Interview: Karl Addison, Street Artist & Founder/Owner of Partybots Eco Apparel & Art
You may remember this post from a several months ago when I was back in Seattle. I took some picture’s of Karl’s street art, he saw the post on notcot.org, and emailed me. From that I learned more about his awesome art and eco-apparel business, Partybots. He was recently in Tokyo so we met up and I got to do a little ‘urban research.’
How did Partybots start?
It started in 2003 while I was living in a tiny studio apartment in Los Angeles. Basically as a quasi joke – I wanted to find out how paypal worked plus I love starting new projects as long as they pertain to art. The two original designs were the Merkin & Partybots. Merkin was a joke from back home in Arizona – because novelty pubic wigs are hilarious and should become more popular. Lost in an age of unquestionable fashion. The Partybots were drawn for my 21st birthday flier to prompt the crashing of a Chucky Cheese on a Wednesday night among friends. Some lady bought 6 shirts from me off the worst website I have ever created, then I used that money to re-invest in more artwork and shirts. Kept sinking all the profit back in until I bought my own printing press and eventually quit my 9-5 job to pre-sue my drawing tycoon dream.
What are your main objectives with this business?
From the get go of bringing my production and printing in-house I wanted to maintain two objectives – A: to be as sustainable in my printing process as humanly possible – which carried over into every other aspect of my business – and B: To make my art prints as artistic as humanly possible while providing a quality product for folks to love and enjoy.
What were you doing in Tokyo? Is this your first time in Japan?
I had three main objectives while in Tokyo on this trip: to create new business contacts and opportunities – including distribution deals, create visible street art that interacts with its environment, and to ride my bike. This is my second trip to Japan. I’m glad to have learned the language a bit more and to know the geography way better thanks to walking around endlessly and riding my bike as much as humanly possible.
Did you see a lot of eco-apparel in Japan?
I saw a lot more eco-friendly efforts in many different regards all around Tokyo. I’m sure eco-apparel is around, and there were a few stores I went in to that were producing 100% Organic Cotton apparel. Eco-Apparel is a smaller category in the over-all scheme of industry in Tokyo, but the basic efforts in increasing general public awareness are a huge step forward in the right direction. Examples are all the public signage prompting recycling and re-using, seeing an Eco-Street in Harajuku off of Omotesando Dori, and researching to find out that Japan has the highest number of patents on eco-friendly products and technology in the world. All of these cast light on the concept of understanding and taking care of what we have. Even from my trip a year ago I was extremely impressed by the overall environmental awareness.
Since you’ve been to Tokyo twice now, what’s your advice? Likes/ dislikes?
My likes are how friendly people are – regardless of the language barrier, the food, hidden street art, how tightly packed everything is and the synergy of the city. My dislike is not being able to speak more Japanese to communicate. The subways are great, but my number one piece of advice is just to explore – don’t worry about getting lost because you can always find someone quickly to point you in the right direction.
Mustache Box sticker, Shibuya
You are a pretty prolific street artist, what are your views on street art/ graffiti?
Street art is very complicated and gets a lot of bad press. There are so many different types of art on the streets and for many different reasons. In a lot of ways it is ingrained in to our genetic DNA. Neanderthals painted on cave walls as a way to communicate and leave their mark. In my opinion it is as simple as that. Imagery & iconography cross all language barriers – they are universally understood regardless of background. Tagging is just that – a way to communicate and leave a mark behind. To me, that is the beginning of street art and it expands to every other mode including painting (throw-ups, pieces, murals), wheat pasting, and installations. There is no black and white in it, the concept is too gray in regards to what is right or wrong location-wise.
I have my own ethics that I live by when doing work on the streets. There is a lot that goes through my mind when choosing where to display my work and on what. Everyone is different in their opinions on what is acceptable. As far as I’m concerned, every city has a large amount of public space – this space should be utilized for art and culture. I don’t walk down the street to be besieged by advertisers everywhere I turn – that is not acceptable nor do I want to look at it in every clear space between buildings. If that is ok then there is space for my art installations too- which are there for others to enjoy and give people a reason to look up from their feet while walking down the street.
How do you come up with your drawings? What is your artistic process like?
Drawing for me is the same as breathing. I have disciplined myself to do it every day. From the smallest doodle that no one will ever see to my more complex drawings that I publish often. I listen and observe everything around me to pull ideas and concepts from. I study every composition I see for new styles, techniques and methods of drawing. My eyes have this terrible habit of just starring at people, places and things. At first I see them for what they are, then I immediately break them down in to shapes, texture and value as if I’m drawing them in my head. Once you become aware of it, you see it everywhere. If my drawings and art are not entertaining me – then I should not be doing them. In general, I laugh out loud at the simple stupid ideas that I draw.
Where do you get your inspiration? What other artists are you into?
Inspiration is everywhere – you just need to use your senses to become aware of it. Some of my art heroes are Robert Crumb, Jackson Pollock, Henry Darger, Ray Johnson, Jeffery Brown – but not limited to those. I find out about new artists daily that are producing incredible works. In a very, very nerdy way – I rent as many art films as I can get my hands on from Netflix. Tons of biographies, interviews, documentaries and featured films about other artists. It keeps me wanting to create all the time.
How often do you come out with new products?
During the past 6 years I have just randomly come out with new drawings that either folks have requested from my drawings or ones that entertain me. At this current time I have over 91 choices of artwork on my website – there are more in the past that I don’t offer any longer. I would say I add about 18 a year – so that is about 1.5 new printed drawings per month. Right now I’m doing seasonal themes for my artwork. Pretty pumped on the concept of themed artwork. For summer 2009 the themes are Bikes & Ocean. I’m very proud of how they turned out in both the original drawings and the screen printed versions.
Anything else you want people to know?
From here on out I want to see Partybots grow as an artistic endeavor, a business, and an inspiration to other artists. For me personally, I love the fact that I can officially draw for a living – it is really hard to explain exactly what I do for a living, but the simple answer is, “i draw a lot
.” In addition to that, the process of screen printing has literally changed the method in which I draw. I have adapted my drawings to the concept behind multiple printed layers by utilizing stroke width – cross hatch, hatch & stippling to showcase texture and value.
My business and art it has taken me to places I never thought I would be able to go, to produce art internationally, and to meet amazing friends. I love doing what I’m doing. My dreams and hopes are to grow Partybots to the point where it is a vessel to help create all my other artistic endeavors. The best advice I can give to other artists is to just do what you do and produce your artwork.
If you’re in the Seattle area be sure to check out Karl Addison’s upcoming show Give Up
– an art opening at Retrofit Homes in Capitol Hill on Thursday, July 9th.
Take a look at Partybots.org
for the online store and to see the list of distributors in your area.
Pretty cool, yeah?
*click images for full view