Pictoplasma focus – Interview with Joshua Ben Longo

. Then i went to Pictoplasma US premiere in New York city. After that, i always planned to attend other editions of Pictoplasma but new media art and interaction design kept me busy elsewhere.

Pictoplasma focuses on contemporary character design and art. Not little humans, not animals. Characters! Whether illustration, animation, graphic design, fashion, street or fine art – the emphasis is not on the limits of style or format, but on the shared dedication to explore character-driven aesthetics.

It looks like i’ll miss the festival again went it opens in New York city in early November. One thing is sure though, when the festival stops at La Gaite Lyrique in Paris in December, I’ll be there with note book, popcorn and camera to document the character party. In the meantime, i thought i’ll cure my nostalgia for Pictoplasma with a series of interviews with several character designers/artists. As you will see in the coming weeks, they are quite different from each other.

11_bm1.jpgBig Monster, 2008

30_small-1.jpgBelly, 2011. 22in x 36in Acrylic, Ink

I’ll kick off the series with Joshua Ben Longo.

Joshua trained as a Industrial Designer at Pratt Institute. He quickly moved away from the world of commercial design and started working on independent projects which includes sculpture, furniture, elaborate exhibits, and illustration. He has shown his design and art pieces in the US and in Europe. In 2010, he was asked to design monsters for the re-branding of o2 Germany. He currently teaches 3-D design and drawing at Pratt Institute and is a design consultant to the fashion and home industries. If that were not enough, Joshua also writes music and makes movies.

I can’t remember having smiled so much while reading an interview i was about to post on the blog.

39_drawi4ngone_v2.jpgSketch for The Sha

Hi Joshua! The world you design is never gloomy but it has its dark sides. It’s populated with monsters, decapitated animals and disquieting creatures. How is the everyday co-habitation with this menagerie like? Is it pleasant to live with them? Don’t they give you nightmare sometimes?

My house is currently filled with my work, but I don’t see them anymore. They peacefully coexist in my space. My mind is so preoccupied with what I have to do that day, that I rarely stop and talk with my work. I should more. I never considered my work dark, I don’t even see them as monsters anymore. They are more like children or pets. I love them. buttttttttttt……I have nightmares on at least once a week. I often wake up and not know where I am. I sit up and bed and see people and things moving around my room. Sometimes these visions scare me and sometimes they don’t. I don’t know that the two are related, but that’s why we have psychologists and art critics.

1monsterskinrug.jpgMonster Skin, 2006-07

I’m crazy about your Monster Skin Rug. Then i saw the price. You sell other more affordable pieces but it’s still the rug that i keep looking at. Have you ever thought of using cheaper materials so that you could sell more of your rugs to the masses and me? Or would that completely devalorize your work in a metaphorical as well as a financial way?

The monster skin rug has been received very well and continues to get me attention and press. The original rug was made with cashmere, was hand cut and was hand sewn. It took about a month to finish. I now get the scales die cut and use a high quality dense wool felt, but it still takes at least a week to sew. Just the materials alone cost a few hundred (US) dollars. I’m sure I could make in china for cheaper using cheaper material, but that was never the plan. I am interested in mass producing the rug, which will bring down the cost, but I want to make a high quality product that is respected for not only the idea, but the craftsmanship and materials used. I don’t want to make cheap shit that will degrade over time and end up in a landfill. I would rather make a quality product that will last and stand the test of time.

I will likely mass produce the rug or license it to someone at some point, but I have been busy with other projects. My attention has been on gallery shows and special projects these past few years. With all that said, I try to make pieces that are more affordable, but everything is still handmade by me.

Longoland x VCCP x o2, 2010. Monster commercial

The German ads for O2 are hilarious. I’m curious about the way the project developed. At which point did you intervene? Did the company have very clear idea of where they wanted to go or were you asked to come up with most of the scenario?

I was approached by VCCP to design monsters for a new phone ad campaign. The details are fuzzy, but the story goes like this……one of the head creatives had purchased a small piece of my work while traveling in Brooklyn at the only store/gallery that I was showing at the time. The piece has been a unofficial mascot of the office for a few years and when the idea came up to use monsters for a commercial I was called.

It is my understanding that they pitched my work to the client as the overall feel for the commercial……….I was given the treatment and asked how much it would take to do what I do…….. but for their client……. and that was it. It took about a two weeks to design the monsters and get them approved. It was quick and they looked 98% the way I wanted them too. (I’m never completely satisfied)… I did not storyboard the work , but I did make suggestions on movements, noises, and the overall fatness of each creature. This was also the first time the creatures were not made by my hands. That was hard trusting someone else especially since my name was going to be attached to it, but unknown to me they used the production studio that built the monsters for the Hellboy movies. They were in good hands.

The hardest part was dealing with all the legal aspects that are involved in licensing your art’s likeness to a commercial client. I also learned people in advertising make a lot of money…….

There best part about this story ……I had recently got myself in a difficult situation and was living in a 8ft x 8ft room at my parents. All of my belongs were stacked up to the ceiling around my inflatable mattress and my cpu. I was on a conference call with the account manager in London and the creatives in Germany negotiating the creative terms of the project. My mother knocks on the door loudly and screams “DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH? I’M MAKING PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY?” (I was 29 at the time)…. I respond…. “I’m on a very important phone call, could you please give me a minute.”…….. My mother responds….”NO YOU’RE NOT, DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH OR NOT?”… I don’t know that I captured the absurdity of the moment, but it was precious.

38_duration.jpg38_img006.jpgLongoland x VCCP x o2, 2010. Concept sketches

40_7.jpgLongoland x VCCP x o2, 2010. Concept sketch

15_duration-100603.jpgCharacter from the commercial Longoland x VCCP x o2, 2010

I read in your bio page that you also work as a design consultant to the fashion and home industries. What are you working on exactly with them? Monster furniture and body-eating dresses?

I lead a triple life…. I also used to tour in a post rock band, but I had slow down a bit. I create art under the name Longoland, I teach Industrial Design classes at Pratt Institute, and I consult for a list of companies generating income to cover my bills. I am a trained and seasoned industrial designer with work all over the world, but my name is not attached to it. I am usually brought in to generate ideas for whatever style or aesthetic they are going for. Or just to make crap with peace signs on it. For instance these past few years I created art that was printed on beach towels… They have recently ended up in a series of pornography. I attached an edited photo safe for all viewers. I’m a design chameleon or mercenary of sorts. In the past few years I have spent more time on Longoland and hope to do more commercial projects through Longoland, but until then I will continue designing chandeliers, forks, tabletop, beach towels, tshirt graphics, and anything else people ask me to do.

tumblr_ln91w5NBl71ooqi34eh.jpg49_img06202.jpgDecapitated Deer Head w/Fuzzy Parasite

How would you feel if you were told that you are not allowed to create monsters anymore? Never ever again? Would you still want to work as an artist and designer?

I don’t think I would ever stop making art or drawing. I have been painting and drawing more recently and have filled countless sketchbooks with subway drawings……but if none of that was possible I would write music for movies and become a stand up comedian. I love making and hearing people laugh. I want to stand up on stage and entertain.

39_dsc0311.jpgSo Hush You Little Ones, 2010. Solo Show @ RA Antwerp

Do you have any advice for ‘character artists’ who would like to get as much recognition as you have?

I think it is important to have a unique voice with your art. My influences are obvious to me in my work, but I unintentionally created an aesthetic that runs consistent with all my work. Overtime this helps distinguish yourself from others. You also have to do whatever you are doing better than anyone else. Lots of people do monsters, but no one is a better Longoland than me. The less you worry about recognition, the better. I love press, interviews, and exposure, but it is all very fleeting. It helps your cause by exposing your work to others and potentially making a living on what you love. The reason you get real press is by doing work you love, not because everyone else loves it… that comes as a bonus. I never thought the rug would be become what it became for me. You don’t want to get in a cycle of trying to anticipate people loving what you do. The work gets safe and you never evolve. That’s why I stay away from the rug. I made it in 2006.

My head is in a totally different place now…. I’m ranting. I obviously think about this a lot. I love attention. I want it all the time. I want my inbox to be filled with praise and orders and requests for shows. You just have to do what you love and all of the other shit will fall into place. It helps if you have that mother tells you “You are special and handsome” all the time.

39_thesha1.pngThe Sha, 2010

What are you going to show at Pictoplasma?

I am not sure yet. I have some ideas, but I want people to laugh and walk away saying, “That Josh, He sure is special and handsome, I am going to give him a million dollars to make that dream movie no one knows about”.

18_dec200814x17.jpgFrom Joshua Ben Longo’s sketchbook, 2008

3_musimg014.jpgFrom Joshua Ben Longo’s sketchbook, 2011

Any upcoming project you would like to share with us?

I am finishing up a few furniture commissions, made some masks for a music video soon to be released, and potentially working on a great project with this snowboard fashion company…. I started a website to show my painting, illustration, animation not directly related to Lonogland. Otherwise I am writing more and want to start making more movie shorts and animations. I will also be speaking at this years NYC Pictoplasma conference. I will be speaking about Longoland, process, buttholes, and trying to make people laugh. Please do come out.

Thanks Joshua!

7_ebfeet.jpgThe Little White Three, 2008

Pictoplasma NYC conference takes place on 4 + 5 November 2011 at Parsons The New School for Design. The exhibition will be open on 3 – 6 November 2011.