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Jan 11, 2016

J★RYU Interview: When A F.A.D. Isn’t Just a FAD


[We recently had a chance to spend several hours talking to J★RYU at his studio about his impressive It’s a F.A.D. Dunny from Kidrobot, which was released in two 20” editions at the end of last year and will close with a pair of 8” editions to be released Tuesday (1.12.15). He  shared insight on the nuances behind the Dunny’s name, his design approach and philosophy, the significance of keys + locks in his work and more. it’s a detailed exploration—well worth the extended read. Enjoy.]

Hi Jesse. Let’s start with It’s a F.A.D. The name is evocative yet a bit mysterious. Many collectors might initially think of it as a comment on the troubling trajectory of vinyl art toys, is that the case?

There’s some of that. It’s called that in a way because it came at the denoument, the seeming downward spiral of things. However, I think that in the next 20 or 30 years if this scene is still around and vibrant—maybe metamorphosed into something else...it’s also almost commentary that the Dunny is a seminal piece within our scene. It’s like the American version of the [email protected] There are a lot of cues that the Dunny takes from the original [email protected] design.

I also think art at any given time is a fad. It’s just not until later that we categorize it into a movement. You’re not really part of a movement when you’re in it. When Nirvana was playing they weren’t “Hey, we’re in a movement,” no they were just in that scene with a bunch of other musicians doing it. Even this Baroque Gothic style, it was the trend at the time, it was the style of the time. But even that made way for other things.

It’s also an acronym, it’s Fancy Ass Dunny, or Fancy Antique Dunny, or Fine Art Dunny. There’s a lot of things that you can call it.


Did you have a specific definition of F.A.D. in mind when you named the Dunny?

It’s up to the person. It can be a Freaking Awful Dunny to someone that really loves minimalist and modern art.

It seems like the title concept is multi-layered with several meanings, in part a commentary on art. You mentioned that one aspect of the name is a reflection of the notion of a passing fad, yet it also seems it’s about recognizing the Art Toy style and honoring that legacy — can you talk more about that dichotomy?

I think it’s both. I’m not saying it as a dismissive thing. It’s more...it’s just a fad. The whole name is It’s just a F.A.D. To people that are really ensconced in the fine art world—I know this as a fact—they look at toys and kinda poo poo it. They look at it as for children or for people who are not necessarily sophisticated. We all have to start from somewhere. For all the artists that sit there and dismiss it, they can’t take away the fact that companies like 3DRetro, myplasticheart, and Rotofugi opened the door for a lot of people to get into so-called sophisticated art. I think the elitist mentality…you can’t dismiss something if helped people enlighten themselves to the world of art in general. We need places and things that are more commoditized and made of materials like vinyl than gold.



So, Is the title ironic ?

It is ironic. You can say it was a fad, but at the same time fads are determined by a long-term measure. How long will it be remembered, how long will it be recognized, and what will this movement say to the larger picture? Look at Takashi Murakami, he’s not regarded very highly in Japan, but everywhere else he’s one of the masters. He’s at Art Basel, people line up and he works with Louis Vuitton. Should we bow to those people that sit there and determine what is good art or bad art. At the end of the day, all of it’s a fad. Is it a fad to like blue chip work?

What was you thought process in designing your Dunny ?

The opportunity to work on the Dunny and to join the fraternity of people that have also put their mark on it is one of the things that inspired me from the beginning. You see all these notable people who are doing things from the sculptural world, the street art world, graffiti, character design, web design... to be able to make a mark on something that’s ubiquitous like this shape is contributing to the overall fabric of what Kidrobot strives to do with the Dunny platform which is to celebrate people that are doing things.


It sounds like you approached the design with a sense of responsibility, to live up to the weight of the moment.

I love Dunnys. I used to have like 100’s of Dunnys as a collector. Some of them were definitely stronger than others. Some of them were in the most purest sense reflective of the work, not necessarily self-serving, but the impetus was you’re a fan of X artist’s work, so they do their style and you get the novelty of having two things meshing into one. When I came into it I knew that there was a reason they asked me, there was something in my work, they maybe want to see my take on it. However, it’s not like I’m going to do 500 Dunnys after this and Kidrobot is just going to keep putting them out. I looked at it as a one-and-done. I may never have the opportunity to do this again. So I wanted to do it in a way that’s not 100% about me. It’s about the form and what Kidrobot has brought to the table thus far and where they might be able to go in the future with interpretive works based on the shape.

I’d rather do things that are a little more ingestible— I don’t get butt hurt if someone says “well it’s not terribly original.” I’m not always trying to do everything in the vacuum of “I want to be the first.” What I want to do is have people remember when they look at my work that there are already so many beautiful things that have been done. You don’t have always to be in pursuit of being the most clever, being the frontiersman, being the revolutionary every single time. There are plenty of examples of creating very solid work that stokes people’s appreciation of things that have worked in the past. Like filigree. I think it’s one of the most beautiful examples of design there is. You see it all over buildings, it’s decorative. I’m trying to equate what we’re doing as artists in this modern world in the vinyl scene with an era of solid design, and put them together in a way that meshes well. I think there’s power in the dichotomy of the simple lines of the Dunny coupled with the decorative elements of filigree—that’s not just a jumble of things that you have to interpret hard.

In your work-in-progress shots on the 20” custom F.A.D. for the 2015 DTA Dunny show it appeared that you were using a 3D model for reference. Was the sculpt done in 3D and how did that process go?

It was. Kidrobot did the modeling based on turnarounds I provided [ed: for the cancelled 3” version]. Based on my 2D design, I was able to draw in— the sharpness of a bevel, or how far off the face it might come. If I have a swirl like a scroll, maybe how deep it might go because of vinyl and how it pulls. The concerns I had were mostly how sharp some things would be. If the face was going to be beautiful not just a generic face. I wanted it to be at the same time classic but have a bit of serenity, but at some angles it looks stern. They were amazing with that — in my experience Kidrobot is really good at dialoging with the artist.

For the custom, I referred to the 3D model mainly for symmetry. For me I find it difficult—I don’t normally do a lot of symmetrical things—especially if I’m doing organic stuff. But with filigree and things like that I need to make it as symmetrical as possible. So to have something that I’ve designed...just the placement on an already non-symmetrical surface — a Dunny’s head isn’t perfectly symmetrical due to manufacturing. It’s 95-97% there. For human error, for me to start, this is what I consider to be the center—even if I’ve measured it and everything—once I’ve established the center point then everything else has to fit correctly.


Many of your previous customs feature keys and locks and you’ve included that aspect in this Dunny. Can you tell us more about this recurring concept?

It’s part of my larger narrative featuring ghosts. The inclusion of the key in the F.A.D. design wasn’t only a reference to my prior pieces but it was my way of creating a small narrative. “What does it unlock?” “What’s inside?” Even though it’s not a functional box. It’s a reference to the narrative element in my work. Even though it’s a static figure—there’s not anything that it’s playing off of—the inclusion of a key and the handle being a heart, and it going into the chest is a little way to incorporate narrative. People can give it as a gift or they can receive it. They can imagine their own story — it’s a mysterious looking, ornate box and the key is unlocking something, whatever they choose.

The keys and locks are also personal. Coming from being a collector, I’ve been collecting since I was young—6 to 7. All my life that’s what I wanted to do, to be a toy designer. This was back in the 70’s but there was no path to doing it. Also being from an Asian family, you take more of the practical route: going to school and so on. I was in corporate but I would still surround myself with toys. There was a point after I did my first or second custom, I was struck that the reason I was surrounded by this was because I wanted to be surrounded by creativity. It really struck a chord, especially with this scene. There were a bunch of people that weren’t affiliated with a Mattel or a Hasbro that were trying to make their own stuff, collectibles. These people were my age or younger. What caused them to go out and really get this done? Even though I was in corporate—in design, doing creative work—I could have been doing this as well. And it wasn’t just because the money, the money was great. But I really wanted the feeling of contributing back, to do my take on something. Not for money or fame or whatever, because I was in the midst of people wanting the exact same thing. It’s almost like you found the people you would be best friends with. They had the initiative. They were not making money hand over fist but they spent their time or money designing this stuff while I was out watching a movie, going to the park, doing normal, conventional life things. It was one of those situations where “If I had the chance... I would do this.” But they actually did it.

I was like, “Duh.” I want to do this too. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. Instead of sitting there ingesting everything, I wanted to also contribute and commiserate with fellow creatives. Through that it was unlocking some part of me in a way and being who I really am. That might be a really meta way of thinking about things. It’s only in retrospect that I think about this perspective of where I was and where I am now. Obviously as an artist you can’t sit there and make corporate money, but my fulfillment as a person is way more satisfying because you’re amongst people that understand where you’re coming from.



Between the 20” and 8” versions there are four editions of the F.A.D. Dunny. How did you and KR choose these and were other colors/treatments considered?

The color iterations were chosen not because of novelty but because these were the most effective at conveying the sculpt without overshadowing it and also because they were pleasant to look at. We also avoided doing say a blue one just for the sake of doing it. I would never want to do that because the design is there, but it would take you away from it’s specific style. For another piece it might work well, you might have a blue version and a green version and they are just color swaps.

Some of the paint applications didn’t work. We said let’s see it in gloss black and when we did that it looked like something H.R. Giger would do. The shine and the refraction made it look bio-organic and was taking away from the design.

Some of the other things I inquired about but didn’t go with included a concrete/marbleized edition. I think the veining that occurs naturally in marble might compete with the others lines which might make it not as elegant. There was a stone one that made it look like it was chiseled out of rock. Trying to do that subtly is difficult without pours and without the earmarks of it. With those old types of sculptures, there’s chips in it and little, subtle imperfections in it. I think without having those things which would necessitate a new mold, it wouldn’t be conveyed well. I would never want it to look like a pad-printed design that was made to look like another material —I think it’s too flat. Likewise if you you had a leather-looking material and you tried to emulate it, but it’s all vectored, it’s too clean. You can tell that we’re inferring leather but it doesn’t really pull it off.


So we went with a very plaintive one with the pearlescent white [ed: 20” edition] that really shows off the design. Even with the size and the price point—obviously it’s not as big of run as the 8-inch’s that are coming out in January—but those who can afford to have the piece in their home already know where it’s going to go, they aren’t buying it to put it in the closet, to hold on to it. They know it’s going on this table, off to the side of the room, and when they turn on the lights they know it’s going to be complimentary with their furniture. I don’t want to be a disruptor, I want it to be integrated into someone’s lifestyle. This color choice is very easy to match. It’s designed in a way for people that are in that place in their life.

The 8-inch’s are both dry brushed. One’s a bronze—a reproduction of the custom [ed: From the 2015 Dunny DTA show] but in a smaller form. Then they decided to a pewter one which is like a silver as the chase. So if you want the original, which is what most people have seen and you happen to get the chase it’s not that much of a hit, if you’re not able to get both. It’s not super, super different. It really comes down to preference in color, which I always thought was a cool thing as a collector. I would hate to do a chase as being a totally different, separate, unique sculpt. It would be a horrible chase. I think chases should be a variant on the existing one. If you have the existing one you’re happy with it. You’d be happier to have the chase version if you really happened to like that, but you’re not missing something out of your collection.


With the impending release of your 8" It's a F.A.D. Dunnys, your first vinyl production toy is done.  Congratulations!  Has working on the Dunny, seeing it produced, and getting feedback from collectors changed your perspective on art toys? 

Thank you so much, it's truly appreciated especially coming from you guys since VP is one of my go-to sites to keep up with all the important news involving our scene.  I'd also like to thank all of the team at Kidrobot who worked tirelessly on this project, it came out even more beautifully than I could have imagined.

Looking back, the whole process of getting the FAD from concept to completion and presented to the public, was very surreal.  Going from collecting to contributing to working with KR in the span of a few years opened up my eyes in many ways, not just from an artistic standpoint but one in which I came to understand many things about myself as well.  My life has always been cyclical it seems, and this experience has been no different.  Just like the ebb of flow of the business world I left behind, this artistic path that I'm now on seems to mirror every endeavor I've taken on before and in that sense, it's very familiar.

However, the one unknown to me, which I could very well never get the answer to, is where the FAD will stand years from now, in terms of aesthetic value, the importance of its release into this scene,  and continued affinity by the people who add it to their collection.  Maybe those things aren't actually important to know anytime soon, or ever.  Perhaps the takeaway here is that when offered the opportunity to create, you do your best to contribute your voice to the existing conversation and hope it's heard. That's all. That should be enough, and then you do it again.  I look forward to contributing more in the future and hope that people will appreciate the FAD when it is released.  Thank you.

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