Buff Monster made a name for himself by putting up thousands of hand-silkscreened posters across Los Angeles, and other far-away places. His work is characterised by happy characters living in brightly-colored bubbly landscapes. Along with meticulously executed paintings, he has created a wide range of merchandise ranging from prints and stickers, to vinyl toys and plush.
The color pink, a symbol of confidence, individuality and happiness, is present in everything he creates, and he often cites heavy metal music, ice cream and Japanese culture as major influences. After 15 years living and working in Hollywood, he recently moved to Brooklyn.
Buff Monster recently flew out to Berlin to participate in Pictoplasma, for their 10th anniversary, speaking on stage about his latest projects and presenting his latest solo show Journey into the Dark. We caught up with him as he was setting up at Retramp gallery to chat about the show, and the story behind his Melty Misfits series…
You recently uprooted from California and moved to the East Coast – how’s that working out?
For a long time I thought I’d be happy living anywhere but L.A, I was there for like 15 years. I like to feel I was good for L.A and L.A was good to me, I moved there in 1997, but I guess I felt New York would be a good life experience, and it’s awesome. It’s been everything I hope it would be and more.
What’s your relationship with Pictoplasma?
I spoke at New York in 2013, so this is the first time I’ve been to Berlin for Pictoplasma. I’m looking forward to catching up with a few old friends and meeting the rest of the artists and speakers. Nychos is in town and we just painted a big wall in Hawaii a couple of months back, so it’ll be great to catch up.
How would you describe yourself to someone who isn’t familiar with your work or what you do?
I would say that I’m an artist. That’s about it. I don’t consider myself a ‘character designer’; it’s too specific a label.
The exhibition here is called Journey into the Dark – what’s the story behind the artwork?
I’ve got these big paintings and I’ve always wanted to do some flash sheet type stuff, so I’ve tried to be a little looser with these smaller drawings. Just a bit more freeform, I’ve grouped the drawings together in a way that didn’t really make sense, like they would be placed on a flash sheet.
I also like to play with this idea of art and presentation. I got this old ’80s gumball toy machine a while back – so you could play the machine and get a handmade resin figure that I made. It’s currently at MOCA in L.A. So I like this idea of small art things presented in a way that cheap things would be presented. And that’s partly why I wanted this space [referring to Retramp gallery], somewhere a little rough around the ages. I do normally work with nice galleries and museums, but I like the idea of something a bit.
Can you tell us about these resin sculptures – they’re a new development aren’t they?
Sure, well I’ve been working on these resin sculptures. I started working in resin about six months ago. I had someone casting resin for me, but I needed bigger quantities than he wanted to do produce, so I learned how to do it myself. So I’ve made a ton of molds and cast a bunch of pieces. And for the show, I set out to make some of these free-from sculptures.
So I used some test pulls, or otherwise cast up pieces to use and then assemble them. They’re cast in resin, then I use a resin-style glue, and then once they’re painted, they are coated in a (third) different type of resin. I didn’t know how people would respond to them, but the response has been great. They’re more like studies; plans for bigger figures. I can make molds and maybe even do multiples. It’s a lot of fun.
People know me for making ‘cute things’ but more and more I’m interested in exploring the grotesque. It’s a little darker. With my paintings I start all pieces with a tiny thumbnail, and that’s all I need. I’m trying to be a bit more loose with my technique.
Whilst you’re at the conference you’re going to be talking about the Melty Misfits trading cards, a project you’ve been working on for the last two years. Can you tell us about it?
Yeah, well I made these cards called The Melty Misfits inspired by the Garbage Pail Kids series that was out in the ’80s when I was a kid. It’s the highest quality homage ever made.
I created all original paintings, 5” x 7” the same way the original ones were made. The set is comprised of 30 characters, and just like Garbage Pail Kids, each character has two names. One of the packs contained a golden ticket, which some guy in Canada found, but there are still one-off sketch cards and error cards hidden in some packs. They’re wrapped in vintage style (pink) wax packaging – I work with the only guy on the planet who can make this stuff now, he’s a specialist in old printing technology – they turned out great.
I love collecting misprinted, and miscut Garbage Pail Kid cards; in a way they’re all one of a kind. The production runs were so big back in the ’80s, I don’t know how many they were making, but they were making a lot of cards, and when you’re making so many, things get messed up.
I got connected with this woman who used to sell Garbage Pail Kids by mail order back in the ’80s and she used to have access to all sorts of stuff. She’s like in her 60s or 70s now. She hooked me up with a friend of hers who got me all kinds of crazy, rare misprinted stuff, and that was awesome.
Right now you’re running a Kickstarter campaign for Series 2 – you’ve not crowd funded anything before..?
That’s true. I’ve never crowd funded anything. I’ve always felt a little bit weird about Kickstarter, I wasn’t sure it would be a good look, but then I started to change my mind. In the end Kickstarter wasn’t about raising the money. I need the money to print the cards but it’s not about the money. It’s more about getting people emotionally involved. It’s a very labour-intensive process – doing all the sketches, making all the paintings, checking print proofs – every one of these packs is folded and sealed by hand.
I do a lot of stuff on social media, and I have good fun on that, but I wanted to create a delineation – like if you really want to know what’s up, and you want to pony down some money – even if it’s just a $1 for this Kickstarter campaign, then you’re going to get to see all kinds of cool behind-the-scenes stuff.
Yeah, you’re pretty active on social media, how does it help you?
It’s just part of what it is to be someone in 2014. My Facebook has blown up like crazy over the last year. I just think that it’s important for people to know what I’m up to. But it can be random too. There’s some people who know what my work goes for and get my place in the world, and then there’s other people who just email me on Facebook and say like ‘will you do a drawing for my band?’ [Buff Monster laughs] Who does that!? It’s just kinda crazy.
Talk us through the challenges involved with making the first Melty Misfits packs – was it quite an intensive process?
I was offered an exhibition in April 2012, and got talking to my printer in late 2011 to plan it in, so we could launch the cards at the show – and I remember asking him how soon he would need the artwork to get the cards printed in time and he said end of January.
At that time I had no idea what the cards were going to look like, so I literally had to sit down and figure it all out, and also I had decided that they would have to be airbrushed to fit in with how the original Garbage Pail Kids cards were painted, but I didn’t know how to airbrush, so I had to teach myself this new technique in the space of two weeks.
It was a very intense time learning how to airbrush, buying all the equipment, sketching all the cards, figuring out how it was all going to work – and at no point did I show my guy the artwork, he just gave me the deadline and I went for it. So here we are about two years, planning Series 2.
How have the packs been received? Have they had a positive reception?
Yeah it’s been great, I mean nobody else has created an homage to Garbage Pail Kids on this level, so the die hard fans really appreciate what I’m doing which is awesome.
How is the Melty Misfits Kickstarter campaign going now? Have you seen an increase in engagement on social media as a result?
The Kickstarter campaign is going really well! There isn’t too much time left; I’m really looking to finish strong. But, yes, the success of it comes from my involvement in social media. I don’t think there are too many people that have backed the project that don’t follow me on Facebook, twitter or Instagram.
You’ve also recently been involved in a project with Juxtapoz and Converse – how did that come to happen?
Juxtpoz has been working on this project for Converse called Wall To Wall for a little while now. It’s a great program where they get artists to paint walls and then they become a full page ad on the back of Juxtapoz. I was also one of the few artists selected to have a signature Chuck Taylor (Converse) shoe released. Those are available to buy now.
What’s next for Buff Monster?
Well finishing up the Kickstarter project is the next big thing. It’s an incredibly time-consuming project, so I’ll be plenty busy for the next month or two finishing all the designs and getting the cards printed. I also just moved into a new painting studio, in the Lower East Side in Manhattan. It’s going to allow me to do a bunch of cool secret projects that I have in works. Follow me on social media for more info!