Followers of this column will need no introduction to the work of Sam Smith, whom I’ve written about a number of times since I first discovered his work in 2009. Over the past year Sam has been busy touring as a musician, traveling widely (he recently launched his design brand called SAMMY—“imaginative art & design for children and the child inside”—with an exhibition in Japan) and broadcasting his essential monthly movie poster podcast The Poster Boys with his good friend and fellow designer Brandon Schaefer. But it has been a while since we’ve seen a new poster from Sam. So it was a treat to find out that he has been working on a poster for the new film by Carlos Reygadas which will premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival at the end of next month. Originally announced as Where Life is Born, now titled Nuestro Tiempo or Our Time, the film is Reygadas’s first feature in the six years since Post Tenebras Lux.
Commissioned personally by the filmmaker, Sam’s poster is gorgeous, and ineffably mysterious—in much the way the best Reygadas films are—with its petal-like bull floating above a nighttime cityscape. Sam wrote to me about the experience of making the poster and about some of its influences:
Recently I’ve enjoyed the rare and unique opportunity of working directly with a filmmaker on a poster before the film lands on the desk of marketing executives and studio heads, collaborating on a design during post-production, even before a film’s completion. Not long after my first experiencing Carlos’ work with the earth-stopping Silent Light, ten years ago, Carlos and I found a swift and magical rapport working on a poster for Post Tenebras Lux [see below], a rare piece where I truly felt able to just “do my thing” under the trust and support of another artist who hired me to do just that. So I was naturally honored and filled with gratitude to be asked again to represent a film by Carlos in poster form. The fun, collaborative spirit of making the Our Time poster for Carlos manifested in a form that was entirely new to me: bouncing back and forth ideas, concepts, comps, revisions, philosophies, and artwork over voice messages transmitted via WhatsApp. It was such a refreshing change of pace from the typical email thread on a computer screen, and more like one long, thrilling conversation between friends, complete with the background sounds of life in Nashville and Mexico City. The illustration itself is, in its inception, an homage to a piece by one of my favorite current artists, painter and musician Alex Sopp, depicting a heart-shaped hoofed creature bucking across a cosmic void [see below]. This seemed to strike a chord for Carlos and I both when thinking about images that could represent the emotional and thematic character of Our Time, and I set about in creating a bull for Carlos that framed the film’s players in a primal, layered tableaux of entangled vital organs and hallucinogenic creation. The sculptures of Gustav Vigeland [1869-1943] and a handful of Polish posters were among the other inspirations we brought to the brainstorm. Whereas Post Tenebras Lux changed very little during a brief process from sketch to final, our new design went through many months of metamorphoses, revisions, microscopic adjustments, and even title changes, but throughout the sprit was the same: the inspiring pursuit of pure, poster making pleasure in honor of life, love, and cinema.
Many thanks to Sam and Carlos. If you like Sam’s work you can always get your hands on his beautiful poster for Irma Vep here.