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‘Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life’ Review: A Portrait of an Artist Attempting to Stay Faithful to His Vision



There’s more than writer-director Spike Jonze tying together films like Adaptation, Her and Where the Wild Things Are: They all share titles designed by Geoff McFetridge, a prolific visual artist who often works behind the scenes on a wide variety of media and advertising projects. From Nike and Vans footwear to Pepsi billboards and Apple watch faces, McFetridge’s work adorns an array of familiar products, but like many designers he’s not well-known beyond professional circles.

Commercials director and artist Dan Covert’s absorbing documentary Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life is the first feature-length film to reveal this introspective, consistently innovative creator who’s developed a career on his own terms while remaining engaged with a wide variety of audiences.

Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life

The Bottom Line

An absorbing profile of an innovative artist.

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Documentary Feature Competition)
Director: Dan Covert

1 hour 20 minutes

Growing up in Calgary, Canada, McFetridge didn’t have much exposure to the art world, but he did have a talent for sketching and designing logos, so he decided to attend a local art college for commercial design. After moving to LA to study at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 90s, McFetridge took a position as art director at the short-lived magazine Grand Royal, a spinoff of the Beastie Boys’ independent record label, where Jonze was one of the editors. When the publication was discontinued after a half-dozen issues, it forced McFetridge to choose between a graphic arts career and going his own way as an independent designer to pursue his personal vision.

Jonze, who serves as an executive producer on the film, is one of McFetridge’s many admirers for his ability to successfully straddle the divide between art and commerce for nearly 30 years with a steadfast commitment to doing things his own way. After opening his studio, McFetridge began working on assignments for Jonze and a variety of other clients, including Academy award-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola’s clothing line Milk Fed, which led to him designing the whimsical titles that appeared in her acclaimed 1999 debut release. . “I asked him to do the titles for The Virgin Suicides when I was working on my first film,” Coppola recalls. “Geoff’s drawings have something different than something that a team of creative professionals do. It’s not about being perfect.”

Gradually McFetridge also began flexing his fine-art skills more publicly, staging gallery shows of prints and paintings. While his work for commercial clients has been extremely varied, as a solo artist McFetridge’s creative vision remains fairly consistent, favoring minimalist, curvilinear designs rendered in semi-abstract blocks of solid colors representing human figures situated in their environments.

His watercolors, mainly landscapes painted while traveling with his family, are more representational, featuring a lyrical, approachable, style. Covert pinpoints one source of this inspiration with McFetridge’s observation that a recurring theme throughout his work is “human connection, human intimacy,” emphasized by sequences of him interacting with his wife Sarah Devincentis and their two daughters.

Shot over several years, the doc consists of a primary set of interviews with McFetridge in HD, supplemented by archival photos and low-res videos, mobile phone footage and images of McFetridge’s artwork over the years. Covert and co-editor Erik Auli’s synthesis of this material sometimes seems haphazardly off-point though, while numerous shots of McFetridge at work in his studio, often sketching with a yellow #2 pencil, don’t gain much by frequent repetition.

At the same time, some of McFetridge’s more interesting projects, which might have benefitted from more in-depth treatment, don’t get as much consideration, such as brief footage of a commission to create a large outdoor artwork installation at a Los Angeles Muni. train station.

At one point, McFetridge reflects that “The downfall of design is that you’re anonymous” while working on clients’ projects. Covert’s film does away with this anonymity by focusing on the evolution of McFetridge’s artistic vision and his impressive roster of accomplishments, highlighted by some final scenes of him accepting a career achievement award before an audience of professional designers.

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