Thursday, May 14, 2015

Buff Monster - Interview, Studio Visit, New Print & Ice Cream Inflatable Release


It's finally Spring time in New York City and all five boroughs are exploding with new street art. It seems like I need to take my camera everywhere I go and take photos of multiple artists work at each location. A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to be asked by the king of the Melty Misfits himself Buff Monster to drop by his studio and chat for a bit about his many upcoming projects/events, and shoot some photo's of his newest street piece influenced by the iconic "I Heart NY" logo just a couple blocks from his Lower East Side studio.  Over the past five or so years I have had the pleasure of chatting with Buff on multiple occasions, but this time we covered a gigantic spectrum about his work both past, present, and future.


So what are you working on these days? 

There is always a lot going on: painting, travelling, working on toys. I’ve also been working on a new book, which I haven’t done in a while. 

Is the book going to be based on the Melty Misfits, or everything? 

No, it’s going to be a variety of things I worked on in the last couple years.  A mix of toys, and painting, murals, it will cover the whole spectrum.  It’s all basically laid out, but I still want to add a couple new things.  I think it’s a good idea to let a project like this sit for a bit and then revisit it with fresh eyes. 
So the first time we met was at Comic Con in San Diego like 6 years ago… time flies…  So how did you get involved with the Comic Con scene? 

Back in 2003 I started talking to people about making toys. Around that time I started going to Comic Con. Back then it was really chill. Just a few companies making art toys, and just a few fans. Now it’s insane. 

I personally find that your imagery really translates well to vinyl. 

Thanks. For me, it always seemed like a very natural extension of my work. 

Where are you from originally? 

I grew up I Hawaii.  I started panting there. Then I spent 15 years in LA.  Been 3 years in NYC now. 
So what’s next? 

Well the new inflatable is coming out very soon. I’m excited about the book because I haven’t released a book in a long time. And now that the warm weather is back I’m going to get on painting some new walls! I have one lined up for the Bushwick Collective, which I’m looking forward to. 
Any more vending machines in the future? 

The vending machine was a fun project. The first one was for Paul Kasmin Gallery (It also was at the SoHo House during Art Basel). I also have one in the gift shop at MOCA in LA… The toys are all hand made resin guys, some are hand painted, they are all originally sculpted by hand, and the machine only accepts the custom made Buff Monster token, and that’s what really ties the whole thing together.  Just like the Melty Misfits trading cards I like to take things from our childhood and re-imagine them in my way, but also with far superior materials. 
I mean I remember collecting the original Garbage Pail Kids growing up… So any particular one of the Melty Misfits your favorite? 

Ralphin’ Ralph is my favorite... So many good ones to choose from. 

Is series 3 on the way? 

Yes, the plan was always to do a third series. Not sure when that’ll come out though. 

So you have been an artist since birth… are you classically trained? 

As a kid I always drew a lot. Then in high school, I got introduced to the world of graffiti. Well usually making art is just making art, but now there was this whole danger dynamic added to the mix.  Now it was a whole different thing. 

But now you’re more in the legal walls?  

It’s a natural progression. If I am going to put in the same amount of time on the project and it can last longer, then more people get to see it.  


Your famous character is the Melty Misfits… is that where it all started? 

Well there are the group that are the Melty Misfits, but that’s a very specific set of characters for the cards. There is Mr. Melty, the ice cream figure. 

And I guess Buff Monster in general? 

Well he is a different character all together ; ) 

So pink is your signature color, has it always been your trademark or did it develop over years? 

I have been using different colors of paint for a very long time. 

Any particular reason you ended up with pink? 

Of course, there is a particular reason.  So, for me pink is a symbol of confidence, happiness, and individuality, so conceptually that’s where is.  Contextually I think if you saw blue ice cream it would just be weird. 


And I mean for the viewer passing by your pieces I can testify that the pink really pops! Somewhat relatedly… how did your “I Heart NY” piece on 1st & 1st in Manhattan come about?  Did someone ask you to play with the classic design? 

No, it was all me… I got offered the location and you know it’s a low horizontal wall.  Any time your presented with a thing to paint, of course you have a bunch of ideas and I just thought particularly because of that space is a heavy pedestrian traffic area, and obviously there is tons of car traffic, I though some thing simple and bold would be perfect there.  Plus, as I get older I look at the street stuff as more of a contribution to the city. It’s nice to paint things that I know will resonate with the people here… the locals and visitors alike. 

I mean I spent about ten minutes shooting that piece the other day and the tourist love it! And there is a print based on that piece available now.  It’s super clean and a great play on such an iconic NYC thing. 

Thank you! I think it is a fresh twist on the old classic. I haven’t seen another mural like it.  I think that NYC has such visual icons, so many important visual signifiers like the statue of liberty and yellow cabs, but outside of that for me it was important to make something that inspires the love for the city. 
Well in my experience living in NYC changes you as a person, and everyone should have a chance to live here for at least 6 years.  It’s the only place I know of were toilet paper is $6 a roll at a bodega on the corner and the sidewalks outside million dollar condos have trash covering them 24/7.  How has living her changed your style, or process with your art? 

Well I wouldn’t be painting I Heart NY otherwise ; )  I mean I’m still me, I just moved here. In LA I wasn’t painting walls all too much; way more wheat pasting.  Now that I’m in NYC I haven’t, done any wheatpasting; instead, I’ve painted a bunch of walls.  There is no real reason for that other than from a practical standpoint.  Paint just withstands the seasons better, and it just seems that the opportunities for walls and gates pops up more in NYC. 

NYC has so many brick walls as canvasses, especially Brooklyn these days. 

Well there are lots of cities that have spaces to paint like New York, but it’s a weird thing in New York, but I was just in Melbourne and it has more street art/graffiti than anywhere else I’ve seen in the world. 

So how do you feel about art and social media these days?  

I think it’s great.  People say it can be abused, but there is one thing about the Internet, it levels the playing field.  It reduces everyone to the same level.  Your just some guy who can put pictures out there on the Internet for everyone to see… it’s democratizing.  I’m not going to say it’s good or bad; it’s just an equalizer. 

Getting to the end here I always ask artists what music inspires them and their work? Or just what they like to listen to when they work? 

Well its always heavy metal. Lot’s of Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Slayer… I could go on and on but if it’s not heavy metal it’s the Adam Corolla podcast… I could listen to him for hours. 


So what else can we look forward to in the near future? 

I’m heading out to San Francisco at the end of the month to judge a street art mural contest for the Hotel Zetta. After the contest, I will paint at the hotel. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out. This Friday, I’m releasing a 52-inch ice cream inflatable , and there is a couple "Eye Heart NY" prints left as well. You need one in your life. Stay Melty! www.Buffmonster.com





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Author: Matthew A. Eller   
All Photos & Text Copyright Matthew A. Eller 2015     Twitter: @ellerlawfirm       facebook.com/ellerlawfirm


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