The art of cause

A T-shirt designer on a mission
By SHARON STEEL  |  December 12, 2007

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ON THE ROAD: Local designer Michael Crigler is done “making pretty pictures.” He’ll practice the art of sacrifice on his ’round-the-world tour.

Michael Crigler is something of a mini-celebrity in artsy Boston circles. He founded Allston’s Prank Design, a small, award-winning graphic-design firm, taught at the Art Institute of Boston, has had paintings shown in galleries here and abroad, and, in 2002, launched his own fashion label, Birdhead. His T-shirts have been stocked in boutiques as far-flung as Japan. But the 28-year-old designer decided that, for the time being, he’s done “making pretty pictures.” He and his wife, Lauren, are giving up their urban lives for a ’round-the-world social mission. And they’re not sure when they’ll be back.

“I thought, I’m doing all these activism types of things, and my lifestyle — I’m a vegan, and an environmentalist in many ways,” says Crigler. “But I felt like, even through my art, my clothing, and my design, it wasn’t enough for me.”

The new Birdhead line, as well as a chunk of fresh Crigler paintings, will be unveiled this Saturday at LAB Boston. The exhibit, “Chase the Rising Sun,” is named after his planned world tour, which kicks off in April.

Birdhead designs have always hinted at the artist’s environmentalist aesthetic without overtly pushing eco-conscious fashion. While Crigler still prefers to leave his T-shirts open to interpretation — is it a cool silk-screen of a worm, a skull, and an apple, or is it a commentary on birth, death, and being kicked out of the Garden of Eden? — the concept for his latest pieces, printed with recycled soy-based inks on 100 percent–organic cotton, is a bit heavier. One shirt is a commentary on how the Industrial Revolution destroyed sacred Native American land. “I’m definitely taking more chances with this line, and being more blunt,” says Crigler, “but I feel like a lot of this stuff needs to be said.”

The open-ended voyage is taking the Criglers everywhere from an animal sanctuary in South Africa to a rainforest conservation project in Australia. The couple plan to document their experiences online. Chasetherisingsun.com, the initiative’s virtual home, will include educational resources, a donation page, diary entries, photo-journals, and possibly streaming video, all geared toward promoting their philosophy and quest to spread awareness in a hip and fashionable way.

“We’re not afraid to leave things behind to explore our dreams and give back,” says Crigler. “We’re not living in fear of what’s going to happen. That, to me, is an art form in itself. It’s the art of sacrifice, in a way.”

“Chase the Rising Sun” runs December 15 through January 18 at LAB Boston, 13 Brighton Avenue, Allston. The opening reception is on December 15 from 6 to 9 pm.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Painting, Visual Arts, Art Institute of Boston,  More more >
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