I'm 26 years young, born in Hollywood, California. At the age of 8 we up and moved to London, England. After some healthy years of skateboarding and criminal mischief, we moved to Detroit when I was 16. I loved Detroit, but being a big city kid at heart, I moved to New York when I was 20. I've been here ever since. I'm single, no kiddies and ride the C train everyday.
You are a main figure on the Urban Toy scene and one of the designers for Kidrobot. What are Urban Toys? What was their genesis?
Urban Toys are 'Fine Art' toys created in limited edition and based on the work of significant Graffiti Artists or inspired by Hip Hop culture in general. The term 'Designer Toys' refers to the broader spectrum of fine art toys that aren't necessarily 'Urban' in nature.
The trend began in Hong Kong with Michael Lau creating 'one of a kind' hip hop action figures for art galleries. Their popularity and exclusivity exploded the scene from that point on.
The beautiful thing is that the whole genre has now come full circle. People like graffiti artists SEEN and DOZE, who originated hip hop style are able to make toys because of people (like Michael Lau) who were inspired by them in the first place.
How did you get involved with Kidrobot?
Well, I was working with Paul Budnitz the owner of Kidrobot very early on. We were working on an animated film (he was directing and I was art-directing). Then Kidrobot became so popular, we stopped working on the film and went into toy production full-time. I ended up designing the logo as well as most of the first wave of Kidrobot toys.
I was previously freelancing illustration & toy design as well as moonlighting graffiti art, so this was the merging of all my favorite worlds. Truly a dream. Thanks Paul!
Some people say that Urban Vinyl Toys are a continuation of the Pop Art movement. Do you agree?
I completely agree with this. ’POP Art’ is art that incorporates the elements of popular modern culture and mass media trends. Urban Vinyl Toys are exactly that.
The largest global trend in fashion, music, film, television and even lifestyle today is HIP HOP.
When people buy one of these toys they are buying a unique piece of that 'Popular' culture.
Do you believe there should be a line between art and consumerism?
It depends on how it's approached. Fine Art tends to be elitist in nature and inaccessible to the masses (or too expensive at least). When you think of consumerism you think of cheap, accessible products, mass-produced FOR the masses.
Designer toys are a happy medium between these two extremes: a populist Fine Art product that's affordable, yet still limited.
What’s a Dunny? Where did the idea for the collection originate? What’s your favorite Dunny?
Dunny is a designer based Trading Figure. It's 3 inches tall and made from Roto-Cast Soft Vinyl.
The idea was to create a simple, beautiful figure that can be interpreted by different artists in custom paint designs and produced in limited edition. I originally designed Dunny to be a one of a kind 8-inch figure, but while Paul and I were trying to develop the perfect trading figure, we realized the essence of my original Dunny was perfect. So, we simplified it and ran with it. A lot of credit has to go to the sculptors too, who actually perfected the final toy.
How does it make you feel to know that so many people have your work in their homes?
It's strange because you come to know your designs so well, they become a part of you. When they're mass-produced, It's almost as weird as someone you don't know having a picture of you in their house!
But it's an honor to be able to communicate with people visually in such a personal way. Over time those toys become personal to them and a part of their lives too. That feels great.
I also feel I have a lot in common with fans that particularly like my designs. I'm always trying to find out if they like them for the same reasons I do...most of the time they do. I love that.
You recently formed THUNDERDOG. What is this company about? Why did you decide to form it? Does this mean you will be doing less designing for Kid Robot?
THUNDERDOG is a full-service design studio and toy production company based in DUMBO, Brooklyn. We focus on everything from Toy Design & Illustration to Graphic Design & Animation. It's a pretty exciting venture & I love working with a team (Superdeux and Lucas FILTH Irwin). It's also nice not to work at home anymore!
And fortunately Kidrobot IS a client of ours, so Paul and I have been able to continue our creative relationship. I still do a lot of design, toy design for them and toy management for them, I also have a new toy coming out from Kidrobot soon called SKUMBO! Keep yours ears open for that one...it's pretty cool.
Who do you design them for?
That's a tough question, because I started out only designing to satisfy myself, staying true to my own levels of quality in design.
The audience then established itself based on their opinion of what they like. Taste isn't particular to one kind of person, so I guess these toys are being designed for all people of that similar taste (who happen to be black, white, young, old, male & female).
It's remarkable how diverse the Designer Toy public is. At a toy signing you'll have a 50 year old standing next to a 15 year old, equally excited about getting their toy signed!
How long does it take to go from the design to the finished product?
Anywhere from 3 months to a year. Sometimes longer. It's a very long and thorough process.
You actually started out as a hard core graffiti artist. How would you describe your graffiti art? How has your work changed over time?
Well, I don't know about 'Hard-Core'. When compared to the REAL hard core graffiti artists like Dr. Revolt and newer writers like How & Nosm, I wouldn't put myself in that category. But I've definitely done some work in more than a few area codes.
I'd describe my street art as loose. I like to go out with brushes and Gesso as well as spray paint. It's not the classical graffiti method, but it serves my purposes when I want to express myself. I'm definitely not a 'Letter' specific graff artist either, I focus more on figures and characters.
Overtime, the characters have gone from more realistic female figures to more iconographic cartoons and logos. I would definitely say the change is a direct result of how much toy & package design I've been doing lately. The mission changed from 'Make a pretty painting' to 'Brand'.
You went to SVA for a bit. What did you think of art school? Do you think it is necessary?
I found art school itself utterly useless. I self taught myself everything I know, yet I found myself in debt to an institution. That still bothers me.
An art school is JUST a business and really didn't help me get anywhere. I dropped out early and without a degree obtained the same representation as my former Illustration teachers (go figure).
The only thing I cherished about art school were the professors. I was lucky to meet some great ones along the way (Dame Darcy,Tom Thewes, Lester Johnson, Eric Doescher to name a few). Much thanks to you guys.
What/who are some of your influences?
Okay, here's my list of artists, things and genres that changed me forever:
John K. and everything SPUMCO, Mode 2, Robert Williams, Jeff Koons, Glenn Barr, Takashi Murikami, Looney Toons of the 1940s (Bosko), Robert Bliss (and/or Simon Bisley!), Stuart Harrison, Akira, Chris Ware, Futura, Gustav Klimt, Ed Big Daddy Roth, San Rio, 2000 AD Magazine, Elephants in general, Os Gemeos, Diego Rivera, George Petty (and the golden age of Pin-ups), Silver Surfer, Range Maruta, Rabindra, Transformers, Cheech Wizard, Mark Dancey, and parade balloons.
Of all the things you’ve done, what’s your favorite?
The hand done custom projects are my favorite. From motorcycles to toys, the large one of a kind pieces give me the greatest satisfaction. I painted a piece of furniture for Kartell and donated it to charity, but it's the one piece I miss the most.
Any dream projects?
My dream is to do over size toys. 5 to 6 feet tall...actually a parade balloon would be the ultimate dream project. An army of giant balloon elephants crashing the MACY's parade would be great!
When you collaborate with others on a project, how does it work? Please give examples of some of your favorite or more interesting collaborations.
I've been doing a lot of 3-D art collaborations (as in 3-D glasses) lately. Normally I'll do half of a design and email it to the other person, they'll add to it and send it back, then I'll make it 3-D and produce a set of prints.
Although some of my favorite collaborations come from helping other artists create designs for my Dunny toy. In most cases it's a real honor to have their graphics on a toy I designed, so I really value their collaboration.
You currently have a show up at Fuse Gallery (in the back of LIT Lounge) called Supercalligrafik. What’s this show about?
Supercalligrafik is a 2 man show between myself and Jeff Soto. He's an amazing painter and I thought our work would go well together, so I asked him to do it. He came to town and we made it happen.
I'm really happy with the show, it's up until December 14th..go see it!
It features over 40 paintings, new (secret) toys & a 3D collaboration between the 2 of us.
Give an example of something you witnessed or experienced that had you think "only in New York” or "God damn, I'm glad I live in this city."
Every time I take a cab home to Brooklyn I cross the Manhattan Bridge and I soak in the view of lower Manhattan behind me. I never get tired of it. But I really, miss the towers.
Since this is the "city that never sleeps", tell us a good 3am story.
I remember convincing a guy in a giant monster costume to come drink in my friend’s bar on 2nd avenue...turned out he was 50 and mentally unstable (I had no idea).
Long story short, he ended up Djing, rocking the Mic, and dancing until he fell into a trash pile outside.
I helped him into a taxi and made sure he got home...he told me he had the time of his life!
You're in a time machine that can take you back in time. What day in NYC history would you go back to?
1980! I'd be painting trains all day and all night.
Billy's Topless is now a bagel shop, no more smoking in bars or restaurants, Times Square has been Disneyfied, what's next?
The mafia doing reality shows...oh wait?
If you could change just one thing about New York City, what would it be?
RENT! and cost of living in general. It's getting way out of hand.
What source(s) do you turn to for news?
National Public Radio whenever I can.
What advice would you give Bush as he embarks on his second term?
Resign! For the good of the world and the good of your children!
Bloomberg, 4 more years?
I really hope not.
It's the year 2024, what do you think will be the hot topic of discussion at the water cooler?
I don't think robots will drink water.
Interview by Mindy Bond