Instead of ‘reflecting’ on black history, Deutsch tapped artists to frame it in the present tense
Story and photos By Maria Martin
Deutsch advertising agency is always looking to make an impact. That may be why its name is spelled out in giant silver letters on the front of their offices on Beethoven Street.
But if you’ve driven by the agency recently, you may have noticed the D in Deutsch looks a bit more colorful than usual. The intricate blue and purple geometric patterns that now decorate the D went up in February as part of a larger celebration of black artists for Black History Month.
Deutsch Associate Producer Justin Brown and a small group of staff members meet every January to plan out all the agency’s events for the year. While discussing how to celebrate Black History Month for 2019, Brown conceived an idea to showcase black artists in ways that reflect both the past and future.
“I felt that since we’re a creative agency, it would be better if we could create history as opposed to just reflect on it, which is what I think we all usually do,” says Brown. “For me it was about the community having the chance, because of an agency like Deutsch, to see this art and start to have that conversation. But it was also an opportunity for black artists who might not normally have access to a place like this, as well as for folks at Deutsch who wouldn’t usually have access to artists like these.”
Deutsch asked two very distinct artists to exhibit their work at the office during February. Los Angeles-based artist Jill Knox Powell displayed her provocative large canvases in Deutsch’s main lobby. Seattle-based Zahyr Lauren had several pieces in both the Deutsch building and the Steelhead production studio across the street, which included replacing elevator walls with large, high-quality scans of Lauren’s original drawings.
Lauren (who goes by the pronouns they/them instead of him/her) also happens to be Brown’s younger sibling. Brown jokes that “I’m probably a little biased when it comes to my sibling, so I just presented Z’s work to the group as, ‘Here’s this artist — what do you think?’ Everyone really resonated with it, so we just moved forward from there.”
When Deutsch Head of Production Diego de la Maza saw Lauren’s work, he suggested using one of the pieces to cover the nine-foot D that was part of the agency’s outdoor design. That process required printing the chosen piece (titled “For Corinne Bailey Rae”) on an adhesive-backed material and affixing it to the concrete structure, an exhaustive effort requiring a crew of three on scaffolding to complete.
For Lauren the entire experience has been pretty surreal.
“I only started drawing a few years ago, in the summer of 2015. At the time I was a practicing attorney in New York, but I was just so dissatisfied with my life,” Lauren says.
Lauren continued to draw day and night and eventually left law practice and fully embraced the pursuit of art, with an eye to raising awareness of issues affecting black and brown people today, as well as promoting unity.
“What I do comes naturally to me,” says Lauren, “and I think that part comes from my bloodline. I look at a lot of the art from the African continent, and there’s so much symmetry and earth and sacred geometries there.”
But this particular project has a deeper meaning for Lauren.
“To me, Black History Month means that I’m able to show, as a black human, a very tiny piece of unlimited potential, if only given a chance,” says Lauren. “It means continuing the legacy of black people, which is — from what I understand and what I see in my family and the people around me — a legacy of ingenuity, creativity, and brilliance.”