While every beer has its own taste and aroma, these attributes are rarely conveyed at first glance.
It’s impossible to judge a beer through the walls of a dark glass bottle or an aluminum can. With regard to its characteristics, craft beer needs visual representation, and art is the perfect means to achieve that.
This relationship comes alive through the cans and bottles of Bellingham’s Aslan Brewing Co. The company emphasizes the importance of one art form to the other, whether it be through labels, featuring local artists in their brewpub every month or, most recently, via the new mural adorning the wall of the Aslan Depot’s annex building.
The artist responsible for the mural is Connor McPherson, and if you drink Aslan beer, you’ve seen his work before. His illustrations can be found scattered around the brewpub and on their barrel-project bottles, such as the award-winning saison Frances Farmer.
Typically, when it comes to Aslan, McPherson's work is black and white, depicting a person, creature or something in between. They’re usually in peculiar poses, portrayed in deity fashion or worshipping something bizarre, and always elicit curiosity and humor. The mural at the Depot is similar, but includes a vibrant red-and-orange highlight that perfectly ties together the Depot’s outdoor seating space.
“I usually work in pen-and-ink-type stuff,” McPherson says, “that’s where a majority of my thinking gets done. But it’s good to switch things up, and so I try to keep a little rotation of paintings, murals and other things going on.”
McPherson is no stranger to murals; he worked with a nonprofit organization in Seattle for a time, where the primary focus was painting murals with local youth.
“[I] got to help paint all different kinds of murals, some of them my design, some of them other artists’ work, but it was all a great learning experience for me,” he says.
McPherson, originally from Port Orchard, WA, formed connections with Aslan long before the brewery existed, during visits to Bellingham for parties and shows. First, he drew several pieces for Aslan's flagship brewpub on North Forest Street. When the Depot opened, he started creating labels for the bottles that contain their barrel-aged beer.
“Honestly, all of those labels were drawn with little to no knowledge about the beer itself,” McPherson says, laughing. “Sometimes, I would get the beer name and style, so I could work off that, but for the most part Aslan was really great at letting me go my own path.”
In other words, Aslan trusted that McPherson’s work would represent their product well. After establishing a strong relationship with the Aslan crew over the years, it was no surprise he was the artist chosen to paint the Depot mural.
The mural depicts a potbellied man seemingly in a meditative state, surrounded by a banner showing Chinese New Year-esque animals and symbols, such as fish, a moon calendar, a dancing frog and a zebra, one of the Depot’s motifs. It’s simple and intriguing, and if you really look for its meaning, the artwork could symbolize new beginnings.
“Very rarely is there a specific message in my work, at least not that I’m aware of in the beginning,” McPherson says. “Sometimes, when a piece is finished, I look at it and go, ‘Ohhhhh I see it now,’ but it’s almost always when the thing is all done.”
This lack of specific messaging carries through with the moon-calendar concept that appears in many of McPherson's pieces. Traditional moon calendars still determine many religious holidays, but McPherson usually draws just the words, not the actual calendar.
“I just liked the way it looked and sounded,” he says. “And then I kept writing it, slipping it into different drawings or paintings, it almost became a bit of a running joke for me. But I love it because people will inevitably and automatically assign their own meaning to it and that’s totally fine with me.”
Just like with his art, McPherson’s next move is often uncharted, but he enjoys going with the flow. Fresh off a long stay in Australia, he’s back in Washington and ready to take on whatever’s next. Through his travels and art, he’s been able to create for people and companies he cares about and believes in, honing his skill and strengthening his passion.
“I think craft beer and art go so well together because they are both made with intention and passion,” he says. “The brewer is spending all this time and energy to make something they are proud of and it’s the same with art. They are both crafts that require imagination and spirit, but also a strong technical ability. I think people like to see and know that there are real live human hands behind the creation of the final product, whatever that may be.”