Born Charles Anderson, typeface designer/ font punk Chank Diesel is the ultimate product of his times, right down to his nom de plume: "As a kid, I wanted to be called 'Chelé,' because I thought I was a great soccer player. But the mean kids across the street paid more attention to my football skills and thought I was more like Spanky of the Little Rascals. So they started calling me Chanky." In high school, that metamorphosed into Chank; he eventually tacked 'Diesel' onto the end because, well, it looked cool.
As a true aesthete in the age of media bombardment, Chank (who says it's "really just Chank") seems to have been born with an eye for what works in 2001. "It's a primal thing," he says of his skill for reinterpreting the alphabet -- the raw stuff of words -- in the image of an era. "It just looks good."
Chank, who once dreamed of being the art director for a big, stylish magazine such as Rolling Stone, was waylaid from that goal by his own talent for designing fonts. Armed with an arsenal of tools -- from the plain black Sharpie to more sophisticated font-designing software -- and a cavalcade of pop-culture influences, from '50s Life magazine covers to Dr. Seuss, Chank's visionary and gifted digits work squarely with the pulse of the millennial era. How does he do it? He'll share some of his secrets at a workshop next week at the Arvada Center, held in conjunction with a new typography exhibit that includes Chank's work, which opens February 1.
Where else might you spot Chank's work? While swilling a can of Welch's Grape Soda or wolfing down Taco Bell fare (both have featured Mister Frisky, one of Chank's bread-and-butter fonts, on their packaging), or musing over the cover art on fellow Minneapolitan The Artist Once Again Known As Prince's Emancipation CD. Or in a lot of other places, including the Chankstore, a hot Web site featuring both free fonts and fonts for sale. Flying on the coattails of the Web revolution, Chank is most in his element on the Internet: "I like the fact that you can reach the whole world in full color -- and there's no postage, no printing, virtually no expense. Plus, there's no printer to mess things up. If it looks good on the screen, it's done."
Egalitarian as the entire World Wide Web, the Chankstore site displays work by Chank contemporaries and fans alike. "There are so many little twenty-year-olds making fonts now," he notes. "They're not schooled in font-making but they've got computers, so they can do it. Mostly they're tragic, but on occasion, it'll be nice and fresh."
And what's Chank's bar-none, freshest, most favorite font ever? At the moment, it's one of his own that's as timeless as it is timely: "Liquor Store," he says, invoking a typeface inspired by liquor-store signs. "It's so simple, so utilitarian. Those signs don't need to be replaced: They're bold and they're simple and they say 'liquor' -- and that means the same thing over the course of fifty or a hundred years."
Of course, Chank, who loves Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack and Keith Haring, would sometimes rather leave his mark on the world as an artist. "I'm so torn between having a successful Internet company and being a famous painter," he says. Though he longs to hang his "cartoony" paintings in galleries and has a new, fine-art Chank Web site in the works, this font punk remains a businessman -- with a personal touch. Chank may be a media mogul, but he wields a humble hand at the helm of the Chankstore: He uses a pen.
"We still hand-address every envelope that goes out of here," he says. And that just looks good.
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