• Artist Editions: Brooks Bell X UO

    Designed exclusively for Urban Outfitters, Artist Editions is an ongoing series of limited edition graphic t-shirts created by a rotating roster of artists from around the globe. 

    From clothing design and embroidery to political murals and posters, Philadelphia creative Brooks Bell does it all. We take a look behind the scenes at his practice and his latest Artist Editions designs. 
    Photos by CJ Harvey


    Can you tell us a bit about your background?  
    I grew up in North Carolina and moved to Philly in 1999.  I studied photography and later started a tee brand that we sold mainly out of Urban Outfitters and our flagship store in Philly for several years.  I Currently co-own The Decades Hat Co and we distribute to retailers worldwide and off our website as well as collab with major retailers on pop up shops and events. I've also always been a big thrifter and sell a lot of vintage clothing on depop.  Part-time artist for life. 

    Are there any artists or designers who have been particularly influential to you over the years? 
    I'm more inspired by environment and experience but Barbara Kruger has always been my favorite artist.  I related to her messages and bold approach at an early age.  She showed me I could say what I wanted as loud as I wanted and not be afraid to speak out when I disagreed with popular opinion. That stuck with me. 



    You recently participated in the Truth to Power show in Philly during the DNC. Can you tell us about your work for that project? 
    Truth to Power was an amazing experience that purposely aligned with the DNC here.  I made a neon sign for the show that read "Corporate Media Still Sucks" (a play on Kurt Cobain's tee on the cover of Rolling Stone in '92). I was displayed between a Ron English installation and a Mike Giant illustration, which felt like a huge accomplishment as an artist.  Ton of respect for both those guys and their crafts and messages. Also for the show I was able to curate other local Philly artists to exhibit and they all killed it. I was really proud of everyone's work I brought in and was honored to be able to share the opportunity.  In my opinion, it was the most powerful show to ever come to Philly.

    Is there a philosophy that you can pinpoint that runs throughout your work? 
    Not really. My personal work is mainly full of piss and vinegar and social commentary. 


    Can you walk us through the process of creating a new piece? 
    It depends on the project. With art, it tends to start instinctually with a theme or idea that I feel like I have to create, then choose the medium I want to work in. With fashion projects, I tend to make mood boards and sketches and design way more than I know I'm going to use so I can narrow down to what I think is strongest. Sometimes it can go in a completely different direction than what you intended, but that can be a good thing. Sometimes the first idea will be the best.

    What makes a t-shirt design special? 
    T-shirts are cultural souvenirs.  Good design tells a story that transcends generations and becomes a keep sake of its time.


    Do you have any favorite t-shirts of all time? 
    Heather grey Tommy Hilfiger oversized flag tee
    Sonic Youth washing machine and crochet figure tees. Love those. 
    The Jesus Lizard Mickey riding a bomb tee.
    Pretty much any vintage Bootleg Bart tee.

    Can you tell us about your designs for Artist Editions? How did you get to the finished pieces? 
    I started out by thinking back to when I was a teenager in the early '90s. We didn't have online shopping, so you'd really have to hunt for band tees and brands you wanted in skate shops and boutiques or go to local shows and buy merch. It was way more authentic than today, where you can go to any mall store and buy vintage reprints and licensed graphic tees. When I couldn't find what I wanted, I started drawing on white tees and bleaching black tees trying to draw the graphics I'd seen that I liked. They were terrible, but looking back, that's what was so good about them. Through that, I started to find a voice and eventually started doing my own slogans and ideas. It's something I still do. I love taking a sharpie to a white tee and getting one good night's wear out of it. I just tried to think back on the energy of those early graphics I was creating and apply it to how I was feeling and kind of mimic that early hand-drawn bootleg style. 


    What are your pet peeves when it comes to design? 
    I don’t know anymore. Anything goes, just be honest with yourself and try not to over do it. 

    What’s next? 
    My dad always says, “If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.” So one day I'll probably jump, but in the meantime I'll be trying not to fall. 


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