Conversations with 'Goons,' a local street artistPosted: October 15, 2009
“Goons” is one of the most original and enigmatic street artists in Chicago. He cultivates an air of mystery, won’t answer certain questions (he laughs if you ask him why he chose the name “goons”), and will contact you on his own time (trust me on that!). Over the past couple of years, he’s developed a devoted following on flickr and his identity has been the subject of much debate. The Viking, a member of his own crew, summed Goons up best by calling him “the most elusive reclusive alcohol abusive lurker of chicago streets.”
Where are you originally from?
What do you mean?
Where did you grow up?
No….I grew up in a lot of places.
OK..where were you born?
I was born in Denver.
What made you start doing street art?
I was really bored when I first moved here, and I didn’t have any friends and with nothing to do, it gets addictive. You can meet a lot of people through it. I’ve met almost all the street artists in chicago, they just don’t know that they’ve met me. Once you’re in the circle, you get introduced to other ones.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
A lot of children’s books from the 50′s, when I am not feeling very creative. I just look through books. I go through different phases where different images interest me, and it will show through my work at the time.
What would you say your style is?
It has to be messy, or it has to look like it belongs on the street. Like my guys, I picture them living on the street, all messy and drunk. It’s got to be hand-made and limited to one, not just photocopied a hundred times. It’s gotta be placed in a place that is respectful to people. Those are the main rules I follow.
What about the way you draw your goons? ( “goons” was silent on the issue of the “fish lips” saying he doesn’t know what fishlips are)
I feel like I am coming off as my number one fan, but I am a really bad drawer. I feel like some people draw badly to draw badly, but they can really draw. People think I am just fucking around, but I am trying hard here. I wasn’t born with any skill. I tried to take a drawing class but I was the worst in the class and I had to drop out after a couple of weeks. If someone wants to show me how to draw a real looking person, I’ll put that on the street instead. It’s the best I can do right now. I think I’ve gotten a little better.
Your pieces have gotten larger, and more intricate since we last talked.
It progresses no matter what. I made a deal [with myself] which was watch a movie before you go on the computer and paint before you watch a movie. So I am always painting and trying to get better.
Who would you cite your influences as?
ufo from the 907 crew, he has a really crude style, which I like, I don’t like it being nice and clean. Earsnot of the IRAK crew, he doesn’t do stickers, he doesn’t do characters, he just writes. In California, there is a guy named Chubs who I really like and then there’s Chue, and he also does characters.
Has anyone in Chicago influenced your style?
In Chicago, it’s Viking and Stomach, which are both in my crew, cause when I started, they were the only other people doing stickers where I was, so it just made me want to do it more and more, and kind of competing with them, but not. Where ever they were, I wanted to be, and wherever I was, their stickers were soon to follow.
What does your crew name OMG stand for?
The letters can stand for a few different things. We’re kind of making light of crews by doing that. There’s a few different things OMG stands for. Basically a crew is just people you hang out with, and who have your back.
How would you explain the difference between street art and graffiti?
Street art and graffiti art is definitely separate. It’s like documentary film to a film with actors. Graffiti is a lot more violent, there are a lot more chances you’d get beat up. Street art too, but they’re probably going to take it out on your artwork, while with graffiti they’ll take it out on- like, if you cover up someone else’s graffiti, they’ll cover you up for life. Whenever they see your thing, if you disrespected them, just covering up a corner, they will forever go over you, and beat you up if they see you.
How would you explain the proliferation of sticker art?
That’s what happens with street art. Someone develops a technique and people don’t remember where it originated from, but they use it. Especially with the internet. People can really communicate their ideas quickly. Before, every city would have their own style because there wouldn’t be as much communication. They would build up their own distinct style in the city, but now with the internet it’s all similar styles and techniques.
Would you say the internet is good for graffiti and street art then?
In some ways the internet isn’t good, because I will see a place with a lot of stuff up and I will think, oh, i have to go there and put stuff up rather than walking around and finding it randomly. That’s why I stopped using flickr, because I would be at home looking at flickr rather than putting stuff up. Checking to see comments, see if pictures of my stuff is up, see if anyone saw it, so I had to stop. But I still find myself on flickr from time to time. I’d rather see it on the street, and be surprised. It just sucks when someone has taken a lot of time making something, and putting it up, and I will see it on the internet before I see it in person.
Do you check on the status of your work?
Only if it’s something that I really like.
Do you get upset when your work gets buffed after you’ve put so much time and effort into it?
When Chicago paints over it, it’s frustrating, but that’s the nature of the city, you have to be expecting that. It definitely works as a deterrent. The best deterrent against graffiti is painting over it. I think there is a couple undercover cops just looking out for graffiti in Wicker Park (points out an undercover cop as he is saying this).
What about if your piece is only up for one night?
It’s the final product that I am looking for, even if it’s only up for a night. It’s always worth it for me.
Wicker Park seems to be a hot spot for sticker art, but you tend to spread yourself all over the city. Why?
Any place that is packed with stickers, or people putting posters next to it, will make it get taken down quicker. It’s going to attract the buff. There’s just so many people here doing it, i just want to separate myself a little bit. With my posters, being life-sized attracts a lot of attention on it’s own, and I’d rather that it be away from any other piece. Someone might come along with a poster half my size, with some weird thing they did on Photoshop, and they’ll put it right next to mine, and then it’ll just look like a group of people putting up posters rather than a goon on a corner, or down a dark alley.
Do you have any pet peeves?
A lot of guys just do it on photoshop and print it out, and that’s really annoying, that’s not street at all.
Why do you prefer this neighborhood (around Grand & Milwaukee)?
Out there [Wicker Park], it’s cleaner and nice. Out here, it’s not trashy but there’s a lot of factories and the meat packing district and there’s also art galleries, because I guess buildings are resold for cheap. So you have a mixture of industrial, and the city doesn’t maintain the industrial part as anally.
Do you have a target audience in mind for your goons?
Out here, all different types of people will see it. That’s what I am going for. People who wouldn’t even be interested in seeing street art, or people who never did graffiti. That’s why I do characters, because any one can relate to a character, especially if it’s life-sized. Then it’s almost like a person.
Is that why you do life sized ones?
It takes the same amount of time as doing 30 little stickers, except afterward you feel more accomplished. People are also a lot more likely to notice something life sized and really detailed rather than a few stickers here and there.
Does each character you make have a little story and/or do you ever “goonify” people you know?
Say, if my girlfriend is being annoying or something, so I’ll draw her in the goons style doing something, and I draw other people sometimes when I am thinking about them and it will come out, but they will never know it’s them because it’s so skewed. They don’t have a back story, I’ll just collect different things like different parts of them, like maybe they’ll be holding a sword.
You participated in an art show a couple months ago. What made you change your mind about taking a “goon” off the street?
I was under the impression we would be selling some stuff.
What do you plan on doing with your website?
I have a lot of ideas for the future. Check back often.
Did you have anything to do with Jason Tyler’s music video “Run Around”?
Jason Tyler called me about it. I didn’t actually do the animation for it, but it looks cool.
“Goons” just got back to Chicago from doing a tour around the country, where he was nice enough to provide all the unattributed photos in this post. He is currently making plans for a world tour, but won’t say when that will be. One thing is for sure, it’ll be ugly.