The colorful visions of Detroit’s new Whole Foods Market
Go with whatever comes through your head. That’s what the decor director of Detroit’s Whole Foods store told Nathan Bortz. That welcomes a wealth of wild and wonderful possibilities. A zany, effervescent spill tying the light to the dark, the grotesque to the whimsical, the cute and cartoonish, bursting with vibrant colors capturing an intriguingly tweaked, almost child-like surrealism: Saturday-morning psychedelica crossed into comic-book mystique.
Nathan Bortz is humbled to be working as the aesthetic designer of Whole Foods Detroit (opening June 5th, located at: 115 Mack Ave). When you come to Whole Foods, all the signage, the sales, the daily special’s, the homespun billboard-ish Ads on the exterior – that’s all the work of this young, up-and-coming Graphic Design artist who’s been cutting his teeth these last two years as a freelance gig-poster illustrator. Bortz broke onto the music scene with design work for hip-hop duo Passalacqua and has since provided art (by way of posters or album art) to other outfits like rock quartet Duende or dance/post-funk trio Electric Fire Babies.
Bortz was drawn to illustration by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “I would make my own comics, collect boxes and make buildings out of them and draw the turtles scaling them, make my own version of the mutation action figure sets.” A Wayne State grad, he’s also studied permaculture, agriculture and has extensive experience using his artistic talents in arranging educational brochures on recycling and sustainability practices. The Rochester-area native (currently set in Auburn Hills) had a gig in his hometown’s Whole Foods but was lucky enough, after graduation, to be selected for the in-house signage designer for the new store (…it opens its doors this Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.).
John K. (of Ren & Stimpy fame) became a strong influence, later on – leading Bortz to create even more DIY comic books. But he’d only show his work to friends. It wasn’t until he hooked up with Passalacqua until he started gaining more confidence to put his work out into the world. Gig posters offered Bortz “…an explosion of creativity, to where I didn’t feel like I had to stay within a certain guideline. I could push boundaries. I used to draw these strange characters all the time, not related to anything. But, that’s what Passalacqua seemed to be like for me, -this spontaneous explosion of thoughts.”
One formative influence has been the inimitable R. Crumb. “When I got into his stuff I felt like I was looking into my own mind. I’m never trying to be offensive with my artwork, it’s more just a way to be in touch with what’s going on in my mind. Drawning slows me down, it’s like with my gardening. It’s therapeutic. I wouldn’t say that if I couldn’t draw I’d lose my mind, but… I start to feel empty if I’m not doing it. It’s my thing.”
The CEO of Whole Foods has seen Bortz work and gave it the thumbs up. “Very humbling,” Bortz said. This has allowed him the opportunity to work more with chalk (as you’ll see, down at the store, this week). “That’s a more messier medium, water-based. But then, more painterly. Which is cool, because I’ve been hoping to get back into more of a Realism style.”
He’s hoping to get back into the educational outlet (with his art). He designed a comic book for young readers, while working at another Whole Foods, called The Think Big Kids (enlightening them on sustainable living by way of fantastical creatures essentially blending 2-3 animals, a hybrid of zany characters).
When it comes to his influences, Bortz counts the encouragement of Bryan Lackner and Brent Smith (the two rappers behind Passalacqua) and his professor, Wayne Wiseman, who instructed him in permaculture, with the three of him assuring the admittedly “overly-self-analytic” artist to just put his stuff out there and let the world do with it what it will…
When it comes to Crumb, Bortz says, he relates to that notoriously nervy artists’ “overly analytical, skeptical view of the world down to the very cells in his body.” But it was in turning to Eastern philosophy and religion that comforted him and provided understanding of all these contrasting factors of life. “You don’t know light without dark and you can’t know beautiful without ugly.”
It’s these ideas, these juxtapositions, their dependence on each other that helps Bortz see the “divine, withrawn self, that is the mediator of the opposites. The opposites becomes “one” with this mediator forming the trinity. These concepts that link back to my Christian upbringing, have helped my obtain the tools for peace of mind when I allow myself to use these tools. We are here to do “The Work” and when “The Work” begins to lose its push from the “Holy Spirit”…”
“Step away and let life bring it back once again. It’s all a wave.”
Just thought you’d like to get to know the man behind the images, as you start your shopping experience this week.