by FIGHT! contributor Romey Louangvilay
Few MMA fans know the name Jacob Bannon but they know the artist’s style. His audience is limited but his work is influential, a precursor to the noisy, layered prints favored by MMA gear companies.
Bannon, an artist, entrepreneur, and musician, began designing demo covers and t-shirts for his band at the age of 13. He refers to himself as a “life artist,” because of the way his art seamlessly incorporates his influences – fine art, heavy metal, and skateboard/BMX culture – and in turn influences everything he touches. The designer rose to prominence in the late 1990s hardcore scene when his designs became synonymous with his critically acclaimed hardcore punk band Converge.
A 1998 graduate of the Art Institute of Boston, is often credited with inventing the so-called skull with wings aesthetic that became so popular in the punk underground and mixed martial arts scenes that today knockoffs are available in stores like Target and Marshalls. “I do see a lot of visuals that I’ve made in the past currently influencing visuals in mainstream culture,” Bannon says. “Emulation is a form of flattery. It tells me that I am creating imagery that is powerful, and that’s a meaningful thing for me.”
(Jacob Bannon created this image for the Deathwish Records release “Sundowning” by This Is Hell.)
According to Paul Gorman, author of The Look: Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion, punk style was an anti-fashion that was perceived by the masses as aggressive and intimidating. That attitude found its match in mixed martial arts, and Bannon began following the sport in 1996. “I personally see a lot of parallels between the aggressive music community and the fight world,” Bannon said.
With fighters sporting this style, the masses continue to incorporate it in their everyday wear. “I’ve noticed a clear influence that the fight world has had on street wear, from preps incorporating a dagger pendant on their wardrobe to jocks wearing ‘noisy’ graphics on wovens,” says fashion stylist David A. McKnight. “Whenever fashion and comfort merges effortlessly, it’s a welcomed change.”
(Jacob Bannon created this image for the Deathwish Records release “To Die For” by Integrity.)
Bannon recently came full circle by sponsoring select fighters. In 2008, Deathwish Records began sponsoring Joe and Dan Lauzon, Toby Grear and several local grapplers. “We just want to help out like minded individuals attain their goals within their respective combat sports,” Bannon added. “As I have some affiliations with local shows and the regional MMA community, most, if not all, of our Deathwish sponsored MMA fighters have come through friends in some way.”
Though Bannon started designing for his own band, his artistry has continued to inspire mainstream culture today. From the clothes the fighters wear to the rock music played during bouts and fight teasers, his influential “life art” is well documented in mainstream society by the people who wear it and brands like Silver Star, Affliction, Eternal Clothing and many others that incorporate his aesthetic in their pieces.
“I just enjoy making powerful art and design work,“ Bannon says. “I just try to create the best visuals I can for a project. It’s not about asserting my style; it’s about adapting it to the visual problems in front of me.”
(Jacob Bannon created this image for the Converge albume “Jane Doe.”)
Watch the video for “No Heroes,” the title track from Converge’s 2006 album.