Illustator and artist SLVSTR is rising to new heights with multiple forces pushing his creative ability to maximum magnitude. His work may be familiar to you if you happen to be a fan of Kreayshawn‘s Somethin’ About Kreay album artwork or happen to see his brand Rare Panther on the racks of Peas and Carrots International, Purist or even Hypebeast online store. SLVSTR has been making strides in various mediums through branding assignments, art galleries and street wear. We catch up with SLVSTR before Art Basel to discuss music, AGENDA and more.
I heard that you’re currently in New York right now?
How’s New York? Are you originally from Los Angeles?
Nah, I’m originally from Oakland. I was living in San Francisco since ’05. I was going to school out there at the Academy of Art; Pretty much that’s where I started everything. I just recently moved to L.A. and some opportunities arose here in New York and came here and things started well for me. I love the city. I loved SF (San Francisco). L.A. is not really a place I’m really fond of like that but being here in New York — It’s just a good vibe; the energy here so I’m gonna be moving over here [in New York].
I just actually just had an interview with Tasha Bleu.
Oh yeah? That’s the homie.
Yes, I seen you [both] were at AGENDA this year how did that go for you? Were you there for a brand or for enjoyment?
I used to work for a brand there [at Agenda] called Illest and a couple of other brands. I’ve built pretty good relationship with a couple people so every year — it’s kind of an event — I go and connect. It’s a good way to keep in touch and see what’s going on. Y’know numerous people are in different places [creatively] so I really just went for, like you said, the enjoyment and to meet up with a couple old friends.
What were some of the standout collections that you may have seen at Agenda this year?
Y’know that’s weird cause every year I go — I feel like — It’s not too much that really impresses me cause I feel like brands do exactly what I kind of expect them to do. One brand that I did see that I really really really fucked with was GPPR. Like I know their brand; I know a few people that work for the brand. I know the owners. But when I saw their collection it kind of shocked me. I was like man, they really have some really good cut and sew pieces. I’m not really not a big fan of brands here [in the United States] I’m like a big Japanese streetwear brand head so the brands here they’re cool and people do good things but it’s nothing that’s like, ‘Man! This is crazy!’ Y’know?
Yes, I seen a picture of you with Pharrell Williams while you was there. What does he mean to your creative process and why was it important to get rapport with Pharrell at Agenda?
Pharrell is a big influence even before the artwork influence or his music just him being a person of color and being a male and doing the things and being able to touch the avenues he’s touched and been able to penetrate. Y’know it an honor to meet that cat. And then just as far as what he’s done, I mean, I listen to music when I paint. I listen to music when I create. Draw. His music really does a lot for me because he’s always preaching, in a way, to dream and he let’s you know you can do anything. The vibes of his music always gives me a good sense of the past and nostalgia. It gives me the feeling of time when things were right. Like when N*E*R*D* first started or even when the Neptunes was popping off — even street fashion and music was at such a good time. From Billionaire Boys Club was just popping and A Bathing Ape was just being introduced to the US and even brands classified as urban brands like Rocawear and Sean John. At those times those were brands that were hot and they were just new. That’s why he’s a big influence so it was a pleasure to meet that cat. I actually got to show him so of my work on my phone and he thought it was dope so that was pretty cool.[/two_two] [two_two]
Speaking of sounds that inspires your creative process that’s out now or even in the past?
I’ll start off with Pharrell music since he’s on topic; definitely In Search of.. and Fly or Die. Those two projects are like crazy. I listen to this band called Tame Impala. They’re really dope. They’re kinda like on some The Beatles-type shit. They’re really dope. I know you’ve heard of Sampha? He’s worked with Drake; he had a project called SBTRKT. I listen to his stuff a lot. I try to listen to different things like anything that has more than just what an artist is saying but has a lot of melodies to it. I feel like words give you a subject; it lets you know what the song is about but I feel like the sounds really gives you the feeling in the melody; you grasp and feel more from that.
Somebody asked me this question not too long ago and surprisingly — they were surprised that I even said but Wiz Khalifa‘s O.N.I.F.C. project is really really really good and Taylor Allderdice which is pretty tight too — just on the subject of melody and feeling. Certain songs on those projects give me this cool vibe that I like to vibe and create to.[/one_one] [one_one]
First and foremost, I’d like to say your artwork is amazing. It’s refreshing. It’s youthful and it’s original. It’s always consistent but different pieces at the same time. It reminds me of some of the things KAWS does in his work that makes it signature. What are some of your inspirations behind your artwork?
Of course, KAWS is a big big big influence and definitely Takashi Marukami; those two. The feeling I get from their work I would love for people to the get that feeling from mine. So they’re definitely two big influences. But then there are other artists’ like, for instance, Ron English — I just recently been really getting into his stuff. A friend of mine recently put me onto his stuff. I’ve really been researching [him] and I like [his artwork] a lot. And y’know the greats like Andy Warhol — he’s so good at just touching on pop culture. I feel like that’s what KAWS has been able to do well in our time. Being able to touch on pop culture and make it his own. And that’s something I’ve tried to do with some of my work.
Definitely, KAWS and Murakami are the main two and why I say that is cause with KAWS I feel like he’s a genius at what he does. He gives you are fun but in some ways aggressive and he still uses pop colors that are bright. Colors with a lot of energy and things but at the same time he has this character, Companion — and this character doesn’t really have a mouth. He doesn’t really have an expression but he gives off this energy and this sense of kindness and shyness with his body language and I feel like that’s very dope.
With Takashi Murakami, he’s just been to create a world that’s very fun and colorful. But then, when you look at the back-end story meanings of his pieces of art they’re very tied into Japanese historical events or times — He’s been able to create a world off that. Stylistically, they kinda rub off on me too so definitely those two more than any.
I see your artwork has a common theme with the color palette; did you mean to use and pick those colors specifically? From your point of view, does these signature colors mean something to you?
Yeah. In the beginning, I didn’t start off creating art. I was doing graphic design for street wear brands. Y’know when you have a company you create a logo, you get teachings from the academy and just learning about branding. Your brand has its identity — its icon, it’s logo and then it has it’s branding color. The blue that I use — If I was a cartoon or something, I’d be blue. Y’know it’s like a super creative color. It’s like an electric energy. It’s weird man, [the color blue] just gives a good vibe. I do try to keep that color within everything that I do that’s why my character, Sly, he’s blue. You see that blue in everything. Then along with the other colors — I try and think of colors that, one, pop at you. Then, two, that are vibrant. Then, three, that are in the way that has a sense of nostalgia. I try to always use those three themes to choose my color palette when creating stuff.
A common thread of colors are used in Rare Panther; where did Rare Panther derive from?
[two_two] Rare Panther. Rare Panther is crazy. That idea came about — I try not to speak on that too much I definitely love the fact a lot of people don’t know too much about it. It’s kind of has that mystique behind it and I’d like to keep it that way. But I mean it was an idea, just like how my artwork is, it reminds me of a certain time — Like I said I want to create a sense of nostalgia; And I wanted to create a brand that does the same thing. So you know my character, Sly, he’s a panther; I’m from Oakland. Y’know that’s where the Black Panthers came from and that’s where the panther symbol comes from. I don’t wanna give too much away but that’s where the brand kind of started to come about.
I didn’t realize that the character within your artwork was a panther but seeing [Sly] in a different form within the brand Rare Panther is a pretty cool concept now that you’ve explained where it comes from.
Which leads me to my next question, If you could choose one designer to design your entire wardrobe who would you choose and why?
Before I answer that question, the character Sly and the panther used in Rare Panther are not the same. They’re totally different. Sly is his own. The logo panther of Rare Panther is his own. Just the idea and back-story of me being from Oakland, where the Black Panthers arose, is where the use of the panther comes from. I definitely try to keep them separate although they have similarities [laughs].
“To your present question, I had to choose one designer to complete my entire wardrobe? That’s a hard ass question. I don’t know — I got a side to me that likes to be modern, simple and minimalistic and another side that wants to be more like mystic nature shit.” [LAUGHS]
I guess I would choose, Hiroki Nakamura, which is the creative director of Visim. I feel like he just makes — every piece that he designs is like a timeless piece. You don’t need all of his pieces to even have an infinite wardrobe. You can have 10 – 15 pieces from him and it looks like you’re wearing something different everyday. That’s probably why I would choose him. But… I don’t know that’s tough but I’m just gonna leave it at that [laughs].
I also seen that you did a custom piece for Swizz Beats on your Instagram. How did that happen?[two_two] So, me coming to New York and working with this O.G. head his name is Set Free — he’s managing me by the way as an artist. I came here [to New York] and Set Free knows a lot of people in the industry; he’s done a lot of great things. He’s a big fan of my work and he really believes in my artwork. And he was like, “Yo man, Swizz loves your work.” and I was like, “Man! For Real? That’s dope!” Cause Swizz is, besides Pharrell one of the main artists that’s in the art world. So [Set Free] was like, “I’m gonna shoot him an email right now…” and he shoots him an email and I’m like “HOLY SHIT! He just shot Swizz Beatz an email of my shit!” I’m thinking like Swizz probably gets emails like this all the time. I’m not expecting anything from it and like 2 – 3 hours later and my manager is like, “Call me.”
So, he hops on the phone and calls Swizz and Swizz is like, “Yo! This artist is crazy!” and he’s like “Actually, my son is having a birthday and I’ve been looking for an artist to do a piece for him and do you think this guy would be down?” and so me hearing this I’m like “Of course!” Y’know what I’m saying it’s Swizz! He’s like well, “Ok. I’ll call you guys later and think of concept.” or whatever. And so later that evening, “He’s like I want to do this concept of Prince Nasir” It was late — I don’t know; Swizz was somewhere like Hawaii or somewhere else and it’s like 3 or 4am in New York our time so I just hopped up and sketched out a concept real quick, took a picture of it and sent it. And Swizz was like, “Yo, that’s crazy. That’s it. I’m fucking with it.” and he’s like, “I’m gonna fly you guys out Friday.” I think that was on a Wednesday or something. So we go out there Friday and Swizz was like “Along with that I want you to do a piece for me.” so we went out there, got paint and got two canvases. He actually wanted me to paint the piece live at his son’s b-day. So I went, started the piece in my hotel room, got to his son’s birthday and started painting the piece there. And Alicia Keys was there, Pharrell and his wife was there, A$AP Ferg came through. It was really dope. So they all got to see me paint this piece for his son. I wrapped up the piece — that next day and left it when I came back to New York and I showed him a pic and he loved it. Even before I got to the piece, y’know you think somebody likes your stuff and really wants you to do something for them before we even got to Miami. The next day after we talked to him; after I sent the sketch I’m just here working on some other stuff and I look at my phone and it’s blowing up from Instagram. I’m getting mad texts. I’m like, “What the hell?” and Swizz posted my stuff on his Instagram. I’m like, “Yo! That’s crazy!” For him to go out his way to do that off the strength that he likes my shit … that was crazy. He just posted it up and then following behind that was everything else. But yeah, I got to do the piece for his son, his son loved it; he loves it. I’m also in the process of working on a piece just for Swizz.
That’s an amazing story! I know Art Basel is coming up and you’re supposed to be showcasing?
Yeah, I’ll be showing at Art Basel at Scope December 5th – 9th.[/two_two] [two_two]
Did you showcase last year or is this is your first time?
No, this is my first time showcasing at Art Basel. I never been to Art Basel. I been following it for the past two years. How I got that opportunity, there’s this thing that Red Bull does called Red Bull curates: The Canvas Cooler Project where they go to seven to eight cities around the US and they choose 20 artists out a city to take these coolers that are wrapped in canvas and paint them. A friend of mine, Tom Roach, and another guy that I also work with named David Ali they kind of put me in place of that situation. I ended up being one of the winners. They choose two of the 20 winners and those winners get to show at Art Basel. That’s what set me in place to show at Basel.
How does that feel showing at Art Basel in reference to where you were last year when you probably was grinding trying to get your artwork appreciated?
It’s weird because the year before I was citing — It’s this side of me that’s like this graphic designer and’ll do stuff for brands then another side that’s like a pure artist that wants to create my own stuff. At the time, a year before, I was battling for that. Like I wanna be able to create the art that I want to create so that I can showcase at an Art Basel or any other setting that’s like a gallery setting and people accept my work for what it is. Now, that that’s actually happening it’s a really great feeling because there’s a lot of artists’ make breaks at Art Basel. And too, being in the company of great artists from all around the world. It’s an honor. The last artist that was like young and really killing it was like [Jean-Michel] Basquiat. There really hasn’t been any artists’ at a young age that’s really making their mark on the art world so that’s really big for me.
Even when I did the Canvas Cooler thing I was the youngest artist there. Let alone the youngest African American male artist there y’know. There’s not too many black young artists doing anything in that realm. That’s kind of my goal. I want to rep for the black kid that wants to draw and has that passion to paint but he doesn’t have anyone to show them like that there is a way or that its even possible. Me being that figure is kind of the overall goal. It’s more than the work. It’s more than me. It’s a bigger message that I want to shine light on and communicate that with kids everywhere.
What can we expect from you in the future?
A lot less of everything else but a lot more paintings, gallery showings and products created around my art. I’m probably going to be working on an actual toy. I have a couple different types of pieces I’ll be releasing. Definitely, presently the demand for my artwork in general has risen and I’m blessed and very glad that that’s happened. You’ll definitely see more showings, murals and things like that — just me expanding on this character, Sly, that I’ve created in his world and kind of what his purpose is. You’ll be seeing a lot more than that. And a lot more growth too because my work is rapidly and consistently changing.
Since the interview with SLVSTR, he has collaborated with Monster for an exclusively designed pair of headphones featuring his artwork and has green-lighted ACT 001 Collection for his clothing brand, Rare Panther.
Keep up with SLVSTR©: Twitter | Instagram | SLVSTR.COM
Terrell Johnson is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of SWGRUS.