Breaking Down Barriers with Depressed Monsters

Depressed Monsters

Life is throwing us humans some real curveballs lately. It’s tough out there, and some days taking a break, or a moment, or a whole dang week to chill, and take some much needed YOU time to recenter is not only ok, it’s dosh garn imperative. With May being Mental Health Awareness month, we caught up with Ryan Bunty, the creator of Depressed Monsters, to highlight how he’s helping to change the narrative surrounding mental health. 

What inspired you to create Depressed Monsters?

In 2012, my grandfather passed from cancer and it completely changed the landscape of my life. I lost the man I looked up to most and it impacted me in ways I couldn’t comprehend. I eventually got to the point where I couldn’t leave my house and just resorted to laying on my couch and creating a type of cocoon that I couldn’t free myself from. I didn’t realize that depression was a thing at the time, I just thought I was grieving. The days turned into weeks and I lost my job, friends stopped calling, and I didn’t know what to do. I eventually started watercoloring as a form of self-expression and these little self portraits started forming. The routine of ending every night with a self portrait became my sanctuary and I didn’t realize it at the time but it was leading me to self-help. One night I set up my drafting table and put on some music and started sketching out a little monster. One brush stroke led to another and there was Yerman on the paper. I looked at that little furry self-portrait and had my breakthrough moment realizing that this little creature was the true depiction of who I was and how I was dealing with the passing of my grandfather. I put it on Twitter and the reaction was super positive which helped me feel connected to the outside world again. Eventually I healed and became whole again but if it weren’t for Yerman, I wouldn’t be here today.

I started witnessing the power of Yerman pretty early on when people started sending their stories of their own mental health journeys and how the character helped them cope just by having it around. The first run of shirts I did sold out immediately so I just started focusing on Yerman and how that little self-portrait was helping me move forward and helping others cope with their own depression/anxiety. I knew early on that I wanted to raise awareness around the stigma of mental health and so I started donating a portion of proceeds to mental health agencies. The Jed Foundation reached out and invited me to speak at The Moth in Brooklyn because they read my blog post that shared my journey and they were inspired by it. 

So now, 8 years later, and the brand is found at Hot Topic, Zappos, Amazon and on depressedmonsters.com and I continue to donate to mental health agencies I look up to such as The Trevor Project, Jed Foundation, PeaceLove and others. I do public speaking events to talk about how the character saved my life and partner with like-minded companies along the way which led me to Threadless! I’m so excited to start this partnership with you as Threadless has introduced me to so many artists I love throughout the years and I can’t wait to introduce Depressed Monsters to your audience in the hopes that it can help others out there! 

You can see more of where the brand came from by watching some of my public speaking engagements HERE.

Yerman mural at Zappos HQ and at Park Jam

I first saw your work as street art in Las Vegas and have ran into you selling toys at DesignerCon. Now you have an Artist Shop! Is there a medium you like creating in most?

No way! I didn’t realize that’s how you came across the brand for the first time, that’s so cool. I love that Depressed Monsters has the touchpoint it has now. I’ve tried really hard to be as accessible to as many people as possible and so if one can’t afford a piece of art or clothing, public art is super important to me because it’s available for mass consumption now matter your socio-economic position in the world. To me, art should be available to everyone, and there shouldn’t be gatekeepers, so any time I get to do a mural is a win for me because my mission is to be as available as possible for those that need a reminder that their mental health is top priority. Yerman can be there if you need it to be. 

That being said, I design t-shirts mostly in my career so any excuse to get out from behind a computer screen these days is so welcome. Throughout my career, I’ve touched many different mediums and I don’t know if I have a favorite, I’m always pushing myself to learn more and more. I didn’t go to art school so learning is important to me. When I first started, watercolors were my go-to and I loved how fluid and free they were. They allowed me to play within my mood in a very non-committal way. Then I moved to acrylics in murals and taking a piece in my head or on a small piece of paper and translating it to a wall was intimidating and a HUGE learning curve but once I did it enough it became my favorite. Then I started tackling digital art and taking my designs and moving them to a digital format which allowed me to more openly create and share my work. Art is a learning process for me and a coping mechanism for my depression so any time I get to play around with new formats, it’s very freeing. I hope to start creating in VR eventually as I would love to create environments for individuals to interact with Yerman as much as possible.

Tell us about your Artist Shop!

Like I said earlier, I am so excited about partnering with Threadless and opening my own Artist Shop! This is a dream come true.

My Artist Shop is going to be a super fun place to find designs that I haven’t used on my other partner sites. Designs that I love and can now put on diverse products I’ve never been able to offer before. You want some Yerman shoes? YOU GOT IT! How about a ringer tee with inspirational messages that helped me through tough times? Ok, hope they help you through tough times too! 

I’m so excited to be able to offer some of these designs because I’ve been dreaming about them on shirts and things for years. It’s going to be so fun to grow with Threadless and create items that I hope you love as much as I do.

Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?

I’ve been pretty fortunate to work on some really cool things in my career that I never dreamed art would take me to. I guess it’s a true testament to just keep working at your dream and one day you’ll be closer than you could have ever imagined with detours that took you to amazing locations. I had a lot of hangups when I started doing this but after years of therapy, I’ve finally let go of the ego side of it and just let the universe take over and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Depressed Monsters has saved me too many times to count. I’m so thankful that I get to not only create art, but have the community around Depressed Monsters that I do; it’s been an amazing ride so far.

I think my favorite projects have been:

  • Painting at Coachella a few years ago. I was fortunate enough to live paint at a pool party during the fest, it was a magical time. Joe Jonas got in a fight and knocked into my painting after his DNCE project performed. Only at Coachella! 
  • I’ve done some really cool projects with the Life is Beautiful Festival here in Vegas. I’ve created murals that are still viewable on Fremont Street. I curated artist exhibitions for live painting by the main stage, (I got to live paint and watch Stevie Wonder, that was SURREAL) and I designed custom denim jackets for Zappos activations that sold out on the first day of the festival. I always love working with LIB.

With the current pandemic do you have any suggestions for creatives struggling with their mental health?

Don’t beat yourself up too much if you’re not creating to the standards of what you’re seeing online. There are a lot of posts out there saying that you should be at your most creative self right now but I disagree so much. Just because Shakespeare wrote King Lear during his quarantine doesn’t mean you should be doing the same. Right now, practice self-care, self-reflection, and focus on surviving these strange times. Isolation can cause severe depression, so focusing on being healthy in mind and spirit is most important. Allow yourself to breathe and focus on being mindful and allow yourself to just be ok. There’s plenty of life left to create your masterpiece but right now, focus on becoming your own masterpiece and allowing yourself to LIVE through this. You’re loved and important and being able to survive a pandemic is enough stress without putting the weight of having to create on your shoulders. Making lists really helps me tackle the day’s needs. Then I am allowing myself to just live through the moments. I dyed my hair green yesterday so I guess that’s my way of coping right now. Changing my physical appearance allows me to take control when I can’t take control of things outside my scope. Hope that helps and feel free to reach out via the Depressed Monsters discord. We have some amazing people in there that can help guide us through these turbulent times. You can join our community HERE. We have a “shoulder to lean on” section where we just talk about what’s bothering us and hope we can be there for each other.

Side note, I’m not a licensed therapist or healthcare provider so everything I say about mental health is just from my own experiences and trying to be the best version of myself while being there for others. I hope it helps in any way, but having a licensed counselor is still the best way to cope with life’s turmoils and changes.

On your personal Instagram account it says “artist displayed in #MOMA bathroom.” I’d like to hear about that!

Oh man, I was debating taking that off for a bit but I decided to keep it on because it reminds me how facetious the art world can be and that it can still be fun if you want it to be! So the story with that is basically I love guerrilla techniques in art. I’m a big fan of Shepherd Fairey, Invader, and Blek le Rat, the artist that Banksy was heavily “inspired” by. Those artists all capitalized on their cityscape as a canvas and never asked permission to put themselves out there. This is what art is to me, taking chances and asking forgiveness if you have to. So, I was in New York for a storytelling workshop with Jed Foundation and The Moth in which they flew me out to do a two day class and then tell my story of Yerman for a mental health event in Brooklyn. During one of my off days, I had this idea of showcasing my art in the MoMa. I was just starting off and figuring out my voice and back then I was super influenced by punk rock culture. I still am but now I paint with pinks and blues instead of darker hues. So I was thinking, “how can I exhibit in the MoMa while I’m in NYC?” I’m a nobody artist that would never get invited so what can I do? So, because I was a stupid 20-something year old with a dream, I whipped up a few Yerman watercolors and bought a frame at a local art shop then put them in a backpack and walked through the MoMa. I then went to the bathrooms on the third floor or so and went into the furthest stall and took the pieces out and hung a few in that bathroom stall. I then took the other pieces and put them on the faucets and throughout the bathroom so I could officially say I was an artist displayed in the MoMa…bathroom. So stupid but still cracks me up to this day. I remember posting it to my Twitter, before I even had the Depressed Monsters handle, and people thought it was hilarious. I’m sure a janitorial crew found them ten minutes later and didn’t know what to do with them and didn’t know if they were contemporary art from a huge artist or if that just happens all the time and they just threw them out. I’d love to know what happened after I left them there. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to actually exhibit at the MoMa? A boy can dream.

Subsequently, I just did my first museum work right before the pandemic hit at the Barrick Museum here in Las Vegas. It was a dream come true, I made a window display which is a medium I’ve wanted to work in for the longest time. The opening was scheduled for March 27th but just like everything else in the world, it’s been pushed until the pandemic has subsided.

You can see the window display here.

From left to right: limited edition Yerman vinyl toy, Depressed Monsters art installation the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art in Las Vegas

You are also in the band, Feigns! Where can folks check out your tunes? Does Yerman make any appearances at your shows?

Feigns is a band I started with a few friends for us to play music inspired by skate punk mixed with 90s garage rock. Basically, Pixies meets Black Flag I think is a pretty decent way of describing it, but we definitely genre bend a lot too. Honestly, we just turn our guitars super loud and try to have fun on stage and try to make our live show as engaging as possible. You can find us on all streaming platforms and at feignsband.bandcamp.com!

No Yerman appearances in Feigns. I let my other friends in bands wear their shirts during their live shows which is honestly much cooler for me to see.

I’ve been writing a ton of songs during this pandemic that don’t really match the Feigns aesthetic so I’m debating some demos to release under a new moniker but haven’t decided yet. I’m just living one day at a time right now. I actually finished the first track to a project I’ve wanted to do for the longest time. It’s called Teen Coma and it’s inspired by the feeling of growing up and not knowing where you are in the world yet. I’m super influenced by bands like Current Joys, Surf Curse, Gus Dapperton, etc., and so this is my bedroom pop/bummer pop side project. I’m working on an EP and the first song is up at teencoma.bandcamp.com!

Does band practice exist during social distancing?

We have been trying to figure out a way to have band practice over Skype or something but so far no dice!

I’ve been reaching out to some musician friends of mine for us to make music during the quarantine. It’s been super fun because they all play different genres than me so I’m able to flex a different creative muscle. I just did a spoken word piece over a beat my friend Dak made because I love bands like La Dispute and Hotel Books so I wanted to try and do something similar. Of course, they’re way better but it’s fun to give it a shot. Music has always been a part of my creative therapy so I’ve been relying on that a lot lately.

What’s next for Depressed Monsters? Do you have a dream project?

Right now I’m focused on helping people feel better during this pandemic though artwork and inspirational pieces. All the plans for the brand are currently on hold until we can all get through this together. I’m living more mindful these days and cherishing every moment and trying to be more present because I tend to be a futurist and am always looking toward planning for the next year but right now it’s too hard on my mental health to do that so I’m trying to quell my anxiety in the moment. As far as dream projects, I have been working toward a mass-produced toy and a cartoon for the past few years and that’s still the goal. I think Yerman has more of a story he needs to tell and I’m just the medium through which he travels so he’s already saved my life. He’s currently helping others and in the future I believe the message will be delivered en masse. Just have to be patient and let the universe guide us. I know that sounds a little new age-y, but that’s where I’m at right now. I guess we’ll have to chat again when this is all over so I can give you an answer I’d usually give under normal circumstances. Right now we are all hurting and it’s tough to put my “building a brand” hat on when I’m isolated and missing my friends and hoping the world can heal through all this.

I’m always curious what people are reading or podcasts they are listening to. Any suggestions?

I’m reading a lot of self-help books right now. Atomic Habits, How to be Better at (Almost) Anything and my personal favorite, Unf*ck Yourself. I really recommend that last one, it does an amazing job of getting one out of their head into their life by explaining the hangups we all have in our everyday thoughts. I needed to get a new fiction book so I picked up Stephen Chobsky’s Imaginary Friend because I’m such a fan of his Perks of Being a Wallflower. I know it’s a YA book, but it’s so friggin’ good and I try to re-read it once a year. The movie is fantastic as well and now available on Netflix! I’m also going through A24’s complete catalogue because I’m such a sucker for their films. My favorites are A Ghost Story, Disaster Artist, Eighth Grade and Uncut Gems

I’m actually working on debuting my podcast! I’ve done some really cool interviews in the past few years with Hobo Johnson, Cherry Glazerr and others and so now I want to build it out into a full-fledged podcast. I am working on it throughout the pandemic so hopefully it’ll be out soon! You can follow instagram.com/brainfuzzies for updates.

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Lance Curran

Artist Shops Account Director, Comic Book Czar, and Podcast Co-Host