Keeping life simple, pure, real
By SUE WATSON
|Jerry Plunk and his award-winning design for the “Mississippi Circuit Ride”|
photographer and designer Jerry Plunk is making powerful statements
nowadays in his work, his community and family life. The statements are
simple, pure and deeply resonate with the audience he seeks to
communicate with in his commercial and fine art.
is employed with Oden in Memphis, Tenn. He is very involved in Byhalia
United Methodist Church and the community. He is a member of Prayznmor,
the church’s praise band.
One of his posters,
“Mississippi Circuit Ride,” recently won the Gold Addy Award entered in
competition in Memphis and went to the district level in Baton Rouge,
La., last month. From there, it was moved to Washington, D.C., for the
national judging May 9.
His award-winning poster
- was produced for the United Methodist Church to celebrate its annual
bicycle tour - which is primarily a means for the Methodists to enjoy
“a little history, a little fellowship and a lot of exercise.”
Jim Biedenharn helped organize the event last year, which included a
28-mile bicycle ride along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Health/wellness
is one of five initiatives adopted by the Annual Conference in 2005.
An interview with Plunk, in question and answer format, allows the artist to tell his story in his own words.
How did you come to produce the poster Mississippi Circuit Ride for
which you won the advertising industry’s Gold Addy award in Memphis
- A. Great question, and to be frank, it
just happened. Back about eight years ago myself and a few other
“Odenites” were having lunch and were thumbing through some of our
design magazines that we get and on the cover of one was a poster
design for the French Open.
- We discussed how it
was so powerful because it was so simple and said so much by being so
“less,” if you will. It was a tennis racket turned upside down, handle
up and cropped right above the head of the racket. There were no words
except for “The French Open.”
- We talked about
how the criteria for a design like that has to be just right in order
for it to work so boldly and yet be so minimalistic. It was a once in a
blue-moon type of thing. I thought to myself at that point, I want be
able to do something that is simple and yet that strong one day. From
then on I focused on how to keep chipping away at the stone until
things were right before becoming anemic in design. If it doesn’t work,
you simply add back on but you also keep the eye busier which is not
always a good thing.
- The church asked me to help
them advertise for the Circuit Ride 2008 for the state of Mississippi
and I accepted. I did some research at bike shops and online to find
out how to approach this. Of course the word cross and the obvious play
on cross-country kept coming to mind. I knew I wanted this to be
simple, clean and the most powerful thing it could be, just like faith.
I studied bikes and the different frames and how I could photograph
parts and angles. I started looking for a cross in the shape of bike
parts and as I stood at one of the local bike stores looking at a bike
up on a rack, I noticed how it resembled the letter “T” from the front.
I was zeroing in at that point and started doing some serious chipping
away. I turned it every which way I could and didn't stop until I found
what I wanted.
- I borrowed my neighbor’s bike
(he had the straightest handle bars), took it into our studio, shot
some photos and there you have it.
- Q. Is this
award given out by a professional association and did you submit it on
your own or did your employer recommend it to you?
My creative director, Bret Terwilleger, and associate creative
director, Jeff Blankenship, both encouraged me to enter this into the
local/regional Addy competition in Memphis this year for 2008 artwork.
Michael Guthrie, an art director at Oden, encouraged me to enter it
into multiple categories. It then was forwarded onto the district level
in Baton Rouge, La. It won a Gold Addy there as well and was forwarded
onto the national level in Washington, D.C. That judging was May 8.
I saw some of the product designs on Oden’s website. Are there any
particular ones that you have had a hand in that people would recognize
by us mentioning them?
- A. Absolutely.
International Paper, Poag & McEwen, FedEx, First Tennessee, Tractor
Supply, Memphis Redbirds and the list goes on. One of the really cool
aspects of Oden is that they make sure that one person is not locked
down to only certain clients. We spread everything around as needed and
try to keep very fresh views. Examples of our commercial art used in
advertising can be viewed online at www.oden.com.
Talk a little about working with a group of people, since art is always
open to interpretation and artists are typically very protective of
their ideas and right of originality and expression.
Commercial art is very collaborative and it is very important that we
stay close as a team and as a working family, if you will. That is
heavily fostered at Oden and we have very little turn-over here because
- We are all artists at heart and we all
have that right of expression. Some are just more expressive than
others and once you find that little nugget in yourself or someone
else, you cultivate it like a seed and feed it good nutrients and with
everyone, you learn to respect a different view...or a different type
- It truly comes down to how we feel
about each other. At the heart of anyone is that feeling and how they
express it can be very personal. We have to respect that. It is a cycle
that can go up or down depending on how you have a bearing on it.
interpretation: that is what makes simplicity stronger...there is less
to have to interpret and that lends tremendous strength.
I enter our offices in Memphis, I see two pieces of art that we have
hanging in our foyer that state it best – “Making the simple
complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely
simple, that’s creativity.” - Charles Mingus.
In commercial art you are trying to satisfy a customer. Are you active
in the art community and do you exhibit in the Memphis area galleries?
Although trying to satisfy the customer is normally the goal in
commercial art, somewhere down the line, it really boils down to how
the end user or consumer feels about other people or the product that
they are interested in.
- I am very active with my
photography at work and outside of work. I have not been exhibiting any
of my work in galleries but have been encouraged to do so by many at
Oden and outside of Oden and I hope to be able to do that soon. I do
keep a running site going of my work outside of Oden at jerryplunk.com
that has a lot more to do with fine art.
are involved in your church and contribute as a musician and as a
talented artist there at BUMC. Say something about the role church and
community play in your life - and your family life - if you are married
and have children.
- A. Wow! How do I start? This is like hitting an artisan spring.
am heavily involved at The Flame (an outreach of BUMC) as an artist in
many respects – video, design, marketing, The Flame’s new identity
system, the praise band’s logo, the praise band’s fulltime drummer,
stand-in guitarist and mandolin player and every now and then they let
me sing when the crowd is smaller. We try very hard to foster a truly
real environment in which to worship and regain clarity in our lives.
We also keep in mind that The Flame is just a facility and the real
truth is in our hearts with Christ.
- The people at BUMC help whole-heartedly and are proud to jump right back in with you if you need it.
so much happening around us all of the time, we all know how difficult
it is to keep centered and to keep our priorities where they need to
- The more I am involved with my church
family, the better my life flourishes as a leader at my church, in my
family and as an artist for our community.
where I start seeing opportunities to show I care. It pops up all over
the place. The Flame is located not in a shiny polished area, but
perfectly situated around a community that always needs help.
I go to work in downtown Memphis at Oden during the week, I see even
more opportunities to just step out and find out what people are really
- People all have huge stories to tell
and, once you gain their trust, man...the opportunities pour out. It is
really a matter of how you see life and how badly you really want to
- Dr. Jim Biedenharn said this just last week, “The true measure of success really comes down to how we feel about each other....”
- This sums up my approach to all of the things that I am interested in. It’s just that easy.
am married to a beautiful lady named Stefanie and have two equally
beautiful little girls named Olivia Neelly and Hadley Grey.
three are huge in my success as a husband, a dad and especially as an
artist. My little girls help me see the purity in life. They can’t help
it. They just see it that way and as an artist and a grown man, I have
to understand how that is done every day in order to understand how to
break through the conformities and be real. That seems backwards but it
is truly that way.
Q. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in art?
I was born in Memphis in 1970. My father was an engineer for Frisco RR
and transferred about every three years. So we left Memphis when I was
3 and went to Cape Girardeau, Mo., then to Springfield then to a little
town outside of Ada, Okla., called Latta.
1980-81, we came to Olive Branch and that’s where I really call home.
Throughout all of the moving, my mother and I spent a lot of time
together as my father traveled and stayed busy with the RR.
was an only child and my parents were pretty traditional so we didn’t
have a lot of bells and whistles around the house. It was just play
outside and build stuff with sticks or come inside and draw and build
something with sticks - no cable and no video games.
I was at school during the day, my mother started teaching painting
classes on the side. She taught oil and acrylics and often sketched
with pencils or charcoal. So I was usually intrigued by her work and
started drawing things for her to paint which usually consisted of what
she liked - barns, fences, and very natural settings. Before I knew it,
she was painting on my model airplanes and I was drawing her cotton
bolls and barns to paint.
- We had our own
bartering system! That eventually led to me sculpting things from bars
of soap and wood which I still have. Art classes took over from there
at Olive Branch.
Q. Where were you educated?
I have to give credit to my first formal art teacher, John Chapman,
during high school. He really pushed my mind and I think I found myself
during that time and realized that I wanted to pursue art in some form
as a career.
- I began my college level classes
at the University of Memphis and found that photography and graphic
design really made me think in ways that seemed to completely consume
me in a very fulfilling way.
- I knew it was
truly a passion and to be able to do that as a career was just
something that I had faith might happen someday. I graduated in 1995,
magna cum laude with a BFA with a concentration in graphic design.
Q. How did you get your career off the ground?
I worked at night in order to put myself through college during the day
so I had to make good grades in order to keep it going. That’s just the
way I was brought up.
- By the time I had
graduated from college, I had moved up in the company several levels to
an operations management position at the age of 25. It was good money
but I knew that it was not me. I really wanted to pursue a career in
art. After a brief stint in a similar operations position, I was ready
to make the move.
- So on my way home from work
one day, I found an ad in the classifieds for Oden. They were looking
for someone with a degree in graphic design to work on their client’s
project. The client happened to be the same company I worked for to put
myself through school.
- I thought that was an
awesome way to stay connected to both sides. Things were just falling
into place. On the day I was headed in for the interview with Oden in
1998, I made all the green lights, the sun was shining and my favorite
song came on the radio. It was just meant to be. I have now been with
Oden for over a decade and through that time have been truly honored to
work on major accounts with Fortune 100 companies around the nation and
with people who are not only talented to their core, but are just real
- I am now a production art manager by title and photographer/designer by talent.