JC RIVERA PAINTS A KNOCKOUT ON THE THREADLESS GARAGE DOOR
Here’s another original to make the Threadless office just a little easier on the eyes. To mirror Threadless’s fighting spirit, we called on JC Rivera to outfit one of our garage doors with his main homie and original character, The Bear Champ. We asked him a few questions afterward to get a better understanding of the man behind the carnivorous champion. Keep reading to see what we learned about JC Rivera and to take a peek at the winning work he did for us!
The Bear Champ living up to the hype on our garage door!
Tell me a little about yourself! Where are you from?
I’m a dude that likes to paint on everything. I also like fried rice, sushi, and peanut butter - but not together. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but currently live in the best city in the world: CHICAGO!
What specifically sparked your interest in street art and what compelled you to stick with it?
It’s fun and spontaneous, in my opinion. I do a lot of other stuff, but painting walls is what I like most. The interaction with people passing through is the best.
JC Rivera focusing on some fine lines.
Who is The Bear Champ? Who/what inspired it?
The Bear Champ is a character I created back in 2010. It represents a bit of myself. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a boxer and my mom wouldn’t let me. You know… overprotective mom!!! So I never got a chance to break someone’s face in the ring. The Bear Champ takes care of that for me now.
Why do you continue to reinvent The Bear Champ instead of keeping him consistent?
I like to keep it fresh! Glad you noticed!
There’s no escaping The Bear Champ’s reign!
Isn’t there something paradoxical about a natural predator fighting with boxing gloves?
It takes the killing away… I don’t believe killing is a solution, but a good fight with a nice pair of gloves, some rules, and a handshake at the end would fix a lot of problems.
What kind of art do you create other than painting?
I paint, design, sculpt, and customize urban vinyl toys.
You’re never too old to play with toys this cool.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I don’t really know. I just like to be creative.
What inspires you as an artist?
Everything around me. I try to get the most out of everything I see or hear.
Some inspiring words from the champ.
How did you hear about Threadless?
Everywhere! I always wanted to submit designs, but I felt that they weren’t strong enough. Instead I ate ice cream and watched Seinfeld reruns.
Why do you think your art fits in with Threadless?
Character creation… that’s what we are all about! By the way, thanks for the opportunity to paint at Threadless! Shout out to Lance Curran for hooking it up. :)
How did you decide what to paint on Threadless’s garage door?
I wanted to paint the Bear Champ because it’s the most recognizable character in my work, and I enjoy painting it. I feel like it was a perfect fit for Threadless. Simple and fun!
What does art do for you as a human being? How does it help you grow?
It helps me stay young (inside), and connect with others. I’m not the most outgoing person.
Do you ever create backstories for the subjects of your paintings that the viewer would never know about?
Yeah, all the time! I always have a story for my paintings. Sometimes I keep it to myself and let the viewer make their own interpretation. I like when other people share what they see.
A closer view of Rivera’s work at Threadless HQ
You’ve created toys modeled after the Instagram logo and the John Hancock Center. Why are you drawn towards making art in the form of toys?
I love designing toys! Seeing an idea made in 3D that you can hold and play with as if you were five years old again is the best! It’s almost as exciting as when my kids were born. ;) Just kidding!
JC Rivera hitting the streets. We hope he’s on the right side of that barbed wire!
What advantages do certain mediums of art have over others. Digital? Painted Murals? Toys?
All have their advantages and disadvantages. I prefer to paint with real paint, but it would be nice if you could undo a mistake on a painting or mural as easy as you can when working in digital.
What’s it like creating street art in Chicago during the brutal winter months?
Yeah! Brutal! I only do it if necessary and if it’s a paid gig. Other than that, nope. That’s when I think about Puerto Rico a lot. :)
The Bear Champ showing his soft side after all.
CHICAGO ARTIST CZR PRZ PAINTS A WILD PICTURE FOR THREADLESS
The Threadless office is slowly but surely becoming an art piece in and of itself. Chicago’s own street artist, CZR PRZ, helped the cause by donning our garage door with a queen of the jungle, complete with a serpent sash and ferocious headwear. We followed up with him afterwards to have some of our questions answered about his artistic adventures. Read on to learn about CZR PRZ and his wide range of skills and projects and to check out the majestic beauty of his work on our building.
The wild thing CZR PRZ painted for Threadless!
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Chicago, between Logan Square and Stone Park, in a suburb on the west side outskirts.
How did you get into street art?
I’ve been doing art since as far back as I can remember, but the street art stemmed from my rebellious youth and love for graffiti. I started getting into graffiti and b-boying at around 12 and haven’t stopped since. I blame the music.
CZR PRZ painting at a Lollapalooza showcase. (Image courtesy of czrprz.com)
What do you bring to street art that’s unique from other artists?
I don’t think that I do anything that’s necessarily unique; I tend to follow a lot of trends happening in Europe, South America, and the West Coast. I like to think that my style sets itself apart with an illustrative approach and somewhat technical hand-rendering with spray paint.
What are the main materials you use to create your art?
It really depends on what the project calls for. When it comes to street art and mural work, I tend to use mostly spray paint and interior/exterior wall paint, but I also have a strong traditional illustration/production/design background from years of working in the professional field. I’ve done everything from high end screen printing and vinyl-signage to digital illustrations for corporate companies. I had to stop because it was a lot of soulless, thankless work… although decently paid. I’m glad I did it though, it helped expand my resources for developing my work.
Virgin Mary meets the Hindu Shiva from a “Pimp My Mary” contest in Rome. Xzibit was not in attendance. (Image courtesy of czrprz.com)
How did you hear about Threadless?
From not living under a rock. EVERYBODY and their unborn children have heard of you guys.
What inspired the work that you did for Threadless?
I’ve been doing a lot of work that deals with nature, mysticism, and theology. I grew up with a Latin-Christian/Santería background so much of that stuck with me.
Blackbirds singing against a CZR PRZ wall. (Image courtesy of czrprz.com)
Why do you think your art fits in so well with Threadless?
I’ve always felt that Threadless has been at the forefront of the current pop art and design movement in apparel form. I like to think that I’m a contributor to the movement and feel only natural that my artistic expression translates well with the Threadless aesthetic.
CZR PRZ putting the finishing touches on his mural at Threadless HQ.
You’ve been involved with several significant organizations (The Field Museum, Chicago Reader, Nike). Which project has been the most rewarding as an artist?
I really can’t say; everything brings its own reward and issues. Some of my favorite work to date though has been with Red Bull and Zipcar, the work I’ve been doing in other countries, painting walls during Art Basel, and of course, Threadless.
Natural beauty (Image courtesy of czrprz.com)
What other forms of art do you practice other than painting?
Like I said before, I’ve worked in various fields of art and design. My skill sets involve silk screen printing, digital illustration, signage, vinyl installation, studio art, and fabrication art (prop and installation art).
I read on your website that you fabricate props and sets. How is creating art on an object such as a shoe or a chair different from a conventional canvas?
Well its a whole different approach, being that they have their own set of laws and such. The furniture development is still a bit new to me, but I’ve managed to team up with some close friends who develop high end carpentry and have a great deal of support in difficult situations.
We thought we smelled bacon… (Image courtesy of czrprz.com)
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a street artist
The fact that my work doesn’t have a “pop” culture feel to it kind of sets it back, at least here in the states. I prefer developing a high quality piece to making work that’s catchy and witty, although there are some artists that are able to do “pop” work with a highly developed aesthetic that sets them apart from everyone else, such as Ben Frost from Australia or Denial from Canada. But, for the most part, I think many artists that go for this approach lack real technique or style. (Bring on the hate mail.)
What have you been working on lately? Any big projects?
Right now I’m in Carrara, Italy preparing for my solo show with EXP Gallery called Future/Primitive, as well as getting ready to paint a huge wall in the middle of town. I just got back from Rome where I was involved with CRACK Fest (great name, right?) where I slept in an old Spanish fortress called Forte Prenestino. Next up is Windsor, Canada for Free 4 All Wall mural fest, then a live art set with Malik Yusef, Kanye West’s ghostwriter, for Simple Good called City Of Big Dreams at Chop Shop. After that, maybe sleep.
A fiery red rendition CZR PRZ did for Chicago’s Mexican food hot spot, Carbon. (Image courtesy of czrprz.com)
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.
STREET ARTIST THE LOST CAUSE CREATES GARAGE DOOR MASTERPIECE FOR THREADLESS
To make sure there’s no unpainted corner of the Threadless office, we asked street artist The Lost Cause to turn one of our garage doors into his own personal canvas. Now the once blank, tin square is filled with industrial personality, capping off our arrival to work with a colorful creation. We caught up with The Lost Cause afterwards to ask him about his career, his hometown of Portland, and his recent world tour. Keep reading to learn a little more about The Lost Cause and to check out his awesome handiwork on our garage door!
The Lost Cause’s garage door turned canvas.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you begin your career?
I go by “The Lost Cause” and I’m based out of Portland, Oregon. I started painting graffiti when I was about 13 and it evolved into what it is now. I haven’t really considered it a “career” until the last two or three years.
Why did you choose to move forward as an artist without any formal training?
Everything I learned about painting came from self-taught graffiti skills; I never really thought that art school or training made much sense for what I wanted out of painting. If anything, formal training would have only restrained my ability to figure out what I like to do. It’s been a good bit of trial and error, but how do any of us grow as humans without making some mistakes, right?
How did your trademark original character, “Winston the Whale,” come to be?
I was doodling this blob thing I saw on a blog, and I gave it a couple fins and eventually a whale tail. It started off as “Lost at Sea” because it was a whale, but I switched it up to “The Lost Cause” shortly after. I made some hand painted stickers and immediately got responses from all kinds of people within a week or two of putting them up. It all took off from there!
The struggle became real for The Lost Cause as he painted this piece through wind and rain in Chicago’s Pilsen Neighborhood.
Why did you decide to move to Portland, Oregon?
My brother moved out here about 10 years ago and I visited him a couple times. I liked it because it has a mellow mood and plenty of natural beauty. I also wanted to GTFO of my hometown; we all know how that is.
What do you find unique about Portland’s street art scene?
Stickers! Portland has one of the most bangin’ sticker scenes I’ve ever seen, in regard to quality, originality, quantity, and sense of community. Everyone knows each other; we’re all pals and we all push each other creatively to try new things. I’m really stoked to be part of such a great group of individuals. We need more muralists though!
A starry-eyed rendition of The Lost Cause’s trademark character, Winston the Whale.
You write that the sticker culture in Portland is very unique. What role does it play for street art?
Stickers are the easiest and most efficient way to get your message across. You can make thousands of stickers in a short period of time and if enough end up out on the streets, people WILL see them. You can also cover a huge area without much risk. They are less destructive than paint or markers and if someone is really offended, they can peel the sticker off. I think it’s also a great way to make new friends; when I meet someone, I often give them a sticker and boom - instant friend! Who doesn’t like stickers, anyway?!
What influences the work that you do?
I am always looking at art; both older and more contemporary. I am also influenced by my own work; I often go back and look at older photos or sketches of previous work. I feel it helps me stay within my own style.
The spray paint genie. Unfortunately, he doesn’t grant wishes.
You have a unique style relying heavily on rigid geometric shapes. How did you adopt this technique?
I went through a bit of a “crisis” last fall, and wanted to develop a style that felt different from my usual cartoony stuff. I started doodling faces and filling them in with zigzags and triangles and other geometric patterns, then I took those shapes and patterns to the wall and applied them with colors. My goal for now is to work mostly without outlines; it’s challenging for me because that’s how I’ve always painted, but I am figuring out new tricks with every wall I paint.
How did you hear about Threadless?
I actually heard about Threadless when I was in high school. I bought a shirt from you guys like eight years ago! I think a friend told me about it when I saw his shirt at school. Good stuff! I dig what you guys do. :)
When geometric monsters attack!
What inspired the work that you did for Threadless?
The shape of the garage door, to be honest, ha! I had already sketched out the design to initially paint in London, but I got rained out. When I saw the square format of the door at Threadless, I thought it would be perfect for that sketch.
Many street artists deliberately hide or obscure their faces. What made you decide to openly pose in front of the piece you did for Threadless?
I really like it when I can connect a face to the work I admire; it makes the work seem more “human” to me. There are so many artists I have been following for years, and I have no idea what they look like. I want to provide that connection for my audience since it’s important to me. I also like to show the scale of the work, and sometimes a photo of the work itself doesn’t quite illustrate how large the wall is.
The Lost Cause’s finished product falls perfectly in line with the Threadless style.
What is the creative process like for you, from start to finish, when working on a piece of art?
It usually starts off with a good visual of the surface I will be painting, then a rough sketch based on that surface. My sketches tend to be loose and based more on the general composition and shapes rather than the details. After that, I lay down spray-painted sketch lines on the wall and begin to section off the areas and shapes, and then fill those areas in with colors. I add the details as I’m painting, and typically don’t quite know where all of the details are going to end up til I’m doing them. There’s a lot of back-and-forth of cleaning up lines and details to get them just the way I want them… and a ton of self doubt, haha. But, in the end, I’m usually happy with the results.
Where did the idea of going on an international art tour come from? How is the tour going?
I watch all of these artists and muralists who are constantly traveling. I had done a little bit of traveling here in the U.S. and saw an immediate impact on my work and the power of networking, so it only made sense to take it a little further. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve made with my work. I got to paint new cities, meet new friends, and learn a whole heckuva lot in the process. I am taking what I’ve learned and applying it to my future work.
The man behind the paint.
Your approach to raising money for your tour through crowdsourcing was very unique. How was the process of raising money for your international tour?
Crowdsourcing is the future of getting projects funded. It allows you to have total control of the content of your project and also lets you do it exactly the way you want without outside influence. It also engages the audience in a unique way. When someone donates their hard-earned money to something like an artist tour, they are going to want to see the results. It definitely puts a bit of pressure on me, but in a good way. I also think it’s a great way to get my work physically in my audience’s hands. When they donate they also get “rewards” for donating, so it’s kind of a win-win situation. It blew my mind when I ended the fundraiser with $1775 over my goal; it was a really humbling experience.
What do all the different cities you’re stopping in bring to the table for street art?
Each city has it’s own set of artists, advocates, and politics. A city is like a venue for street art, and just like different venues host different bands and musicians, so does each city with muralists and street artists. The laws and city politics play a huge roll in each city’s ability to deliver street art in a different way. Some have strict laws that limit the amount of street art and some (like Berlin) are much looser and thus you see a much higher saturation and standard for street art.
I’ve seen pictures of you and other artists working on the same mural. How is it collaborating with another artist while painting a mural together on the same wall?
It’s different with each artist. It’s kind of like dancing; some people like to get real close and squeeze on your butt, some like to square dance, and some just want to look at you and nod to the beat. I like it for the most part. I usually like to have a decent discussion beforehand about what’s the plan, but sometimes I just go with the flow and see what happens.
The Lost Cause playing nice with others.
How has an international tour helped you grow as an artist?
It’s helped me to truly realize how integral street art is to a city. It influences the entire environment and the people living in it. The people who live in neighborhoods with murals and art take great pride in that aspect of their community, and I’m happy to give them something to enjoy and look at on their daily walk to the corner store, bus stop, or wherever they may be going. I’m ready to paint more and paint bigger! Street art is the future and is a movement that will be in history books to come. I am just really happy to be a part of it and a witness to it all.
The Winstons approve. Thanks, homie!
HANG AT THE THREADLESS ART MARKET!
Summer is in the air, so what better way to welcome the sunshine and beautiful weather than an outdoor art market? That’s right, swing by Threadless HQ (1260 W. Madison St., Chicago) on June 14th between 1 and 5PM to hang out with the Threadless gang and a slew of incredible local artists! This is the perfect, last minute opportunity to pick up unique artwork for your dad for Father’s Day, or just to snag something for yourself. We’ll be selling an assortment of Threadless products - at super discounted prices! - alongside handcrafted prints, jewelry, flower boxes, and more from artists around Chicago!
Aside from Threadless gear, you can check out and purchase works from these Chicago-based artists at the Art Market:
Eriewood Collective - arrow marquee signs and geometric piñatas
Paper Crown Gallery - art prints, stickers, and more
With Love XOX - handmade clothing and jewelry
Bell Street Studio - metal-work jewelry
Joe Van Wetering - art prints
In addition to all of the great art booths listed above, Culture Studio will be live screen printing blank tees purchased at the market! Street parking for the event will be available, and there will be food for purchase from Chubby Wieners. Unfortunately, walk-ins to the Threadless store will not be taken during the Art Market.
One more thing - stick around Threadless HQ after the market for Paint & Pedal: A Pedicab Street Art Show from 5-10PM. If you’re interested in attending this event afterwards, make sure you RSVP here and here.
STREET ARTIST ARREX TAKES OVER THE THREADLESS MEN’S BATHROOM!
Last winter, we put street artist Arrex on a mission: transform the Threadless men’s bathroom, and make it extra cool. Needless to say, after spreading his trademark images of skulls, decaying teeth, and awesome absurdity in posters and stickers across the bathroom, he definitely accomplished the task. After Arrex finished turning the bathroom into the stuff colorfully weird nightmares are made of, we caught up with the street artist to learn a little more about him and his work. Read on for the interview, and to get a glimpse of our super sweet new men’s bathroom!
Street artist Arrex takes over the Threadless men’s bathroom.
How about a quick introduction?
I go by “Arrex” or “Rx Skulls”. I’m a street artist based out of Portland, Oregon and I specialize in screen printed and hand-cut vinyl sticker art.
What’s your process like?
I love getting my hands dirty. I’m a graphic designer by trade and get bored sitting in front of a computer. I’m most happy playing in my screen printing studio, mixing inks and printing stickers by hand. Getting where I am today included a combination of drawing with pen and ink, block printing, stenciling, and digital editing. When I finally landed on my trademark skull image, it became a matter of maintaining that consistent branding while keeping things fresh and interesting at the same time.
Arrex creates his trademark skull image in a variety of colors and slight modifications to keep his work fresh and interesting.
How did you first get involved with doing street art?
I’d been heading toward becoming a street artist for years before I even realized it. In college, as a part of a site-specific art project, I placed fake tickets on cars and stickers with social commentary. I constantly photographed graffiti and street art but it never occurred to me to create that type of art. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland after college that I noticed consistent imagery all around the city. These street artists had obviously spent hours upon hours and what seemed like thousands of dollars to create this ephemeral artwork with complete selflessness. I felt instantly hooked.
What was your inspiration for the installation in our men’s bathroom?
I knew that I wanted lots of color and variety; to visually attack people right as they walked in, and hold that attention. It was important to me that I create something that belonged in THAT space specifically. The tiles were the first thing that caught my attention - I knew wheat pasted posters would not be ideal on that surface, but stickers were perfect. I screen printed on giant sheets of vinyl, collaging designs with different colors and layouts. I then had a plotter cut out squares that fit the tiles. The rest of the installation was me just playing with the space and being spontaneous.
Arrex continues to spread his coolness everywhere.
What do you hope people take away from your art?
I have no expectations of people to be honest, street art is often white noise in the cityscape. A crisp clean branding is important because you really only have a couple seconds to catch attention. To a lot of people my artwork is just a skull; a graphic rendition of one of the most popular icons in pop culture, or a fun addition to a water bottle or cell phone case, and that’s all. To me, though, it’s about the fragility that is life and a carpe diem of sorts; a reminder that life should be enjoyed, valued, and appreciated. When four members of your family are diagnosed with cancer in the span of two years, not to mention my own diagnosis of a brain tumor, you get thinking about these things quite deeply. Art has always been my outlet.
How would you describe the difficulty of stickers vs. wheat paste?
The reason I love stickers so much is their accessibility. I can comfortably have over 200 little pieces of art in my pocket at any point in time, ready to give to anyone or put wherever I want. They are truly like little wheat paste posters in themselves, but without all the mess. Wheat paste, however, is a very economical way to apply art. Both paper and paste are cheap, plus you can attract a lot more attention with a big poster than a sticker. This also means, though, that it is likely to get removed much more quickly. It’s a trade off when it comes down to it: would you rather fly in the face of the passerby for a short amount of time, or hide with a sticker, catching less attention but riding on the streets far longer?
You heard Arrex. Wash your skulls.
Do you think street art needs more appreciation?
I think both my generation and younger generations appreciate it, as its popularity is growing. My hope is that as my generation ages to become the elders, street art will become more accepted. This “broken windows” theory and zero tolerance attitudes are largely outdated and sometimes even backward. It will always be hated by some, tolerated by others, and loved by (hopefully) most.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve done?
As far as stickers go, my favorites are my white on transparent skulls. I screen print the inner part of my skull with white ink on clear vinyl. Almost nothing in the street is white, which means a pure white pops off almost everything quite strongly. These stickers don’t appear to be floating; instead, they drink in the substrate and become apart of it as it shows through the clear vinyl. It’s almost like a little stencil spray. When it comes to fine art, my favorite pieces have been my wood pieces. I screen print on wood, and then glue on prosthetic eyeballs and real human teeth.
Arrex’s white on transparent skull image bids adieu as you exit the bathroom.
What’s the biggest challenge or weirdest encounter you’ve had?
My biggest challenge has been both staying anonymous and funding my artistic endeavors. If I could I would give all my stickers away for free; I’d mail them to everyone who wanted one and pass them out in stacks. That’s really the goal as a street artist, isn’t it? Beside having fun, it’s spreading your image around as much as possible. I don’t care if you know who I am, but I do want you to be familiar with my image. Selling sticker packs has been a requirement for me to continue to fund the equipment, chemicals, vinyl, and inks that allow me to keep making sticker art. I could go on and on with sticker related incidences, which got me thrown out of places, yelled at by pedestrians, and forced me to run from…well, you know.
A table of Arrex’s sweet stickers!
Do you have a formal art education? Do you have a day job?
I have a liberal arts degree in art, and am a graphic designer by trade, which has helped me understand the importance of branding in street art. You can create a hundred different images and get them up and that’s all fine and dandy, however, if you want people to know it’s you, consistent branding is necessary.
What would be your advice to young artists trying to find their groove?
Passion and persistence is all you need. You have to love what you do and just never stop. Street art is not like art in a gallery. If you are putting up your art in the street, expect that it will get torn up, gone over, and critiqued to the bone. You have to have thick skin and persist past the negative energy.
No space is safe from Arrex.
What are some of the trends you’ve found in other cities?
It seems like every city has a slightly different style. Graffiti especially; if you look at graffiti in Philly compared to what’s found in Oakland, you will see some huge differences in technique and style. Stickers can have similar differences city to city. Portland, for example, has an abundance of screen printers, so it seems 80% of street artists here have some sort of makeshift silk screen setup. This means we can produce far more artwork quicker and for a cheaper price. Because it’s vinyl it also lasts in the street a lot longer than paper stickers. Other cities value hand-drawn stickers over screen printing, some do more stenciling and block printing.
Have you ever considered submitting to Threadless?
Indeed! I submitted a couple of designs while I was in college. They were absolutely terrible; you could tell it was submitted by a person who literally just learned how to use Adobe Illustrator. Needless to say they didn’t quite get enough votes to make the cut, which, in retrospect, I’m glad for!
What goes well with skulls? A whole bunch of decaying teeth.
Where can people snatch up some of your stickers?
www.arrex.bigcartel.com is where I sell my sticker packs. All stickers are screen printed by me and hand-cut individually. They are not pre-made packs; I make them whenever I get an order. A quick check to my Instagram is a good way to see what I’ve been printing lately and what will be included in the packs at that time, though there are certain classic designs that always get thrown in. All money goes towards traveling and art supplies!
Where can people continue to follow your artwork?
I post stuff on Instagram and Facebook pretty regularly! Friend me!
The tiles get stickers, the walls get wheat-pasted posters, and the stalls get skulls. The bathroom becomes a true Arrex original.
Any last words or shout outs?
Dangerous question to ask a street artist!! There are so many rad people who have helped me get to where I am today in my art.
Shout outs to my homies PKVD from New York, Nick from England, and Flattiron from Barcelona: these guys help spread my art around places I can’t always afford to visit. Big love to my friend Stickee from England, he’s given me priceless screen printing knowledge and been a great friend. I could go on and on with fellow artists names so I’ll just mention the ones I work with most closely, which are The Lost Cause, Skam, Renone, Doctor Rasterbator, Kanye, Obit, James Fulk, Twigs, & BlackWhite.
Shout out my friends Jeremy and Paul at Blaq Paks for letting me use their giant plotter to make all those cool squares for the bathroom tiles.
Lots of good vibes to “Portland Stickers”, a local photographer who takes an amazing amount of rad photos of sticker art in our city, allowing the ephemeral to last forever.
Love to Vanessa Ruiz who was the first person to publish my art out in the public eye on her rad site.
MEET THE LIE, THREADLESS WAREHOUSE ARTIST AND PAPER CROWN GALLERY CO-OWNER!
At Threadless HQ, we have a lot of walls, and it just so happens, walls make a great place for awesome, spontaneous art. When a bare spot in our warehouse needed a mural in a bad way, we invited artist Jay Turner, otherwise known as “The Lie” and co-owner of Chicago suburb Arlington Height’s Paper Crown Gallery, to come in and do his thang. His piece ended up being so super rad (as if we were surprised), that we had to share it here, along with an interview about this pretty stellar dude. Check it out below to learn more about Turner as well as his totally cool gallery, where you can check out original (and affordable!) artwork by independent artists, shop one-of-a-kind merchandise, take classes, see shows, and even sip vino while painting your latest masterpiece!
And hey, if you like what you see and are in the Chicago area this weekend, check out Turner’s solo show at 7pm on Friday, May 2nd, at Chicago Truborn! (His awesome pieces will be accompanied with free beer, so, you know… you should go.)
"Hummingbird" by The Lie
Jay, we think you’re pretty awesome. Start off by telling us a little bit about yourself!
I graduated from the Illinois Institute of Art with a degree in Game Art & Design. I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I thought I would, so after college I starting working on building my career in graphic design. I worked on package design for large brands and ended up being utilized as an illustrator more than a designer (like illustrating the gum on the Hubba Bubba wrappers in Russia!). After bouncing around between jobs, I decided to open Paper Crown Gallery with a friend„ an art gallery that focuses on work inspired by street art as well as offering other services relating to the creative world.
The man behind “The Lie” mystery, Jay Turner!
We’re huge fans of Paper Crown Gallery over here at Threadless. What inspired its opening?
I wanted to help other artists like myself get exposure to the art world. There is so much talent out there; I wanted to find it and show it to people. Plus, I’ve always wanted to own my own business so it was a now or never type deal for me.
Featured artwork for sale at Paper Crown Gallery
What makes Paper Crown Gallery unique?
The most obvious is that we’re the only ones doing this out in the suburbs. We wanted to create a place that has the city feel without having to make the trip out there. Also, we have a 4,000 square foot warehouse, so we can house huge shows and events, offer classes for graphic design, photography, web development, illustration, and animation, sell merchandise like custom artwork, toys, t-shirts, and discounted art supplies, and host private wine and painting parties.
Paper Crown Gallery’s massive space provides plenty of room for classes, events, and more.
How would you describe the type of artwork and artists you represent?
I would say the overall feel would be a street art style. Most of the artists I represent are not “famous” artists; they’re people that are extremely talented and love what they do. I just look for a street art style and if they are nice people, I’m happy to help them out.
So how’d you get into street art, anyway?
I wouldn’t say I’m a “street artist” really. There are artists out there jumping fences and finding spots, whereas usually I get invited! I do love it though, which is why I build my art gallery around it. I love the history behind it all and the style of work it produces. I love to see what people choose to represent themselves with on the street. It really shows you, in another way, how different and beautiful everyone is.
Another original by The Lie
Regardless of whether you call yourself a street artist, you definitely have a very specific style! How did you develop it, and how has it evolved over the years?
I was the guy who was really good at drawing but wouldn’t really show anything to people. Starting the gallery really pushed me to the next level, although I had already jumped ahead because I had been painting every day. Then, two years ago, an artist walked in and introduced me to spray paint, which changed the way I created artwork. I could do things bigger and faster while exploring colors and techniques. Now every time I see someone with incredible work, it pushes me to be better.
"Helmut" by The Lie
How do you create your pieces, and what materials do you use to do so?
I bounce around with different mediums when I paint on canvas or other materials, but mostly I use spray paint for anything with color. If it’s smaller in size, I’ll use acrylic paint for the whites and blacks. Sometimes I shade with charcoal, or even use tattoo ink for little detail.
Obviously, we’re pretty crazy about the piece you made for Threadless. Why did you choose this piece in particular?
Well, to be honest, I actually had no idea what I was going to do until I walked up the ladder. I basically winged it… I hardly ever sketch anything before I paint; when I do, my sketch is awesome and I can’t reproduce it. Then I always feel I wasted the good version on the sketch.
The Lie’s creation for the Threadless warehouse
What advice would you give to an artist trying to turn a passion into a career, as you have?
It’s easy to give up and get discouraged. It’s very hard to make money in this industry. But if you are dedicated and work extremely hard to be better at what you do, eventually it will pay off. Eventually means probably not tomorrow, or next week, or next year… Just maybe before you die, and sometimes that’s not even the case.
How has art both defined and changed your life?
For me, as an artist, I look at things differently. I look at how things are made, what they did first, what paint techniques they used. I’m always learning and trying to get better. It’s also connected to me to everyone in the art world. I’ve met so many amazing people and have worked on awesome projects. I had a job in a cubicle once making pretty decent money, and it was the worst time in my life. I need to be around it and the artists, and I need to get it out of me.
“Foxracer” by The Lie
Hey, we gotta know: what inspired your name “The Lie”?
Well, there are three reasons. First, I always receive comments that my work is “creepy” or along that nature. I’m the complete opposite of that; I just make “creepy” artwork. I needed a name under which I could house all this creepy art while keeping the commission work, portraits, birds, and other “normal” artwork under Jay Turner. Second, I never lie, and often get myself into trouble because I am too honest. I figured that since my artwork is the opposite of me, why not make the name opposite too. Third, there are always people out there trying to tell others what to do, like those who tell me to make more “happy looking” artwork. Advertisements are in your face telling you what is the best drink, vacation spot, food, how to be sexy… it’s all a big lie. Be who you want.
Thanks so much, Jay! And just a reminder to all you Chicago readers out there, don’t forget to attend The Lie’s art show on Friday!
See you there!
STOP BY THE THREADLESS PANEL AT C2E2!
Headed to C2E2 this weekend? We’re so excited to announce that Threadless will have a panel of artists ready to share tips on improving, promoting and getting paid for your art!
If you’ll be there, you won’t want to miss this panel with uber successful Threadless designers Alice X. Zhang, Karen Hallion and Alex Solis.
ALICE X. ZHANG
Alice X. Zhang is a full-time freelance designer, illustrator, and portrait artist with a penchant for cinema and pop culture. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2010.
Karen Hallion grew up in Nahant, a small town in Massachusetts just north of Boston. She attended Ringling School of Art and Design, graduating with a BFA in Illustration in 1997. Karen was an elementary school art teacher until 2009 when she began working full-time as an artist. She originally wanted to work for Disney as an animator, so her work tends to reflect that. She counts the amazing work of Glen Keane, Audrey Kawasaki, and Alphonse Mucha among her significant influences.
Karen speaks fluent geek and pop culture, notably Star Wars, Firefly, Buffy, Harry Potter and Steampunk. She currently live in Swampscott, MA with her husband, two sons, and their cats, Obi and Kenobi.
Alex Solis is a 61 time printed Threadless artist. He’s also a Threadless staffer! Originally from Milwaukee, he currently lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids.
What would you like to know from Alice, Karen and Alex? Write questions below so we can prepare for the panel. We’ll make sure to follow up and get those questions answered here in the blog if you won’t be able to join us.