Not too long ago, Buff Monster was in Bristol, U.K., where his painting “Happy Pink Explosion” is now part of the City Museum and Art Gallery's permanent collection, working on a mural for the “Art from the New World” exhibition. Afterward, he traveled through London, Berlin and Paris, finding inspiration in Renaissance paintings.
“Seeing these oil paintings from the 1500s that are twenty feet by thirty feet, you're just like, 'that's insane,'” he said when we visited his Hollywood studio.
The results of this influential experience will be debuted in Buff Monster's fourth solo show at Corey Helford Gallery, “Beyond the Pink,” which opens Saturday night.
“Usually, what I do is I do some crazy new stuff that's fun and hopefully interesting for people to see and I also look at stuff I've done in the past,” he said as we looked at a large piece featuring a character recognizable from his collectible toy releases.
“A piece like this specifically is something that maybe people have wanted to see for a while, but I've never done it, which is to say a big Buff Monster character on its own,” he said. “I've done pieces like this on 10 x10 panels in addition to those I have in my shows and those are great and people love those, but I've never taken on painting a big character.”
“Beyond the Pink” is still very much a Buff Monster collection, filled with kawaii imagery, characters that sometimes resemble melting ice cream and lots of pink. But, there's a classic quality to the new pieces that stems from the collections he saw in Europe.
“I kind of came back thinking about traditional landscape paintings and traditional portrait paintings and I can't really do either,” he explained.
“So, when I came back from Europe, I got this studio because I wanted a bigger, new space to work, being inspired by all the stuff I had seen, trying the landscape paintings and portraits the way I would do it, which is, of course, inspired by Garbage Pail Kids and Spongebob, that sort of stuff.”
Buff Monster collects Garbage Pail Kids– original pencil sketches, uncut sheets, complete series from both the early 1980s and today– but he doesn't keep the collection inside his new studio. “I have so much Garbage Pail Kids stuff, it's insane,” he says.
I asked if he remembered a Garbage Pail Kid called Basking Robin, a bright pink, melted ice cream cone. It seemed like a fitting character considering his use of pink and the references to ice cream often found in his pieces.
“That's a classic one,” he answered. “I wish I could have gotten the paint rough and pencil sketch of that one, but it was already gone. Maybe as a kid that had a lasting impression on me. I love that one. That was third series. “
Buff Monster's studio is sparsely decorated. The walls are lined with white paper and blue tape. The floor is covered with plastic and a small, gray rug lightly splattered with various shades of pink paint. Part of this, he said, is because the studio is new. However, it's also reflective of the way he works.
“Yes, I'm super anal and I think that comes through in my paintings,” he said. “I'm very, very picky about every little thing.”
He covers the surfaces of his workspace for practical reasons. “I don't have to worry if something splatters or spills, I can just be in the moment and work,” he said. “I can only think about so much.”
Buff Monster was tuning in to Adam Corolla and Loveline podcasts while painting this latest series, but he listens to metal– black metal, power metal and stoner metal, but not death metal– when he's “thinking about the paintings.” Opeth was playing in the background during this interview and he used metal as an analogy to discuss his work.
“The thing with heavy metal, specifically black metal, is that the reason I like it and it really inspires me is that, to me, it's this very pure expression,” he said. “It's these crazy dudes in these cold, desolate countries creating this music by themselves and they don't have considerations about how people feel about how many copies they'll sell. It's this pure thing.”
He continued, “That's how I approach painting. I want it to be this very pure expression. It should be technically the best way to paint that specific idea. The colors, especially pink, should be the best color there is, bar none, hands down, that's it.”
His latest pieces, he says, feature up to eight shades of pink, more than what he has used in previous work. Varnishing has been a challenge. He showed us a study of mountains that has become his test piece for varnish.
“Every time I have a show, I come up with a new way to varnish the pieces,” he says. “I always want a better way. For this show, I've been experimenting a lot with varnish. Even when I think I've got it good, I'm like, no I've got to do something else.”
He added that he was up until one in the morning the night before the studio tour working with varnish.
Buff Monster also makes ample use of a pink hairdryer and sandpaper when he's painting.
“For this show, I upgraded to 1000 and 2000 grit sandpaper, so it can be really smooth,” he added. “I'm super anal about the surface. It should be flat. There's a lot of residual texture and there's not a lot I can do about that, but as far as brush strokes, I feel very responsible for how many brushstrokes are in it.
“I put the paint on in a way that's going to be really smooth. Some colors require maybe five coats, so after two coats, I'll sand it. Maybe after the fourth coat, I'll sand it or maybe after the fifth coat I'll sand it a little.”
Buff Monster was still working on his pieces for the Corey Helford show when we visited him. He showed us a painting that was in its beginning stages.
“The pencil sketch is still in there, which you can kind of see,” he noted. “That's kind of how some of these paintings start, I get this pencil sketch on there and then it's this very messy kind of splattering, all this paint on it, and letting it dry.”
Buff Monster said that the piece would eventually result in a landscape, done his way, with “boobs and clouds and all these things going on.”
The hallmarks of Buff Monster's work are never absent, even when he is working with new inspiration and new techniques. We'll see how those elements collide Saturday night at the opening of “Beyond the Pink.”