Artist Profile: Charles Youel, founder and creative director of ARTCRANK

Charles Youel, the founder and creative director of ARTCRANK // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Charles Youel, the founder and creative director of ARTCRANK // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Ten years ago on a Saturday night in April, Charles Youel staged a pop-up bike poster show at One On One Bicycle Studio in Minneapolis. Expecting maybe 50 people, you can imagine the pure shock and awe that Charles felt when he saw an ever-extending line out the door, and the studio packed to all corners with more than 500 cyclists, friends, and art fans throughout the evening.

Once a humble poster party, ARTCRANK has turned into a global movement, much to the amazement of Charles. “That first ARTCRANK in Minneapolis, I never thought it would come to this,” he says, reflecting upon the crowd of bodies on this July evening outside Fulton’s production facility in Northeast. “I didn’t think I would be where I am today, looking back at these incredible 10 years.”

Back in 2007, the then 38-year-old was working at a Minneapolis ad agency. He wanted to turn his digitally-based day-to-day lifestyle into something more analog, more emotional, more meaningful. “I’ve always had a fascination with graphic design and illustration, and with posters as a medium in particular,” Charles says. “I’ve been in love with riding bikes since I learned how to pedal one. I was the kid who was building jumps out in the front yard. It’s the closest thing you can get to flying without actually leaving the ground, and that feeling doesn’t go away just because you grow up. That’s a feeling I think almost everyone who’s ever learned how to ride a bike understands and keeps with them. […] But I can also tune out the world and let my mind wander. Bicycles are another means of creative expression.”

His passions for posters and biking collided as Charles was chatting with Gene Oberpriller, co-owner of One On One. “I knew he was interested in using the shop as a gallery space for local artists,” Charles says. “And as we were talking, I think I just blurted out the words ‘BIKE-POSTER-SHOW.’ And it just kind of took off from there.”

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ARTCRANK has been to London, Manchester, and Bristol. To Paris, France. Denver, Boston, San Francisco, and other cities across the United States. Charles has curated more than 78 shows in three countries, totaling to over 3,000 handmade, bike-inspired posters to date, striving to make art just as accessible as bikes, and to use creativity to change the way people think about cycling.

Each ARTCRANK show features the work of at least 25 or 30 artists who live and work in the host city, creating an original poster design about bikes and what cycling means in their lives, while also using printing techniques like screen-printing and letterpress. But for this year, Charles, now 48, decided it was time to look back upon the past decade, picking the 50 most successful and iconic poster designs from the show’s years in Minneapolis—the “Greatest Hits”—and asking the artists who created them to do new editions.

“I wanted to acknowledge the work that these Twin Cities artists created, and share it with a larger audience who might not have experienced these posters before or haven’t seen them in years,” Charles says. “[…] For me, the best part of the show is always seeing people connect with poster designs and realize how much creative talent and bike love their community has.”

And for the 10th year, the creative talent and love of bikes shined ever so brightly, just like the slightly humid, yet beautiful Minnesota summer’s day turned out to be. Pointing to the throng of attendees, food trucks, and large venue, I asked Charles where he sees ARTCRANK in another decade’s time. Pausing, he looked up with a smile and said, “You know, there are so many themes we could do, so many places to go, and interesting ways to bring the community together—to appreciate, to enjoy, and to share biking and creativity with everyone. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of ARTCRANK.”

And with that, the wheels of Charles Youel’s “poster party for bike people” will keep on turning for years to come.

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