Guerrilla graphics

Atlanta's status as a cultural hub is continually debated, but it can take credit for birthin' its share of cultural creatives - even if they end up jumping ship for someplace metro-sexier.

In the early '90s, design firm Graphic Havoc emerged from Atlanta College of Art and Georgia Tech students who started applying their blend of graffiti and text-based imagineering to invites for Young Blood Gallery, film titles for local filmmaker Milt Thomas' Claire and adverts for the (now-defunct) Howell Mill clothing boutique Scout.

Atlanta DJ John "Gnosis" Robinson strolls down memory lane recounting the early years in his pithy introduction to the hot pink hardcover book dedicated to Graphic Havoc, reborn in 2004 as GHavisualagency™. Robinson charts the design firm's origin in Atlanta's graffiti, music and skate rat underground while dropping references to local haunts like MJQ, Movies Worth Seeing and Tortillas.

In 2000, the five founders - Randall J. Lane, Derek Lerner, David Merten, Peter Rentz and Sadek Bazaraa - expanded their graphic wisenheimer empire from Atlanta to Brooklyn (with a GH satellite opened in Los Angeles in 2002). The self-taught designers were soon bringing their eclectic trick bag of underground influences to bear on design for mack daddy clients like Coke and Nike. Somehow, the group has managed to hang onto its underground street cred despite occasionally going over to the dark side for corporate clients such as Sprite or Tylenol, where the agency apparently developed a niche for repackaging sex appeal-impaired products for the 18-24 set.

GHavisualagency™ lays out the GH way: a high energy collision of "dirty type," stencils, graffiti elements and a maelstrom of found imagery indebted to the schizophrenic flux of the cityscape that has become its signature. Myriad examples of the group's commercial and personal projects come with irreverent asides describing their working methods (including some embarrassing early mistakes) and design ethos. And the book may turn out to be a mystique-busting, DIY manifesto of sorts, proving that with energy and focus, the all-American entrepreneurial dream can carry over to the post-boomer generation.

GHavisualagency™ by Randall J. Lane, Derek Lerner, David Merten, Peter Rentz and Sadek Bazaraa. 228 pages. Booth-Clibborn Editions/Harry N. Abrams. $45.??

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