Graffiti Artist, Illustrator, Toy Designer, Company Director; which one did you wake up thinking about first?
Good question. I go to sleep thinking about making art and wake up thinking about paying bills. The first half of the day is dedicated to keeping us all alive and healthy in business so I actually can sleep at night! Weekends…All art and sleeping!
You spent a fair few formative years living in the UK (from ages 8 – 16). Time well spent or years you’d rather forget?
I loved it over there. It made be grow up pretty quick which was a curse and a blessing. I got very independent very early, for which I’m so thankful for. Back then I was a smack talking, brat of a skater kid, so I had good times but got into so much trouble…oh, those were the days!
…and of course, is there any chance of you returning anytime soon?
This may we’re doing a show there. Should be great. I would love to live there again one day… all of my family is there.
Who are your influences now, which artists inspire you to scribble in your sketch pad, fire up the computer or shake a fresh can of paint?
Of all the clients you have worked for, both inside and outside the toy industry, which have been your favourite projects and why?
Hasbro hands down. I love working with them. They come to me with the most fun projects and give me total freedom. They respect my opinion and allow me to be super creative. A lot of the time, they will come to me at the very beginning of a new project and ask me to spew some pure creative energy out for brainstorming sessions. I end up suprising myself with the craziest stuff… I love it.
We’ll throw this one in early, but a VA editors favourite question to catch you off guard. Which Inspector Gadget type inner-gadget would you most like to have and why?
GO – GO – GADGET – X-RAY VISION. BIG TIME.
Are you consciously positioning THUNDERDOG more towards the art market, making collectable art pieces instead of using the platform as a way of making loads of cash in order to become the next totalbrand?
Yes. But it’s hard. We’re not making tons of cash and we have to figure out how to survive as a brand. The obvious answer is to make and sell more toys to a wider audience, but at the risk of what? We want our toys to be precious, limited and expensive! They’re worth it, ya know? It’s a harder road to find the audience for that kind of product.
You’ve said that THUNDERDOG has allowed you to “make really interesting toys that can take risks and push the boundaries of what we’re doing”. Is it not too risky a strategy to always try and push the boundaries?
Yeah, but I’d rather not look back regretting my choices. Unlike many toy businesses, our choices for the toys we make affect our careers as artists. What kind of artist makes his art based on what sells well? The toy business is an outlet for us to make art first and foremost.
Thundermutts have gone down pretty well – they certainly get a strong crowd of people on the messageboards hankering after them – to the point of the membership scheme, and not forgetting to mention the ebay bidding frenzies – how is the series set to continue, and secrets you can reveal to us?
We’re going to keep on doing the right thing and staying true to the concept which is basically: an ultra limited platform with secret concepts hidden inside. Coming up, we’re also doing some THUNDERMUTT minis and a bad ass 5 piece set with Mike Burnett!
And the SPUD, from a toy fan point of view perhaps another platform toy, but the positioning of this product in the market has a slightly different approach, tell us about how you see the differentiation there.
I see it as a step toward furniture. Large, abstract objects that fill the landscape of your home. I love that idea and I like them painted as much as I do blank! I want to do some giant SPUD couches eventually!
There are plenty of companies to look at who have made street focussed product a very profitable business – BAPE, Original Fake etc. What business models or business people inspire you?
10 DEEP the clothing brand. Love their stuff and their personality as a brand.
There have undoubtedly been some iconic pieces produced in the last few years. Artists such as Kaws and Michael Lau have worldwide attention on the next thing they do. Do you think this toy scene is making art history?
Definitely. In 10 years I’m sure it will be a noted phenomenon in art culture.
Do you think that consensus has shifted in the collector’s market and are you consciously steering it towards art collectables rather than designer vinyl?
Well, for us – we’re trying to become a brand of ‘Fine Art Product’, not just toys. So I hope there is interest there. We’d like to make books, jewelery, furniture and anything else that makes us happy and bring it to the public. With collectors having a completist attitude these days (buying everything from a particular artist – skateboards, prints, toys, shoes, wallpapers, t-shirts etc), it definitely seems like the market is opening up to a wide array of dope product. Good for us and good for you!
What have been the stand out toys of the last few years for you? Which have really raised the stakes and taken your imagination in different directions?
Definitely KAWS. As I’ve gotten to know him over the last couple of years I’ve started to respect his work even more. Each piece brings something new to the idea he began with. I think this is largely due to the absolute control he has over his toys. That is so important, but it’s also a luxury most toy designers/artists don’t have. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have a brand tell you that your toy should have shell-toes or a kangol on. Ha ha.
The THUNDERDOG Collective is a recent venture for you, a gang of illustrative misfits from around the world. Tell us a bit about how the THUNDERDOG Collective came about.
It came about from working with Corbis on a large project for mobile phones and commercial licensing. Being that they control the Andy Worhol Foundation and more, I knew they had what it takes to bring my work and everyone else’s work to the world in a new way. Make everyone some money and maintain some independence as artists is the game plan. Currently, we have some great exhibitions planned, some dope merchandise in the works and our own page on Cingular. So if you have Cingular service, you can text the word TDOG to the number 386 and download our stuff.There’s so much happening with the collective these days it’s really exciting…check our blog for updates! www.thunderblogspot.com
Will you be working with the Collective artists on other projects or is it limited to the Corbis partnership?
Probably much more…the Collective Artists get the first pick of all of our awesome projects that come up.
It’s a diverse collection of artists. Devilrobots, for example, are sure to be fun to work with. Do you have any wicked plans of playing these guys off each other?
For sure. We want to do lots of collaboration shows and projects in the future. In fact, Devilrobots is doing a show at our gallery this May. It’s gonna be wild!!! Get on the TDOG mailing list for info.
That’d be the at The Showroom NYC. How did the opportunity come about to hook ThunderDog up with a gallery space?
ToyTokyo needed the help in managing it and we’ve needed an exhibition space for a while… so PRESTO!
And how is the partnership going to work in the future, is there a strategy to expand the THUNDERDOG gallery partnerships to other cities or countries?
No, just New York for now. But we have big plans for the space. The idea is to have exhibitions that are accompanied by a limited edition product exclusive to each show. SEEN and I set the precedent with our show there last February when we released THUNDERMUTT 2.0.
Are you afraid that the business side of your life will consume your artist liberties? Or do you have plans that ensure you don’t become a big corporate embodiment of all that you set out to avoid?
The plan is for the business to facilitate my goals as an artist. The more power and ability you have, the larger and more ambitious the art projects, ya know? I think my dream as an artist is to have a full creative agency, toy company/production facility and gallery at my disposal and have all of them support my projects. This is quite a great arsenal of resources to offer to other artists we believe in too. So, I feel like the bigger we become the more independent we can be and like I said before, the business is there to allow us to make art – first and foremost.
OK, let’s put business to one side and get back to being an artist. Do you have any dream collaborations you’ve yet to dare venture towards? What is the ultimate project for you to work on as a solo artist?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Parade Balloons. I want my own illegal parade to crash down 5th Ave. on Thanksgiving. Just imagine big inflatable Momma balloons shanking up Snoopy on live TV. Beautiful.
What are you up to next with your personal work?
Next is Tokyo.
I’m doing another RUNT show at Gallery LELE on April 27th. It should be great. The show is basically a whole series of fake, vintage animation cells, all hand painted. We’re also debuting some RUNT plush toys and some other goodies. http://www.juniemoon.jp/eng/gallery/index.cgi?n=0Also that week, I’m launching a collabo project with Japanese, high-end watch company Alive Athletics (www.aliveathletics.com). To launch the product we’re doing a big Thunderdog exhibition, showing all of the toys we’ve ever made. Filth and I will also be live painting at that event. The watch itself is crazy. The face is in 3D, and it comes with a laser etched pair of 3D sunglasses, in an embroidered & silk-screened box. It’s really beautiful.
After Tokyo, we go to England for the next THUNDERDOG COLLECTIVE show and THUNDERMUTT release (FILTH X TRISTAN collabo show). It’s gonna be a blast.
What can we expect to see in the near future coming from Thunderdog?
THUNDERDOG has crazy stuff coming out. Many new THUNDERMUTTS, a collabo with street wear brand 10 DEEP, Billy Bananas, mini key chains, PLUSH! All kinds of stuff.