Born and raised during the eighties, Greg Mike grew up around the street artists and skate kids of New York City. It didn’t take long for him to find his own voice in this maelstrom of art and street culture, spending his formative tagging anything he could get at. As Mike honed his craft by night, and paid bills by day, a part of him struggled to break free and develop a new medium for himself. So then were Mad Cans, pop cans detailed with wild street art designs, born. The cans took off, finding homes in galleries and private collections. In this exclusive interview, Greg Mike talks with Format about what goes into his art, and the future of art as communication.
“I think from a line style and color perspective, itâ€™s apparent that I come from that arena. Iâ€™ve always enjoyed the character work over lettering as I it was so easy to relate to.”
Format: What is your earliest art-fuelled memory?
Greg Mike: As a youngster I remember being glued to the T.V. watching the classic cartoons. The bright colors and animation of those Disney toons were such an inspiration to me. My desire to emulate those characters is what led me to pick up a pencil and brush for the very first time. My older brother, who was also into art as a kid, encouraged me to create and was a huge inspiration.
Format: How was â€˜The Loudmouthâ€™ born?
Greg Mike: I had been doing a lot of sketching at the time, and was drawing numerous pieces that I was calling â€˜Mad Cansâ€™, all with open mouths and missing, chipped, or jagged teeth. I began to notice that every character had a missing or chipped tooth in the same spot. The mouth was a focal point that took on a life of its own, creating an energy and emotion for every character, so much so that it deserved its own name: The Loudmouth.
Format: What is the history behind â€˜Popstars and Cokeheads?â€™
Greg Mike: Originally, when I was sketching the Mad Cans, I had no intention of painting soda cans. As the characters evolved, it hit me that I should take it to the 3D form. With a soda in hand, I attempted to paint a few cans. In the beginning, the shape and texture threw me off. Like any artist, I was accustomed to painting the typical two-dimensional surface.
I started with two or three cans, which quickly grew to 10, and then 20. Soon enough I had an entire army of Mad Cans. Everyday, new ideas, characters and concepts would flood my thoughts. I lassoed my ADD, and decided to create a series of cans with a goal of 100 in mind. The small cans inspired me to take it to the next level and create the 3ft tall large cans that I will be debuting in San Francisco.
I soon grew tired of the name Mad Cans and needed something new and energized. The term â€˜coke headâ€™ came to mind for obvious reason, I was painting my character heads on coke cans. But this wasnâ€™t enough. As the characters developed, I noticed many of them began to resemble some of our more notable pop icons. That bright light above my head came on and the concept of Popstars and Cokeheads was born. It was somewhat edgy, somewhat risquÃ© – it was perfect.
Format: As Popstars and Cokeheads is your first solo show, what do you expect to be the outcome?
Greg Mike: I expect it to be a great series. I’m looking forward to exposing my art to new markets, getting new ideas, and in turn, creating new concepts and characters. I enjoy the collaboration process, and am hoping to expose my work to others, sparking creative collaborations with individuals in other lands.
Format: What does Popstars and Cokeheads say about Greg Mike?
Greg Mike: Popstars and Cokeheads, as a series, is a animated expression of color and simplicity that I feel shows my energetic, simplistic and bold state-of-mind at the current time.
Format: How did the union between Medicine Agency and Popstars and Cokeheads come about?
Greg Mike: About four years ago, I co-founded Trafik Tradeshow in South Beach, Florida, and served as the Creative Director. For this contemporary fashion-based show, I was handling the interior design, art and DJ selection, etc. Every show featured live art installation and design. Rama Mayo, one of the founders of Medicine Agency, was representing multiple artists and designers at the time. We worked together for many years, booking creative talent for Trafik Tradeshow. Throughout this time, Rama became very familiar with my private label design and artwork. As Medicine Agency expanded its doors this year to a larger, more productive space, their new art gallery seemed like the perfect fit to launch my show.
Format: Your background is incredibly diverse, you have made your mark on both the fashion and design worlds and your formative years were spent bombing the streets, how have those experiences influenced your art?
Greg Mike: Of course, I think both sides of the design / art world compliment each other. Working with the pencil vs. creating from scratch on the computer, I feel allows the mind to create more freely. Recently, Iâ€™ve noticed a lot of the style lines and colors evident in my fashion design work crossover into my fine art work.
Format: Of all the different mediums you are involved with, which is your favorite and why?
Greg Mike: I would have to say painting because it’s the most hands-on and requires the most control and thought. With fashion, you can design a garment but from start-to-finish it goes through so many hands. From the fabric mill that creates the fabric, through the dying process, the trim factory that makes the buttons and zippers, to the individual who is actually cutting and sewing the garment. When creating for larger brands this process is exciting but the lack of control and potential for human error are unnerving.
Format: How does the process of creating clothing differ from creating a painting or an illustration?
Greg Mike: With clothing there is always that question of: will people buy this, will people like this? With the art side and illustrating it allows more natural expression, without boundaries, as those questions arenâ€™t present.
Format: How has your background in graffiti influenced your art?
Greg Mike: I think from a line style and color perspective, it’s apparent that I come from that arena. I’ve always enjoyed the character work over lettering as I it was so easy to relate to.
Format: What is the next step for Greg Mike? Are you planning to conquer any other mediums?
Greg Mike: I am looking forward to future shows, series, collaborations and projects. I have some interesting concepts for the future and I’m jazzed to bring them to life.
Format: The artistic process is always something that I find inspiring and incredibly different from artist to artist, how would you describe yours? Who do you look towards for inspiration?
Greg Mike: I find inspiration in everything that I see and interact with. Both the good and the bad push me in certain directions. Traveling always helps fuel the creative process and sparks new concepts and ideas. At the end of the day, it all starts with a vision, and my job as an artist, is to bring that vision to life.