A cult above the rest

The Internet and digital technology have made it easier for independent-minded illustrators to set up business and establish a name for themselves. Liz Farrelly meets some underground entrepreneurs

Trainer by Faile


The team that constitutes Faile – Patrick McNeil, Aiko Nakagawa and Patrick Miller – is based in the US, while the collective’s artwork appears in urban settings the world over. Producing wheat-paste posters, from eye-catching billboards to discrete handbills, the street art phenomenon’s expertise at screen printing means it uses and reuses imagery, whether it appears on streets overnight or is hung in a gallery to be sold as a limited edition. With stickers, T-shirts, collaborative books and ‘downloadable mobile phone artwork’ also carrying the name, Faile has become a must-have underground brand, catapulting the team into collaborations with the likes of Comme des Garçons and Onitsuka Tiger.

What drives the group to instigate its own projects when it is constantly being courted for such prestigious commercial jobs? According to McNeil, ‘We are driven by the simple act of creating something new and beautiful. Plus, having complete control on a project is a wonderful thing. There is no one to answer to except yourself, and that kind of freedom is liberating.’

Central to any Faile artwork is the name. ‘The name came through trial and error and is part of who we are. Using it is something we always think about. When it comes to products and objects, we really weigh up whether a project represents us. At some point it becomes a matter of branding, and we have to decide if it is really who we are,’ says McNeil.

WK Interact

Relocating from the south of France to New York at the tender age of 18, WK Interact has made one of the city’s busiest corners his own. At Lafayette and Prince in East SoHo, WK Interact’s giant, black and white murals, depicting men and women in motion – fighting, running, looking sexy – have become emblematic of the invigoration of the local art scene. With his own gallery/shop, Studio 101, located a few blocks east and a thriving website with more than 23 000 visitors a month, WK Interact is in control of his image.

‘At the shop, I’m able to create a different aspect of my work, apart from the black and white street installations,’ the proprietor explains. ‘The shop lets me be independent from the gallery system. I represent myself, stage my own shows and work there, with the door open to the public.’

Early on, WK Interact made the decision not to wholesale objects to other collectables stores, but instead to build ‘a brand, a collection and a museum’ under one roof. There are ‘three categories at different prices for different audiences’, with objects (customised packing tape, stickers, boxed T-shirts), prints and artworks for sale. These are limited edition, hand-made or batch-produced.

WK Interact has also worked on commercial collaborations with Volkswagen (Project Fox), Yamaha, BMW, Burton Snowboards and Yohji Yamamoto, enjoying a unique degree of creative autonomy thanks, no doubt, to the high recognition factor of his work.

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