Kevin Lyons on Taking Over the World, One Monster at a Time
One of the world’s most prolific street artists, you’ve definitely come across Kevin Lyons’ recognisable Monster characters. He’s worked with all the biggest streetwear and sportswear brands - think, Nike, Converse, adidas, Stussy and of course, CLOT. These fun-loving, smiling and overall lighthearted monsters are a Lyons signature, and he just came to our home turf to launch the BUMBACLOT collaboration.
Can you tell us a little bit about where your monster characters came from?The monster characters came from drawings i did from years of working in advertising and working for other brands. I always doodled these monsters, and then all of a sudden when I had two children, I started showing them these doodles - and they really liked them! That gave me more confidence, and I started showing them to my peers. Eventually, I exhibited them at a show at colette in 2007 or 2008. All of a sudden it was just like that! Everyone responded to the characters, and they blew up. I was surprised these characters that I drew for myself, personally, resonated with so many other people.
The monsters are playful, colourful and fun - where does the inspiration come from, are they based off of people you know or yourself?
The monsters - the way they act and scream, how they look mad, high, or mellow - it’s all facets of my personality. But when people see them on the wall, they immediately pick up aspects of themselves. Like, “that’s me on Monday!” It’s all me personally, but they resonate with other people as well.
Name some of your biggest influences.
Well, my biggest influences are really centred around music and film. I went to school for film and animation , so Jim Henson [The Muppets creator] and Sesame Street really influenced me, especially with their playfulness. In terms of contemporary artists, definitely Keith Haring. His simple characters resonated with a wide audience and put smiles on so many faces. He was so prolific, and did T-shirts, murals, products and everything, which is a huge influence on my work and career.
You've collaborated with a bunch of different brands, what's your creative process in working with each brand?
Throughout my life I’ve made collaborations a focus of what I do, because first and foremost, I am a graphic designer and an art director. I relate well with brands and we can understand each other. My work isn’t so personal and sensitive that I can’t change it to communicate better with the audience we’re trying to connect with. So for example, if I’m working with Stussy, adidas or CLOT - the mentality is the same. I’m trying to do the same thing with each brand, but every audience is a little different.
Tell us about the inspiration and process behind the CLOT collaboration.
Kevin [Poon] and I talked for a very long time about a collaboration. It took two or three years for it to get off the ground. I obviously wanted to use my monster characters, and because it fell in the spring/summer season, along with the fact that I always work with reggae and dancehall influences - I ended up doing a red green and yellow collection. It’s playful, streetwear-resonating collection that would be fun for everyone and different for CLOT. Clot works with a lot of great fashion designers and graphic designers, but not a lot with characters. So I wanted to do a character-based treatment of CLOT.
You've adorned a ton of murals with the monsters throughout your career, which one is the most memorable?
Well, I think it’s hard to pin down one product or experience. But I have to say my experience for 10+ years with colette i’m the most proud of. WE had a true collaboration over a ten year period, and there were so many projects. It was a key involvement with the brand, and I learned so much from Sarah and her mom. That’s one of the one that stands out to me, I also think all the footwear I’ve down, because I grew up as a sneakerhead - so i got to do an Air Max 360 and a Converse Chuck Taylor, or adidas Skate, those were all very proud moments for me. I think every collaboration I do is a different experience. I love working with brands where I can travel, such as with CLOT! Actually going to the place and doing the public mural - it’s so genuine.
CLOT is about bridging east and west, and we’re introducing you to the Chinese market. What do you think of that exchange?
Obviously being in HK is overwhelming and awesome. It’ a great experience, it’s kin to New York. It's crazy, loud so for me, HK is very special. Within the world that CLOT works in, the world is getting smaller. All these kids, whether they are in HK, NY, Japan or LA… anywhere really, we all kinda know each other. The chance and opportunity to meet the people who can’t travel to meet me - this is a great opportunity to meet people and see what they’re all about! We’re not that different, we are all sneakerheads, love hip-hop… even at my age and where I’m from, there’s a whole bonded experience that we share.
Words / Helena Yeung