KaNO is a New York City artist who is quite the jack of all trades when it comes to design. His name has been attached to a variety of different projects including commercial design, graphic novels, animation and most recently, vinyl toys. His custom work on platform toys such as Kidrobot’s Munny have been displayed in many gallery shows and are highly praised by the toy community. Heavily influenced by classic cartoons and animation, KaNO’s art, both illustration and toy, share a common aesthetic that is playful and nostalgic. He is currently in the process of releasing his new vinyl toy design, a little tough mini-juice jug and spray-paint hybrid called Bodega, which will be a limited edition of three hundred.
“I just know that Bush messed things up bad and that Obama is trying to change America for the best, I mean you can hear the brother when heâ€™s on the soap box spitting out truth. The piece sold and every cent went to Obamaâ€™s campaign.”
Format: How did you get into the vinyl toy movement?Â
KaNO: I got into the vinyl toy scene around 2004/05. I was working in the animation studio in the East Village of NYC, and I would go to this toy spot called Toy Tokyo almost every day on my lunch break. I started collecting toys just like most people and then started customizing them when the market started catering to D.I.Y platforms. In 2006 I had some money saved up and decided to independently fund the production of my first figure, which was called Moneygrip. Moneygrip went off really well and it put my name out there, shortly after that I started getting invited to a lot of custom gallery shows.
Format: You’ve done some amazing customs on platform toys. Do you still find it more challenging working with pre-determined forms than starting over with your own designs?
KaNO: At first it was challenging to work with a pre-determined shape because I used to try to force a platform on myself. I think that just because a toy is customizable doesnâ€™t mean that itâ€™s the right toy for you to customize in particular. I try to be very picky about the figures that I customize, it has to have the potential to fit into my style of work. I guess Iâ€™m just trying to be as consistent as possible with the stuff I put out. I am a character designer by nature, I mean itâ€™s seriously something I can do in my sleep at this point, so I donâ€™t think anything comes easier to me especially when your talking about designing characters in my own style.
Format: Your work has a very animated cartoon look to it. Who are your influences?
KaNO: Well, my work looks that way because I am schooled in animation. I have about 10 years of experience in working on many of the shows that are on TV, from Disney channel to Adult Swim, if it was done in NY in the past 10 years chances are Iâ€™ve worked on it or been a designer on it.Â
Format: What were your favorite cartoons growing up?
KaNO: The typical answer would be Transformers, Voltron and He-Man, which I loved to watch. However when it comes to childhood nostalgia Smurfs, Garfield, Peanuts and Looney Tunes are the most memorable of all time to me, that stuff is just classic, while the other stuff was just toy commercials. Aside from cartoons Reading Rainbow was my favorite show, funny how I didnâ€™t really like to read though.
Format: You’ve incorporated a lot of pop-culture icons such as cartoons, horror film villains and comic book characters into your work. What would you like to accomplish with these tribute pieces?Â
KaNO: Sometimes itâ€™s just whatever is on my mind and the process can be very spontaneous. Sometimes I just want to try to redefine something and put my own stamp on it and sometimes its just fan-boy shit.
Format: From all the different media that you work with, which is your favorite?
KaNO: I donâ€™t think I have any particular favorite, everything gets stale after a while so you always have to switch back and forth between mediums to keep things fun and creative. I usually sketch in the morning, then I go straight digital till around 6pm after that my computer turns into a jukebox and I start plugging away on a canvas for an upcoming show. I usually give myself an hour before sleep to put in some time on a custom for yet another upcoming show.
Format: You’ve recently made a piece dedicated to Obama with proceeds going to his campaign. What made you decide to make a political statement this time around with your work?Â
KaNO: Yeah, doing something for the Obama campaign was very important to me. I had a very busy schedule at the time and wasnâ€™t taking on any more work, when it came up I felt like I really wanted to contribute something. I have to be honest and say that itâ€™s the first time in my life Iâ€™ve ever given a damn about politics, donâ€™t get me wrong Iâ€™m still not an expert. I just know that Bush messed things up bad and that Obama is trying to change America for the best, I mean you can hear the brother when heâ€™s on the soap box spitting out truth. The piece sold and every cent went to Obamaâ€™s campaign.
Format: Do you think it’s important for other artists to express their political views in their work and how effective do you think political art is? â€¨
KaNO: I think itâ€™s important but its not the end all be all, by that I mean it has a huge impact on the country but doesnâ€™t mean that it should define you as an artist. I also donâ€™t think it is a responsibility that artists feel they have to have. Aside from that, political art can be extremely effective, I mean you can trace it back to all the old school propaganda films that Disney used to produce during World War 2.
Format: Bodega has a very playful aesthetic to it. How did you come up with such a unique concept?
KaNO: Well I always want to tie things I grew up with to my toy designs, I feel like they belong together and it might as well be the kaNo kid modo in terms of my toys. Bodega is an homage to the quarter water drinks that I grew up on while I was running around the hood playing man hunt. To me toys are all about fun man, no matter what your designing it has to bring out the kid in you somehow, Iâ€™ll leave the serious statements for paintings.
Format: Any upcoming projects in the making?Â
KaNO: Product wise, I am currently collaborating with ToyQube on my next figure which is called ((HI-DEF)), we are in mid production and the piece is coming out amazing. I also have a wallet coming out produced by MPH labs and Poketo. Art wise I have a collabo show at My Plastic Heart coming up in January with Jesse Hernandez and Mark27. I also did the new ASPCA campaign which should be currently on billboards and bus kiosks throughout NYC.
More Info: http://www.kanokid.com/