new york text artist baron von fancy gets real about making art in the digital age
Turning Instagram into the art gallery of the future with the artist's endlessly reblogged and shared work.
Gordon Stevenson doesn't mind whether you call him by his birth name or by his alter-ego, "Baron Von Fancy." In fact, his mother calls him by both names, his credit card is registered under the name "Baron Von Fancy," and people who don't know him well often mistake it for his real name. He adopted his fancy moniker while in college as a branding technique, inspired by a mishmash of The Simpsons character Baron Von Kiss-a-Lot, a habit of collecting vintage Versace Jeans, and an ex-girlfriend's dog.
If his artwork is any indication, Von Fancy's got a lot to say. He's become well-known for his drawings featuring distinctively lettered phrases, appropriated from everywhere: a random girl talking on the New York City subway, his mother's sayings, television and music. Collaborations have included press-on nails for London-based Wah Nails, Reece Hudson handbags, and doormats, socks, and wall paintings for the Mondrian Hotel in Miami. Von Fancy is part of a new generation of digitally savvy creatives, using his following on Instagram to build his "brand." In keeping with millennials' obsession with quotes on social media, his work is endlessly regrammed and tagged. When I first contacted him for an interview, he sent me a string of long emails about his work as it exists on the Internet in comparison to a more traditional gallery setting, signed with a "Sent from somewhere fancy" signature.
You've lived in New York City all of your life. How has that affected your work?
I really am very thankful that I grew up in New York City, from how I understand the world to just getting my things out there and being seen. Being in New York has been a very good place for having that happen.
What's your favourite collaboration you've participated in?
When I first started making things, I made lighters with as many people as I could. Lighters interest me as objects because they are cheap to make and you can hand them out. I could give it to one person and it would be in seven other people's hands by the end of the week. For me, that was important. At some point, Stephen Powers, who is an artist and my idol, made a lighter with me that said "Stolen." That really opened the door for me in terms of creativity.
How has Instagram contributed to your success?
I would say I make art that translates well to people re-posting it and living on past my Instagram posts. If you put up a picture of yourself, unless you're fucking Kim Kardashian, the photo won't have a life after you put it up. I can delete my original Instagram image, but it would still exist because it's been passed on by other people.
You often post images of cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Alice in Wonderland on Instagram. What's the story behind that?
Any image I put up, I feel somewhat responsible for the image. I'm not saying I drew the original cartoon, but If I put up a picture of a cartoon, it means I've actually watched the cartoon on my computer and taken a screenshot myself of the frame
Is Instagram the art gallery of the future?
If I have a show in Chelsea, I don't think I can get more than 20,000 people in and out of the door in one month.The idea that I can instantly post something and it's seen by that many people says to me that Instagram has some power.
What's one of your favourite stories behind your phrase artwork?
One of my favourite quotes is, "The honeymoon is over." It's one of the things my mom said to me when I was a little kid, when we got back from Thanksgiving holiday at my grandmother's house and I had to behave all of a sudden. I didn't understand at the time, but as an adult I now obviously understand.
What's your artistic process like?
Usually people say to me, "We want to collaborate, we want to make something," and I'll send them phrases. My concept starts with the words. I draw it on paper and send it to a factory or screen printer and they reproduce it. But the idea is first and foremost. The object and the phrase for the object is important, but a lot of the time, everything I draw, it starts on paper. I have binder upon binder upon binder of drawings I've done.
Which artists do you admire?
Stephen Powers, Sol Lewitt, Jim Davis, Carl Banks, and I love Jeff Koons' process. I don't necessarily love what it is, but as someone who likes to make things, to see things that are made on a scale and level that I can't even comprehend is truly amazing to me.
Would you consider yourself an artist or designer?
The word "designer," I hate more than anything. I'm an artist. We live in a world where making things doesn't have to be defined. When I make shoes, I'm making art that is then being applied to clothing.
What's your dream collaboration?
I'd love to design a sports team's uniform. To design the Knicks team jersey would be an amazing thing, or to design money. I would die to work with Hermès. They definitely know what is fancy.
Text Kristen Bateman