L.A. fueled Monster's appetite
THE ARTIST known as Buff Monster might have been born in Hawaii, but it wasn't until he moved to Los Angeles that -- fed on a cultural stew of heavy metal, graffiti art, ice cream and the color pink -- the beast came into being.
Prior to that, Buff had no particular artistic leaning, and explains by phone from Hollywood, "I had other interests."
He doesn't talk much about his life in Hawaii, simply because Buff Monster would not exist if not for his move to L.A.
"I know it's a global marketplace and whatever, blah, blah, blah. But in L.A. there was lots going on, culture being generated, I could see a lot of art. Obviously, it made a strong impact on me. All that stuff helps with the big picture."
Buff's original intent after graduating from Punahou was to earn a business administration degree at the University of Southern California. But he realized he had little in common with other students, whose main interest was to become investment bankers. His interest lay in street culture and graffiti art, so he switched to a major in fine arts, with a minor in business. This landed him corporate jobs after school while allowing him to pursue his creative interests.
All the while, he had been putting up his hand-drawn characters on flattened spray paint cans nailed throughout the city, catching the eyes of editors who wrote him up in such magazines as XLR8R, Quest and Elemental, and those of marketers and designers from Nike, Scion, Hurley International and Ocean Pacific, who have tapped his artistic skills.
Today, Buff is at the center of a growing empire based on his artwork, inviting cotton-candy landscapes of clouds, orbs and, well, nipples, though mostly G-rated ones that might easily pass for sugar-frosted cupcakes.
Hundreds of people lined up outside a Melrose toy store last month for Buff Fest, a pre-release party featuring the latest MINDstyle Buff Monster Art Toys. Buff spent six hours autographing toys, T-shirts, posters and books.
He's aiming to do the same for Hawaii collectors via "The Buff Monster Wet Dream Show," which opens from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Split Obsession at Koko Marina Shopping Center. The solo show of new works will be his first on Oahu and will feature limited-edition "Wet Dream" prints, screen-print blocks, canvas, art toys, T-shirts, stickers and more.
Bruce Chin, co-owner of Split Obsession, said he first saw Buff Monster's work four years ago while living in L.A.
"I started collecting his work, then contacted him about buying original art and found out he was from Hawaii," Chin said.
COURTESY BUFF MONSTER
One of Buff Monster's original 15-by-15-inch paintings in acrylic and spray on wood. A number of 10-by-10 panels will be available at Split Obsession, as well as prints starting at $100. CLICK FOR LARGE
"He's like a lot of artists today who started nowhere. London Police was a homeless guy putting posters up all over Amsterdam as a way to express himself, and because of the recognition he's now doing work for Sony and companies like that."
The trend demonstrates how, at a time of constant bombardment by media messages, plus political, economic and social unrest, a simple, familiar image can reassure those seeking solace. Once discovered, the joy that comes from looking at a particular image becomes something of an addiction.
"After Takashi Murakami made that bag for Louis Vuitton, people are able to look at his artwork and know that it's his. That guy's now working on a Disneyland in Japan," Chin said.
BUFF MONSTER looks to Murakami and companies like Tokidoki for lessons in building his business. Like raising a child, he says he wants to do the right thing.
Unlike Murakami, Tokidoki or Yoshitomo Nara, Buff Monster's artwork has no grounding in Japanese kawai culture, despite its cute, girly appearance. Buff's fascination with the color pink emerged in 2002 from quite a different place. He read an article, possibly in Playboy, about nipples being Photoshopped out of existence in photographs.
"I thought that was kind of weird because everybody has them. I thought there should be more," said Buff, who set about creating his own vision of the world through art.
"Kids really like my work because it's fun and because of the bright colors. They don't see what adults see, but that's OK. Sex is just part of life."
During a recent homecoming he marveled at the outdoor fountain near Colony Surf, musing that "it would be amazing to design a public fountain somewhere."
He could well be warming to his hometown, where people were quick to embrace the visual world of Japanese kawai and pop culture.
"I always knew it existed, but it's only recently that I've been able to appreciate it. Like, that Hello Kitty thing. Girls I knew in elementary school thought it was so cool and went crazy for that stuff. For me it wasn't like that.
"Now I think it's something really awesome because you don't have to know anything about the character to get it. Yes, there's a story. She was born on Nov. 1, 1974, and lives in London, England, but you don't have know any of that to appreciate the character. It's a visual language that's easy for people to understand."