Sonny Day and Biddy Maroney make up We Buy Your Kids, a duo that creates posters and designs that are full on visual enthusiasm — a poster from We Buy Your Kids has an unbridled strange joy that is as vibrant as it is cerebral.
Sonny and Biddy are making their second trip to Austin’s Mondo gallery for their upcoming exhibit ‘Harsh Majical,’ another foray into the world of film, this time taking on movies as diverse as ‘The Fly‘ and ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’
The exhibit opens in Austin on Friday August 29th and Sonny and Biddy were kind enough to chat with me about the creative process behind ‘Harsh Majical’ and the wonders of Australian cinema.
‘Harsh Majical’ is your second trip to Austin’s Mondo gallery. Your first show yielded some instant classics, at least in my house. Your designs for ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘An American Werewolf in London,’ and ‘The Shining’ are brilliant takes on those films. Is there pressure to out do what you did with your first Mondo show ‘Tina’s Mom’s Boyfriend’?
Ah thanks! We didn’t feel any pressure. ‘Tina’s Mom’s Boyfriend’ was a giant learning experience for us.
If anything, it made us want to take things further with this one and really push it. Mostly we were very aware of how much we had enjoyed working on and then being in Austin for the last show. And never thought we’d get another shot at that, so we were very conscious to have as much fun and enjoy it as much as we could.
We hope people enjoy this new show as much as the first, or get that we had fun making it.
It was announced that one of the films you two were taking on this time is the 1992 Woody Harrelson / Wesley Snipes buddy comedy ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’ I loved hearing that, it’s such a far out choice but knowing the tastes of WBYK, doing a strange buddy sports comedy totally makes sense. Did you have to push hard to get the okay from Mondo for ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ or ‘Thrashin’’?
Mondo were totally into it. In fact we’re pretty sure they suggested ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’ We think they mentioned it when we caught up with them for the Mondo Mystery Movie in LA last year. It wasn’t one of our first choices, but one day we noticed it again and just remembered how much we both loved it. Then ‘Thrashin’‘seemed appropriate after that.
They were also two movies that hadn’t had a poster done yet so we though why not?! They’ve turned out to be two of our favourite prints in the show. We also probably didn’t anticipate how popular ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ is with everyone else.
I’m glad we didn’t think about that when working on it because that’s one we did have a lot of fun with, and probably the oddest thing in the show.
Your work is consistently visceral. There’s a focus on the internal stress and mania of a film’s main character that you’re able to tap into and display with ease. For ‘Alien’ the terror is right there – inside the figure’s head and coming at the audience. Does your approach change when tackling a comedy?
Thanks again! It all comes from the same place. We guess we try to convey a sense of what the movie is about without replicating something exactly from the flick. There’s not a lot of comedy in the new show, but our process has really become refined since our last Mondo exhibition.
Two years ago we passed ideas back and forth between each other a lot, both adding to and working on sketches and ideas. We love doing that, but it takes ages and gets clunky. Now Sonny is doing pretty much all the sketches / concept work. So that approach is working well — making the early concept stage much more fluid, and un-hampered.
When Biddy starts building up the image there’s less to edit — so maybe a more natural flow makes a more instinctive, direct end result?
With ‘Tina’s Mom’s Boyfriend’ you had mentioned that you had set out to do each poster using only secondary characters, but in the end it didn’t go that way. Was there a beginning theme or idea when you started work on ‘Harsh Majical’?
We toyed with an idea of only doing music based movie posters, things like ‘Rocky Horror,’ etc. but didn’t think we could really sustain the idea over a whole show.
We were also going to call it ‘The One Where Webuyyourkids Die At The End’ or ‘0x0,’ but that just seemed to be inviting catastrophe and Biddy chickened out.
In the end we have focused on the films that interested us. That’s what Mondo advised us to do and once we stopped worrying about making anything fit a theme, the whole process was a lot more free and fun. There are a couple of drawings / paintings with a bit of a theme running through them, but we don’t want to give too much away.
Are you working solely with films that Mondo already had licenses for? Did you put them to work getting a license for Thrashin’ or any other property we may see at the show?
Yes. They had all the licenses. There’s always films you think in your head it would be great to ask about licensing, but there’s so much to work with their licenses that we never really got round to it.
You both have had separate exhibits — Biddy was in ‘All Your Gold’ and Sonny had his ‘Sex Mission, Sex Metal Hands. Watch Out For The Cops’ show. Is it important to go off and do projects away from each other? Are you still working together even when doing ‘your own thing’?
Totally. We’ve made a point of both having these little side outlets. It does help to get out ideas that might not suit the work we do together. It also strengthens the work that we make together.
Sonny does a bit of mural work and ‘Sex Mission…‘ was an entire solo show. ‘All Your Gold‘ was a group show, so it was just a couple of small paintings, but the first time Biddy had made work off the computer in years. So it was fun, and definitely made us think we should both be doing more of this next year.
From working together all these years our individual styles have really merged quite a lot — so there’s huge similarities in our separate work now, but we’re still different enough. Sonny is all the weird psychedelic stuff that runs through so much of WBYK work, and Biddy is all stiff Gothic stuff, patterns etc.
This might be an ignorant question, but are Hollywood films the main source of cinema in Australia? Do you have any desire to showcase some of your homeland’s films? Are there any films that you grew up watching that an American audience would be clueless to?
We’ve been lucky enough to work on some artwork for local features and short films. We also did some concept work early in the piece on a film out now, called The Babadook. We think constantly about a collection of Australian films and how that could be paid tribute with poster art.
Hollywood films are definitely the main events at cinemas here. Most Australian movies that do well here are probably also well known in the States. Animal Kingdom is a good example. But for every Picnic At Hanging Rock, or Mad Max or Babe, there’s a slew that are great and maybe quite unknown — ‘Bad Boy Bubby’ and ‘Dogs In Space’ jump to mind.
Bad Boy Bubby —
Dogs In Space —
Actually, this is a great question because there’s really a great legacy of just plain weird Aussie stuff. ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock‘ and ‘Mad Max‘, while both really successful are still both wonderfully weird. A lot of cult film fans in the US may well be more aware of some of that. ‘Wake in Fright‘ and ‘Patrick‘ have both had big revivals lately.
Australian TV is something that is probably completely unknown in the States. Here’s something we’ve been reminiscing lately that you may not be familiar with —
It really all ties into an approach from the 70s, when we were kids, and Australian artists like Martin Sharp that we feel very connected to — big, bright, comical, rough, and definitely creepy.
That side of things is more our bag than some of the better known, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman romping round the outback type stuff.
Previously on Evil Tender — Interview: The Visceral Design of We Buy Your Kids