Jon Clark is a visual artist living and working in Los Angeles. His work has appeared on several Not Not Fun releases, including the video for Matrix Metals and LA Vampires “So Unreal” (credited to Image Masters Unlimited, his collaboration with artist Spencer Longo). Clark’s practice spans comics, graphic design and video. The culmination of his efforts to date is Spectrum Hunter, a just released thirty minute film with a striking visual style that compliments its loose narrative about a cult of drug-addled video warriors who film their exploits for sale on the black market. Spectrum Hunter captures the timeless atmosphere of youth while leaving the menace of childhood intact. It is a vital document of the dark, nostalgia-infected vibe that colors the work of Not Not Fun artists and associated blurry-VHS style travelers like James Ferraro.
Visitation Rites: In addition to the cover art and other visual ephemera you created for the film there is a lot of original 80s and early 90s graphic art in the opening sequence. Can you talk a little bit about how this kind of art has influenced your own design work?
John Clark: With the bedroom scene, I was referencing the type of art and graphic design that inspired the aesthetic of the movie. In reality, that is my real bedroom and I own everything on the walls. The products, symbols, and advertising of the 80s/90s era are interesting to me because I first experienced them as a child. When you are young, everything is mysterious and new – there is a permanent suspension of disbelief. Encountering aesthetics in this mindset is profound. Browsing video stores as a child had a huge effect on my subconscious. Since I was not allowed to rent an R-rated movie, I would imagine what might be on them based solely on the cover art. I did my best to illustrate this idea with the video store scene in Spectrum Hunter. As a kid, I wanted to interact with the mysterious characters and artwork represented on VHS boxes. As an artist, I’ve found a way to create a world in which that is possible.
A close friend said she thinks the best modern example of Black Magic lies within the advertising industry. There is something very seductive and powerful about package artwork and design. When making props for Spectrum Hunter, though we referenced the graphic art of the 80s and 90s, I think the pieces that worked best went beyond that aesthetic. Those pieces in particular had a haunted feel, familiar, yet dark and ambiguous. Since completing Spectrum Hunter, I have continued to make cover artwork for a series of imagined media called the Night School Collection. With these pieces, I want to move beyond the 80s/90s aesthetic and put more emphasis on creating work that evokes the haunted feeling I mentioned earlier. You can view them here.
VR: Can you talk about the names of characters in the games and the videos shown in Spectrum Hunter. Were these created specifically for the movie or were they a result of ideas and design concepts you’d been thinking about for a long time in different contexts?
JC: Both. Text and language are a big part of my artistic practice. I’m as much of a writer as I am a visual artist. I have a ton of aliases and names for projects that don’t even exist yet. When I used to play in bands I would always make up fake band names and include them on our fliers. A lot of times, the impetus for a piece comes from a name or phrase I’ve come up with that is interesting or evocative to me. Names can carry a lot of weight, especially when juxtaposed with imagery. Rotten Robbie is the name of a gas station on the way to San Francisco. Their sign has a cool font. Poison House is something I saw written on a Pog. To me, a Poison House is a futuristic version of a haunted house. If Spectrum Hunters are inhabiting a building or mall, it’s a Poison House. Night School is the name of the production company that puts out the Spectrum Hunter videos. Mizuno is the name of an athletic company. Heather, who played Mizuno, actually wears a Mizuno batting glove on her left hand in real life. I like the name Shuttlecock because it sounds very regal but also funny and homoerotic.
VR: Can you tell me how actor Dian Bachar got involved?
JC: I love living in L.A. and being close to celebrities. I also think the idea of a cameo is a symbolic gesture within the context of the film. Celebrities carry the same sort of weight that logos and graphics do. They are recognizable symbols of our culture. Dian was roommates with a close friend of mine. I am a big fan of Dian’s work and as we got to know each other, he became a fan of my work too. I knew I wanted him to be in Spectrum Hunter before I even wrote it. The other potential actor to play our Store Clerk was Jason Narvy, the guy who played Skull on Power Rangers.
VR: The mythology behind the Spectrum Hunter isn’t gone into much detail in the film. Could you give a little background on your own idea/concept for the Spectrum Hunter universe?
JC: The Spectrum Hunters are a cult that inhabit deserted malls. They use drugs (represented by Pogs) in order to gain tangible magic powers. They build mazes and then kidnap people, forcing them to fight their way through the gauntlets they’ve constructed. Surveillance cameras document these affairs and the subsequent videos are sold in clandestine locations. They sell for astronomical sums of money since they are rare and illegal. We made the Spectrum Hunters mysterious intentionally, but I still think their core motivations are apparent: the Spectrum Hunters inhabit deserted malls, they have real magic powers that most normal people don’t have access to, and they have a subculture with its own rituals and hierarchy. Those are the things that motivate them to do what they do.
VR: Can you speak briefly about the music in the film – what your initial ideas for the score were and how you collaborated on the project?
JC: I wanted the score to mostly be comprised of early synthesis type music. Music and sound cues similar to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, A Clockwork Orange, 70s/80s TV bumpers, pinball machines, and video games. I initially wanted natural noises to be represented with synth noises in order to abstract the imagery another level (sonically). There are some instances of this in the film, but not as many as I originally planned. One example is when Robbie spins the flower on the honeycomb prop and it bleeps out an atonal synth arpeggiation.
When I hear music that inspires me, I automatically attach imagery to it in my head. This often compels me to illustrate music through video. I am a huge fan of house and techno. The scenes in Spectrum Hunter that incorporate dance music were conceived of with that type of music in mind. I wanted to illustrate techno in a way that is based on my personal relationship with it, that would resonate with people in a different way. Even if one isn’t a fan of that type of music, I wanted to work with it in a more conceptual manner that would transcend taste and deal with this music as an idea. When the Spectrum Hunters baptize Tyler in the opening scene, it was important that techno be playing in the background. Techno is hypnotic, ritualistic future music and it fits in with the vibe of the Spectrum Hunter cult. I grew up going to raves, DJing, and making techno. The synaesthesic experiences I had at raves, where images, sound, and humanity combine to create an alternate reality, have had an immense effect on my artwork. In many ways, Spectrum Hunter is a heavily abstracted movie about rave culture, or subcultures in general. Before I knew what raves were, I’d often pick up rave flyers at the mall because they looked cool. On the back side, they listed all the DJs who were performing. The names lists blew me away. Adam X, Frankie Bones, Stryfe, Shredder, Tin Man, The Hacker. “Who are these Demi-gods?” I wondered. It would be years before I would find out. That experience inspired the Spectrum Hunter flier that keeps reappearing in the movie: Apple Knocker, China Doll, Body Bag, Puss in Boots, Double Dude, Confetti Skeleton…Hugh Know?
Words: Max Burke
Spectrum Hunter is now available on DVD