FriendsWithYou is the art-making duo of Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, aka Sam and Tury to their friends, which includes you. They've been working collaboratively since 2002, starting out in Miami, where they operated a sort of open studio that was not only a workspace but an indie-art gathering place. In 2012 they packed up their circus and moved to Los Angeles, their home ever since, although their nonstop exhibition schedule keeps them globetrotting.
Highlights of just the past few years include locales from Seoul to Art Basel, Singapore, MOCA, the High Line, the Santa Monica Pier and the most happy-making booth at this year's Art Los Angeles Contemporary art fair, courtesy of gallery The Pit. (Pro tip: Next time you see that giant rocking-horse Pokey sculpture they showed at ALAC, remember you are in fact allowed to ride it.)
FWY is beloved by actual kids and the inner children of fancy art folks alike for its fantastical, candy-store cartoon wonderlands of inflatable, illuminated, large-scale, immersive public art installations and shared interactive experiences, from bouncy castles to virtual reality. FWY also paint, sculpt, perform live and are three seasons into an animated Netflix series, True and the Rainbow Kingdom, working with Pharrell Williams' production company.
By blurring boundaries between high and low, art and life, play and culture, toys and objets d'art, FWY seek to erase the boundaries that separate people from one another.
And that is the really special idea at the core of what FWY do. Their work looks like playtime — like an acid dream of playtime — but the truth is, as Tury, 41, puts it, “We ask high theological questions, based on deep things we mine in the art world.
“We've always been medium-agnostic,” he explains, “with a greater goal of forging meaningful connections. One day I'm maybe sick of working with the technology, and I want to use my hands, so I get some clay! It's more like conceptual art — we ask the same question but always framed a different way. And that is: How can we create long-lasting communal interaction?”
“Our consciousness changes all the time,” offers Sam, 38, “and this is reflected in the work. Making these things is a healing bath.” The two of them carry on working while you're talking to them, drawing mostly, but today they're making clay sculptures that will become a series of unique bronze castings.
They move with a casual joyfulness, which translates into the work. Often, they produce large runs of affordable editions, specifically to create an intentionality for being inclusive and accessible, the better to spread the peace and love.
Soon they'll decamp for an NEA-supported residency in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three months of activations within underserved communities. “Our medicine is fine art,” Sam says. “We want to think free like kids do, to inspire and be inspired by them to be champions for humanity. Fuck Instagram, fuck likes, we need to win back humanity's love for this world.”
Their inflatables and paintings, sculptures and designed editions are intriguing and eminently covetable. But asked about their experiments with VR and AI, Tury gets even more excited. “Mixed reality is here and it's going to get so freaking weird! This is a crazy moment of enlightenment, and we don't know what to do with it yet.”
They agree that humanity has a lot of choices to make. Their advice? “Be yourself, get weird and enjoy the adventure.”
“It's about transcending ego,” Tury concludes. “If you're doing it right, you're channeling some shit you don't even understand.”