Buff Monster Mural Coney Island (2015).
Review by G. James Daichendt
Buff Monster is a pop-inspired artist well known for his brightly colored characters that interact within candy-coated dream like landscapes. Ice cream cone characters dominate his oeuvre and their personalities are a mix of familiar characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Garbage Pail Kids, a trading card series from the 1980s. When viewing his paintings, murals, and commercial products, Buff Monster seems at first to parody aspects of culture but in his new book the artist explains the importance of ice cream and what he earnestly is attempting to address through his artistic process.
Buff Monster initially earned his reputation as a street artist in Los Angeles. Posting thousands of silkscreened posters, the city became familiar with his pink color palette and round little monster characters. Developing a line of merchandise along the way, Buff Monster’s output has continued to increase from collaborations with larger companies to his own enterprise Stay Melty that produces limited edition products. Buff Monster now enjoys an international reputation and it’s not difficult to find his work in major cities around the world as he has developed a familiar and distinct aesthetic.
Several years ago, I interviewed the artist and he cited that his main influences were Punk Rock and Japanese culture. The slick surface and cartoon imagery is fun and a consequence of this aesthetic is that it may seem superficial. Certain products and toys that he produced certainly didn’t help this notion but it’s encouraging to see the artist pen a manifesto that digs into his conceptual agenda. Functioning much like an in-depth artist statement, Buff Monster’s voice is present and the text functions to encapsulate and hopefully push the artist to aim higher and to produce work that is coherent, relevant, and deep.
Ice cream is the main idea that holds everything together for Buff Monster. The delicious treat represents the cycle of life. If the dessert is frozen, it has potential but cannot be enjoyed. As it warms, it can be eaten but if it continues to heat up, ice cream loses its most distinguishing characteristics to be enjoyed and becomes a soupy mess. Frozen milk in a state of thawing is the dream for this artist and an ideal state that can only last for a finite amount of time.
Buff Monster then takes the ice cream cone and applies it to three areas of concern: the individual, society at large, and social media. Ice cream flavors, toppings, and colors are part of a metaphor for diversity according to the artist. The constant drips that run down each character refers to time and the finite amount we all have as human beings. It can also apply to the slow decay of society (something social media appears to be feeding). The artist references that our culture is quickly becoming one homogenous flavor and the ice cream cones in his work can then be viewed as a neighborhood or a society melting away into a one sticky mess.
Lastly, Buff Monster addresses social media and smartphones, which function as a push regarding the importance of hand-crafted objects and real experiences. Much like the Arts and Crafts movement that sought to rebuke factory products, Buff Monster writes a call to arms to leave a lasting impression, something he aims to do through his art.
Buff Monster’s direction breaks down a bit at times and he makes references to current events that may not be relevant years down the road, but he clearly is moving toward something deeper overall. This manifesto lived for years as separate notes on napkins and sketchpads, which collectively helped guide the artist as he thought through his work. As a new wave of urban art appears to be on the rise, the depth and criticism of such work appears to be receding. Description and celebration are followed by awe and it’s rare to engage in reflective thinking and close looking. Buff Monster should be commended for pushing his art beyond this veneer as he aims to not only create fun and interesting art, he aims to build a lasting body of work that can be engaged in a thoughtful and meaningful manner.
Books by Stay Melty "The Melty Manifesto"
Above: Stephen Hendee created sculpture for the celebration of 30 years of public art programming in the City of Las Vegas.