The story goes something like this — Australian illustrator Sonny Day of design duo We Buy Your Kids was scheduled to be in Los Angeles to do design work for Paramount Coffee Project. His trip to the States was to have some down time and for Day that meant he had time to fill. That’s how Day found himself in Austin, Texas at the Mondo Gallery on a Tuesday afternoon face to face with a series of strangers, asking them about their anxieties and fears. As each visitor spoke, Day would draw. On the page would be a portrait of the interviewee’s troubles. A depiction of their private struggles rendered in pen and pencil. For two straight afternoons Day drew and on the third day the gallery opened its doors on the exhibit ‘Mind Intern,’ the artist’s new series of paintings, prints, and sketches. The concept behind the show explored a simple yet powerful ‘what if’ scenario. Inside all of us are those quiet worries that clutter our heads. Day imagines a mind intern, some thing, or some one, inside that takes on all of those anxieties for you and leaves you free to focus clearly within your new stress-free existence.
Sonny Day is best known for his illustration and design work, but has spent a great deal of time creating in the fine art field. In early 2015 Day created an elaborate piece title ‘The Difference Between You And Me Is That I’m Not A Shark,’ a live painting and interactive animation in collaboration with Ramus Illumination and Broached Commissions at Central Park Sydney. That event was preceded by his show ‘Pink Fist‘ at the Collingwood, Australia gallery Lamington Drive. These exhibits are created outside of the We Buy Your Kids brand, but even when Day is credited as working solo, he is never truly solo. Wife and creative partner Biddy Maroney will always be involved. Her voice is hummed under each canvas and drawing Sonny creates and their own story is one of continual beauty. As We Buy Your Kids they are able to find the most honest heart of a project — each poster, website, or event material is delivered with their specific brand of insightful design.
Below is a short interview with Sonny concerning his most recent exhibit ‘Mind Intern,’ and the art that links his work together.
Hearing about the process behind ‘Mind Intern’ and your time spent talking and drawing the mind interns of the visitors, I immediately thought of the WBYK illustration for ‘The Shining,’ which to me perfectly captures that inner-self of the film’s main character.
As where with ‘The Shining’ you found the humanity of a character, it’s almost like for ‘Mind Intern’ you found the character inside the human visitors. Very much in line with what you and Biddy do best, is that tapping into the truth of your subject. With ‘Mind Intern’ the subject just happened to be you and the show’s visitors. Was your process for ‘Mind Intern’ similar to how you create for WBYK?
No, the process behind Mind Intern was more of a journey to get to the finished product. This is in the sense that it was always going to be a show of paintings and drawings but the performance / interactive aspect came further down the track the more time I had to sit with the actual idea of the show. The more it evolved the more it became about the people participating.
When starting each mind intern, did you have a script of questions or was each person its own conversation? What were you listening for?
I had a very loose idea, the whole interview idea really came together a couple of weeks before the show was announced. and in the two weeks before the show I was in a mad rush to finish the paintings. It was only when I got on the plane to the states that I could really start thinking of how it would work.
Even then I kept things super loose, I didn’t want to get shoehorned into a structure that would deliver less than I was expecting. The way the conversations started eventually became scripted once I got an understanding of what to ask.
How many mind interns of others did you end up doing?
All up I think it was around 110, thats 70 more than I was planning on.
The show had a very sophisticated concept – far from the pop culture work the Mondo Gallery is known for. How was the response opening night? Did you get a sense of the audience?
Firstly, a massive shout out needs to go to Mondo for letting me do Mind Intern. It was a big risk for their first none pop culture show. The opening was great, the fact that for two days previously I had all those people come in to be a part of the show helped to have a great crowd at the opening.
I spoke to a lot of folks and told them that this was as much their show as it was mine. Without them and their embrace of the concept it would have just been a series of paintings on the wall. What also needs to be said was how open people were. You have folks sitting down with a total stranger and discussing things they’ve not talked about to even close friends. I was blown away by the honesty of those conversations.
The other point to be made is that I have no training in this area. All I could offer was a stranger with a subjective opinion based on my own experiences and outlook on life. It’s like talking to a bar man.
The images from your series of paintings, ‘The Difference Between You And Me Is That I’m Not A Shark’ you had done with Ramus Illumination at Central Park Sydney showed up in ‘Mind Intern.’ Was that the plan all along? Do you see those two projects being linked somehow?
Totally, there is a common thread that links all the paintings over made in the last three years. The execution is becoming more refined but those same ideas of death, sex, and release are present.
Your work as a solo artist is becoming more and more interactive. This element of connecting with people, a community, seems to be part of who you are as a person. It’s not performance really, but letting others into your process. In some ways this is part of Biddy’s role in WBYK. Do you prefer a partner over working completely solo?
I love both, but I never truly work solo. Biddy is a part of everything even if she had no hand in creating the images I paint.
It’s interesting to look at the role of the audience in these projects, you as the artist can’t be sure they’ll want to interact, or how they will. How do you engage an audience, or lead them into what you’re doing? For ‘Mind Intern,’ was there a fall back plan if no one showed up to have you draw their anxieties?
There was none. It was total blind faith. I had faith in those fans of Mondo that appreciate our work and I was hoping that the concept would pique other’s curiosity.
There are common themes in your recent paintings — lipstick. The diver. A shark. A banana. There’s humor to them, but with repetition each becomes a sort of personal hieroglyph, your own wordless language. Are these images spawned from the concept of mind intern, something internal, or is it something more basic, like sharks are fun to draw?
Sharks are fun to draw that’s for sure but it’s also this symbol of fear and of freedom. The make up, fruit and the animals are symbols for different things. Humor is a big part of why I think folks can relate to these works. But the darker themes balance this out and keep people more engaged.
The majority of the images came before the ‘Mind Intern’ concept that everyone’s familiar with now, I think it was easier to thread a narrative around the work after the bulk were completed. I think all up there were about 25 ideas and half of them never reached paint on paper stage.
In poster work and vinyl album design the WBYK name is front and center. As a fan, I’ve picked up posters and soundtracks for films I’ve never seen just because it was done by you and Biddy. For other jobs like the Brewtown Newtown and the Sydney Opera House, you create a part of a larger project where your personal identity is less important – it’s not really about WBYK, but the coffee or the opera or whatever product the marketing is for. From the outside, it seems a bit like going from being a rockstar to be a session musician, supporting a rockstar. The audience perspective shifts, but does yours? Are there two identities?
Totally, with the more commercial work it’s about style and execution. The client is paying for that over Biddy and my ideas. otherwise it would just be pictures of cats.
Before I go I’d like to thank Mitch Putnam for all his time, direction and support of my art and of WBYK. That also goes for Rob Jones. Jenni Jones, thanks for letting me stay and make a mess of your kitchen.
A big thank you to Justin Brookhart for all his hard work. Thanks also to David Rancatore for being a fantastic gallery manager and helping make sure Mind Intern ran so smooth. Thanks Mary Rose, Eric, Mo, Ken Taylor, James Jirat Patradoon, Jay Shaw, Mike Mitchell, Matthew Mitchell and my spirit guide Kevin Tong. Love to Biddy for all her support, I can’t do any of this without her. And lastly the biggest thank you is to everyone who sat down with me in the gallery and went on this little adventure. Without your openness and enthusiasm Mind Intern would not have existed.
Previously on Evil Tender — Interview: The Visceral Design of We Buy Your Kids
Previously on Evil Tender — Interview: We Buy Your Kids talk ‘Harsh Majical’
From Chris Jalufka on Nerdlocker — Nerdlocker Artist Interview: Sonny Day of We Buy Your Kids
Scott Wampler’s (Birth. Movies. Death.) article on Mind Intern