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A New Project From Marcel The Shell’s Co-Creator: Revealing The World’s Secret Beauty

Dean Fleischer-Camp’s TOP Posters are so on the nose, there just has to be a twist.

“Food? Yes!”
“It Can Be Yours…Money”
“Leisure! Ocean Sunset”

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On their own, these phrases are achingly axiomatic–dull even. But slap them on stock photos of exactly what they’re preaching and something interesting happens: You’re suddenly faced with something so glaringly obvious you begin to wonder if you’re missing something–no poster can be that simple, right? Well, yes and no.

TOP Posters is a new project from filmmaker and Marcel the Shell co-creator Dean Fleischer-Camp, and are on sale now ranging from $13 to $35, depending on the size.

Why shell out (haha) cash for something so ordinary? Fleischer-Camp explains how TOP Posters started and the beauty of simplicity.

Where did the idea for TOP Posters come from?

These are part of a larger movement in my work toward a more neutral and sincere aesthetic, but the idea to make posters came from directing a weird TV pilot, where the characters were sort of like human cartoons. I was interested in decorating their homes with very generic wall art, sort of the way homes in The Sims looked in the ’90s when they were limited by PC processing speed. Early Sims homes would have absurd touches like three of the same exact painting in one room. In my search I found that prop houses actually carry stuff like this, wall art that is designed to be somewhat generic so as not to pull focus away from the actors or whatever else is going on in a scene. I started making my own because it’s such an interesting contradiction: a poster that doesn’t want to be seen. I’m shy myself so I can relate.

Any reason for the name “TOP”?

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Obviously it’s a superlative, but it isn’t very sophisticated. There’s an innocence and a sweetness in that, which I think tends to get lost in sophistication. To paraphrase John Waters: “The more polished something is, the less you believe what it’s telling you.” It’s always a trade-off, but I try to err on the side of sweetness.

These posters are so simple, but knowing your work, there’s something deeper (or comedically astute) at play, right?

It’s probably a mistake to intellectualize anything I do, but I am interested in banality and cliché. We’re in what I would call an “additive” cultural moment, one in which people are interested in growing complexity. Simple beauty is overlooked. We don’t trust it. The Surrealists believed that everyday objects possessed a secret intensity, a kind of erotic-poetic dimension, but that we were blind to it because our day-to-day relationship with the object was so narrowly focused on its practical usage. This is the basic idea behind their artistic dislocations and “assemblages,” through which they felt we could begin to see the object anew and thus reawaken its natural vitality. Visual clichés are similar in that our over-familiarity with them obscures hidden depths. So much of the things we consider “cliché” are actually timeless expressions of human need, desire, angst, etc. We repeat them ad nauseam because they are true and irreducible.


These images and design look decidedly ’80s–any specific reason for that era?

That era is appropriate because the late ’80s was the dawn of our obsession with irony, sarcasm, and snark. As a result, these very direct approaches to advertising began to look square and even a little menacing or manipulative around that time. Up until that point, I think we actually trusted corporations, god knows why, and sincerity wasn’t just something we rolled our eyes at. However, I only chose the ’80s and ’90s because I was using stock photos. In an ideal world, I probably would have shot/directed these myself and avoided the “retro” thing altogether.

Walk me through your process for creating these posters: choosing the image, choosing the phrase, etc.

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I’ve been a fan of certain stock photo collections for a while now, so some of these were already in a folder on my desktop. I jotted a long list of phrases and ad campaigns. I have a lot that didn’t made the cut for whatever reason. One of my faves is “ROMANCE: It can happen anywhere,” which is true and kind of scary when you think about it!

Got any future plans for the posters, other than selling as many as humanly possible?

I make about a nickel off each one, so I’m not concerned with sales. But I am grateful to those who buy them! I love imagining people opening the mail and receiving their poster. There’s something deeply sweet and a little heartbreaking about that. Regarding the future, I hope I get to use them in a film. “Earth IS Cool” could be my Red Apple Cigarettes.

About the author

KC works covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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