A CONVERSATION WITH POSTERBOY
I first saw Posterboy's work on the subway platform a month or so ago. It was a reworked ad poster for the show Date My Ex, only someone had replaced the heads of these ridiculous LA models sitting at a table on a date with the heads from Hellboy and Brendon Frasier in The Mummy. It was simple, it parodied advertising - the whole culture of image with it's own vocabulary, and it was hilarious. I located Posterboy's Flickr page and saw not only could they be hilarious but political: Lifetime's Army Wives poster altered by cutting out the faces, leaving only black underneath and a pair of eyes. Change "Army" to Iraq and you've got levels of interpretation beyond just messing around with a razor blade and something that thousands of people would see on their way to work.
I thought I would send him an email and see if he would be interested in sitting down to talk about his process.
Jason Dean: So let's start at the beginning: how did this all start?
Posterboy: You know what? Honestly it comes from my love of toilet art, you know the stuff in stalls, it's the funniest because you know, no one is holding back, no one is going to catch them, so they're going to write whatever is on their mind. It's sometimes the most honest stuff... I love that.
I call it the penis philosophy. I studied in Africa for a little bit, through this program. I would talk to my friends and they said "You're always drawing dicks." You know, because I draw with my friends, totally sloppy funny shit and there's always going to be a dick in there. I said because it's the funniest thing, its universally funny. I bet you could show a drawing of a penis to anyone in any country and they'll laugh. He didn't think so. Culturally we were off, obviously he's in Africa, unless he's up with popular culture he's not going to get a lot of the references. So I showed him this picture and the first thing he recognized was a dick and he cracked up. It's universal.
I've always been anti establishment, ever since high school. I didn't want to follow rules, you get labeled as a failure, but I kind of wised up, I went to good high school and I went to community college. I applied some of my hate towards corporate anything, but I could back it up. I was just noticing things, not liking ads all the time not wanting to watch TV. You get tired of the same bullshit.
So I'm in NY
now and I'm riding the train and I see these ads over and over again. Even if you choose not to look at them it doesn't matter. That face, that name, and sure enough it's from seeing that ad over an over. I don't like that. I think people should be empowered and take back what's theirs... their visual territory. That's just as much ours as anything else. It's bad enough we have to payMTA 2 dollars to get on, and then we have to give up our visual space.
So it's a mixture of that, ripping off the heads, cutting out the eyes, and its just so easy to work with. Its essentially a giant vinyl sticker so if you cut it just so deep with a razor you can re-adhere it to another surface, so I figured you can make collages, mix and match. I just recently got into art, and it works for me. I don't work well with institutions or set schedules so this is the perfect language for me, a no holes barred kind of atmosphere. You can pull out compositions, work with colors. I really think about that.
My friend told me he saw one of my pieces on Gawker, someone had posted a picture of a piece I did. So I went on and I see the comments. It was exciting, you know yo see that people really like this. The picture they had posted was after people had torn off pieces and changed it, so I sent him the original. I just happened to take a picture of the piece that day. So he posted it again with other pictures I sent him and it just blew up. So if people like this I'm gonna keep doing it. Why else are you gonna make art? I figure this is a good platform to keep working with.
I actually didn't have money to paint at the time, so it worked on a lot of levels. I didn't have any space, you know how space is in New York, but I always had a monthly pass, so I just kept working on them. I only really did them when I was on my way to school or work, I didn't go out of my way. Recently the last few pieces I've done, I have gone of my way to do a collaboration with Aakash Nihalani in Brooklyn and it worked out well. I like working with other artists, it's always nice to see something different, their point of view while your working.
JD: Did the work change as you started working regularly? Did it start as straight collage and gradually turn political, have more of a message or a lot of them just kind of lent themselves to the type of piece they would end up?
PB: It is a progression. I never have a set plan. It comes from hip hop and jazz, my appreciation of good hip hop jazz music. Like Miles Davis and Coltrane. Those guys were best at improv, just bust out a jam right there. I think that goes for artists. It's like "Ok your an artist, show me," instead of "Oh let me get my ruler out." Clip your finger, draw on the wall with blood, use anything. I really appreciate that. I wanted to show that in my work, I never have a set idea, never.
As far as the flickr album goes, it does show a progression. Once in a while you'll see a grouping of images that I worked on. I go off on tangents. Some are more abstract, some are toilet humor, some are more sociopolitical but that's me... never wanting to rest my mind, always trying something new. A lot of pieces I went outside the framework of the poster and then even inside the train itself.
JD: Did that happen later, the work on the train?
PB: That happened later. That comes from not throwing stuff away. I had two whole faces I took them on the train and I mixed them together then I just pasted it on the window and I thought that's really bad ass so I kept doing it. I would be riding the train and then just put them up on the window and they just worked.
JD: The pieces are created right there on the platform, all improvised? You don't keep elements with you?
PB: No. The one time I kept elements is when I just started. My friend from NYU was having a show and he said I should do some Posterboy stuff. At the same time he was thinking of a way to advertise the show, so I went on the L train one day to every station, it took like 6 hours. Every station had these ads, I cut them up so it said art school 'blanked' my life. You could fill it in. From that I kept the Mama Mia faces and I made kind of collages on the wall and that became the show at secret project robot. That was really early.
JD: Where do you go from here? What's next?
PB: I want anybody to be Posterboy. If I show my face and claim all the notoriety I feel like people might be discouraged to do pieces and then it becomes about the me the artist. I don't want to make money off it.
I would do a book, that would still leave the artwork where it is. I've had galleries, plenty of people saying "Oh I want your posters, go cut them down," but I want to be able to say I said no. Its not always about the money. Take a look at graffiti artwork, I love it, but it's nothing more than advertising. Not that it's wrong, its part of the game, but they wouldn't hesitate to do a sneaker or t-shirt deal. That's the nature of the beast.
What I am against is the whole system in general. I'm against capitalism, I grew up poor, I see how social programs don't work and how money gets distributed. It's totally corrupt, the whole system. Take Barack Obama for example... people are dying to vote for him, they don't want a war, they love this black guy is up for office, but it's a gimmick like anything else. He's getting money from these companies, money to run for office. He won't be able to run a strong campaign without their money so he's at the whim of these companies. Right there it's going to be corrupt. Who's supporting his campaign? From the get go, the system... capitalism... its corrupt. I know it doesn't work, and I see people hurt from it all the time. So I try to show that by not giving in with the artwork. It's anti-capital artwork, so it makes every piece political.
JD: Have you gotten in trouble for doing it?
PB: One time when I started doing it, this cop at First Avenue, he jumps out of the booth and I'm using a razor and he says "I know your a hard working guy and I like your work, just don't do it in front of me." You know what it is? Its because its not a spraycan, you know? The pieces are ephemeral... you can take it down and throw it away. I guess there's not already a stigma attached to it. Its kind of new.
Here's the irony though... it brings attention to that poster whether it's bad or good, but as long as people are seeing them and enjoying them, that's all I care about.
All images are courtesy of the author.