“Weekend With” is a new series that explores the world of design through the eyes of a designer on their days off. Our last installment took us on a typographic tour of Chinatown with Tracy Ma. This week, Silas Munro, founder of poly-mode, assistant professor at Otis College of Art and Design, and an advisor and chair emeritus at Vermont College of Fine Arts, takes us through a typical weekend in his adopted home of Los Angeles.
Weekends in L.A. can feel like planning for a 36-hour road trip, both figuratively and literally. My partner and I are at the end of a year-long renovation of a condo in Palm Springs that will be our weekend getaway and a rental income stream, so we are intimately familiar with every In-N-Out Burger along the 60 and the 10. Thank god for Waze! I’m fascinated by the range of graphic design in this area: from the red and yellow retro Americana signage to the abstracted palm trees on plastic cups to my GPS, where post-internet icons of ghosts overlay the linear gradients of our city’s streets.
This weekend I stayed at our house in Inglewood to receive a delivery of a king size bed for the condo on Saturday. We need the surface area because we are the proud owners of two very active dogs. Niko (7 years old) and Jordy (8 months old) are both Vizslas. They are known as “velcro dogs” because they want to be by your side all the time. Allegedly the Hungarian royal families bred them to sleep bundled up at their children’s feet—something I’m thankful for as I wake up this cool morning. Bill is out in the desert coordinating tile installation in our bathrooms, so I do my best to recreate his oatmeal infused with almond butter recipe. I down a homemade version of a bulletproof coffee, but with espresso to get a nice kickstart to a design-free day.
Lately I’ve been needing to take time away from work to keep my sanity, especially at the end of a busy semester. I take Niko and Jordy on a long off-leash hike along a semi-secret trail in Playa Vista, part of the bustling “Silicon Beach.” The view isn’t as pretty as Runyon Canyon or the Santa Monica mountains, but it’s right in our hood. From the incline of the trail, you can see the newly converted Google office built inside of the Spruce Goose hangars, which were initially built by the business magnate, aviator, and film producer Howard Hughes in 1943. In the past few weeks, we’ve also been able to see the smoke plumes of the Woolsey Fire from this view. Today the sky is blue, sunny, and bright, and I can see the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Since moving back to L.A. over two years ago, surfing has become a big part of my weekend life. It’s something I try to do most mornings before a day in my studio or teaching at Otis College of Art and Design. On the weekends, I have the chance to linger longer on the sand before heading in, and I stop to watch the surfers as I’m coming out. When I’m in the water, I can slip into wave-time without needing to keep an eye on my watch.
Before recently, I’d only ever surfed a few times on vacation, but I’ve been taking lessons and now I try to make it a daily practice. Surfing is critical to my physical health and mental well being. I do it to balance the intensity of running a design practice, teaching full-time, advising graduate students part-time, and doing research, my art, and all of the overachieving side-hustle typical of most designers these days.
The waves are pumping this weekend thanks to winter storm activity in the Pacific. Surfers jockey for position on the many peaks breaking down the beach. My home break is called El Porto, which is the north end of Manhattan Beach. This time of year, it offers some of the best conditions for radical rides.
“Porto”—as some of us locals call it—is situated between a formerly sleepy beach and the Hyperion Water Treatment Plant that cleans and processes a good chunk of L.A. water waste. You can’t miss the two giant smokestacks that loom over the North Jetty, and which serves as the dividing line between Manhattan and Dockwiler beaches. In the winter, when we see lots of west and west north west Pacific swell, there is a left-breaking wave off the North side of the Jetty called “Hammer Land,” which breaks at what is affectionately called “Shitpipe.”
I stay away from the Jetty today since it’s packed. Sometimes it feels like there is more traffic in the water than on the roads. Instead, I catch a bunch of ripping right-breaking waves at the south end of the beach because that’s where I can find a spot. There is one peak with a second section that allows me to ride all the way to white water, hitting the sand. I come out with that post-surf glow—calm and excited.
On the way home I grab a burrito from El Tarasco on Rosecrans that has delicious wet burritos that are literally the size of my head. After a long session it’s easy to scarf one down. I head home and take a big nap.
Growing up on the east coast suburbs of Northern Virginia, my first images of California came filtered through books on art and design. My dad worked in news and would often get review copies of new books. I would amass piles of publications and then bring them to the local Barnes and Noble or Borders to exchange the latest novel for David Carson’s The End of Print or a copy of Emigre Magazine. The typography and color palettes of the magazine felt rebellious, warm, and alive with the sense of an idyllic frontier ripe for escape. It’s what inspired me to apply to grad school out here at CalArts.
To connect back to this California feeling in print form, on Sunday I make two stops for inspiration. The first is Arcana in Culver City. It’s my favorite art bookstore in L.A. Not only does it have the usual art catalogs and monographs that I love to look at and am lucky enough at times to design, it also has some particular and unique sections including African-American Art, Erotica, and Grotesqueries. They have author signed copies and rare editions, too.
After the bookshop, I stop by the current graphic design show at LACMA, West of Modernism. The museum has been doing a fantastic job of building a graphic design collection with a team made up of associate curator Staci Steinberger, several consultants, and Lorraine Wild, a former teacher of mine. I was lucky to bring Snap Design Academy students to the study center earlier this summer. I still always get goosebumps seeing a piece of design in person.
This show features Carson (who, these days, I probably connect more with surfing than with design). I see other former teachers like Mr. Keedy and Ed Fella, along with the inspirational work of Sheila De Bretteville, April Greiman, Rebeca Mendez, and so many others. Seeing the work of a living person you know under museum glass is slightly disorienting. Suddenly, I am that clueless high school kid with a wild dream to be an artist and designer in the land of overwater sunsets and eternal cool. Flash again, and I’m a naive grad student trying to make sense of the world of design and my place in it. Back at the museum, a framed poster reflects an image of myself now. Pieces of my life start to become part of history. I feel at once protected and exposed for the mortal human I am.