The Humorous Pop Practice of Whatshisname
To become part of the international art scene as well as art market, a young artist should brand themselves alongside developing a unique approach and aesthetics. In the digital era, there are many ways to promote one’s practice – through social networks, various blogs, and Instagram – yet it remains uncertain how one’s career will develop.
Nevertheless, there are success stories of young creatives who sought out tricks to move faster through a densely populated art world, and one of them certainly is Sebastian Burdon, better known under the moniker Whatshisname.
Namely, Burdon is a Polish-born London based artist best known for his colorful imagery inspired by comics, cartoons and Pop art. By appropriating and decontextualizing works of other artists, he explores the mechanisms and effects of the consumerist culture. The punkish attitude behind his practice is expressed through his moniker coined after Green Day’s song Whatshername and the fact Burdon can never remember other artists’ names.
Whatshisname came to prominence with his balloon sculptures, everyday objects, and digital works which, according to the artist, aim to “encourage the viewer to look at the surrounding world and question it in derisive, unorthodox way.”
To find out more about Whatshisname’s practice and the way he perceives art in general, we asked him few questions.
The Pop of It All
Widewalls: For the beginning of this interview, could you tell us how you would describe your art?
Whatshisname: The art that I make can only be described as joyful pop art. I draw influences from current mass culture, my childhood and TV programs I used to watch as a kid. My art challenges traditional fine art by bringing an element of fun and creativity.
WideWalls: Referentiality seems to be at the center of your practice. Is it aimed as a sort of subversion, a social commentary on the art market, or do you just find artworks by the likes of Jeff Koons and Banksy suitable due to their fame?
W: Artists have been drawing influences from each other for generations. Sometimes they are more apparent than other times. However, within those influences, artists developed their own unique voice.
My work often uses an element of humour and parody. It oversaturates and caricaturizes works of other artists and puts them in a new light, at the same time bringing new meaning and a new wave of creativity to the subject that has not yet been exhausted. It is not a direct commentary on the art market, but a playful exploration of alternatives to the commonly accepted fine art, the new wave of artists has to offer.
The Stylistic Formation
Widewalls: Your work is apparently very influenced by Western cartoon and pop iconography. Are there any Polish influences as well?
W: I have a few artworks in development influenced by a Polish paper cutout style called Lowicki. They are a combination of the traditional Lowicki style combined with the pop iconography. It is a difficult mix and I treat it as an exploration rather than finished pieces.
Much like all of my artworks, they are results of a long journey, trial and error and many upon many failed attempts – even though the final artwork, a print or a sculpture appears simple. It is the process of constant revisions and fine-tuning that got it to this stage.
I believe that the best art is not the one where we can’t add anything else, but the one from which you can remove nothing else.
Widewalls: How did assisting other artists help your own practice?
W: By watching other artists work, I had an exclusive sneak peek into their design processes and creative explorations. I could observe their approach to the new project as well as aesthetics and respect for the medium in which they work.
I also used this opportunity to share my own ideas and receive mentorship which was crucial at the early start of my creative journey.
The Whatshisname Brand and Future Plans
Widewalls: Among the media you work with, what’s the most rewarding one, and why?
W: I am a very kinesthetic person. I find it difficult to look at an artwork and not touch it, not feel its temperature, texture or weight. I find making resin balloon dogs most rewarding. The finished three-dimensional piece brings me so much joy not only visually but also the feel of it in my hands.
Widewalls: Do you see yourself as a commercial artist?
W: I think that all artists are commercial artists. Being an artist in today’s social media-filled economy means building a personal brand in which the collectors can trust. It not only means finding a unique style and voice among a colourful advertisement filled environment but also constantly innovating and exploring creative opportunities, raising your own profile as well as inspiring and elevating others.
Long gone are the days of artists tinkering quietly in their own studios for the sake of art and showing their work to the local community.
Today, we take advantage of the technology. We can reach a worldwide audience with the click of a few buttons. I use Instagram to connect with fans and collectors as well as to collaborate with other artists.
Commercialism is an integrated part of the art market and it has been for generations. Art galleries love an artist who proves to be profitable as much as artists love when their work is in demand.
Widewalls: What’s next for you?
W: I will carry on developing my two signature styles of the Gone… print series and my joyful balloon dog sculptures. At the same time, I am working on new resin sculptures, one of which will depict the Statue of Liberty.
I am also collaborating with Addicted Art Gallery on new prints embellished with diamond dust and black diamond dust. Please keep an eye out for more information about them!
Featured images: Portraits of Whatshisname. All images courtesy of the artist.