Wizard Skull is not for the faint of humour. If your house might be mistaken for a shrine to the Disney store, this artist is not for you. If you find the level of sexuality expressed by an Abercrombie and Fitch bag offensive, this artist is not for you. If you treasure your childhood memories of children’s cartoons not jerking off David Carradine style, this artist is not for you. Warning, viewer discretion advised. Wizard Skull has cracked a hole in the bizarre addiction we have to the sterile characters who grace our TV screens and billboards: characters who have become synonymous with the wholesome family dream but, in reality, represent real-life corporations that would put Mr. Robot’s Evil Corp parody to shame. Wizard Skull’s work is full of fun, intelligent jibes at cartoon culture; and his work injects some disturbing energy back into the world of art.
IF YOUR HOUSE MIGHT BE MISTAKEN FOR A SHRINE TO THE SANCTITY OF THE DISNEY STORE, THIS ARTIST IS NOT FOR YOU.
Wizard Skull grew up in a small town outside New York, but a childhood spent hungry for more of life left him breaking rules, before he was even drawing. “I grew up 2 hours from New York City in a small rural town. The road I grew up on was gravel, after graduating elementary school we had to take a bus to a neighbouring town for Junior High. That town had paved roads, so I would stay after school and skateboard. It was a small town and we were constantly getting the police called on us for skateboarding in empty parking lots. Our school even had a policy that if you were caught skateboarding in the parking lot on weekends you would get in school suspension. My only connection to youth culture was skateboarding magazines and vhs tapes, also MTV which was in its last days of heavy music video rotation.” Skateboarding offered for him, as it does for many, an escape from the strict confines of life that surrounded him and a path to the wider world “I liked skateboard graphics but didn’t know the artists names or care who they were. I was more interested in what the pro skaters were doing. I didn’t know anything about contemporary art or that it was possible to be an artist. Skateboarding did give me a place I could see my art.” Through skateboarding, a love for art began to emerge. “I spent a lot of time drawing because there wasn’t much else to do. I think it affected me creatively in a lot of ways, because the school and community weren’t supportive: so, art was something I sought out to do on my own and there were no examples of how one could be an artist. I really wanted to work in cartoons and had no idea how to do that, but I could open a skateboard magazine and find a phone number or address to a skateboard company. So, that was what I focused on for a long time: contacting companies within skateboard culture to do board graphics, T-shirt’s, magazine illustrations etc. I did somewhere around 200 board graphics for companies all over the world like Consolidated, Death and so many others.”
“THE SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY WEREN’T SUPPORTIVE, SO ART WAS SOMETHING I SOUGHT OUT TO DO ON MY OWN”
Working in the skate industry was, however, not artistic nirvana for the man most recognisable for putting the fi-i-i-ne back in to fast food with his sexy Ronald McDonald, featuring a full portion of fries hanging all out in front. “I had been doing work for skateboard companies for about 10 years, and I was pretty successful but financially there was not much money in it. It was exciting to have small skateboard shops from Russia, Norway etc contact me to design a t-shirt. I probably did 100s of tshirt graphics. I was on the computer all the time setting up files for printing and I was working a full-time job in Brooklyn where I was on a computer all day. So, to come home from work and do more computer work wasn’t enjoyable. I decided to go back to just making art for myself.” Wizard Skull started more conceptually than a first glance may give him credit for, addressing the taboo in men’s sexuality. “One of the first series of drawings I did was illustrations of powerful men sexualized. It was around the election the first time Obama was elected, so they were all people who were running for office or former presidents. The idea was drawing men as sexualized objects. I had 11 done and needed one more to finish a zine. I couldn’t think of who else to do so just did the Sexy Ronald McDonald which before that I only did my own characters. The sexy Ronald image became the most popular, and the joke of the fries in his underwear may be why, even though the original intent of the series was to challenge the way men and woman are portrayed in popular culture.”
“THE ORIGINAL INTENT OF THE SERIES WAS TO CHALLENGE THE WAY MEN AND WOMAN ARE PORTRAYED IN POPULAR CULTURE.”
Humanity, however, is well known for a distinct lack of humour where naughty bits are concerned (shout out to a society built on restrictively interpreted Christian values what, what) and the subtle message of Wizard Skull’s work has been lost on many. “Once I was putting up a wheat paste of Sexy Ronald and an older man came up and started yelling at me for it saying kids will see it and it’s inappropriate. He went into a store and bought a can of spray paint and came back and sprayed the entire thing black. But I came back the next day and put another one up. Then I did comic con one year and they made me hide my print of Homer choking his Bart dick. I did a series called Duck Die Nasty with my friend Matt Crabe, we were doing a lot of zine festivals together. We did a release for it at Printed Matter: an art book store in NYC. The surprising part was having people who are going to an art book store be offended. I remember one guy in particular who didn’t like that there was a duck hanging himself in it.”
Wizard has pointed out through interviews that many are determined to get to the bottom of his own place on the sexual spectrum and has received a fair amount of homophobic abuse as a result of his artwork (though, it is worth noting that homosexual men are often attracted to cartoon characters, and so in general, the public are not to be blamed). “I had a hand made sticker of Sexy Ronald in a group show once and a guy came up to me and told me he liked it, but he wasn’t a “faggit”. Around that time, I had people trying to warn me that everyone is going to think I’m gay for drawing sexy men. This was in 2010, and I think maybe I’m not around guys like that these days, or maybe most men’s masculinity isn’t so fragile that they have to worry what people will think of them if like a muscular man drawing.”
“EVERYONE IS GOING TO THINK I’M GAY FOR DRAWING SEXY MEN.”
Wizard Skull is easily discounted as being thoughtless, thanks to a tendency for culture to dismiss the comically sexual. However, the work is well-thought out, carefully designed and carries an important message. “I worked in a museum for a few years standing in galleries. If the museum wasn’t busy I’d be making mental lists of ideas. For most of my art I already have an idea at the start. I have a lot of sketchbooks where I just randomly draw things and sometimes I take bits from there and turn them into something more. Also, just making art helps me come up with what to do next because in the process of creating you can find new ideas or methods.” Wizard Skull started out with pasting his designs on the streets of New York before the days of social media, and this is a flavour which really remains tangible in his work. “When I first started pasting it didn’t affect [my creative process] at all, but I didn’t have a smart phone or social media presence. I was just going out putting up posters every single night. At the time I hadn’t really become a part of any scene or met many other artists. I’d just try to get a poster on every block possible, but I had no idea what people thought of them because no one knew who I was and there was no way for people who saw them to contact me.” Now that his work is so visible on social media channels, with 32.7K followers on Instagram, one can see precisely how the public respond to these witty pieces: and the upshot is infinitely polarised.
Currently, Wizard Skull is exploring a range of styles of painting, with ambitions to try sculpture work in the future. If you find an itch to see cartoons with their pants down is going un-scratched, or the urge to see precisely where your delicate sensibilities sit on the Wizard Skull spectrum: please call a local advice line, or, alternatively, see Wizard Skull’s work for sale with Moosey Art now.