We caught up with Amrit Randhawa AKA Taxi Cab Industries, who is a visual artist based at Islington Mill. Since graduating from Graphic design at Salford he’s done all sorts, from poster design, to painting and printmaking, zines, publications and putting out mixes, Amrit’s practise spans it all. We chatted about making bootlegs, not taking yourself too seriously, the art of not specialising and the power of self-publishing.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Amrit, I work under the name Taxi Cab Industries which is an umbrella name for everything I do. I put out graphic design work or a publication or a painting or a T- shirt or a shitty little mix I’ve made on garageband. It all operates under a black background under Taxi cab Industries - @taxicabindustires on Insta.
Where did the name come from?
I grew up with lots of bands who were formative to me, around ten years ago, they all had quite stupid names and regret their name choice. The Arctic Monkeys is not a very good name for the music they make and Vampire Weekend especially are the antithesis of a name of a band that doesn’t fit to the sound they make. I just thought Taxi Cab Industries was a funny stupid name. As soon as you have a name you can just start. At Uni we had to rebrand ourselves, other people were just using their name and then adding creative after it or studio. I never wanted to be called Amrit Randhawa creative studio, it is easier for me to hide behind an alias where I can do more experimental things.
HW: It is a little bit distanced from that, there’s more mystery around it.
AR: It all relates back to music and the way musicians can hide behind an alias, take MF DOOM for example or someone like BURIAL, you don’t know anything about his personality. I guess I accept I am a boring man who lives in the suburbs. I enjoy my quietness behind Taxi Cab Industries.
HW: You make zines, paintings, graphic design?
I studied Graphic Design at Salford, I was fortunate to have the freedom to experiment outside the basic realm of what graphic design is, or could be. I guess a lot of my work is in having access to lots of different things, like print making or to consider painting as a form of graphic design.
Half way through my course I cottoned onto the fact there are no rules at art school. I never really thought I was at art school, just design school, on a design course. Wednesdays were always the day for extracurricular activities so I took advantage of the physical space I could occupy, I would wake up and not know what I was going to do and then see something and then make a zine. Then 8 or 9 hours later I might have 24 photocopied zines.
Even though it was a Graphic Design course, by third year I realised could do whatever I wanted. If you break down the objective of a module there are no rules, as long as you do the work, you’re fine aren't you? You can't do the work and fail can you?
HW: It is about experimentation, I love your work, I’m inspired by how much you put out and I think your pretty prolific. Painterly but grounded in graphic design.
AR: In first and second year I was inspired by James Victore, if you learn all the rules then you can break them. It’s quite cliché, but it’s fun. You see a lot of practitioners that rebel, but they don’t know the underlying structure that they are rebelling against. Contemporary graphic designers are against traditional modernist design but if you don’t understand the principles of modernism, you can’t really rebel against them.
I have been reading about the lives of designers such as Milton Glaser, who were based in New York in the sixties. They took advertising work and learnt about how you set type. They were more interested in the things on the margins of culture and funny styles of illustration. When they developed their own creative practise, they could set type beautifully.
I pride myself on knowing the rules of type, the monotonous hours in the library, it’s so dry. But I really enjoy kerning. If you’ve never kerned to Jungle, that’s one of life’s greatest joys. I mean I am a boring man from the suburbs so it's not hard for me to be entertained.
(Kerning is the spacing between letters or characters in a piece of text.)
HW: It is interesting to bring things from the margins, but in your work there’s a lot of obvious brands that people recognise for examples Marks & Spencer’s and Pizza Express. Can you expand on your use of their logos and kind of subversion of their message?
AR: At the root of it all, it’s just a bit silly. I don't mind that, I like silliness. It’s not highbrow, it’s not dry wit. I wish it was but I’m not that funny. I guess a lot of it is quite on the nose and overtly stupid, that does become the best way to describe my work in all contexts. It's not because, 'ooh, that's smart on loads of levels', you can just instantly get it.
With the Marx & Spencer’s, I had the idea years ago – it was a matter of thinking it was funny I didn’t think it would sell. I don’t make t-shirts to make a healthy profit margin because it's non existent in that sort of commerce. I make work that I like and it’s amazing that other people can like it as well.
The Pizza Express and Prince Andrew thing, I didn't make them thinking it will turn into something people send on the internet. I guess I just make it because I want to, not because I'm spoilt but because I want to spend my leisure time on Photoshop seeing if I can make these letter forms for a laugh and then laugh for about 3 seconds.
HW: They take on a life of their own, there’s a lot of value in it being silly, fun
AR: I am inspired by practitioners that are quite inherently silly, they don't look for recognition from it, it's just silly, that’s the core root of it, there’s not much more to it. It’s a nice thing. If I took it more seriously, I would lose that silliness.
HW: You end up over analysing and pulling apart the concept.
AR: I like cultural context and work that relates to historical contexts; the human eye knows when something is laboured and has been made for the sake of it and it hasn’t been made with love, as cheesy at that sounds.
What is Commodity Fetishism? What do you mean by that?
AR: It is a term Marx would use throughout Kapital and his writings on economics. I might not fully understand that term in every context that Marx uses it but I know the term, it’s silly and an entendre. So if people don’t understand it either that’s alright!
I was just trying to make a joke about how I’m in a contemporary sense of the word fetishizing the idea of a revival of Marx. I’m a typical Marxist in the sense I don’t really understand Marxism or haven’t engaged fully in Marxist texts, which makes me an amazing Marxist.
HW: We are always consuming, so you are taking them and throwing them back out to us, holding up a bit of a mirror?
AR: Sometimes I worry that I make work that I’m not that happy with and I wonder if it’s just what Banksy did twenty years ago, and Banksy is like Coldplay, everyone knows who he is, just he’s not that cool. But maybe your Mum would compare you to him, my Mum always would say my work is like Banksy, I guess it shouldn't hurt because I know it's really a nice sentiment.
But there’s a lot of truth in that I’m not being that smart with what I do. I could afford to put some more thought into what I do. I keep on reiterating it but it is a bit silly, a bit of a pisstake.
There is the whole Stöckport thing – how did that come about? Making connections to where you are?
Again, all this stuff is happening in the unconscious mind, I’m not that aware. I have a sketchbook here and it’s full of shit. I have about 5 or 6 sketchbooks on the go dotted around the studio, the livingroom and the bedroom and there is no lineage to any of the sketches.
I probably have some form of behavioural order, undiagnosed ADHD, I’m quite erratic, not very organised I guess and sketch like that. I think I drew it when I was at Uni and it was at 2 or 3 in the morning maybe pulling an all nighter and messing with type. I think with all my best ideas there is no level of thought.
Maybe I’d just seen a Stüssy tee and thought, 'ha, that would be a funny bootleg'. It took three years to make it into a shirt. I am quite often catching up on ideas from years ago. Some of the ideas you don’t know if it will work, the Stockport t-shirt took so long because of money and wondering whether it would sell? It’s a risk if the shirts won't sell.
Using Logo designs and bootlegging was a bit of a joke. Part of me recognises that I have to make these things real and save money for months to spend on a risky venture. The Stöckport ones have been reprinted three times, which is amazing and there are new ones coming out soon! It’s a lot to invest for someone with little to no money. It never feels like an achievement to invest back into my practise because of the small amount of money I actually make back. I definitely get nervous through a lack of confidence to follow through on these things. All the risk is on me, the money slowly comes back to me but I just like doing silly things.
HW: You are one man design, production, marketing, admin, etc
AW: I’m taking a break at the moment; I’ve just had to say no to. It’s too much work to
finance a practise and figure out how to shift 50 t-shirts? Fortunately RareMags have stocked the Stöckport T-shirt and will stock the next one. The point of having a practise, in theory it a one-man operation but lots of people help me.
RareMags have a lot of confidence in me and a lot of belief of what I do. They wanted to buy 30 more, 30 T-shirts felt like a big production. If someone pushes you and gives you positive reinforcement you feel like you can do it. People are sweet on Instagram, I don’t expect people to say it’s nice, over the past few years people will directly message me and give me praise which is very nice and considerate.
Could you speak about other people you’ve partnered with?
Tee’s for Partisan – they asked me to design some tee’s for them – we talked about
doing the t-shirt before the Everpress campaign. We made a 3 colour print screen print and they sorted all the distribution and they sold 70 in the end. All the money goes back to Partisan because it was at a time that they really needed the support.
HW: Was that during the pandemic?
AR: I honestly don’t know – I can't remember – I think it was before. We were talking about doing some stickers too, of course that was another bootleg, of the Nuclear war, Nein Danke – It has been translated into over 180 languages, but they are clamping down on people bootlegging it. I spent a few days in bedroom and didn’t leave. I don’t know how copyright law works. I probably should look that up.
HW: I’ve done a Nike rip before at Uni and we were fine.
AR: Sports Banger does it with their NHS t-shirt’s, so maybe it's fine.
I know you make a lot of zines, wondered if you could expand on that?
I think we first met at the Over Here Zine Fest, it was the same weekend as
Bound, there was three zine fests on that weekend.
Zines are great, I picked them up from Uni from the hourly paid lecturers like John Powell Jones, he was making interesting comics and had a screen-printing practise. He introduced me to zines Steve Hockett was making, like Oi Polloi’s zine Peeker Post, I adored them, I had loads of them tucked away in the studio.
I guess I like the consideration of zines, the culture of politics and bringing underground ideas to life, I just don't know enough about it. There is the history of non designers making them but that's not my tradition, I went to art school and I am enamoured by the zines made by graphic design studios or practitioners.
At the time I was fortunate to see people like Shy Bairns exhibiting and showing stuff in that context. I like seeing younger people make zines about things important to them, I guess Oi Polloi making a zine about an £800 coat isn't that interesting but the content never reflected the fact it was a fun, silly thing about fashion.
I guess it was seeing people in Manchester make zines got me into it.
It’s harder now, I loved Uni because we were fortunate to have the space and time but now money is the barrier. I'm silly enough to think I can run a freelance practise but every moment is about making a living and prioritising client work, applying to things – there’s always a 500 pound thing- and you never get it but you apply anyway.
I still make zines.
I’m making a really big one at the moment. I have to make a living and zines just don’t do that. The more I make, the more interested in methods of binding and print production I get.
I’m currently making a book taking a photo of the “type” (text) in the background of all
the shots in the Wire, the best TV show ever. I want it to be an actual book but that means the print costs go into the thousands and you can’t rationalise that. If you don’t have thousands of pounds, it will be a bread-and-butter outcome.
I love the zine I made called 'A Typographic Study Of Walsall. In an ideal world, I would live on a stipend and live off money I made unfairly where I could walk around and take photos of the signs I like.
I’ve started one for Manchester just before the pandemic using photographs. All the things I think about doing with zines are the opposite of what zine making is about. People just get information out but we don’t live in an era where the newsagents have a photocopier for 5p a sheet. One thing I want to say is that I don't make zines as much as I did in uni, I feel the word zine now blurs into the word publication.
However, I am enamoured by people like Ceremony Press who put out really good artists to document their work, people who work full time jobs and in then in their evenings they want to up their level of print production. That's something I really respect.
There is a community of zine makers, it is quite nice. My first five zines were really shit. But it is nice when you go to Bound Art Book Fair, and see all these losers who work full time jobs are under one roof for a weekend who actually care about printed things. Maybe now it is a more of a middle class exercise rather than putting out a zine about smashing the fasch, or female sexual liberation.
But it's not my place to comment, I've not read the cannon.
HW: The point of zines is they can be about anything. Born out the punk, riot grrll, all the women to the front, but they range from anything from politics to your favourite footballer.
AR: My fave zine is one that Dr.ME made about 10 years ago and have published in their new book where they asked asked their friends to draw Bart Simpson and called the zine Art Simpson. They even cut the top of the pages to look like Bart's hair – So simple and funny.
HW: My favourite is this one just filled with pictures of dogs called 'Walkies'.
AR: Oh my god I love that one, hahaha, no matter how hard I work I'll never been as successful as those dogs.
I wanted to touch on the crossover of how you work multidisciplinary, as
someone that also does that. I struggle with the idea of not specialising in
something. Is it an advantage?
It is something that was haunting to the point where it is paralysing, especially when you leave university, if you are to ‘make it’, you have to have a formalisation of your practise, you need a website and a business card. I'm not entirely sure that we can in our world. Maybe it is really a privilege to specialise, we admire Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon, who had the time money and space to do what they love. Like if you wanted to specialise in oil painting, you need loads of money!
I couldn’t envision myself sitting down and doing the same thing every day, I couldn't do a 9-5 or an office job. I want to pursue my dream and live my creative practise, and I want to try everything. It is liberating. The thing that keeps on coming back to me is Douglas Coupland in his twitter bio he wrote ‘never left art school’, it had a profound effect on me. Maybe you physically left the art school space, but you can still experiment and try new things. The people I admire might be DJs, that might do graphics, that also do textiles. In an ideal world we could specialise in the thing we want to do but the creative industries are oversaturated and non linear, one day you need to be an editor and then you become a videographer or editor because you have final cut pro.
For me, I would love to be a contemporary painter, represented by a gallery and paint all day but if you look back at history this happened to people who were incredibly wealthy.
A lot of my graphic design isn’t always shown on my Insta because it is to make a living and I have the skills to kern letters, or create imagery for social media. It is hard to say you’re a specialist when you’re just trying to live. I’m not on the breadline, I could never pretend I’m not middle class, I can live with my parents and it’s a trade-off. People ask me how do you make a painting? How do you make a mix? But at the moment I don’t have to worry about making my rent.
There is nothing wrong with just doing it, in an ideal world I would love to do one thing. I would love to pay people to help me do stuff under the name Taxi Cab Industries, I love the idea that the studio could grow bigger. I think looking at everything we have just talked about it is commissions, people are picking me for something. Like someone may ask me for a video and I know I can physically do it but it might not have been good, but I have been chosen over a videographer.
It is not a new contemporary idea– Take Milton Glaser, his illustration style changes so much with new ideas and projects, he was just curious. Ultimately, we are driven by a curious nature. All the most exciting projects I have taken on don't have a visual final product before all this curiosity happens in the process and by the fact someone trusts you.
Picasso wasn’t just a painter, he printed pieces, made metal structures or did ceramics and lino prints. Quite often we negate the fact that most practioners are engaged in lots of other things. Whether that’s a musician who makes their own artworks or t-shirt’s, writers who self-publish and interest in publications.
You have to know other things to have a more informed world view, most of the books that have been inspirational or informative aren’t about graphics or art, they may be texts on economics or theory on anthropological research. Or a book on debt, that shouldn't be inspirational but it sparks something. There are lots of benefits to specialisation but why pigeon hole yourself if you’re so young, when you're in your 20's you can do what you want, you don't have responsibilities, now is the time to experiment. If you want to go to Long Bois on a Saturday afternoon you can just do that.
I’ve always tried to maintain autonomy and ultimately work with interesting people.
I was lucky to work with Bound, Rob, Joe and Lillian and Rory Clifford and help them build their website. They are 4 people’s practise I really admire. People who were lovely to work with, have admirable virtues, of patience and considerations.
Why does working in the arts become synonymous with being horrible, you
can be nice and be successful, you can be both?
There are people in the art -as it were- world who are mean and cut throat but at what cost. I'm fortunate enough to not work with those people, is it worth compromising your integrity for a few hundred pounds?
Maybe for thousand though haha!
What’s on the horizon? What’s coming up next?
I don't know. If I was to reflect on this whole interview I think I’ve been quite pessimistic, maybe that’s who I am.
HW: You sell yourself short a little bit.
AR: I think I will always do that, I think people think it’s a big ploy, I’m not very smart and don’t have the lexicon to talk about my practise. I am taking a break and reflecting, I've not stopped for the last 3 and half years through uni. There’s always client work, there’s always emails. It has had a negative impact on the way I live.
I am accepting that we are in this horrible time, living through history, if we are living through this time, we probably don't need graphic design and there’s only so many bootleg logos the world needs. I think what’s happening all across the world is very serious, the Burger King rebrand is not that serious, the CIA rebrand might be more serious?
I’ve been drawing a lot of Union Jacks. I’m planning paintings and hoping they turn into big scale pieces, but not putting a rush on myself. I have a need to have an output at all times especially if I’ve not posted something online, even though that’s not a measurement of my practice.
It would be lovely to be part of exhibitions, I was going to be in three exhibitions which
have been postponed. I find myself in a position where I want to help other people and I have started part time working at the uni.
I need the balance more of reading and watching things. Have you ever watched the film ‘Office Space’? There is a great bit where a character is asked, "what would you do if you won the lottery?". My answer is I would sit around and do nothing, that's where I'm at. Teaching is rewarding, client work is rewarding but for years I’ve been working 6 or 7 day weeks. I'm very happy to work 3 days a week and sit and read. Being a student offers a harmonious state, cooking for friends, sharing beers but lockdown has offered an opportunity to do nothing. I was still working really hard in the first two lockdowns but now I see the value in doing nothing.
Have you ever done nothing?
Not because you're hungover or depressed, just to do nothing. It's incredible, you need to try it, if you can watch two films in a day and still feel productive that is a good day. And riding bikes!
That’s my horizon, turn off Strava, put some Jungle on and go for a bike ride.
HW: And that feels like the perfect place to end it there, we've covered everything.
AR: Cos Jungle is contrary to popular belief, massive.
Quote me on that.
As you can hear throughout the interview, Amrit has a continued cynical streak in his being that hits home with his use of contextual references and general knowledge. That alone is what Taxi Cab Industries is to us, a cynical view on a world through an intelligent mind.
View all of Amrit's work here - https://www.instagram.com/taxicabindustries/?hl=en