For many reasons, France means a lot to you. What’s your special relation with our country?
Well my wife is French, so this is pretty interesting. I’ve been coming here since my first exhibition in Paris in ’81 and I get excited every time I get a chance to go back and I was here only 5 weeks ago for the Agnès B. show (see here), so here I am.
Agnès B. played a crucial role in your comeback in the nineties when she bought a few paintings from you, allowing you to get a new studio in New York. Can you explain us how everything happened and what’s your relation with her today?
Well, I mean Agnès has always been very supportive of street art, this whole movement and I was very fortunate to meet her in the late 80’s. Yes, she did help me very much by investing in my work and as a result I was able to continue painting. At that period I wasn’t really focusing on art so much and she did help to kind of get me going and then helped me with the studio, gave me a condition in Paris. I saw her when I was here for the show a few weeks ago and yeah, the relationship is amazing. She’s such a beautiful person and I’m grateful of her support. If there were not Agnès, a lot of what’s happening in Paris for our movement wouldn’t be possible. And it’s from her heart, it’s genuine love and this is rare you know… it’s very rare.
You presented brand new works last year at your Strategic Synchronicity Exhibition in LA (see here) and it was a huge success. Is that something that surprised you back then and do you plans to do more big solo shows in different cities?
Well I mean I was surprised! We had this work, we created all this work for this show, like kind of a pop-up show, it was very well received. With that group Krunk who was working on that project, we also did a little something in Dubai (see here) which you mentioned, kind of a Part. II of my working with them. Recently there has been some difficulties with that group, for whatever reason, it’s totally cruel. I did this thing in Germany (see here), which was kind of a small version of that pop-up show, but they were friends of mine in Berlin, they had that space and it was pretty easy. In December, I’m going to do something in Stockholm, similar to Germany expect everything will be new. Berlin was more the continuation of paintings from L.A., paintings from Dubai, new works… Now what we’re going to do is just move forward, do some new paintings, new drawings. Similar in that it will be an outside of the gallery sort of space event. I will also for the first time properly exhibit some of my photographs, which I’ve been wanting to do. I’m going to create some light boxes to display the photos, to kind of make them a little more aggressive. That’s exciting! But as far as future shows, I mean not really, not on a bigger scale, I like that pop-up idea. It’s pretty good because you can make the work for the show more or less and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to continue the show with the works or whatever…
You’ve said in many occasions that you used to feel manipulated and exploited by the gallery scene in the 80’s. How did the situation change today?
Well, as far as the economics go, it’s still the same principles: 50/50…ok. The problem was that at that time I thought… you know… “I’m manipulated”… whatever, I didn’t completely agree with that thing at that time, what can I do? Today I’m a bit in a position where for example, if someone’s going to produce that show, the economics can be discussed, it’s not like written in stone. So probably they’d say: “For your involvement, you will get 40%”. If I can change the dynamics, because now I’m sort of doing an art show, but I’m not in the Art World, so it means I can change the rules a little bit. It becomes less about the space and more about the works. So, yeah I mean, this is not a formula for the future, it’s not something like “Yeah I’m going to eliminate the Gallery”, no, not at all, it’s just a situation of timing and of what was happening. This is my feeling 25 years ago. Today if I have a real gallery, someone who wanted to represent me in some way, perhaps I would consider that, but we’ll see, I mean… the future is… weird.
You started writing your name as a graffiti writer out of a strong desire to communicate. What’s driving you 40 years later?
I still want to communicate, I really do, yeah! It’s just that today it’s not happening that way. Today it’s happening online. What I’m trying to do with my Flickr, my own site, which is just, you know, nothing special, is share my personal experience, which I think is just as interesting as my work, maybe more actually. I mean today it’s easier to communicate that we once did with a marker and spray paint; it’s not limited to writing on the wall. Everyone’s doing it in a different way. Some people communicate through their sense of fashion, some people are writing, some people take photos. I’m trying to make a creative medium. For the moment, I find myself really into this whole photographic period.
You’ve seen a massive evolution of the graffiti art form since your start in the 70’s. What’s you opinion of the scene nowadays?
There are few things happening in the streets right now. One of them is this real sort of “push it”, new people coming on into the street, doing works in the street and this is what I would call real street art, somebody like BLU, there’s one sort of muralistic style. And then, there’s also C215, it has become a central community with many different characters. There’s been this sort of traditional graffiti community and it’s becoming like in “Back in the Days” at the beginning, with taggers… So you have two worlds now. We had like the Very Good and the Very Bad. I’m less in touch with street art as I once was. But the one I can see, the energy of all of this city is being transformed by those artists, and there’s more street art now than there ever was, even when it was only graffiti writers, it wasn’t artists thinking “Hey, maybe I can do something new using the public space!” So yeah, I’m in support of the beautiful muralists and the kind of vandals using scratching.
You said in the past that your inspiration came from your mood… How does the international climate affects your mood and how does it reflect on your work?
In my opinion, nothing reflects into that. That’s just personal experiences. In graphic and in certain imagery, yeah you can make an association to something political or something that’s happening. I’m not really that person so much. My mood now is way more positive. By the middle of this decade I was really depressed thinking about the world, I was depressed in the early decade about other things, you know, bad things… And now we’re coming on this economic period that is supposed to be very bad, but I mean I’m optimistic though. I still think there’s time for a change, a good time and we have Obama so I’m very happy.
You said you were putting commercial collaborations on the background for a bit. Is that something you really want to do when you know how successful a collaboration with yourself can be?
I know! What I meant by that was I’m not going to work with like every fucking company… Like everybody in New York that I know… (Glltn: “Wants to work with you?”)… Yeah exactly! So I think I went through that year of like, “OK…” And it’s not like I’m married to Nike but you know, I have my relationship with them, and I’m always going to have something happening with them, whether it’s the Lance Armstrong project now that I’m part of so maybe we’re going to have things coming, or future shoes… Hopefully next year I’m going to come back to Le Tour de France and be part of that again. So yeah, what happened is that I got to saturated out there with too many different things and I mean, yeah, I guess everyone feels like “Oh we do a project with Futura, it will be OK!”. Usually those things were always kind of limited anyway so it’s just like it’s too easy you know. But in the end, I don’t really benefit from that thing, you know what I mean? I’m more like hooking up somebody. So it’s like ok, stop, stop.
You have a very strong relation with bike culture. You were a messenger in New York, you have been following Le Tour de France since the 80’s. You even worked on the Look Ma No Brakes event organised by Colnago with your good friend Stash. Do you still have the same passion about bikes today?
I mean you know, I love my bike! I have a road bike of course also, but I don’t bring it up so much, but yeah, I love the fixed! It’s just that easy sort of… the operation is still the easiest, so I love the facility. It’s just like “yeah, come on, let’s go!” But I used to be so aggressive, I used to be so like so hardcore… (Glltn: “The Superman Syndrome?”)… Yeah, like “Oh my God, get out of my way!” And now I’m more like really “tranquilo”. It’s like everybody’s jetting, I’m in the back, not trying to win now…
What about the Pointman, one of your most iconic figure? You said it was time to let him rest but it’s still popping here and there?
It is! In Germany, what I was trying to do was… and it’s so funny because people were like “Oh my God, a Pointman!!!” No, no, it’s not, it’s like there’s not one Pointman in there. It’s funny how people gravitate to him and it has become this symbol of my work… He’s awesome but if I wanted to sketch some other things, I could probably do it so, I don’t focus on him anymore, it’s not like “Oh my God!” And the reality is that I never really, really… I mean I wasn’t like in love with that guy anyway, so you know, it’s like, people always go “Pointman! Pointman!” But now I’m trying to like just slowly let this thing… you know, it’s like drugs: you can’t just quit immediately, you have to slowly get off. But yeah I want to get off this drug, I do.
Part of your success comes from your longevity. You said with time, artists get trapped in their own work and can eventually become victims to it. Do you have the feeling that’s happening to you?
Hmmm I don’t think so because I understand this idea. My elements, my icons, my comics, all of these things… to make an association to something that exists… I mean I feel like I can still create art without using all of these things that represent me. The only problem is people will say “Oh but what about Pointman? What about your atomic?” So it’s difficult to get people to kind of accept a new style, but I think I will always find something new… I hope…
Your brand Futura Laboratories is extremely successful in Japan and is considerably growing internationally. What part do you play in the brand? Do you make all the designs?
I submit all of the Futura content, whatever it’s like: my work, a lot of graphic ideas that I’m generating. We also have designers, we have artists working for the company. Everything is approved by me. But for the most part, as far as specifically, like: “we’re going to make a belt, we’re going to make a bag , etc.” No, I allow the company to make those decisions based on whatever the popularity of an item is, what’s so special to them. But one thing about FL I’m really happy about, and I love my guys there, they work really hard for the brand, is doing great collaborations. We’ve done some with Clarks, with Descente, in the past we had a program with North Face, so we’ve done some cool collaborations. Some being sold exclusively for Japan or whatever… So I’m doing the brand out of Japan but I’m not trying to make it a really international brand because then it’s going to become too big for me to kind of control, and we’re doing well so… We’re a small company, we’re in Fukuoka, you know, we’re not in Tokyo. So the development of the company, well for 4 years now…hmmm 5 years, it’s going very well, you know, gradual, very gradual.
You are a Flickr heavy user and you share your pictures on a daily basis. Has this new medium strengthen your relation with your fans?
It’s weird I mean… It’s funny because it’s the only place… I’m not on social networks: I’m not on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, I can’t do all of that but through the last 10 years, I’ve been putting photos on the web, whether it’s on Recon, 5th Dimension, you know, whatever my mystery of online presence: “Oh Futura is there!”, “Oh he’s putting photos here!” You know, I always liked that whole idea. And so Flickr is the most amazing in that… I mean I will always answer comments, so I’m a little bit surprised that… you know I think when you get people they watch, it’s more like voyeurism than participation but I honestly want them to participate because for the moment this is where you can get me, this is where you can actually get me, you know. And if you really say something about a photo I will comment back and if you say something interesting then we could start a dialogue. It’s not like, I don’t have some people doing this shit for me, it’s ME! I’m sitting there, I’m the one! You know, everyday I’m uploading! Come to me! Flickr is interesting because, you know when I first joined I was trying to be in groups. I see how the program works, the application, but I want to change it, I don’t want it to be the way it is. I want to remake it , like my kind of version. And the thing is that groups, when you’re joining these groups, you get bullshit comments. Say something really, don’t say “Great capture!”. There are always clichés like “Great photo!”, “Awesome light!”, blablabla. It’s like, no dude, tell me a story! Engage me so that we can have the feeling that… So I want it to become more like that, like this is the secret place where if you know about me and you think you know about me… you can almost pretend to really know me by having this thing with me. So I think it’s intimidating, mostly I understand. My son is telling me “Dad, you’re giving them way too much! They can’t deal with the content.” It’s probably true but we’ll see… I like the medium. I’m trying to make my son to design something that looks like Flickr, but it’s not Flickr and it’s not Flickriver either. We want to make a Black Flickr! So there’s one kid we know, he can do it, this guy is amazing, a programmer, so we’re kind of working on that. We want to do our own version! And maybe even make it like our own social network; we want to create our own social network! We’ll see, it’s kind of in development right now, but that would be fun, yeah!
Are you still working with your son Timothy mcGuire? What are your projects together?
Yeah, of course I mentioned we have some Nike stuff coming out and he’s going to help me with some support images. He’s working with me obviously, but at the same time, things we do we don’t like to… you know, we don’t want people just to think “Oh yeah, your father…”, you know what I mean? It’s a bad position for him… (Glltn: “Who cares what people think?”) … Of course, of course, but we care and he cares. It’s funny because… I’m sure you know about Tabatha (Glltn: “Yes, your daughter!”). Well, you can meet Timothy, talk for one hour, he would never mention me, it would never be mentioned. Tabatha, you could talk for one hour… within one minute she would say it: “Oh you know who my father is, right?”, this kind of thing. So it’s weird how they both are and it’s something we discussed when we were growing up. It’s going to be more difficult for the boy. Different personalities… But like I said, I’ve always told my son: “Dude, you’re not gonna get a fair break…”, you know what I mean? “They’re gonna be rough on you…” So we have to make sure what he’s doing is kind of disconnected. I don’t want people thinking it’s because of me. But anyway, he went to Japan, he lived there four years, came back and he learnt the language. I mean I love Timothy, I think he’s very talented.
How did you hook up with Jakuan of 360 Toys Group and how was the process of making the Nosferatu?
Jakuan! I love Jakuan! Jakuan, we go back many years, I’ve known Jak for a long time, after all of the Pointman toys, the Unkle version, Nigo, all of this kind of stuff… I wanted to have more control over making a toy and Jak was sculpting and doing his own stuffs. He did something for Warhol, he had a toy store… But in the end, I think we made too many. No, I know the problem, there was a huge problem with the original delivery. You know how they do: you sell a certain numbers, you receive an advance, you say this is the day we’re going to deliver… and we got delayed more than 3 months from when we promised delivery. And all of this stuff was handled by Jakuan so the realisation of this thing never really worked: the timing was wrong, the cadence was wrong, it was just wrong. And the money was kind of not handled right and in the end it was not a good project. The toy was awesome, I loved it, but the business of that project was horrible! As a result he’s over there, I’m over here, you know what I mean? But it’s totally cool. It’s just unfortunate.
Would you like to do a new 3D rendition of your work? Any sculpture?
No, no… no! I mean, the Nosferatu was the Kiss of Death, (interesting choice of words). That was it. I’m not Kaws. I’m not somebody that wants to manufacture toys. Like, it was totally cool in the beginning. The first toy was kind of interesting but then I don’t know… We sort of started eating that whole thing… I don’t know, I don’t want to do that. What I’d like to do is a sculpture, you know what I mean? I don’t want to do a toy, I want to do like a fucking big sculpture. So the idea of creating an image in third dimension, yeah! But not a commercial project, you know. An art piece at that point.
One of your dream collaboration was working with Apple, Sony, or BMW. Will that happen some day?
Sony… Take Sony away! Off my list. I’m very angry with Sony! Apple is like hmmm… I mean I’ve said these things because I’ve invested so much money in the products, you know what I mean? At that point, I don’t want free shits, I’m not looking for anything free, I’m already giving you guys like crazy money! You owe me a small project! Give me a project! Sony, no, goodbye, over. Apple, like yeah, whatever. And BMW, yeah man, what the fuck? What are you waiting for?
Can you tell us a bit about your future projects for the months to come?
I kind of mentioned the Sweden event, it’s my next immediate thing. We’re working on a book right now, but not a Futura book. A book about all those baseball games that I went to. Last year and this year, I went on a crazy mission and I just finished like, last week! But I’ve been to every stadium so now I have like an arcade of work, a lot of stuff. I’ve been organizing the book, I’m working on the book right now. Hopefully next summer, I’ll get it together. I’m designing it and Timothy will do the layout for me. I’m going to do this book as Lenny McGuire, using my real name and not Futura because what I will hopefully do is find an audience for that content, not for me. I mean, once it’s out there, everyone will find out, but it won’t be Futura on the book anyway. So that’s exciting because it’s a kind of project outside of my world and I’m very passionate about that, I love baseball clubs. It’s almost like, even though I did this trip in the last 15 months, the whole idea of that is a lifelong dream, since I was a child, the idea that you could do that, you know. And not only did I do it but I got so many, so it’s even more crazy for me. Now that I’m seeing the entire collection, I’m like “Man, I did it!” I’m very proud of that. It was a big project. And if anybody likes baseball… then BOOM, you know, it’s perfect! So I’m going to try to use Nike to help me also to do the bridge to make it more baseball. I want to find a way to present my book to them. But I’m figuring right now: do I want to do this myself? My own distribution? We will work out the idea. That’s something I’m interested about. I’m making The Tour next year if possible. You know, Lance is coming back, he’s got a new team: RadioShack, a huge American team. No more Astana. Contador went with Garmin! Contador went with the enemy! So Contador is really like gnarrr… So this should be fun you know and hopefully, perhaps, I will get a visit with Mr Parker! (Glltn: “Helicopter rides?”)… Maybe! I’m not sure, maybe!
How long are you staying in Paris and what do you plan to do here ?
Well the only thing I really want to do, tomorrow morning, I’m going to Notre Dame, just because I want the Gargoyle photo, I need that shot. That’s like an early call. There are some like touristic things, there’s a few shops I want, the Eiffel Tower at night, I’m going to have to go tomorrow at night, you know, the hourly craziness, I need that. You know, I’m a tourist, really, I’m doing touristic things.
Thanks to Patrick Lerouge for his kindness and his precious help.
© Guillotine – www.glltn.com – November 2009