There’s an emerging group of illustrators whose work radiates across the web; they’re united by a love of color, exuberant lines, and a relaxed, laid-back energy. In their scribbles you can see echoes of Push Pin and the Memphis Group, and they’re drawn to the tongue-and-cheek and the abstract. I’m thinking of the loose squiggles of Jordy van den Nieuwendijk, the exuberant, sun-kissed forms of Hannah K. Lee, and the chilled-out cartoons of Jiro Bevis, to name just a few. Whenever I look through the portfolios of this jubilant bunch I see the same words over and over again: Tan & Loose Press, an operation that produces their zines and exhibits the work at an annual group show in Chicago called “Tan Lines.”
Tan & Loose, a similarly laid-back press run by editorial illustrator Clay Hickson, specializes in risograph printing and brings together illustrators that personify a “philosophy of kickin’ back and livin’ free.” Hickson’s own compositions are deliciously pattern-heavy, ’90s-infused, and drawn with a knowing wink. He started the press (running it for a while out of an old funeral home) as an opportunity to work with some of his favorite image-makers.
The ‘zine Hickson created with Annu Kilpeläinen called Rally, brings together four bright riso colors and an explosion of cars and tulips; it’s loosely drawn and also blissfully sunny, as the press’ name evokes. Hickson’s own self-published Work-It is a celebration of bold patterns and the striking shape of women’s heels; and Jay Wright’s geometric and brilliantly silly zine all about idioms is breezy and fun, a perfect fit for the rest of Tan & Loose’s catalogue. “I think a big part of the similar tone stems from people’s interpretation of our name,” says Hickson. “It evokes a certain laid-back attitude. I suppose any commonality between the work we print also comes from the fact that it’s all curated by me and aligned with my taste.”
As well as a penchant for the Memphis Group, Hickson works part time in an art and architecture library, so he’s constantly stumbling across new influences that shape and refine his aesthetic. “Recently I’ve been looking at the work by The Hairy Who,” a ’60s art collective whose shapely and experimental design became a staple of local radical newspapers. “You can tell that a lot of it came from the fact that they had no money and no idea what they were doing. It’s an attitude that I completely relate to.”
The Hairy Who were Chicago-based, and they collaborated on exhibitions and vibrant zines filled with bulbous figures and clashing, chaotic colors. Although the artists Hickson works with are scattered around the world, his press follows in the footsteps of the group’s surrealist drive and output. Tan & Loose is at the heart of a colorful kind of collective that’s been forming over the years online, bound by an explosive compositional style that combine the deliberately hand-drawn with digital colors, forms, and patterns—and by a desire to not take themselves too seriously.