by Kevin Ott
Midway through my exploration of BLDG, the Covington based branding/art studio/creative think tank/gallery, Jay Becker said “It all starts with the art”. I was trying to grasp ahold of the many tentacles that BLDG seems to be, and this statement described the head of the octopus.
When you walk into BLDG on West Pike Street in Covington, you enter a gallery space—exposed brick walls, a doorway and partial facade in the middle of the room, a retail counter to the side, some musical instruments and sound equipment and, of course, art. The art at this time consists of Cincinnati Reds themed paintings, silk screens, collages and all manner of Warhol-esque crudely screened altered photos. It’s a fun show (or was, as it is now over). Some, or much of it is irreverent, but you still sense the reverence for baseball and our home-town heroes. This is the most visible, street-level tentacle of BLDG.
Jay Becker’s partners, Chris Ritter and Lesley Amann joined as we made our way from the street-level gallery upstairs to the creative hub of BLDG. Here, silk screens were being squeegeed, a floor half covered with a variety of dinner plates, a few open cubicles and some random furniture gave a sort of loose and scruffy ambiance to the loft-like space. But, don’t be deceived into thinking it is a slacker’s paradise. A large hand- made grid of a schedule on one of the brick walls was packed with the names of clients and the stages and scope of work being produced for them. Indeed, BLDG has produced and is producing branding work for cities, restaurants, companies and organizations. But, it is here that you see how “it all begins with the art”. Concepts for whole branding programs may begin with a rough (but great) silk screen poster or a street art mural that might boil the essence of client’s needs down to an image that will endure and can be built on.
This is the digital age. BLDG’s style when it comes to art, branding, murals or its own general demeanor is decidedly NOT-digital. It’s street-art cred and authenticity are built on a hands-on appearance. The limited edition silk screen posters for rock shows are clearly not slick, but joyously out-of-register with overlapping inks and vivid colors. Lesley Amann said “In the beginning we focused on street artists and we still work with several”. You can see this in BLDG’s aesthetic. When designing or branding a restaurant, they look for “something in the building’s history or the menu that can be made visual and used in the interior space to define the restaurant and to pique the diner’s interest. It keeps them coming back”, said Jay.
The third floor of the building is a lounge. A large skylight and two large windows let light into a room full of old leather couches and comfortable stuffed furniture. The wall is filled with pictures hung salon style. It is space originally meant for creative sessions and meetings with clients. Now, in addition to that, Jay noted “some of our clients hold off-site meetings here. They think differently, more creatively, when they are out of their own spaces”. It is comfortable, urban, anti-slick.
So, BLDG’s various tentacles—art prints and posters and other ephemera, branding, street art and murals, graphic design, gallery, creative think tank—all spring from that octopus head that is “the art”. It’s all done with a very authentic, hand-made vibe. Their web-site states “What goes on within these walls pushes beyond branding and badass design”. It is all done with research, instinct, thought and on-site creative ability. BLDG is, to my mind, an important cog in our little corner of the world’s renaissance.