Article by: Anna Pratt, Special to the Star Tribune
November 12, 2014 - 6:10 PM
The St. Louis Park artist has carved out a niche as an illustrator, screen printer and muralist.
Adam Turman painted this Sisyphus Brewery mural, which faces the I-394/94 interchange in Minneapolis.
Photo: Photo courtesy of Sisyphus Brewery
Adam Turman has been drawing for as long as he can remember. He began by churning out pictures of pirates, skulls and crossbones. Now he is known for his colorful, highly stylized images of local landmarks, pinup-style figures, bicycles and beer.
Turman, 39, of St. Louis Park, left his full-time graphic design job in January 2013 to focus on his own work. It has turned out to be a good move for him. The muralist, screen printer and illustrator has found a niche creating visuals for local and national breweries and restaurants, cycling groups, music venues and bands and charities.
“Every day something new happens,” said Turman, who works out of his home studio.
He enjoys the sheer variety, but it also means the days get long and his calendar is always packed. On Nov. 16, Turman will have a presence at the Craft’za show at the Grain Belt Bottling House in northeast Minneapolis. Then, on Nov. 22, the nearby Brickmania, which makes custom LEGO kits, will re-imagine Turman’s “Minnesota Months” print in the iconic toy bricks.
Recently, Turman wrapped up a mural on an exterior wall of a bowling alley in Wittenberg, Wis., population just over 1,000. The town began an ambitious mural project in 2005 titled “Walls of Wittenberg.” It entails 23 murals in and around the area, basically using art as an attraction.
Turman and fellow artist Brian Geihl, who has served as his assistant, painted a scene that celebrates outdoorsy activities like fishing and snowmobiling.
Each of these projects has come through word-of-mouth. “You do good work, meet nice people and good things happen,” he said.
The main challenge is balancing work with everything else, Turman said. Sometimes, he’ll be sketching, either by hand or on his Cintiq tablet, which allows for drawing right on the screen, alongside his wife and two children while they’re watching TV.
Turman describes his technique as “analog digital.” Typically, he begins an illustration by hand and finishes it off digitally. He provides the resulting images to his clients in a digital format. “That’s the graphic designer in me. I want to give them lots of options,” Turman said.
Similarly, in the vein of a graphic designer or a commercial artist, Turman likes to begin with an assignment, with the parameters that come along with that.
It helps that Turman has a firm grasp on the business side of things, according to Jason Alvey, owner and founder of the Four Firkins, a specialty beer store in St. Louis Park and Oakdale. Turman created a cycling jersey and screen prints for the shop. “He understands promotions and events and relationship building,” Alvey said. “He knows the ins and outs of the financial side of running a business. It’s rare in someone with his artistic talents.”
One day in the early 2000s, Turman showed up at a poster show called “Plaster the Town,” where he met artist/curator David Witt (aka DWITT), who helped him to network. Turman was working as a graphic designer, but seeking an outlet for his interest in illustration.
Right away, Turman got involved with the poster collective known as Squad 19. The collective produced artful gig posters that advertised band concerts. At the time, “Those gig posters were getting pretty popular. It was a cool new thing,” he said.
He was able to place his work in venues like the Turf Club, Triple Rock Social Club and First Avenue in Minneapolis. From there, bands started contracting him for work. “That’s where I got my name out there,” Turman said.
In 2007, he contacted Omar Ansari, founder and CEO of the Surly Brewing Co., hoping for a donation to a gig poster party. Ansari agreed to it, and in return, Turman produced a gig poster for him.
That led to more work with Surly and other breweries.
A couple of years later, the Butcher and the Boar restaurant in downtown Minneapolis hired Turman to paint a mural on the side of the building that faces the parking lot. Turman came up with a whimsical picture that combines his love for bikes, pinups and the city skyline. He eventually revisited the 20-foot-by-10-foot mural to extend it out to the rest of the wall, totaling 180 feet in length.
Once while he was painting, a woman who resembled the figure in the Butcher and the Boar mural stopped by to get a photo taken of herself posed in front of it.
Some people tell him they see the mural every day during their commute. “It’s a thrill. I love it when I make people smile and stop to take a moment to give it a good look,” Turman said.
The murals help to transform spaces that often “aren’t much to look at,” he said. Turman likes the idea that companies are supporting “art to share with other people.”
In his work, which many people have come to recognize for its characteristic subject matter, line quality and color, “I try to make stuff accessible for a wide array of people,” both in terms of aesthetics and cost, Turman said. “I try to stay abreast on who I believe my audience is and what they think would be cool.”
Whether it’s a mural or a screen print, the imagery is accessible. People “don’t have to try to decipher it,” and it can go anywhere, he said. “You don’t have to be in the know to get the stuff and like it. It’s just fun.”
Catherine Cuddy, who co-owns Sisyphus Brewing in Minneapolis with her husband, Sam Harriman, said Turman’s “art presence is known not only in the beer community, but more widespread to the general public as well.”
Cuddy attributes that to Turman’s “unique way of creating very timeless feelings but in a pop culture and graphic way.”
She and Harriman gave him initial thoughts about portraying a Sisyphus theme, but they let him run with it. The resulting mural, for which Turman worked with artist Josh Lemke, aka Jawsh, is highly visible as it faces the I-394/94 interchange in Minneapolis.
Sometimes people come in just to see what is connected to the mural, Cuddy said. The Paul Bunyan figure in the picture “represents our never-ending battle to create an adventurous and delicious beer for Minnesota,” she said.
Nick Kramarczuk, the general manager at Kramarczuk’s Sausage Co. in Minneapolis, first saw an image Turman did of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge with the Grain Belt sign in the background. “That’s something that was built when I was a kid,” and it reminded him of his roots in northeast Minneapolis.
Turman’s screen prints conveying local landmarks were “representative of a new hip outlook on Twin Cities culture,” he said.
In hiring someone to do artwork for the company’s first Kielbasa Fest a handful of years ago, he wanted a local artist “who has an appreciation for what Minneapolis has to offer,” said Kramarczuk, whose wife, Leigh, is an artist.
That image has been adapted through the years. It shows a woman holding a beer stein and pierogies and sausage, a balalaika, plus lightning bolts and stars.
“He put his touch on it and it became ours, part of our logo,” Kramarczuk said. “It gave the event character. It’s cool how he brought my ideas to life with sketches.”
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.