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It’s the unveiling of 1800 Tequila’s Essential Artists Series for 2012—which in previous years has featured artists such as Gary Baseman and Yuko Shimizu— and the designs are dark. Comic-book, tattoo, and graffiti-inspired graphics play off of black backgrounds in smokey shades of blue, gold, and crimson through a glass bottle of 80-proof tequila. It’s hard to pick just one to look at, each one is fighting for your attention.

They’re a total departure from the respectable if stolid quality of the typical 1800 Tequila bottle, which without these splashes of imagery is a bit like a doorstop or an inkwell—small, flat, a bit bottom-heavy. There’s a blue shade to remind you about tequila’s central ingredient—agave—and an authoritative serif typeface to establish that it’s the year 1800, not the beginning of a phone number.

DianaLevine5.jpg1800 Tequila and Spin Magazine Essential Artists Visionaries Party. June 13th, 2012 – New York City. Photos by Diana Levine (DianaLevine.com)

There’s nothing wrong with this approach—there are some very complicated liquor bottles in the world and few of them are memorable—but the Essential Artists series is there to remind you that tequila was distilled just shortly after the Aztecs and the conquistadors collided— in other words, it’s not just a strong liquor, it is also a strong liquor with a wild past, one that should be celebrated.

So who better to capture that sense of excitement and wildness than some of New York, London, and San Francisco’s most dynamic graphic artists?

DianaLevine4.jpg1800 Tequila and Spin Magazine Essential Artists Visionaries Party. June 13th, 2012 – New York City. Photos by Diana Levine (DianaLevine.com)

An event like this calls for music— brought by Spin magazine who provided DJs J2K and Nick Catchdubs— and the laid back punk-inspired summer-brat music of Wavves. If you haven’t heard “King of the Beach”, let’s fix that right now.

DianaLevine3.jpg1800 Tequila and Spin Magazine Essential Artists Visionaries Party. June 13th, 2012 – New York City. Photos by Diana Levine (DianaLevine.com)

DianaLevine.jpg1800 Tequila and Spin Magazine Essential Artists Visionaries Party. June 13th, 2012 – New York City. Photos by Diana Levine (DianaLevine.com)

Each artist brought a different look and feel to the label: Kai and Sunny depicted the agave plant as the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl. Tara McPherson played with Day of the Dead flower-and-skull imagery—and those hypnotic eyes that are her calling card. If you find yourself locking eyes with an illustration, it’s probably hers.

But by far the most anarchic imagery was by skateboard and comic book artist Nathan Fox, who brought to life a monstrous hoodie-clad Aztec high-priest and his human sacrifice. It’s not clear to me if the priest in question is actually a sentient agave plant-monster or if he’s wearing a mask—in either case, the guy seems dangerous.

Sandro “Misk 1” Tchikovani, whose sense of depth and texture separates him from many other artists in his field, played upon kaleidoscopic patterns hidden in a Dia De Los Muertos skull, and took the clever approach of letting his graffiti play in the background, rather than front and center, as if he was playing a game with the space in the label.

Stephen Bliss’s label perfectly complimented his signature Grand Theft Auto illustrations: a woman turning away from a snake hatching from its egg, a giant rose not as much adorning her hair as blooming from it. It’s impressive that just as with his Grand Theft Auto work, you can’t look at it and not find yourself trying to piece together a narrative to the illustration. Alas, there’s no game or comic book to explain it (yet?).

DianaLevine1.jpg1800 Tequila and Spin Magazine Essential Artists Visionaries Party. June 13th, 2012 – New York City. Photos by Diana Levine (DianaLevine.com)

But London’s ilovedust had a unique response to the label challenge by conjuring a scene from the Revolution of 1910, Mexico’s bloodiest and definitive historical turning point. There’s something very rebellious and likable about filling a small label with as many characters and as much history as possible—not to mention bypassing the year 1800, the liquor’s namesake, by one hundred and ten years.

DianaLevine2.jpg1800 Tequila and Spin Magazine Essential Artists Visionaries Party. June 13th, 2012 – New York City. Photos by Diana Levine (DianaLevine.com)

Only 1800 of these bottles will be produced, and given that there have only been three other Essential Artists series since 2008, we’re a long way off from the next series. Take a good long look when you see one.