The future has arrived. More than forty years after the publication of Alvin Toffler’s seminal book, Future Shock, French-Armenian graphic artist Vahram Muratyan has created an illustrated testimony to the futurist’s prognosis. In About Time: A Visual Memoir Around the Clock, Muratyan explores his personal relationship with time and portrays the kind of “shattering stress and disorientation” Toffler predicted. “Everything seems available yet much is beyond reach, and nothing is built to last. Time is capricious. Time changes her mood: sometimes stingy, often greedy,” Muratyan writes in the opening pages of his book. “I created this during my early-30’s crisis,” he intimates during the book’s launch in New York.
Muratyan is best known for his widely popular illustrated series, Paris versus New York: A Tally of Two Cities (2012), where he first displayed a genius for juxtaposition, wordplay, and visual pun. In this blockbuster debut (it’s already been translated in at least five languages), Muratyan also honed a graphic formula: minimalist vector art, candy-hued color palette, and minimal copy rendered in sixties-inspired typography. Satisfying pairings like Godard vs. Woody; Bobo vs. Hipster; CDG vs. JFK bring a smile in the mind, if not an outright chuckle.
If Paris versus New York is Muratyan’s meditation about his two loves, About Time is a litany of his angst. In spread after spread he illustrates anxiety, boredom, ennui, crowd fatigue, longing, sleeplessness—common symptoms in the age of technology-mediated 24/7 connectedness. There are multiple references to the 21st century tick of compulsively checking mobile devices, the pathos of the daily grind, and the dizzying yin-yang of rushing and waiting in queues and bottlenecks.
“The fear of missing out, or FOMO, characterizes my generation, and social media has perhaps further complicated our notion of time,” he explains. But true to form, Muratyan rescues the tome from “pure melancholia,” as he puts it, interspersing pages with delight after doldrums, humor after heartache. “I dedicated the book to my grandparents because I’m a product of both their anxiety and their optimism,” he says.
In person, Muratyan is trim, dapper, at times seen sporting oversize ‘70s-style aviators that he has incorporated in his personal logo (notably, the shape is a cross between Godard’s and Allen’s specs). There’s no getting around the trendiness of his illustrations; his style would feel at home in any popular lifestyle magazine or fashion campaign—and he does collaborate with labels like Prada, Dior, Hermès, and the French retailer Colette. But behind the irresistible graphic design eye candy there are keenly observed vignettes about daily urban life, seeped in references only an attentive mind can catch.
Style is not really the point of his work—or at least not just. “I’m an observer first and foremost,” Muratyan insists. “I start with the words and the words make the sketch. I go back and forth with technique and subject. Time can be linear, or rounded, or cyclical.” Perhaps the point of his personal logo is not just the trendy frames, but also the perceptive eyes behind them.