Kindergarten. For many, it’s their first time out in the so-called real world. At merely five-years-old we’re making friends on our own and learning the bare bones of education. For MonkeyMan, he was learning that he could possibly profit off what he thought were just doodles when a classmate paid him a dollar to draw him a woman…nude. MonkeyMan remembers, saying, “I mean, I must have been good at drawing to attract a paying customer, right?”
His parents had noted his talents before, but that was the first time someone outside his DNA makeup had. From that point on drawing became a part of him. That, along with music and photography. All of which he’s done to some extent, but it’s his drawings that led us to one another. From his #FatKidProject to his other depictions of pop culture, MonkeyMan has captured beloved icons in a way that is unique to his style, which we talked about a bit along with a big move and plans for the new year.
Kendra: What came first, your love of drawing, photography or music?
MonkeyMan: It was either music or drawing. I’m not sure which came first, to be honest. One of my earliest memories is sitting in the back seat of the car, singing along to the radio. I clearly remember belting out George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” while my dad drove me to school. It’s still a guilty pleasure song of mine. I’m not sure if that came first, or the nude drawing in kindergarten. Both were early on. Both times I was doing something that made me feel good. Musical aspects have influenced all aspects of my work. I was in a band for a good portion of my high school and college years. I often draw inspiration from music. The right chord can set a vibe to get creative juices flowing.
Kendra: Do your moods vary depending on what you’re working on; art, graphic design, photography?
MonkeyMan: I think it’s more of the other way around for me. My mood dictates the project. More often than not, I’ll have an idea for a project, and my mood will dictate the medium. For the last year or so, I have been working off-and-on painting some of the old black and white horror movie monsters in watercolor and ink. They could easily have been put together in another medium if I was in a different mood that day. But when I started with the first one, I was in a festive Halloween mood and just watched a bunch of the old Universal Horror movies. I was inspired by the craftsmanship that went into those movies.
Everything from the hours spent in the makeup chair to create these creatures, to the atmospheric lighting on the sets just moved me. I felt like I really needed to spend some of my time to show my respect for the time they spent on their art. And if I have the time to really craft something, I feel that it should have a tactile feel to it – something natural that you can’t really get from a digital project.
That being said, if I’m excited about an idea and really need to get an idea out into the world, I am more than likely to work digitally. That mania of finishing a project is helped by the fact that using programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and so on, allow me to quickly paint large sections with color or effects that would take a long time to do by hand. They allow me to quickly assemble all of the pieces that I see in my head. Plus, I don’t have to worry about running out of paint or cleaning up afterward. And when I’m in that frenzy, it’s easy to make a mistake. When working digitally, it’s easy to fix those mistakes.
Kendra: How has the move from New Orleans to Australia changed you as an artist, and an overall part of the human fabric?
MonkeyMan: Wow! That’s a deep one. I think the move forced me to examine my work and how I saw it in terms of its value to me. In 2005, I lost nearly everything that I owned in Hurricane Katrina. That included every drawing, painting, or sculpture that I ever made that wasn’t digital and uploaded to the internet. Physical pieces were lost. All of that hard work and practice were gone. But, I’ve come to realize that they really had no value to them because I wasn’t sharing them with people. It had no value because it just sat in my house.
Occasionally a friend would see something that I was working on. But once the project was completed, it just sat in the corner. In the years since then, I’ve come to realize that sharing your work with others gives it value. Keeping the work to yourself is just like masturbation. You get the release, but it’s a hollow act that means nothing in the end.
Sharing your work can validate you, as an artist. When you share your work and someone says “yeah, I like that”, that’s a better feeling than just completing the project. Artists spend a lot of time and money birthing the ideas in our heads. When someone responds to your work, good or bad, it makes all of that effort worth it. And bringing that attitude to new projects in a new country, and meeting new people, and sharing my ideas with them…well, that’s just a great feeling.
Kendra: You’ll be back in the States for Comic-Con next year. Will you be bringing your art to San Diego?
MonkeyMan: I’ll be going as a spectator this time. I’ve been to California several times, but this is my first trip to San Diego Comic Con. It was a bucket list trip, and I was lucky enough to get tickets. If I like what I see, and it’s in my budget, I may get an artist’s table for 2019. I may get an artist’s table at Adelaide’s Supanova convention in 2018. I have had an artist’s table at several other pop culture/comic conventions in the past, and I’ve always had a great time. It’s always a great feeling when someone who has never seen your work before discovers you and becomes a fan right in front of your own eyes. It’s really cool when it’s someone who’s also an artist and you know and respect their work too.
I find that “nerd culture” is more accepting of my work. It’s just a little weirder than your traditional art, but still accessible for most people to get into. I was a fine art major in college and studied the works of Degas and da Vinci in between painting bowls of fruit and figure drawing classes.
I get validation, as an artist, from seeing someone’s face light up when they see my drawing of a fat Spider-Man or a watercolor of Bill Murray. My work may never hang in a museum, and I may never be able to ditch the day job to paint full time. But connecting with a total stranger through something you’ve creat
ed is amazing.
Kendra: What brought about The #FatKidProject? Does it have anything to do with spreading a body-posi message?
MonkeyMan: It can be. I fully support anyone who is happy with who they really are. I’m far from body shaming anyone. As for the #FatKidProject series, I could give you the pretentious artist’s answer and say that the figure of the Fat Kid represents the viewer itself. It’s gender, ethnicity, and age are indeterminable in its original line-drawing form.
Therefore, it can be anyone – you, me, anyone at all. And just like most people, it’s a person who puts on a mask/outfit in order to project to the world this image that they want others to see. An image of a tough hero, or a vulnerable and downtrodden every-man. Its expression is dull and vacant, and leans towards exhaustion, conveying a feeling that we all can relate to in a modern world that moves so fast that some days, all just want to take a fucking nap…
I was bored one day and couldn’t express in words how bored I was. So, I drew the original base figure to show how bored I felt. After finishing, I was still bored. So I put an arrow through its head. Then had a bird shitting on the kid’s shirt. I put it in a luchador mask. Then dressed it up like Dracula. I created one a day for nearly a year, and then a few a month after that. I’ve created over 230 different designs and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. There are former Power Ranges and pro-wrestlers with #FatKidProject prints in their homes.
It’s meaning isn’t as deep as it could have been, I guess. I just liked throwing outfits onto that pudgy frame and seeing how they would look. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It was really just out of a way to fight off boredom and challenge myself while making my friends laugh.
Kendra: Other than Comic-Con, what’s going on with you in the new year?
MonkeyMan: Even if I only get to complete half of the things on my list, it’s going to be a very busy year! I’ve been writing a graphic novel for the last year or so. Between writing a compelling story and designing every character, and trying to make them look interesting, it’s become a long process. Who knew that universe-building was so time-consuming?
And of course, I’ll be drawing, painting, and working on my #FatKidProject series. Needless to say, I expect to be as busy as possible and take advantage of every opportunity presented to me.
Kendra: In trying to bridge all the artistic realms we represent at ZO if you had to make a MonkeyMan Playlist that represents your art, what five songs would have to be on it?
MonkeyMan: Hmm… that’s a tough one. My musical taste, as well as what I do visually are all over the map. Tempted to say:
“Monkey Man” by Baby Huey & the Babysitters
“Monkey Man” by the Rolling Stones
“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” by the Beatles
“Monkey Gone to Heaven” by the Pixies
“Monkey Man” by the Toots & the Maytals
But here’s the real list (in no particular order):