artist, toy maker and clothing designer Brian cause Donnelly married classic graffiti tropes, with cartoon iconography in a street art medley that reinvigorated modern art and opened up the gallery and museum worlds for entire generation.
This is his blueprint, so you grew up in Jersey City. 00:06:38
Did you spend a lot of time going to museums in New York as a kid? It wasn't really exposed a lot to museums or galleries, or it's not really like a gallery scene or anything in Jersey City, not that it wasn't.
You know a fun city to grow up in as an artist there was.
It was almost like a playground or a free-for-all under the Holland Tunnel.
There's all these walls and as a young kid learning graffiti.
I can just go there and paint all day, long uninterrupted.
How were you the first time that you snuck out to go bombing elementary school? Maybe seventh grade eighth grade? You know definitely before high school. 00:01:28
What was your exposure to graffiti other than obviously sonone the kids I skated with you know when I was skating I would I would come into the city and when you'd go to the city and skate you meet like a lot of kids, you kind of create Almost like little packs of kids - and you know, of course, those older kids and there was some guys in my neighborhood that, were you know effectively getting up as a young kid you want it, you you want to make stuff, and you want friends and peers to See it - and I think graffiti in a city environment, is a perfect outlet.
You know I'd go around and photograph like what I'm shooting stuff in the heights or the Bronx and you know just make - doubles, triples and send them little packets to people and they'd send packets back and it sort of got me thinking about the world.
You know from my parents house, in Jersey City, who was the first like famous graffiti writer, that you encountered, I think in Jersey City there was a guy called what for and he was up everywhere and there was him there was this guy.
Do this another young? I mean a little older than me, but they were the kind of kids that were the same kids that when I started going to clubs were out went around and what clubs are you going to? Mk power house went disco mm.
Sorry, my colleague before that quick downtown, I was hungry for it.
You know I just grew up sort of interested in people interested in being out of my house out of my neighborhood. 00:02:46
It drew me out of you know.
Out of my shell, did you come up with the tag cause like? Was it the first name? You you ran with? No, it was a.
It was probably the second yeah.
What was your original? That's! That's my business! No yeah.
I started as I started to paint more and I was you know it got to a point where I was like all right.
This is something I think I'm gon na do for a while.
I just wanted to think of letters that sort of interacted with each other and in a good way and purely a visual thing.
How kws connects and I like the fact that it didn't have it didn't exist.
It didn't have like it wasn't a thing, just sort of lettering that works, and I I liked the sound there was like a short strong mark. 00:03:30
So when you finished high school you end up going to SVA.
Did you see a career path? At that point I went to school of visual arts as an illustration major.
I was thinking practical.
I was thinking you know.
What would I, what could I do to support something in the arts after college I got out.
I worked in animation.
It wasn't that I was interested in animation.
I just liked to paint - and I was like oh great I'll - get paid to paint every day.
Did you have any sense working on Doug that it was gon na be disliked? You know, millennial, icon down? Is it I'm? Not aware of this, if you're, if you're under 30 and you work at complex like Doug, is everything for you, amazing, I'm glad to know Doug is even remembered it.
Let me paint it put money in my pocket.
I moved out of my house and moved to Lower East Side having a steady check allowed me to think about other things during your time in college. 00:04:28
That's sort of when your work goes from being traditional graffiti to at least the seeds of what people see today.
Yeah, where did the impulse to start removing the lettering from what you were doing come so when I paint the first billboard at that time, it was the time of like productions.
What pieces, when you know there would be crews getting together doing these elaborate murals and when I painted over billboard, it was almost like.
I had all that, but I was only on a highway for 40 minutes painting and you know just seeing the picture and I started thinking about how it said it into a time frame and the parallels between graffiti and advertising.
And then I just sort of got more interested in that, so I just focus on you know, taking out ads and painting over them and we swapping them during daylight, or I would yeah I would take them home.
I'd paint them in my house, and I would just go and walk swap them out.
Ask people to move in in Manhattan.
I'd be like excuse, me, you'd get out of the way, because I just assumed because the hinges are on the top and they would open.
Like this, so it's kind of an ordeal and yeah they wouldn't think twice because there wasn't a like there wasn't the street art frenzy.
They just thought you a worker guy.
I think I'm starting to do the the phone booths kind of just opened up the audience.
You know I never imagined that people in the fashion world would be interested in that kind of stuff and in fact I thought that I would get lawsuit.
So I really thought like if I met this person, I'd get some sort of anger and it wasn't the case.
It was just sort of you know, I don't know being accepted or like just.
It starts to get picked up like in a lot of magazines - and I remember Terry and or Trisha Jones from ID magazine we're like some of the earliest supporters and in 97 they ran an article on me and they introduced me to Sauer.
I collette when collette.
First, open: I did a exhibition there and you know I would use like different opportunities to get to different cities to do street work.
Do you recall the first piece that you did that introduced the skull with the cross that eyes on yeah? I think it was a Marvel billboard that I painted in Jersey, City after just looking at the images. 00:06:39
Thinking of you know, scholars being like such a universal image.
You can be in different countries and cause my I mean cause doesn't make sense anyway, but you know, might not read or connect with somebody but scholar skulls in every culture.
After you get out of school fairly quickly.
You end up traveling to Japan, one of my best friends in school this guy at sushi.
It was from Tokyo and his brother invited me as a trade, so I made a painting and trade for a trip through stash and future and those guys I was aware of what was going on there with the guys at hectic and you go from bathing ape And so that first trip I went, I met up with the guys at hectic and Hiroshi for jawar, like every one of them were all super young, so everybody's real hospitable and showed me around, and it was a great trip at what point were you able to Quit the nine-to-five and pursue art - maybe 98, possibly so fairly quickly after yes, yes, I mean I had no no ties to working and what was the work that was bringing in money.
At that point, I guess in 99 was my first toy.
How did that happen? Going to Tokyo through meeting her car from bounty hunter - and you know he was making these small run toys.
You know somewhat James Jarvis and some of his own toys.
They asked me if I want to make a toy, and I was kind of like like I wanted to make sculpture.
I never really thought about making a toy, but it would be great to see my work in three dimensional.
You know as a three dimensional form, so what inspired the sort of Mickey Mouse design of that it was really like.
You know I was painting over these phone books, his iconic sort of imagery of Kate Moss of Turlington, and so I thought when I, if I were to do a toy.
What would I you know? It would need to be some sort of derivative of something recognizable to make sense within the work that I make. 00:08:38
If you start to look at all animations, there's a similar body form as it gloves or boots or whatever, and I just like the fact that, depending on how something is built and that kind of takes the position, so Mickey would be like the one that everybody Knows but they'll be, you know, a bunch of different other animations that pretty much more or less are making without a few twists.
You know and then it's just sort of grew from there I mean when I had companion night. 00:09:04
There was always an edition of 503 colorways and I would just go a hectic. 00:09:08
Was the ones that funded it, but I'd have you know instead of taking money, I just took stock of toys fast forward to 2002. 00:09:15
I started my own website and I think that was like it just really changed things hasser in the beginning, you know I'd bring I'd, bring these pieces to a store and they take.
You know six.
Maybe three on consignment not tell me when they sold out I'd have to wait two months to get paid or pay within their quarterly cycle or whatever it.
Whatever thing you agreed to just to get it in and then you start a website and you make something and it sells, and it goes right to the end user.
I just sort of opened my eyes to a larger audience that I wasn't aware of ditching.
The middleman was a turning point that talked cause.
He could succeed by both embracing the system and disrupting it. 00:09:58
Once I have a painting, complete or the drawing complete I'll, come and I'll draw it just in pencil and then I'll sit in front of it with these tables, and these are like small versions of all the paint that I use, and so, instead of picking a Color on the computer, I'm just doing it all, just you know feeling the size of the painting and responding to it, and then this also helps me with working with assistants.
You know now we have a cos all the paint is the sort of system we developed.
That's all number coded, and then everybody can you just refer to that? Basically, the next you know next step is we're here, it's a very similar to printing process.
So first you put all the base coats in mm-hm and then you know round 2 would be the shadows round. 00:10:43
3 would be the black line.
I mean I could think about paintings when you're sitting here hours and hours, that you know you're really focused on the work, but the same time, your mind's, drifting and you're.
Thinking about whether it's your family life work life, like all you know, it just gives you tons of time to think when you know you're doing these works that have sort of deconstructed icons right, yeah, it's more of just a feat like creating an overall feeling.
It doesn't really I'm not I'm not concerned about like.
Oh this is this icon.
It comes from this narrative like to me.
That means nothing.
It's just sort of you know I started working so say some of the Schulz line work.
What you're, seeing here I just liked you know, even though I painted in a very meticulous way I just like the fluidity of it and kind of how it exists, and it was something that didn't really have in my work before so I started to incorporate it More but yeah, there's there's so many different things that I've pulled from at this point.
So in 2008 you had your first show with Emmanuel Peres.
Tonight you know I did a show in Miami with the Manuel parrot that was curated by Pharrell, if Pharrell's.
Actually, the person that introduced us and the show was a combination of paintings that Pharrell owned and paintings that I made for the show I was never thinking.
I didn't really understand a gallery system or representation or kind of like more than just putting you work in a space.
You know how does all that work? It doesn't.
Oh, no, I mean you just really have to be smart and know who you're working with and trust.
Are you working with, and I mean I'm fortunate to have somebody like Parton, who is very just young and ambitious and everywhere, and how much strategy and thought goes into what you want to present? You know for any given show I'd love to respond like to the architecture of spaces, and I know I have um shows in Hong Kong, Tokyo Korea like all next year.
Usually, I build models for for all the exhibitions, so I'd like to scale sort of architectural models, so you can look at what the work will look like yes, so when this is done in photographed I'll, have it to scale version like, even though we have like An unfinished version, just as I'm thinking about spots - and you know this piece could maybe go to this gallery or this could go.
You know, I'm pretty thorough, is how I sort of compose exhibitions, but I also leave a lot of opportunity for change.
I think a lot of complexes audience first were introduced to your work through that Kanye covered.
How did that happen? Yeah I mean that's just something he reached out to me.
He said he had discover.
He wanted me to work on and um it's funny, because I spoke to Takashi about it and because the country was like.
Oh there's so many changes and you know like a finder of like things that got shot down, and I was thinking like aw man.
This is gon na be tough and he asked me to do this thing.
I said sure I mean we had it done from beginning to end, like I think in two weeks, just yeah you want to do this, oh yeah.
I want to do it.
Okay, all right cool.
How did you end up getting the companion into the Macy's Day Parade? How did they end up getting me to make it comes now? They called call me and at first I was like the Macy's want.
You know and the woman I was talking to there - I was talking about inviting me to the parade and putting you know.
I was really interested in putting me in the same lineup as a lot of these characters that I kind of you know used for my work and that's I don't know.
I just thought I was like well.
I can't believe I'm getting this phone call because they seems to fully understand what I'm doing and still yet they're inviting me to to be part of the parade and I've never made inflatable before that.
And it just seemed like it's sort of surreal opportunity and of course you know it so I went for it.
Did you feel like that level of exposure changed things for you yeah? I think that was sort of one of the first like America.
You know like before that I was so focused on making work in Tokyo and Asia, and I felt like I had my strength and my market over there and like Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I grew up on that.
You know, like my cousins, they're gon na see like even if I don't tell them they're seeing this or you know it, it was a different thing.
So I went and I walked about 50 yards in front of the balloon.
It was interesting because I got to hear kids, you know and their responses to it, which I didn't think of before there's just there's plenty.
That's here: kids, cheering for other balloons like spongebob and being super amped and and then being like mom. 00:15:24
What is that my eyes? It's sad, it's like like it was like like like mood changer, you know, you've done several Footwear, collaborations, probably the better part of a half dozen.
At this point, do you have a favorite most recently the projects were Jordan.
I feel, like you know, licensed sneaker I did for them was in 2007, so it was almost like a 10-year stretch where I wasn't even thinking about sneakers.
You know it's, it's it's fun, because I'll do something like that I'll be fully invested in it. 00:15:57
For a moment, and then I'll click over and I won't think about that and it'll just get into other work, so you can see kind of you know like whatever I'm working on at the time. 00:16:09
That's what ends up in the product with you know.
So you know until it's was a toy from 2004 and the shoes came up in 2005 and as I go, I tend to always yeah I like to kind of take something and then build on it and build on and build on it just sort of reinforce It and make it have a stronger existence.
How did the Uniqlo thing happen? It's funny actually came full circle because an ego was a creative director before this line of code - and I know Katayama Masamichi carry on who designed the studio for me.
Is there a global like designer for their shops and the aesthetic of them, and so there was these connections Uniqlo and then like? I knew they were there and then eventually, I was just sort of asked if I'd be interested, I just felt like I want it.
Like I knew I had this audience and they weren't being served, you know they weren't like yeah.
I don't want somebody to buy one of my t-shirts for $ 200.
You know I want I wanted to kind of like I want to be a t-shirt.
They could buy it.
I could wear anything, throw it out.
I felt like I needed to do something to kind of exist on a more candid level and Uniqlo, I felt great about them because you know the quality is good and they have mm some.
What stores you know like we just blanket it: the globe, a desire to speak to a new audience pushed cause to infuse art in non-traditional places, bucking the conventional wisdom that separated fine and commercial art at this point.
You've done some incredibly remarkable things, whether it's the the Macy's float or the VMAs doing all of the signage and the moon. 00:17:51
Man, and you have galleries and museums, shows what are the sort of Grails that you still you're.
Looking at like.
I would like to get that done before it's over, I kind of like what I'm doing, and I just want to do what I'm doing better.
You know I don't.
I don't have a key thing like I have to do this when you say do better.
What do you mean - I don't know, maybe edit something? Maybe it better or create it better or you know, work in a medium like I've, never worked in marble or there's some things like that, like stone or like I'm just curious about - and I've been saying this, for you know eight ten years of my mind and I haven't really like: I should go to a got a foundry and do it but um.
So there's these things at just the surfing system.
I had that.
I never really done when you think about.
I mean I can't even wrap my mind around how much one of those 150 or 200 foot companion.
I wish I had 150 foot confine my largest that maybe was 30 feet there.
They get much bigger.
It doesn't sound that big, but like this is 27 feet to the skylight, oh okay, so that yet that's pretty good, so thorough yeah I mean with the with the wood sculptures.
I, the guy, who I make them with, is sort of a partner in the whole thing.
Okay, so you're not putting up all of the money you so he's helping me, but in in general I do for the most part, with most of my projects put up all the money.
You know whether it's silkscreen editions toys.
I just like to do that because it just gives me complete control, I mean I could.
I could see something and suddenly I like it and kill it or squash it and not have any second thoughts about it.
First, wood piece we made was the tallest of 30 feet, we're just in the process of installing permanently at the airport in Qatar and that we yeah, that's sort of where I this day is out.
You know you've explored several different styles and different chambers.
Right, like this squiggly thing, you sort of started to deconstruct.
You know the shapes, probably around 2008 or so with the neon and and then you went had a period where everything was all red.
How do you make those creative decisions like alright woke up that morning? Like this is what I want to do, you know it's not a lot of times like right now, there's a lot of color going on in the work and eventually I'll kneel feel like I'll repel against it and want to get into a new body of work And I don't really set any guidelines on when something needs to be finished or like a certain type of imagery.
It needs to be pushed out of the work.
I just sort of let things change and cross pollinate. 00:20:32
You know you end up in these places.
You now have to manage a pretty decent-sized team.
I would imagine to produce all the work and deal with yeah all logistics. 00:20:42
It's not we're actually, remarkably small, I think, for a studio and we just hired some more people better part-time and now we're at ten okay. 00:20:52
But yeah for a small Brooklyn studio.
I think we project a much larger persona. 00:20:56
What it, what is it like? Managing those 10 people like what is cause it's.
You know what sometimes I grew over time. 00:21:05
It's it's um.
It took a long.
It took a real learning curve to have my first assistant and have somebody in the studio with me cuz before that I was spending just all day by myself in the space and then, as I grew, you know, opportunities grew and you can.
You know like if we're working in this pink, you know, I know that pink has had probably about 13 coats with that same pink in the same shape physically, I just you know I wouldn't be able to get the stuff done.
If it was me doing the same coat, and so you sort of navigate how to let people into your practice without changing your practice, when did you get to the point where you felt like some sort of financial stability or like this? Is this is gon na work out? This is gon na, be okay, I've always felt financially stable.
My sounds sounds cocky or whatever, but I've always you know.
I figured like look or you grew up.
It's there's not much to to go down.
You know like, like.
I always felt super at every point.
In my of my work I mean I could just be really naively optimistic, but I felt super fortunate to be at the moment where I am you know, you know you could lose it, you can lose it and gain it.
It's not, but it's not like you're, not dying.
You haven't had a lot of lows from what I can tell you think about like I do.
I don't know I feel.
Sometimes I you know yeah, I feel, like things have been going great and then maybe you're not seeing it, which is good but um you.
You feel that you feel like a real sort of urgency, like I'm, I'm excited about the doing the next thing or doing you know. 00:22:50
What can I make? What can I do kind of seeing that whatever I see something I respond to it and when I'm better it? So I'm constantly thinking about what I can do to push my work to push myself.
Do you think about sort of the pressure to constantly outdo yourself? No, I just set really low expectations of myself.
You know you know it's like I say you can't. 00:23:15
You can't worry about those things.
Are you will you will paralyze yourself and you hurt when I was doing Graf and I started doing phone booths? A lot of Graf guys were like the hell.
Is that you know they just like dude? That's not that's, not real graft.
That's like that's some other thing and then I started doing toys and there's just like that's like the worst word and in the graph community is a toy.
You can't really put a lot of weight behind others, opinions because they're, not you and they're, not gon na, really understand where you see things can go and you know either things could play.
Oh, they cannot play out, but at least are your choices? They're, not somebody else in your ear directing you like, once you start trying to please people, I feel like you're, just grasping at nothing: [: Music, ], , , , .