“The moment you are “forcing” your creativity to be funneled in order to make money, or to fit a certain trend, or to gain a certain response based on some algorithm, it becomes stagnant…”
– Alex Pardee
When it comes to influential artists in the world of all things sci-fi and geekery, Alex Pardee is, without question, one of the greats. From being featured in as well as working with Juxtapoz Magazine to designing the art for Zack Snyder’s film Suckerpunch, his resume is as awesome as his hyper-creative art style.
Most recently, he teamed up with Matt Ritchie to create their “Astralnauts” show at Gallery 1988, featuring alien ghosts with fully fleshed out backstories set in a Ghostbusters-in-space type universe. And we’re honored that he also just launched his Threadless Artist Shop.
But the man who needs no introduction needs no more introduction. We talked to Alex about “The Astralnauts,” his Artist Shop, and his philosophy on making art. Check out the interview below!
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Tell me a little bit about your exhibition with Matt Ritchie, “Astralnauts.” What was the idea behind the exhibition?
Whenever I create new work for an art show, I can’t help but use the opportunity as a springboard to create and explore a new world or property. Creating a theme, or a narrative ahead of time to build the show around gives me parameters and allows me to be art-directed by myself so that I can create something consistent. Matt Ritchie thinks in the same way, so it was natural for us to want to create a new world for a show that we are creating together.
We were also influenced by similar types of pop culture as kids. So we piled up everything from the 70’s and 80’s that we loved, and the idea we came up with was “The Astralnauts” – a vision of our future where ghosts are discovered to be real, but not just on Earth, so these Astralnauts are basically ghost-hunters in space. That gave us a pretty open canvas to create things we love. Ghosts, aliens, nerdy space-technology, spaceships, etc.
If you could live in one movie from the ‘80s, which would you choose?
Robocop. Hands down.
It sounds like you and Ritchie combined your (very different) art styles for the show in a really balanced way. What were some of the challenges?
The difference in our styles was something that we knew from day one was going to be a challenge, especially if we were so into the idea of consistency. So we were AWARE of that challenge when we were brainstorming, but we both agreed that we have enough creativity to be able to tie the styles together no matter what, so we purposely didn’t worry about it until we started creating work for the show.
But there was a point early in development that we did have to figure it out. But that’s where having a narrative and a written story helped, because we decided to find a way to write our differences into the story, which we did. We came up with the idea that when these ghosts get “captured”, they go through a process called “tooning” which actually shrinks and traps the ghost inside little cartoonish trophies, so that way, I could still make these weird insane detailed ghost drawings, and Matt could “toon” them. It worked out great, I think.
Do any of the aliens have backstories?
Oh yah, they all do! So do the planets. That’s one of the most fun and nerdiest parts for me, even if no one reads them or knows. I know – that’s all I care about! But we did actually create these old vintage, GI Joe-inspired “stat cards” for each of the ghosts that we displayed along with the paintings. These cards told brief synopsis of their backstories.
What made you decide to open an Artist Shop!
For almost 15 years now, I have owned my own various apparel companies in some form or another. Knowing that apparel was a great outlet for my artwork, I always incorporated apparel as an art outlet. But just like having an art business, having an apparel business requires just as much attention if you want to keep up the same quality. Over the years it just became clear that my passion lies in creating rather than actually manufacturing apparel.
I have loved the aesthetic and intentions of Threadless since it started (when I had my own company) and you had freedom AND great quality products even in the beginning. But I have watched how great everything about the company has grown into and now it’s just inspiring to have the option of being a part of this well-oiled machine, ESPECIALLY because opening an Artist Store allows me to be spontaneous, creative, and experimental without having to worry about the risks that have always accompanied that those things in the past.
You have so many themes and collections you’ve worked with – how did you curate what to put in your Artist Shop?
Manufacturing and producing art on shirts on my own was always risky, because I make “unsafe” art. You never know what people will like or hate or what “styles” of shirts people may be into, and the color trends are always changing, and so forth. So, for years I had to be painstakingly precise with my risks and research before producing a shirt, if I wanted to continue making shirts. But because of those risks, I always had to cancel one out of three designs because it might be too obscure, or too risky, or too silly.
With my Artist Shop, it’s my opportunity to hold nothing back, and just constantly curate my own goofiness. I am focusing a lot on obscure pop culture art for now, but will soon expand into bringing more of my own art into the store in the future.
You also have a pretty rad app that I’ve spent a good chunk of time having fun with at the office: #WayCooler. How did this idea come about!
Oh thank you! #WayCooler was such a blast to create. I love all forms of new media and I get excited whenever a new creative platform comes out. I just wish I had more time to explore all of them! But a good friend of mine, Franky Aguilar (of 99centBrains) approached me with the idea of building some kind of creative “sticker” app using some elements from my art. That’s how it started, but it evolved into something really really fun and engaging.
Why did you create “WayCooler?”
We created it for two reasons. The main reason was just to try to work in a new medium and challenge ourselves to create something interactive and engaging. It’s a totally different approach than just creating a drawing. The second reason was that we wanted to see if we could make something that people could “discover” a use for. So, on the surface, it was an app where you can take a photo and give yourself a silly-monster-mouth, or replace your eyeball with a gross drippy eye. But we figured that if we supplied enough shapes, colors, and elements, that people would eventually disregard the idea that you have to embellish a photo, and instead use the elements to make en entire scene, or recreate some other art and photos. And that’s exactly what happened! It was awesome! I hope to continue exploring new apps and games in the future.
The way you talk about your art and the ways you make it available, like with your app and “Astralnauts,” just bleeds fun and being passionate about your work, it’s a very genuine vibe. What’s your philosophy on making art?
Thank you! That’s a tough question. One that I don’t consciously think about on a regular basis. But I am a very passionate person when it comes to art, or actually not just art, but of anything creative. I think that, more than anything else, passion should help drive you to do what you want, art especially. The moment you are “forcing” your creativity to be funneled in order to make money, or to fit a certain trend, or to gain a certain response based on some algorithm, it becomes stagnant in my opinion.
It’s a hard thing to battle sometimes, especially in a time like now where you can create new art by mashing up “other people’s property” and it gets such an enormous response that you want to KEEP doing that. But it’s important to know that as long as you are having FUN doing that, and are passionate, cool. But the moment you go “Hmm, this Ren & Stimpy drawing got me 100 new followers, I’ll just do THAT again!” it stops you from evolving.
I like the tagline on your Instagram: “I draw things that don’t exist because I wish they did” – that’s awesome. What fictional worlds and creatures most inspire you?
I love and appreciate any kind of world-building, big and small, from anything obvious like Star Wars and Game of Thrones to more obscure world-building, like Rick & Morty or The Binding Of Isaac, or even Wu-Tang Clan and The Aquabats.
But overall, what draws me in the most to a fictional world (or an artists’ stylized world) is the ability for someone to create something that immediately inspires me to ask questions or make suggestions as to “what else to do” with that world, if that makes sense. A good example as an artist whose world I love is Greg “Craloa” Simkins. I think he’s currently the epitome of someone who is able to constantly build worlds within his paintings that all belong together, but they contain so many small characters, monsters, and stories within them that they seem infinite.
The Meet the Misters anthology you have is super creative – Do you often include narrative and story with your artwork (publicly or not)?
Oh thank you! I can’t wait to jump back into that series. My plan with that originally was to make a little anthology book with a bunch of short stories and drawings, in a similar vein to “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.” Someday I’ll have time to work on it some more.
Which, speaking of time, if I had TIME to add narratives to more of my work I think I would. I love doing that, because I appreciate the “bonus” aspect of it. Like, when you go to Disneyland, you can go on the Indiana Jones ride, and it’s a fun ride, but if you took a little more time while you’re waiting in line, you have the option of reading all the little signs and engulfing yourself a little more in the bonus narrative that goes along with it, so when you get to the ride itself, it’s a little more than a ride – it’s the climax to the story. I love that.
Do you think it enhances the art and vice versa?
I think it ultimately depends on what kind of art I’m creating at the time. If I just feel like creating some weird messy monster that’s hugging a little cute piece of tofu, then I kind of like the open interpretation of it without a narrative. But on the other hand, if I just drew a smiley face, there wouldn’t really seem to be anything special about it at first, but if I added a narrative and told you that the smiley face is actually a discarded contact lens from a serial killer, it adds a little more meaning to it.
What advice do you have for up and coming artists?
A long time ago, I would have said “embrace the internet” is the best advice, but nowadays, although that’s still important, I think it’s a given than any young artist has embraced the internet since they were two. But now the best advice that I can give, which is a bi-product of this cool internet world, is that PATIENCE is almost as important as not basing your career around “likes” on Instagram. The internet can skew your perception and it may seem like people become successful immediately because they get a lot of likes online, but that’s not usually the case. So don’t get discouraged if you get 500 likes on something but no one is knocking at your door to design something for them. Just keep going. Assume that everyone thinks you suck until you hear otherwise, and then keep thinking that so it pushes you to get better.
Featured image is Alex Pardee’s classic “BUNNYWITH“