For many Rochesterians in the emergent art scene, the name Mike Turzanski probably brings up images of intricate line work forming beastly faces and figures full of body distortions, horns, flaccid noses, veiny-hairy-and-melting skin, and oozing sphincters in odd places. Though the 31-year-old artist is not shy about a chortling gross-out, the illustration style he embraces for his ubiquitous silkscreened show posters and t-shirts isn't exactly his only art game. So far, Turzanski's portfolio includes not just illustrations, but also elegant fashion and portrait photography and music videos.
Turzanski grew up in Utica, and studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he lived for seven years. "I was always jazzed on being an artist," he says, in part because his mother would take him to NYC museums and galleries twice a year, from childhood through high school.
While in college, a professor encouraged Turzanski to explore drawing, and he became interested in the odd beastliness in the work of Matthew Barney, who is perhaps best known for "The Cremaster Cycle" films. For a while, Turzanski drew dizzying layers of patterns. He says he began to develop the characters he draws now in the last five years, due to the influence of working with character-driven, fellow artist Peter Lazarski.
For two years, Turzanski and Lazarski produced "Hope Mountain," a biannual DIY newsprint publication with full-page illustrations by a rotating cast of artists. The two are currently working on a full book called "Million Dollar Canoe," which will be somewhat comic-based, and completed by April.
When Turzanski moved to Rochester and before he began to focus more on illustrations, a referral led him to work with the musical group, The Revival Hour, for which he created some seriously striking photos and a moody video for the song, "Hold Back." Since then, he's worked similarly with other bands, including Tumul, Joywave, Thunder Body, Sports, and most recently, on the packaging design through Carbon Records for Green Dreams' LP, "Sweats," for which he created a silkscreen on the album's B-side, a shirt, and a two poster woodcut-silkscreen package. He also did a photo shoot with the band, and created a music video for their song, "Bug Sex."
Turzanski says the medium he's still most comfortable with is photography, and lighting is his favorite aspect of it. In addition to creating gorgeous, personality-filled, quirky or pensive portraits of bands and individual band members, he has shot fashion images for the look books for two collections by designer Alexander Campaz.
These images can be atmospheric and moody, with the figures swathed in a milky-golden or glowing-pink light that seems to have as much of a presence as the people do. Here, a model pauses to adjust his cuff, cutting a sharp silhouette amid a rambling patch of brush. And in the same shoot, detail-oriented Turzanski captures bits of fascination from those environments — a labyrinth of tree limbs or the glowing orb of a frog's ballooning throat — making the body of work as much a portrait of the setting as of the people themselves.
Tucked nonchalantly amid the list of projects on Turzanski's website is the name "Tyra Banks." Click it, and you can scroll through a series of fresh-feeling promo photos Turzanski shot for the 5th season of "The Tyra Banks Show."
This came about after Turzanski left an extremely stressful job as the studio manager for commercial director and photographer Vincent Laforet. "I quit with a big bang, and since I was in NYC, I began taking as many jobs as possible," Turzanski says. One of which was playing the Macy's brown paper shopping bag in a few commercials and at the store's corporate award show, the main producer of which took a liking to Turzanski.
"So when she moved into TV, she ended up hiring me at "The Tyra Banks Show," he says. While on board, Turzanski seized opportunities, moving from PA in the field department, to second camera, which entailed anything outside the main studio, then to taking the photos for the show intro, bumpers, and promotions.
"It was a lot of work, often 16-plus hour days, but definitely fun," he says. "TV was a non-stop seemingly impossible idea. Tons of people working insane hours for a one-hour show."
Today, Turzanski balances time between art commissions, personal projects, family, and making music with his band Drippers (which includes fellow artist Adam Maida on the drums), and working part time at Java's. Turzanski has two young daughters with his wife Raina, a designer. "I use my free time as wisely as I possibly can," he says. While the girls are napping, he might be in the basement studio recording something, or drawing.
Turzanski is currently simultaneously working on a New York-based band's t-shirt design, the album art for a Syracuse-based band, the album art and some stage props for Rochester/Brooklyn-based band Maybird, the music video for Upstate-band Brother Twin, and silkscreening pillows for a friend's company. "There's no project queue, they're all just piled on top of each other," he says. "It's like when you go to the arcade, you know that thing that spits coins? What's that moving thing? It's like that. Shifting platforms."
Ideally, Turzanski says he'd love to keep working with bands he loves on "mega-projects" which include the art, videos, t-shirts, posters, and packaging behind specific records and tours. "It's fun to see someone's image for a particular point in time, all the way through. You definitely feel more invested in it."