Bryan Rivera in collaboration with Travis Brothers, Rockstar poster

There’s little not to love about Bryan Rivera’s work: his portfolio is an homage to the sort of album artwork that our inner teenager—and respectable outward-facing type geek—lap up like the hip cat that got the cream.

Ranging from unabashed, sexy art direction to surreal use of photography to slick, albeit tongue-in-cheek, art world-like design for Kim Kardashian’s selfie book, Rivera has as much range as he does sass and graphic design chops.

Bryan Rivera, Soju

Currently living in Bergen County, New Jersey, Rivera “never officially graduated” his communication design course at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but finished in 2015 and has since then built up an impressive client list—working mostly in the cultural sector across record sleeves, books, and fashion apparel. His current situation works well for him. “Living out of the city allows me to not get caught up in the NYC lifestyle and provides me with a better environment to create,” he says.

Bryan Rivera, Madeuax, Touch

For all its playfulness, I put it to him that much of his work feel pretty dark; whether through the Blackletter-like hip hop typeface du jour or his choice of imagery (somehow, the Madeaus, Touch Me sleeve showing one hand grasping another is especially haunting). “I do think that’s fair,” he says. “My work is very influenced by my environment, and my life experiences. I’m a night owl, and enjoy creating through the night. I think sometimes that shows in my work.”

Bryan Rivera, Rondo

The Kim K book feels like something of an anomaly in a portfolio with a predilection for wild textures, a certain rawness, and less-than-slick slick print aesthetics and techniques, which Rivera describes as purposefully imperfect. “I prefer to focus on the way images make people feel and how they relate to the media they’re associated with, versus making everything feel like a perfect grid-designed piece,” he says. “Imperfection gives design personality.” 

For Rivera, the most gratifying projects are those that enable him to collaborate with people close to him. “It’s awesome being able to have different types of creatives contribute to one piece,” he says. “After all of the discussions, arguments, back and forth, its always interesting to look back and see the process of how collaborative pieces got the their final state.”

Much of Rivera’s most compelling image-making is in his record sleeve work. His deft use of photography and slightly askew approach to using type makes for a beguiling set of works that fit as a cohesive body of work, despite the bespoke nature of each one. It’s clear that music is as much a personal passion as a professional concern. “My life revolves around music,” says Rivera, “and it feels good being able to contribute to a culture that is a major part of my life.”

His favorite artworks are Nirvana and Mobb Deep record sleeves, which sit alongside “obscure posters from the 1960s and the 1990s,” and graffiti artists and writers JA, Korn, Sane, Futura, T-KID, and Shepard Fairey in the canon of influences he cites as instrumental to his decision to become a designer.

The only problem with his favorite set of clients is that, in Rivera’s words, “most musicians don’t pay well.” He adds, “In my experience, unless it’s a pretty big and established artist, it’s hard to get a check that’s fair.” The other issue is in micro-management. “They reach out and hire artists whose work they love, but are too hands-on and get in the way of the creative process.

“I believe if you are a fan of someone’s work, you should trust them and let them help add to and expand your idea. I always try to imagine how they would react if I (a designer with no musical training or experience) went into a studio and told them how to record their music.”

Bryan Rivera, Shy Glizzy,Quietstorm, in collaboration with Colin Fletcher

For now, though, it seems to be worth it. Where colors really pop in Rivera’s design, his work takes a definite turn back towards the 1980s and ’90s, edging into almost “ugly” territory in the discordant and grungy approach to layout and type. But for Rivera, it’s not so much an era that he cites, but the inherent “mistakes” he sees in certain pieces from the past: “The rawness of the layouts, colors, and typography have always stuck with me and I enjoy feeling that in my own work and experiments,” he says.

“I think every element included should contribute to making people feel something, even if its not necessarily a perfect from a technical standpoint.”