Michael Byzewski isn’t quite sure how he landed on his aesthetic. “Bad luck? Love of cats? Anxiety issues? Probably a combination of all those, along with being attracted to mid-century, simple print ad design,” he says.
The Minneapolis-based designer and illustrator works from his studio, Aesthetic Apparatus, where he’s produced pieces in both commercial and noncommercial realms for more than 15 years.
Though Byzewski is persistently humble, his resume boasts a stacked lineup of national clients. His work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Scientific American, Esquire, and Rolling Stone, and he’s worked with companies like Ray-Ban, Element Skateboards, and Surly Brewing Company, to name a few. The new can labels for Inbound BrewCo? Those are his, too.
But the realm where Byzewski got his professional start—and where his heart still lies—is in music. He’s designed concert posters for First Avenue for more than 12 years and has been a creative contributor to The Current since the station’s inception in 2005. But Byzewski first got his start in the music world publishing a zine, which serendipitously connected him with some of his favorite bands.
“Initially when I was designing and screen printing concert posters, I just did it for free for bands that I loved,” he says.
To tastefully name-drop a few, Byzewski has collaborated with Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, The Dead Weather, The Whigs, and Cake. In fact, he and Cake have been creative partners since the band reached out to him in 2002 about creating a tour poster.
Whether it’s an irreverent poster for a beloved rock band or an illustration appearing in a book review for the Times, Byzewski’s work is always centered around his specific, iconic style, often utilizing found-image collage.
Artwork by Michael Byzewski / Aesthetic Apparatus
“With more art-driven projects, I tend to start collecting images, not really knowing where it’s headed,” he says. “Once I begin [to] get further into making whatever it is I’m working on, the ‘idea’ tends to present itself and then I push further in that direction. Typically if I’m thinking too hard about the final outcome it doesn’t work out.”
With such a distinct style, one wonders where the man gets his inspiration. Byzewski says he’s adamant about keeping the process as free-flowing as possible. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,” he explains. “But often it finds me in anything from a random wrapper on the ground to a dilapidated billboard.”
Though he’s aware that his existing work succeeds in resonating with a wide range of people, Byzewski is cautious about settling into one style or artistic realm, constantly challenging himself to resist elements or “little tricks” that he knows he can fall back on.
“I think just challenging myself to work outside my comfort zone, whether it be with a different medium—hand-drawing something or basically anything that doesn’t start on the computer—helps push me forward,” he says. “A lot of the time the product of that practice doesn’t end up in the final design, but I feel like it does influence it.”
Perhaps it’s found in specific elements of his work, or simply in the inevitable sense of humor that comes with parenting, but Byzewski—father to a son age 15 and a daughter age 12—is certain that becoming a dad has profoundly affected him as an artist. “I think having kids definitely changes your view of the world, and there’s no doubt that shows up in my work,” he says.
Looking at any example of Byzewski’s work—from the deck of an Element Skateboard to the cover of this magazine—reveals commonplace shapes and images, from skulls to iPhones to ambiguous silhouettes, all reimagined in ways that take the conventional perception of the image and flips it on its head (so to speak).
“I like the idea of people seeing something familiar but presented in a new, maybe unexpected way,” he says. His personal rule of thumb: don’t take it too seriously. “I personally enjoy when I make something so dumb that I make myself laugh.”
Name: Michael Byzewski
Currently Resides: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Medium: Digital and analog illustrations