Inside Hassan Rahim's Brooklyn apartment, you'll find a zen space filled with collections and unique pieces that keep him working, inspired, and relaxed. The artist and designer channels childhood interests in his work, which are distinctive and strong, contextual and reflective of his own nature. Rahim spoke with us about his self-made journey into design, inspirations, and work within the music industry.
Tell us about yourself and your work.
My name is Hassan Rahim. I'm an artist, but I don't like to just stick with one title. I find I'm sometimes an artist and graphic designer or art director and designer. I grew up in Santa Ana, California, lived in L.A., and moved to Brooklyn, New York, six years ago. I like to focus my work on versatility. I'm drawn to projects based on concepts and ideas from a range of mediums — directing videos, designing logos, and my own personal work of printmaking and collage. I kind of freestyle it, and I've been doing that since I was 15 years old when I first downloaded Photoshop.
You are self-taught. So what was your journey into design, being self-taught?
My design journey started with skateboarding. I was a skateboarder, but I really was obsessed with graphics, skateboard art and ads, and magazines. These are what caught my eye, and I wanted to make those things. I had a desire to make stickers and shirts and was curious about how to make them. I'd ask myself, "Oh, how did they do that?" and then try to recreate some things. From there, I figured out different techniques and developed tools to start using my own imagination.
You got your start in t-shirts. Tell us more about that.
I was posting some of my own t-shirt work on Myspace when I was 15. People came across my work and asked me to make shirts for their brand. Then, through skateboarding, I met people who worked for brands like Obey and Diamond Supply Co., and they asked me to make shirts for them as well.
You do a lot of collage in your work. What inspired you to get into that?
That was the way my brain put pieces together. I'm made up of all the little bits and pieces of inspiration from everyone else, you know? All the little snippets, memorable quotes, and things people told me ... All of those things combined are me. Also, the way somebody like Madlib or J Dilla makes beats was a big inspiration; it's like sampling, cutting, pasting, and chopping. I was inspired by watching beat-making, and I saw that my work felt that way visually, that my brain assembled pieces like that.
When you think of breaking down these aspects of music and transcribing it, if you will, to art, are you often using music to inspire your work?
My process has evolved. I used to play a lot of music, but now I usually try to get into an internal meditative state. At one time, I could work until 4 am with high-energy club music. As I grew in my work, the process changed. I feel zen just staring at the screen and getting the work done, and it's a different type of focus.
I've also been playing slow focus on NTS radio; it's like ambient zen music. So I wake up to that. That's my alarm, actually.
So it's pretty safe to say that music has been a strong inspiration for your work.
Yeah, 100 percent!
What is your workspace like?
I work from home and have been doing so since before the pandemic. I used to have a studio, but I just realized that my work is so personal. It comes from such a personal place that I get my inspiration from being in my house with my books and records and stuff. It's a small New York apartment, so there isn't a lot of space. My desk is in the middle of the room. But it's really nice working from home.
You do have an extensive book and record collection. How did these collections come into your life?
The collections do come into your life. But very slowly. It's an accumulation. There are things that I'm really passionate about and the things that I am no longer passionate about, I make sure to get rid of. As far as records go, I have a few different collections. I have some that are records that I like to listen to, some are just rare, and then some are just for visual inspiration. I shop the dollar bin for cool records. I used to do it when I was younger. It got me interested in design — seeing really rad records from the '70s with crazy cover art, and it was always conceptual. It made you think. I still buy records in a dollar bin based on the cover because I want my record collection to resemble my book collection.
How has your work been shaped by the places you’ve lived or the spaces that you're in?
My work was shaped by my time in Orange County just because it was around this time I developed an interest in design. I was trying to find inspiration, and in that search, I became an online person; it's where I found the coolest stuff.
All my friends were into skateboarding, and they'd be interested in skaters because of their abilities. But the skaters I liked were those I thought were cool and stylish. I wanted to know what they were wearing, and I'd look them up.
What keeps you interested in the work you do?
Range and variety. Taking new challenges and experiences and not saying I'm just a specific type of designer or just an artist. I direct films, make books, and consult and do exhibitions. I'm just having a good time with what I'm doing and making sure to try new things and not worry about being boxed in. That's what's most exciting to me.
You've designed for the music industry. What did you learn working with musicians and people in the music industry?
I think that the music industry is interesting. You're creating a little 12x12 piece of art. I feel like you have to start with emotion when designing for music. I think back to when I was 15, and I cracked open those first C.D.s, and how those songs were really special to me, and I try to recreate that feeling. I want to make sure I give kids a similar experience. This approach, I feel, has pushed me to be better about iconography. I think iconography is important in music, at least in packaging.
Besides iconography, another way to keep music alive is through t-shirts. That's why there's such a huge vintage graphic tee secondary market; band tees are very rare and expensive.
Do you have any advice for emerging artists or young designers that are coming up in this space?
This is so cliche, but be yourself, don't be the designers you think are cool. Genuinely be you, and it's going to actually make you different. Of course, it's OK if you're still trying to find who you are. That's totally valid too, but I think being yourself is what will set you apart despite what you think.
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