Skip to content

Graphic Design as Fine Art: Nate Reifke’s ‘Don’t Stop’ Exhibit features in Riverside’s Brandstater Gallery

A stormy Sunday night in Riverside sees a packed Brandstater Gallery for Nate Reifke’s graphic design exhibit ‘Don’t Stop.’

It’s not odd to see T-shirts and skateboards in a gallery environment. The Streets near Fairfax and Melrose in Los Angeles are filled with curated, gallery-style streetwear collections. It is odd to see an art gallery opening packed to capacity in Riverside on a rainy Sunday night.

I slipped into the Brandstater Gallery on the La Sierra University campus right before the latest “Pineapple Express” storm hit town. On display was an exhibit of graphic design work by Nate Reifke called Don’t Stop. I met Gallery Director Tim Musso, who invited me to check out the gallery and have a snack while we waited for Reinke to arrive for his Q&A session in the attached auditorium. T-shirts, skateboards, and snowboards hung on the walls and from the ceiling—pencil sketches of what became finished designs next to them.

Graphics Design shows in typically fine art environments are always fun. The variety of formats, themes, and aesthetic genres that come with completing tasks for clients sets apart what designers do from the singular thematic focus that many exhibits featuring fine artists portray.

Reifke’s work ranges from punk rock didactics to surrealist imagery. From heavy black lines against a white background, nods to National Park WPA posters, and more traditional designer fare like logos and geometric linework.

Reifke has made a career in action sports and outdoor brands. He lives in the Sierra Nevadas, where the outdoors drive much of the economy. Not all of the over 300 pieces displayed were topical, but when they were, the environment was, at least subtly, there. Reifke showed mastery of many forms and genres, displaying a sense of whimsy and boldness even across disparate media.

Reifke arrived and everyone packed into the amphitheater where he answered questions from a panel of professors, designers, and the audience. The audience was attentive, and Reifke was engaging.

Aside from questions about the logistics of creating art as a profession, specifically on contract, most questions were philosophical about the value and meaning of what he created. I appreciated his candor in sharing how he managed so much of his output, being subject to the demands of his clients. Especially in the world of action sports, where the object for which you are designing is expected to be consumed. Consumed in the traditional artistic sense of being observed, in the capitalist sense of being purchased, and most uniquely in the literal sense of being used until destroyed.

I enjoyed the evening. The event was well organized, and the content, both visual and in conversation with the artist, was exceptional. I hope I get invited back to the Brandstater Gallery for future exhibits, and I encourage you, if you have any interest in art, to check out what really is a hidden treasure in Riverside.