CHICAGO STREET ARTIST BRAIN KILLER SPICES UP THE THREADLESS KITCHEN
Since Brain Killer paid a visit to the Threadless kitchen, lunchtime here has become an experience! It’s as if he topped our PB&J’s with bacon and bananas and left a personal masterpiece on all our napkins. The Chicago native was kind enough to answer some of the burning questions we had for the man who decorated our favorite room. We spoke with him about his stint in art school, his work in television, and where his inspiration comes from. Read on and get to know more about Brain Killer and his work with Threadless!
The new and improved Threadless Kitchen.
TAKE NO SUGAR!
Let’s kick off by learning a bit about your background!
My “biodad” (as I like to call him) was an artist; not a working one, but he was incredibly talented. He was in and out of my life, and every once in awhile I’d get a painting or drawing, usually from prison. I had a cool little collection from him of unicorns, monsters, and other weird things; they were usually painted on velvet. My dad, the dude who raised me, was all business; a very smart guy who he taught me how to toe the line between being creative and being grounded and structured, which is a huge part of my professional life. He ran business in prosthetics and orthotics, so I learned how to make artificial limbs. I can fabricate functional arms and legs, cobble shoes, sew leather. I’d make a pretty good serial killer.
The face of the brilliant brain.
Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised on the north side of Chicago, spending my childhood in Lakeview, Roscoe Village, and Old Irving Park, and my teen years in the Portage Park neighborhood. I’m a Chicago local 100 percent. Locals only, bruh!
That can’t be English.
How’d you get into street art?
I was always involved in the arts while growing up, including hip hop, punk, skateboarding, and graffiti early on. I was also a little shit, bustin’ tags by the fourth grade, sneaking onto trains and buses, stealing paint. I was just a shorty in the neighborhood and looked up to a lot of the MAD crew guys, like Kato, Risk, Reem (RIP), who were all a big influence for me as a kid. Eventually I entered art school, got sick of it, studied film, and moved to LA where I really started getting into street art. As a producer for Attack of the Show on the G4 video game network, I covered the early days of Kid Robot and Giant Robot, and met people on the show like Buff Monster, Jim Mahfood, and Shepard Fairey. I worked on segments for a show on Space Invader, but at the last minute he pulled out to work with Banksy, which later turned out to be his involvement in Exit Through the Gift Shop. After moving back to Chicago, I got the bug to start doing my own art again instead of spectating. In my professional life I still produce and direct everything from commercials to music videos, much of it under the Brain Killer name, but more recently I’ve been gung ho about making more art.
Does the name Brain Killer have any significance in your art?
There is no real significance other than it sounds pretty bad ass.
What inspires your artwork?
My inspirations are a hodgepodge of everything around me; past, present, and future. Movies, TV, comics, cartoons, monsters, sci fi, horror, music, fashion, the internet… It’s really all over the place.
How did you hear about Threadless?
I heard about Threadless from working on Attack of the Show; I produced a t-shirt round-up review and of course we featured Threadless. I remember a box of shirts landed on my desk with a lot of early runs, and I gave so many away not realizing they would be collectibles. I’m pretty sure there were some first run Communist Party shirts in there. All gone!
Chicago indie-rock band Gemini Club’s “Sparklers.” Official music video produced and directed by Brain Killer.
How did the environment influence the piece you did in the Threadless kitchen?
Threadless offered both outdoor and indoor spaces, but I wanted the kitchen because everyone hangs out there and it’s on the way to the bathroom. When there’s a party or a tour, the kitchen feels like a centerpiece to me. I went with a combination of a “food gone bad” theme and improvised illustration. My brand colors are pink and black so I painted the whole kitchen pink and went from there.
When inspiration strikes, how do you decide what medium to express it with (illustration, video, photography)?
Inspiration usually doesn’t strike; it’s all just floating around in my head all the time. I can’t shut it off, and I don’t start unless I’m on deadline or there is a project or opportunity on the table.. That’s when I pluck something from the tree. Even on a mural, I show up and see what comes out. Video is different as it requires conceptualizing and planning, but I still don’t start an idea until there’s a project attached to it. With street art, I hit a point where I realize I haven’t put anything up in awhile and I better get cracking. I have a few things in my head for the next round of paste-ups. but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I guess I’m planning in my head but I’m not writing anything down, or creating a timeline. One day I’ll just say, “Ok, I’m not busy, let’s start.”
More street art from Brain Killer. What do six foot worms with horns have to be afraid of?
Is there any city in particular that you want to leave your mark on? If so, why?
I lived in LA for a long time. I need to go back and plant a flag soon.
What are you most proud of as an artist?
As an artist, what am I most proud of? I’m not proud of any of it.
What do you get out of creating art yourself that you miss out on when producing for other clients?
When I’m doing it for myself vs. working for a client, I throw it all out there. In my mind I have this chip on my shoulder full of scumbaggery, and my alter ego is a total degenerate, so that’s what I bring. I tap into all the bad shit and put it out there. I’m very “This is me, and you can go fuck yourself” about it. I’m not an angry person, but any negative energy floating around in me will come out in my work.
How did studying advertising and graphic design in college benefit your career as an artist?
Studying advertising and graphic design didn’t do much for me as an artist, but it did teach me about self-promotion, business, and branding, and that’s a huge asset.
A chilling Brain Killer short. Hold your breath the next time you enter a stall…
I saw Dark Matter Coffee made limited edition bottles with your art on them. What was that like?
I did a street art installation on one of Dark Matter Coffee’s future coffee shops; the image we used was my interpretation of their coffee Unicorn Blood. When they asked me if that same artwork could be used for a limited release of Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Day beer, which used Unicorn Blood coffee, I was floored. I got some mad props for that.
Do you ever reuse characters in your art? Which ones are your favorite?
I use a lot of worms, blobs, eyeballs, creatures, and guts. For the paste-ups, I like to use photographs featuring a combination of models I’ve shot, skulls, painting, and illustration. There’s always lots and lots of pink. I think the worm is my unofficial mascot.
I like your… hair?
Are you working on any new projects right now? If so, could you tell us a little about what you’re up to?
Right now I’m freelance producing some really cool things at Onion Labs, The Onion’s production company. I am also planning a huge street art attack once I slow down. I’m going bigger, brighter, and crazier. It’s time to get back out there.
On your Facebook page, you say you’re an agoraphobe. How do you manage living in one of the busiest cities in the world?
My Facebook page also says I’m a billionaire. The great thing about being Brain Killer is that I can be whoever I want.
Just a taste of the dark corners of Brain Killer’s brain.