After his first year, he switched to art and design. He says he felt "an immediate click." He eventually transferred to the University of Arizona to study graphic design. In Tucson, Stauffer worked on small student-run magazines.
In the mid-'90s, Stauffer continued with print media, working as art director for New Times. Enamored of the major stories and targets the paper pursued, he found the world of journalism much more relevant than commercial design. "I was hooked," he said. After six months, Stauffer transferred to Miami New Times, where he stayed for several years. In Miami, he established a trusting relationship with his editors. During a redesign of the paper, an opportunity arose for Stauffer to produce more design-intensive spreads for feature stories. Soon, his layouts became more conceptual, and eventually, his designs morphed into illustration.
When Fred Woodward, creative director of Rolling Stone, came to Miami to speak at a conference, Stauffer sought him out and showed him his portfolio. Weeks later, Rolling Stone gave him his first freelance illustration project in 1995.
Stauffer remembers this time clearly, saying, "It was frightening. I was nauseous for days." His three-quarter-page spread illustrated a story on the 1995 cult film To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, starring Patrick Swayzee, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo as drag queens. It wasn't long before Stauffer was offered freelance jobs at GQ and Esquire. He moved with his wife to Connecticut, where he continued to develop a body of illustrations. In 2001, Stauffer lived a block away from the World Trade Center and was on the roof of his building when the towers fell. (He since has moved to the Bay Area with his family.)
Recently, Stauffer has started to translate his illustrations into sculptural objects. One sculpture in the exhibition is based on an illustration he created for an Ebony Magazine story that dealt with how parents of black children must prepare them for the racism they will likely encounter in the world. As a parent, this story hit home for Stauffer. The magazine's editors provided several self-limiting, racist, and derogatory words and asked Stauffer to incorporate them into the illustration. He imagined a young girl being crushed by the reality of the world. The resulting illustration and sculpture is a tricycle with a wooden square wheel made up of these words, representing an impediment to the child's innocence and development.
Many of Stauffer's works deal with soldiers, PTSD, and veterans' experiences upon reintegrating into society. For instance, in one illustration, a man in civilian clothes missing one leg walks by a commercial sign that reads: "Memorial Day Sale: 25% off." Another work for Seattle Metropolitan Magazine shows a man curled up on a bed made of bullets, clutching his head in agony — a portrayal of soldiers who suffer from combat nightmares.
Stauffer believes visitors to the exhibition at Yavapai College will likely recognize issues that have touched their lives in one way or another. He says, "There is something here for everyone."
"Issues in Print: Published Works by Brian Stauffer" will be on display through March 3 at Yavapai College Prescott Art Gallery in Prescott. Stauffer will be in attendance at the opening reception on Friday, February 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.yc.edu/v5content/art-galleries.