For the Love of Minnesota
Artist Adam Turman captures our sense of place with exuberant fun.
Cycling through Minneapolis in 2006, artist Adam Turman photographed buildings and signs he found cool and nostalgic—the Grain Belt Beer sign or the Pillsbury A Mill topped with Pillsbury’s Best Flour. He started creating stylized screen prints of these Twin Cities landmarks, selling them at art fairs and events. He couldn’t make the prints fast enough.
“They sold so well it was ridiculous,” says Turman (B.S. ’99). “I thought, ‘If people like those, I’m going to make more.’”
His body of work celebrating iconic Minnesota scenes, sayings, and sentiments caught on at a time when pride of place in the Land of 10,000 Lakes became a trend. Ultimately, Turman’s success propelled him to transition to a full-time artist in 2012, from being a graphic designer making art on the side.
Today, Turman and one employee run Turman Artwork Company in Golden Valley. He creates a menu of art and custom work for consumers and companies, running the gamut from screen prints and murals to apparel and illustrations. Using the tagline, “Bold Art of Beloved Landmarks,” Turman melds graphic design, comic book and skateboard stylings, and pop culture imagery in an extroverted, energetic style. It celebrates the landscape and the state, often with humor. (Exhibit A: the print “YouBetCha! Let’s have lefse.”)
“It’s relatable,” Turman says. “The work isn’t a perfect scene most of the time, but you can imagine yourself in an environment I create, like the Boundary Waters. I love to make these scenes or icons or images of things people can relate to and put themselves in.”
A graduate of the College of Human Ecology, Turman planned on a career steeped in art and creativity. He heeded advice from his father to get a degree with broad job opportunities, so Turman majored in design communications—a field of study similar to graphic design. He first got experience at design agencies in Minneapolis, which later came in handy.
Turman eventually made his way to the U of M’s College of Continuing Education in a graphic design role. One day, he wandered into its Radio K office to inquire whether the station wanted free gig posters for upcoming concerts? Turman put his web address on the posters to get his name out, which worked—except when fans stole them. “That’s how my freelance got started, and it really blossomed from there,” he says, including his foray into iconic building prints. Today, Turman’s work allows him to channel inspiration for prints from across the state and team with clients on bringing their vision to life, a mix he enjoys. He also does commissioned work for corporate clients.
In addition to vivid art that communicates a brand, Turman believes his diverse clients appreciate his responsiveness—a hallmark of his stints at agencies, he adds. Word gets out when artists are difficult to work with, and word on the street is that Turman delivers, whether it’s murals for the Guthrie Theater and Surly Brewing Company, or playful illustrations on vehicles for Children’s Minnesota.
On adamturman.com, he sells branded merchandise, paintings, and prints—often Minnesota-themed work like pieces featuring Paul Bunyan and Babe, loons and bears, Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge, and the Minnesota State Fair. Turman also has partnerships with sites like the Alumni Association’s MN Alumni Market (mnalumnimarket.com) and Funatic Socks, a company started by his friend, Mike Barr (B.S.B. ’98).
Turman’s ability to capture the essence of Minnesota has given him the art career he always imagined and he’s grateful. “I think I’m finally hitting my stride. I got to paint a kestrel with other birds of prey [on pedestrian tunnels in Northfield]. I got to design a skull and skeleton in flames waving a checkerboard for Indian Motorcycle,” Turman says. “I have a sweet job and I try not to take it for granted.”
Suzy Frisch is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities.