Stronger Loving World

A Cultural Criticism WeblogE-Mail Murdervision

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tristan Eaton, the Brooklyn based street artist and toy designer, was instrumental in the formation of Kid Robot, which now has stores in L.A., New York, and San Francisco, and remains at the center of designer toy culture. Looking at Eaton’s work, it’s no wonder that he is responsible for the soft, sleak, and hip cartoon monsters that make up Kid Robot’s product line: his gallery and street art carries the otherworldly glow of old-timey picture shows, WWII era Warner Bros. cartoons, and is infused with the toxic effervescence and renegade aura of condensed urban spaces.

Having grown up in Detroit, London, L.A., and NY, Eaton’s eye has cut and pasted the most vivid and colorful images and textures of these spaces into a post-urban city, composed purely of ideas, that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

*Your current gallery show at the Lele Gallery in Japan is titled
"Lifestyles of the Cute and Dangerous". Many artists take "cute"
images and deform them or make them perverse, but your images retain their silliness and naivete while remaining intelligent and using bright, ostentatious color schemes. What kind of an aesthetic were you trying to create, and why?

You make it sound so fancy!

My goal was to show the secret lives of cartoon characters. Cartoon
characters get in trouble too, fall in love, fight, drink and vomit just
like us. It's just the well behaved, pansie ones that make it onto T.V. and
the movies...the rest are around the corner drinking or stealing your car.
That's the world I wanted to portray. To do this i created a new series of
characters just for the show called RUNTS! They are the cute little guys
portrayed on the postcard.

I originally wanted to execute this concept by painting fake animation
cells. I used to do this years ago and loved the effect of it. But in the
process of making the work, my interest shifted a little and I just followed
my instincts. The idea of animation cells shifted to painting the characters
on layered glass (front and back) with prints behind them. This then shifted
further into doing work with gold leaf on glass and multi-layered, glass
shadow boxes.

At the end, the show became way more Pop and Abstract than the more
narrative approach I started with. I loved that. The whole show ended up
having a great variety of work. 40 pieces in total, ranging from paint on
glass & gold leaf to printed posters and hand painted skateboards. I also
created a 4" tall, cold cast marble figure exclusive to the exhibition.
Limited to 5 pieces world wide.

It was an amazing honor showing in Japan and probably one of the greatest experiences of my life.

*What's your role in the formation of Kid Robot and vinyl toy culture?

Well, when Kidrobot was a small website Paul asked me to come on for a number of things. I designed the logo and a lot of the initial packaging, branding etc. along with FILTH. I then began managing the initial wave of toy production which entailed designing the DUNNY figure, KIDROBOT figure, SKUMBO, TORO, Cheech Wizard and The Brooklyn Qees. At the same time I was curating artists and developing fun, future toy projects.

My role in Vinyl culture...I feel like I'm just hitting my stride now. By forming THUNDERDOG, I've been able to make really interesting toys that can take risks and push the boundaries of what we're doing. I'd like to help people recognize the artistic merit of the toys in this field. Some of these toys are worthy examples of contemporary fine art and I'd love to help bring that to the light.

Why do you think this niche market arose when it did, and what will
be its long term impact on culture?
There's a huge fascination with limited edition culture in general right now. From sneakers to clothing and back to toys, people do not want a mass produced & mass marketed product. When you have a product that's limited to 100 pcs you feel part of an exclusive club and also closer to the culture that it came from. I understand this concept well, although I'm not sure exactly why it happened now of all times...
Long term, I think this movement will probably expose a few amazing artists who might not of otherwise had a platform or audience as well as heightening people's expectations for what a toy can be. The boundaries are being pushed so far that toys will never be the same again. I also admire the fact that buying art toys can be a very good introduction to buying actual art. Many toy collectors have made their first jump into buying their favorite artists’ paintings and it seems that buying art is becoming more accessible and fun for people. That is really cool.

PS: You work in street art, designer toys, and create gallery art. What do you find rewarding about each of these mediums, and is there one to which you identify more?

Honestly, I identify equally with all of them. It's all the same to me, just
a switch of context. I think it would be impossible for me to
stick with only one medium or method. I would go crazy.
Making toys can be very rewarding though, because of the production time. By the time they arrive it's like 'FINALLY!' and you jump up and down while foaming at the mouth. Good times.

PS:*Is this a lifelong passion for you?

It was never in question. Growing up, I was always 'the new kid' having been through 16 different schools, and luckily I found comfort in being a little different and being creative.

PS: Are there any people in particular who helped you out?

Well, I've always felt like a loner from moving so much, but when I lived in Detroit I started to feel pretty accepted by all the artists at CPOP Gallery. Rick Manore the owner introduced me to artists like Glenn Barr, Mark Dancey and Tom Thewes...all of which inspired me in a big way. Also, at the beginning of KidRobot, we started to reach out to artists all over the world. At this point I started to meet a lot of people like me, whose work I really respected. At this point, I started to feel like I was a part of a global community of artists who shared a similar vision.

PS: You grew up in London, Detroit, and L.A. Can you take us through how each of these spaces impressed themselves on you, and how they each shaped your art? What people or places in these cities influenced you the most?

Wow, big question.

L.A.: My first art teacher Ed Warren, The slimy glamour of Hollywood neon, The Mans Chinese theatre, Skate and Surf Culture in general, (especially The Bones Brigade and all of Powell Peralta, T&C, Maui and Sons etc.) design and culture in the early eighties. My uncle Rabindra Danks' beautiful art, L.A. Arcades!, Seeing Haley's Comet at the Griffith's Park Observatory, All of my parents eccentric and creative friends, MAD Magazine, And of course, my baby sitters when I was 6 years old: Ione Skye and Phoebe Cates (wow).

LONDON: London Graff: MODE 2, ELK, REM, ASIA, TMD, IMASE, Dr. Mat Eaton aka ASK, 2000AD Magazine, Illustrator Stuart Harrison.
Seeing Akira for the first time in a small Picadilly theatre, The show 'Spitting Image', Games Workshop, First seeing Roy Lichtenstein's work at the Tate Modern, All UK television: The Young Ones, Black Adder, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Every thing Terry Gilliam, The London Underground.

DETROIT: Cpop Gallery & Rick Manore, The beauty of a decaying city, Glenn Barr & Mark Dancey, Scaling abandoned buildings,Photographer Lisa Spindler, Artist Robert Mcgee, Belle Isle & Jefferson Avenue, Detroit Ghetto Tech.
The Heidelberg Project & Tyree Guyton, The ghosts of Cass Corridor, Sculptor Ed Sykes, My teacher Lester Johnson.

And a million other moments, people and objects that I was lucky enough to find but too lazy to mention.

PS:Like D*Face or the London Police, you have a tendency to create characters that are cartoony, cute and otherworldy. Your work, however, captures the essence of Golden age animation-- How do you see the relationship between the more vivid and classic looking characters in your street art and the cities you place them in?

I try to make my work as classic as possible. it seems as though that era's quality of character design has prevailed throughout many generations. Maybe because it's reminiscent of better times or maybe the style is just powerful and lasting in some way. I personally love drawing that feels comfortable and makes me smile. I like street art that improves its surroundings. By beautifying a street or just creating a smile on someone's face, the art is doing a valuable service! I hope that my art can do the same thing. I also like the idea of a million little characters let loose in a city. Like Toon Town's gates just opened and the Toons are running wild in the city painting, pooping, having sex and what not! That way it makes sense to see them half way up a fire escape or down an alley somewhere...

PS:How do you feel about "branding" in street art, then? (Linking an identity, logo or character to a specific artist, so that the image
can be cross-marketed later) Do you ever find yourself doing this, as you work in several different mediums?

I don't like it when something is branded in street art specifically to be marketed afterwards. I think that cheapens the street art into being a marketing tool. I find my self using my characters in all of my art in all mediums because I enjoy the freedom. That's what makes street art special. You can do whatever you want (or whatever you can get away with) and there will be an audience there for it.

*How have websites like Wooster Collective effected you and the street art scene in general? Do you feel like there is a stronger sense of community, and how has it changed street art aesthetically? Has the "globalness" of street art been a hindrance to you in any way?

I think Wooster is great. Websites like that definitely help build community as well as awareness among artists and spectators alike. I love going on there and seeing what Calma just did in Brazil, or what Kid Acne just did in London. It's fantastic.

*I sometimes think that the battle that artists face is the war
against boring shit. What has been boring your eyes lately, and what have you been doing about it?

Ha ha. I agree. A friend of mine owns a great shirt that simply says ' A lot of art is boring'. And it's so true. I have to steal that shirt.
Lately, a lot of the more commercial toys that are being aimed at and promoted in the world of designer toys are boring me. A lot of the same type of design and same concepts are being done over and over. Platform toys in-particular. It's getting dead.
In response, we just go further, weirder and more underground than anyone can go to set ourselves apart. We've chosen not to participate in any of the big toy conventions because it seems too commercial, predictable and limiting. Instead we've been exhibiting our toys in galleries with the hopes of being more 'artsy fartsy'. So far, we've become very 'artsy fartsy' and it's working out great.