Mason McFee is an artist and graphic designer behind Hello Maseman. There is no shortage of art styles and mediums that have captured his interests but the raw hand-sewn patchworks he has crafted lately became the focus of our collaboration. His early experiences are rooted in a DIY attitude in a small town in Texas mixed with growing up with educators gave him the freedom and opportunity to develop a unique tension between the constraints of a professional graphic designer and an artistic spirit that is anything but constrained. Altru had the opportunity interview him as part of our ongoing Artist Collaboration Projects.
Below is our interview with Mason McFee and some of his art on apparel produced by Altru Apparel
A. Hi Mason. How’s it going and can you tell us a little about yourself?
M.M. It’s going great. I’m an artist from Austin, Texas. I dabble in all sorts of artwork from zines to paintings to murals and whatever captures my interest.
A. Looking back through your art, you’ve worked with many different mediums. From collage to geometric shapes, zines to the patchworks we are involved with in our collaboration. They all seem to have a kind of natural organic feel. How do you go about doing that?
M.M. Well, I guess I’ve been a doodler and drawer my whole life. It’s just something I love to do. A lot of the organic nature in my work comes from growing up in Boerne, a small Hill Country town in Texas, outside of San Antonio. My parents were both educators when I was growing up, so they encouraged a lot of exploration while I was a kid. I grew up on ten acres and we did all kinds of things around the property including working on cars, building with wood, making forts and tree houses, going fishing in the creek and generally being outdoors. I enjoyed the experience of growing up outside of the city limits where we had a little more freedom to do what we wanted.
A. So you had access and were able to get your hands on different equipment for practical reasons and also to build and create?
M.M. Yeah, we’d do whatever you know? My pops showed us how to use power tools and bits about electronics. I did a lot of creating in my parents garage, making artwork with all the stuff my dad had laying around the place. I enjoyed learning new things. That’s sort of how the sewing thing came into play lately. I was interested in making patches, so I was screen printing my own onto fabric. My little sister showed me how to use the sewing machine to sew the edges. I ended up teaching myself to do embroidery after I saw how easy it was to use. Sewing is this weird combination of skills, similar to using a band saw and sort of like welding, but with fabric. I kinda enjoy that.
A. What other mediums are you interested in?
M.M. Right now I’ve been excited about getting back into making sculptures and installations. Also, I’m doing some collaborations with my new project, Elmer Gomer. This will be where I’m going to start selling my patches and artworks, but it’s also more of an avenue to sell stuff my artwork. I’m not going to just leave it to patches and hats and shirts and stuff, but start doing collaborative artworks again with friends on projects.
A. I saw that you and your wife had collaborated and made over 25 zines. How is it working with your wife and do you often collaborate together?
M.M. We collaborate on lots of stuff. The zine project we worked together on was called Crummy House. We lived in this run down house in South Austin that inspired the name. We’d invite artists over to collaborate on zines that we’d scrap together on our kitchen table. That was a project that became useful for meeting other artists and allowing us to do our own thing when we both had full time jobs. It ended up being a really great experience at a time when we were both creatively drained.
So, Jessica Clark is my wife and is a graphic designer in Austin, as well. Art + Math is her graphic design company. We do all sorts of stuff together right now. We finally moved out of the Crummy House and into a house over in East Austin where we now live. We enjoy hanging around the house with our two cats and having friends over. Jess is a graphic designer for a vegan cupcake company here in Austin. She does her own thing and I do mine. Having an artist and designer as a spouse inspires me to create each day. We’re going to collaborate on a project with Elmer Gomer very soon, so stay tuned for that.
A. You had been an art director at an advertising agency. How was that?
M.M. It was a good experience. I graduated college then jumped right into working with someone who was a graphic designer and ended up starting his own agency. I worked with him for seven years. It taught me how to take a project all the way to completion. It helped with learning how to work with people in a professional environment. When you work with someone else on a project, there are lots of steps making sure they are stoked on what they get at the end. Also, you know, learning about processes I needed to do when it comes to (ha) billing and invoicing and making sure you are getting paid. The business world is a tricky one and I’m definitely still learning.
A. If you had to choose a different career, what comes to mind?
M.M. I’d probably want to do something outdoors. I wouldn’t mind being a park ranger at a national park. Something out doors for sure. I was actually a tour guide as a summer job for a while at a cavern outside of Boerne. I enjoy the outdoors for sure, being out in nature.
A. Any artists or graphic designer favorites?
M.M. I was very inspired by Maya Hayuk growing up. I actually got to meet her and she’s kind of a rock star artist that I look up to. She does very large outdoor paintings, murals. I really like her brilliance when it comes to color and her positive energy. Her work is very bright and psychedelic and I like that she is constantly reinventing her work.
A. You said you once had a a chance to meet her. Tell us about that.
M.M. When I was still in school I used to do these mini-zines and send them out to people in the art world that I admired. I basically would find their email and ask them if they wanted to trade art packages. She was one of the people that responded back. We ended up trading stuff, like mix tapes, CDs and stuff in the early days. She was just one of those artists that really encouraged you and was engaging as a person. So, a week after I met Jessica, I was so in love I followed her on a trip to New York. Well, I thought I’d reach out to Maya and she invited us to an Anthony Lister art show and ended up getting to check out her studio, too. So that was pretty big, especially in my early years just getting started. She was inspiring for sure.
Oh, also in Austin I have a huge family of rad artist friends. I’d try and list them all here, but the list would seriously be way too long for this interview. They are all very inspiring to me for sure.
A. Do you get to travel?
M.M. I do get to travel, but not as often as I’d like. I’m heading out to the West Coast soon. Hopefully a Japan trip and maybe Sweden in the coming years. I’ve got my patches over in a little shop in Tokyo called LECHOPPE. They came to my studio in Austin and bought pretty much every patch I had in my studio. I’m excited to show off a new collatoration with them of 13 Wrangler shirts and jackets. They’ll be done pretty soon and for sale this Winter.
A. Final Question... Glitter, Yea or Nay?
M.M. Yea! (Ha)
A. Hey Sterling How’s it Going?
S.B. Pretty Good.
A. So Can you tell us little bit about yourself?
S.B. Yeah, I’m an artist living in Los Angeles, California. I've lived and worked here for about 10 years. I do a lot of illustration, design, and I have a painting practice.
A. Describe a day in the life of Sterling.
S.B. I generally get up about 8 o’clock, take the dog on a hike in the morning. Come back, fix myself some breakfast and get the house in order. I’ll generally work from about 10/11 am to about 6/7 pm. I desperately try to keep it Monday through Friday. That generally doesn’t happen, but if I don’t keep banker hours I’ll go crazy, I’ll work until 3 in the morning so I try keeping it pretty steady. My time is split 50/50 between my painting practice and my design/illustration work.
A. Where did you grow up?
S.B. I was Born in Dumas Texas, which is way up in the panhandle by Oklahoma. I was raised and went to school in San Angelo, which is in west Texas. My dad was in the military so we moved around a lot. I ended up living in Phoenix, Arizona after high School for quite a while. I just had to get the hell out of there, so I eventually moved to LA.
A. When did you first get into the art scene and designing.
S.B. I have been doing design and illustration professionally for about 10 years. I have exclusively been doing freelance work for about 6 years.
A. What was your first job?
S.B. That’s hard to remember, but I think the first job that mattered to me was working for KR3W Denim with a guy name Angel, who I met through a friend.
A. I know of Angel, he is a maniac!
S.B. He’s great... I love that guy.
A. Are you in touch with him?
S.B. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he actually put this (band-aid) tattoo on me, hahaha.
A. How long were you at KR3W Denim?
S.B. I just worked for them freelance. We met through a mutual friend and I did some work for him off and on. I worked a lot with skate, surf and that sort of stuff afterward and it just kind of expanded from there.
A. Have you been doing art shows the whole time or did the focus shift to that later on?
S.B. I used to do a lot of art exhibitions. That kind of took a back seat for a while, but it’s become a much bigger focus for me lately.
A. Why is that?
S.B. There is a fulfillment that comes from working in design and illustration that is fantastic, but you know it's just something else when you can come up with an image in your head and (snaps) someone immediately feels compelled to own it. - it’s just a different beast.
A. How do you come up with ideas and inspiration?
S.B. Well, that’s tough. Speaking to my illustrations, they incorporate text and humorous sayings. That just stems from reading frankly. For the paintings it’s a little bit different. They are much more based on my environment (Los Angeles), the cityscape and the people. That’s a more direct documentation of the things I see.
A. I see on your desk you’re reading the Steve Martin autobiography. Are you a fan of Stand-up? What other comedians do you like?
S.B. I love, love standup comedy. I love the form so much. Off the top of my head I’d list... Richard Prior, and George Carlin. Let’s see, the newer comics, there are so many, it’s so huge right now. There’s Kate Berlant who I think is amazing, Kyle Mooney, Hannibal Buress I love. Louie C.K. I’ve seen a couple times, he’s fantastic. I’m all over the place, I’m just a big fan.
A. Is the imagery you see around LA a large part of what you are doing now?
S.B. Basically, yeah. For so long I’d been working with text and I wanted to move away from that and just be completely visual. So these images are predominantly me walking around, just out walking the dog or taking a hike then stopping and taking photos of something I feel is emblematic of the city.
A. You have gone through a few phases where your focus is on a particular technique. What prompts you to make a change?
S.B. I think exploration is a pretty good way of putting it. You know, I worked in graphite, making these kind of verbal asides with visual accompaniment for so long that I felt like I’d just gotten to the end of that phase of my work. It felt like I did whatever it was I was going to be able to do there. So the medium I’m working in now, (monoprint) allowed me to step away from that and make something totally to the left of it.
A. Can you describe the process of monoprinting.
S.B. What I do is a bastardized version of monoprint. I cut a stencil out of paper, let’s say a palm tree for example. I cut the leafy green portion from the top of the tree out. Then on a separate piece of material, whether it’s another piece of paper or glass, I will apply the paint. I then lay that over the stencil and using a brayer or the back of my hand for pressure, print it onto the piece of paper below the stencil. The stencil then gets removed leaving us with the first part of the tree. I repeat the process using different colors until finished.
A. What I’ve noticed from your Monoprint pieces is the use of bright colors, which is nearly an exact opposite of what you’d been doing. Bringing out a feeling of a fresher more colorful world than from your graphite only pieces.
S.B. Absolutely. I think that was part of change too, going back to what we were talking about before, boredom is something to look out for. Graphite is just one color, -it’s dark gray. (ha) I did that for about 9 years. So I’m trying to go as far away from that as possible! Another thing is when you’re doing monoprint, if you mix too many colors together during the printing process, the pushing of the pigment through of the paper muddies them. I’m almost forced to use the brightest colors possible in order for them to pop once they’ve been printed onto the surface.
A. I would imagine the communication with the viewer is much different from your single color graphite works with text vs the layered monoprint form you are creating now. Is there much difference?
S.B. Absolutely. When I was working with graphite illustrations, it was often an image paired with text. They were basically inside jokes. They were about bringing a certain subset of people together that could understand those jokes in a very specific way. That was a communication between me and a select group of people. The mono-prints, because they are purely visual, are so much more inclusive. A lot more people are on board, if I’m being honest.
A. There seems to have been a recent explosion with the zine art form and that culture. What are your thoughts on its beginning and where it is going.
S.B. In the last 5 or 6 years there has been a resurgence of zine culture. It’s moved some away from punk and into the realm of art. There is certainly an overlap there. I myself, along with a group of friends are involved 3 or 4 times a year in a kind of zine club called “Drawing Party LA”. Where we get together with an old Risograph machine and make a limited number of zines, just kind of for ourselves, just to do it.
A. What is a “Risograph”?
S.B. Basically, a risograph is a Japanese copy machine that puts out a silk screen type of print rather than a photocopy.
A. Looking over some of your collection, do you have a cherished zine?
S.B. From this collection? It’s tough to say. I mean I really like them all, I have a pretty broad zine library. I am proud to say I have Boys Club #1 by Matt Furie, that’s awesome. Adam Villacin and Travis Millard both make a lot of cool zines. Too many more to name.
A. Have you produced your own zine that is publicly available?
S.B. I put out a zine for my last art show called Le Banquet Rousseau. It contained a compilation of essays by my friend Christina Martinez about her experience in Los Angeles juxtaposed against my paintings.
A. Do you remember any single point when art became a part of your life?
S.B. When I was a kid I just always drew. It was always a part of my day-to-day. I can remember drawing at 3 years old. You know, that 3 years and another 32 years of practice, at some point you know it’s what you want to do.
A. Who are some of your favorite artists?
S.B. Oh- that’s so tough. I love Matisse, I just think Matisse is incredible. I love Goya, I think Raymond Pettibone is a hell of a doodler, Mike Kelley, Robert Crumb... So many……..too many to list. I have so many friends that are amazing too. I love Jason Moore's work, Brendon Donnelly, Victor Solomon. I’m very lucky to know some of my favorite artists.
A. We got in touch and licensed some of Robert Crumbs work for T-shirts.
S.B. That’s awesome!
A. Everybody loved it- all the buyers, and all the graphic design guys and artists... but the public didn’t like it at all.
S.B. That’s awful… that’s too bad.
A. They just didn’t want to wear it. His (Robert Crumb's) art isn’t pretty.
S.B. It’s rough and it’s got a lot going on too…
A. That’s a big part of his aesthetic.
S.B. Yeah, the ugly and weird city-scapes are great. So detailed.
A. Lastly, glitter, yea or nay?
S.B. Absolutely yea (ha!) -gets in everything.
A. Thanks Sterling. What are you going to do now?
Luke Pelletier, a recent L.A. transplant from Chicago, has been up to a lot of things apart from our recent collaboration. A solo show at New Image Art LA in August is taking up the majority of his time. He still keeps his other interests active, like pitching ideas for cartoons or practicing, preforming and recording music with a band. This work ethic surely helped get him through his early trouble with school. The down times between occasional expulsions had an on-the-job-training aspect. The time was filled with creating art for promotional fliers and performing music with a band. His encouraging parents, strong work ethic and an intrinsic creativity guided Luke into a career path that included going to SAIC and receiving an arts degree (BFA) in 2015.
Below is our interview with Luke Pelletier and some of his art on apparel produced by Altru Apparel,
A. So as a kid did you draw on your books and papers in school? If so, what kind of stuff?
L.P. I drew a lot, but it was all over the place. I’d copy cartoons. And skate graphics. I Really got into drawing when I started a band. I was doing all the flyer’s, shirts, and album covers.
A. Please describe how your interest in art and creativity was nourished or encouraged? Any group, friend, teacher or family?
L.P. I got in a lot of trouble as a kid. I was in and out of different schools pretty quickly. My parents always supported my art though. I think they always knew I wasn’t going to work a normal job. So even if I would get expelled from a school one week, they would let me practice and play shows with my band the next. They were very supportive.
A. It’s been about a year since you graduated from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Besides the skills and knowledge you gained, what was the greatest influence from that cultural breeding ground?
L.P. It’s weird. That school was really hard on me. They’re a conceptual art school. Most of my art is based in aesthetics, but they pushed me to talk about my art the same way they did. So it definitely made me experiment more with how I make work. I’ve been really enjoying being out of school though. California has been amazing.
A. Is your work stream of conscience or ideas thought out and expressed?
L.P. Both for sure. I have to plan out a lot of the patterns and compositions because of the math, but I try to always leave room to try new things and goof around. My lyrics are mostly stream of conscience. And I write a lot of those on my paintings.
A. Do you know when a piece is finished or is it hard to stop working on it and adding touches?
L.P. I always know if it’s finished. I rarely ever touch a painting after I sign it.
A. Are you having fun? What are you doing for fun?
L.P. Yeah! I’ve been a little stressed lately. Mostly because my ambition and scale is getting bigger. And with that, so are my expenses, but I try not to worry to much about money. For fun, I paint, write, do band practice, play shows, record songs, go to the beach, watch TV, sketch, some old same old.
A. Are you a collector of anything?
L.P. A ton of stuff! But nothing specific. I collect art, shells, beach glass, dice, matchbooks, trinkets mostly. Just inspiration really!
A. Is there a project you would like to do but haven’t been able to yet?
L.P. Tons! But they’re all in the works! I’d love to open a bar, design a stage, do a cartoon, etc.
A. What project are you working on now?
L.P. Today, I’m working on a pitch for a cartoon I’ve been working on, but I’m mostly working on my solo show at New Image Art in LA. It’ll open in August!
A. Do you have any use for technology in your creative process?
L.P. I email and use Photoshop like everyday!
A. Are you a binge working artist with periods of down time, or do you have a strict work schedule?
L.P. I work everyday for the most part. I have to many things to do to have any downtime! haha I started taking Tuesdays off though!
See more at Luke’s Instagram
Altru teamed up with Impossible Project and photographers: Laura Austin, Pierre David, Mathieu Lebreton, Dirk Mia, and Steven Perilloux in order to support the fantastic charity, Inner-City Arts: Inner-City Arts’ mission is to use arts education to positively affect the lives of underserved youth, improving their chances to lead productive and fulfilling lives by developing creativity, expanding learning skills and building self-confidence. A portion of each garment sold will be donated to their outstanding program.
Laura Austin: "Arts District" www.instagram.com/laura_austin
Steven Perilloux: "Joshua Tree" www.stevenperilloux.com
Pierre David: "LA River" www.instagram.com/pierredavid
Dirk Mia Cat Gods: www.instagram.com/dirkmai
Mathieu Lebreton Watts Towers: www.instagram.com/daaamn
Style is more than simply what you like. Its tied to culture, space and time as well as personal preference and on some gut level, instinct. Someone recently caught our eye who fits the Altru style sensibility, the ridiculously funny, talented and prolific Illustrator Simon Spilsbury. His art style is very precise but also sometimes sketchy and it grabs you and shakes you about. It’s like a very talented juvenile delinquent made off with a very expensive fountain pen. He has the classic British touch - loose lines that don’t always connect, an airy light touch then slipping into a bold smear. True talent makes what is very difficult look easy, he’s got that in spades. The result is fun, cool and definitely someone we want to hang around with.
As a way of introduction, here are some samples of his work printed on a fabric medium along with the short interview we did with Simon. CHEERS!
A. Who were the people who influenced you?
S.S. All the S’s - Steadman, Scarfe, Searle, Steinberg and a few others obviously like Bernie Fuchs, Seymour Chwast, Alan E Cober.
A. What was the first piece of art you remember seeing?
S.S. I was in my dad’s life room from the age of four, so all that I saw there really - old-lady impasto and a bit of hippy psychedelia. Not much in the way of big galleries until I was well into my teens but I remember the uber ones like The Mona Lisa, Guernica and Goya’s ‘El Tercero De Mayo'
A. Where do you go to for visual inspiration now?
S.S. I don’t have an inspiration routine but my best thinking’s done while walking and I walk a lot - I’m not a fan of being trapped in a vehicle or behind a desk - I don’t even like wearing a hat! Depends where the inspiration’s needed; people is easy, just sit outside a cafe in a city and watch how women hold their handbags and how men smoke - or the other way round preferably. If it’s inspiration for composition, I’ll look at contemporaries who are better designers than me - Noma Bar, Seymour Chwast. Or I’ll leaf through George Grosz and Saul Steinberg books.
A. If you could relocate your studio for a year, where would you go?
S.S. It would have to be somewhere in the States, not necessarily NYC, maybe Chicago, LA or somewhere hicky like Oklahoma - I’ve been to Oklahoma a couple of times and it’s got its fair share of weirdos to draw.
A. What is your most indispensable bit of kit?
S.S. My collection of Kaweko pens, they sound Japanese but come from Germany and are packaged in a great little tin.
A. If you hadn’t been an illustrator... ?
S.S. My mum once said “why don’t you get a job in the Post Office.” That’s when I packed my bags. If I wasn’t a busy illustrator I’d definitely write a bit more but in my dreams I’d be leading people through the jungles in Asia with my jungle mate - who incidentally can kill you with his eyeball.
A. What are you working on right now?
S.S. Various wall drawings, a personal project based around celebrity, boosting my retail archive and just about to start an animated TVC for a booze company [that’s all I’m allowed to say].
A. How do you unwind at the end of the day?
S.S. I don’t really…I annoy the crap out of myself by carrying my sketchbook everywhere and then getting anxious when I haven’t opened it. If I’m in the pub I treat it like a life room. If I’m at a dinner party I draw naked people for laughs.
A. Do you travel? Do you enjoy travel? When traveling how is your life & creative process effected?
S.S. I used to travel a lot as I spent 10 years travel writing for The Sunday Times but currently not travelling huge amounts because the kids have got to get through exams and university but it won’t be much longer. I have just got back from Northern Australia and a desert trek in The Sahara with all my explorer mates so don’t pity me too much.
A. Technology? To embrace, disregard or rebel against it?
S.S. Necessary evil. Computer Armageddon would suit me well.
A. What relationship do you have to clothing?
S.S. Chuck it on and peel it off. I am partial to T’s though.
Visit Simons's website to view more of his creations: www.studiospilsbury.com
Our Spring 1 "Little Tokyo" drop is now available online and through your favorite Altru retailers. The collection draws inspiration from the vibrant culture thriving within Downtown Los Angeles. Hues of indigo and navy are complimented by stark whites and rising sun reds. From hoodies to graphic tees to key cut and sew pieces, the first drop of our Spring Collection has you covered in this transitional season.
Last Friday's opening at Slow Culture was one for the books. From a roster of artists that could have filled an entire fair to the line around the block to get in to the rumored helicopter breakup (we'd love to know if this actually happened) it definitely lived up to its name. Check out our perspective of the show below and then head to gallery to form your own opinions before the end of the month.