Ferry Guow is an illustrator and visual artist from London famous for directing music videos and playing in good bands. I was fortunate enough to grab an interview with him in his adopted Kensington about tie ins with T-Shirt-Party, the state of the music industry and his recent (MTV video award nominated) work with Major Lazer that's now expanded into a television pilot for Cartoon Network.
You've just completed a tee for T-Shirt Party, how did you get involved in the project?
I have a feeling that Stan (Still creator of T-Shirt Party) is quite a stalker, laughs, I think if anyoneeven clicks like on the t-shirts, on Facebook, he's just immediately on them, like I said, I was already a fan from the get go, I thought it was a great idea, a great concept. You know surprisingly unpretentious and cheap I was really into that whole side of it. And I had been following it and following it, and finally cause I'd been watching all the t-shirts and all the designs. and finally they got they're website together and had that release party and jaguar shoes and I always thought that it was Daniel Freeman’s thing, a lot of people have been saying that so I turned up to the release party at Jaguar Shoes and Daniel was djing and I was like 'Oh man I’m a huge fan of your t-shirts' and I thought if I buy it hear straight from the guy then not only can I say hi personally but I'll save on postage and packaging. So I turned up and was like‘I love your t-shirts, can I get one?’ and he goes 'oh no this is not my thing' I'm like 'oh really, who's it?' he says 'actually I’ve never met him, I don't even know who this guy is'. In fact there was meant to be a projection today but the DVD broke and this morning I get a knock on my door and there's a DVD on the floor and some guy running down the street! So yeah from then I just said fuck it I’ll buy it online. And yeah I got it in the post and started wearing it, and a friend of mine took a photo of me wearing it on facebook and as soon as I did that...
He liked it?
Yeah! I think he got a sense that I was for real, and then out of the blue he just asked me if I wanted to do it, and you know I think I was telling my friend when I was taking the photo that it was my dream to design for this guy.
So it's a dream come true?
Yeah it's a dream come true, it's amazing. Literally the whole of last week, I gave up all these important deadlines and projects and actually did my t-shirt party design I stayed up till 5 in the morning, I was so excited.
Elgin Marbles Design for T-Shirt Party
So what was your inspiration behind the whole Elgin marbles thing?
I had an idea for a week, week and a half and was thinking about it. I dunno I was trying to get down with the whole urban wit and street whatever and I just had no authority over it, I just could carry it off as well as he could. I thought I shouldn't even try and compete with that world, I should try and see what London is to me. I was just looking up stuff online and I felt the Elgin marbles represented what 'London' is, especially for me coming abroad. it's part of the London history to go the British Museum and check it out, but this beautiful thing is also part of what you feel about London and Britain in general and there's this whole imperialism and this whole history of political rambling and all this darkness in its past.
It’s a little naughty
Yeah, and that is now embedded in what is actually beautiful and amazing about London, that fact that we can just go there and look at this thing but there's always that tinge of guilt and awkwardness and weirdness about it. But also that image in particular of this guy, almost kind of wrestling in a really sexual, gay kind of way with this half-horse, it’s also what is surreal about London as well. The whole thing just felt like a closer sentiment to what London is to me, rather than trying to compete with some kinda urban wit thing which I can't compete.
How did you get in art? How would you describe the art that you make?
I don't really have any agenda apart from what I’m interested in at that particular moment, like the Elgin marbles, that's just what I had in mind at that particular moment. I think that art is always an extension of who you are as a person, and where you are, your development as a person is reflective in what you do. So in that way I don't have an agenda or a concept outside of what I’m interested in at any particular moment of my life. I got into art also because that was a natural thing; I was going to go to business studies school or something, I didn’t want to stay in office and work every day.
I'd say one of the more striking influences with your work would be music, as you said before in that what you create is based on what's in front of you, are you quite inspired to create from the sounds around you?
Yeah, well I was always interested in music, but only started making music when I was at art school, started getting into bands and forming bands and making music that way. And then only recently I started recorded at home, so my grasp of that whole world has only slightly started becoming slightly more sophisticated in the past few years. But it's always an extension of some kind of bigger 'art', which is just another side of how I can express myself and express my interests, if I have interests that translate well to music I’ll do it that way or if it was a mixture of music and visuals I’d try to do it that way. It’s just a pocket of expression, you know what I mean? In the general spectrum of what I’m interested in. But it's in of itself, it's hard to explain but its part of the bigger thing. It also relates to other things, when I was doing this t-shirt, it was not just the t-shirt but also through the video. so in that way a lot of my projects relate to each other like with the Major Lazer stuff it has the print stuff, it has the cartoons, the whatever little toys. Some projects are more extended in that way, some are more just in of them self in that way.
Mazor Lazer - Hold The Line
It’s good how Mazor Lazer has kicked off, even though people do like Diplo, it's taken it to the next level, and part of the attraction of that is the visual aesthetic. Are you happy with what you did there, how did that come about?
Again it's almost as random as the TSP thing, I was hanging with my friends of mine at XL and Diplo was there recording the XX at that time and I was chatting to his manager and my friend was like 'oh yeah ferry is an illustrator' and I just did some drawings for them and they got it and they liked it. From the first few things I did for Major Lazer it seems like our relationship was working out really well, then they started trusting me with more Mad Decent projects, it kinda grew organically from there and now Cartoon Network has picked up Major Lazer as a TV show.
I’m working on the pilot now.
Cartoon Network in the USA or UK? That’s amazing.
Yeah USA! The Adult Swim side
Can you talk about the pilot?
Not in its details, I can talk about my role I’ll be creative director, I’m the main designer of all the characters and how it will look. thankfully I won't be sitting at home drawing it frame by frame the way I was doing before, I think they're going to give everything to an animation studio and then I’ll have minions of workers. It’s going to be so amazing, I cannot wait.
Is it going to be a full twenty minute show?
I think so, it's gonna be a series, it'll be a series, if it works out It'll be a series kinda like what I did with the video, a G.I. Joe type you know 80's. I can't wait for the toys, hopefully they'll be merch and all that side of things.
Mazor Lazer - Keep It Going Louder, collab between Gouw and Jason Miller
Are they gonna fly you out there?
No no, that would be more difficult it's actually easier they way it's work they set up this base camp thing, you can set up an online work flow thing, you can post designs and files and it get's e-mailed to everyone
Are you gonna do research for it?
I think it's gonna be mostly cartoons and comics based, just channel my inner 10 year old. Which is the most amazing thing about Major Lazer, I would draw this stuff when I was 12 on school notebooks and her I am getting paid for it.
Are you quite influenced by cartoons and comics then?
Yeah I was always a comic book fan ever since I was kid, never stopped reading comics. In fact, you know when people doodle and most people doodle nothing or penises, every time I doodle Spiderman or Wolverine or Venom.
That’s what comes out naturally?
Yeah, if I was to doodle and not think about anything it would just be dudes with muscles. and to do that and get paid and think of character designs and guns all that crap is so amazing. And Mad Decent and Diplo are the best people to do that stuff for because it's never crazy enough. If you started to draw, you know whatever a kid jumping off a cliff or something, it always end up with 'oh put that thing on a lion' or 'add a snake on it' shit like that. So the whole thing has been the most fun.
With your work for Major Lazer and with other bands, how are you influenced? Do you have an idea that you think would work well, you said Major Lazer give you ideas but how do you work that out?
That’s what's good about it, we seem to have an understanding on a very substantial level, where there can show me one thing and I’ll know exactly what they mean, and the missing element is just like a snake or something.
Is that the same for other bands and artist?
No, to varying degrees obviously; sometimes if things don't work out I’ll stop working with them. I don't want to do shit that I don't like or things that I’m not proud of. So things that don't work out, don't work out, things that do work out usually work out really well and I stay really close friends with them and I trust myself to do more with them, so In that way I've been really lucky.
Who else would you want to work with?, but you're working with Cartoon Network now, that would be enough for most people
It feels like working Roxy Music is pretty awesome, again that just feels totally out the of the blue, Bryan (Ferry)'s son just called me up when I was hanging out in the park, I didn’t know him he just found me and he was all 'do you want to come in and talk about the projections for Roxy Music' I was like 'err... okay!' and they trust me enough to slowly involved me in other things and hopefully it'll be a relationship that'll continue and I got a friend of mine involved and working on his album cover and layout. Everything just comes about organically, through relationships which always is the nicest way to go about it.
Might be a bit of dour note to end on but I feel for there's been a bit decline in the importance of music videos recently, have you been affected by that, do you feel that as well?
My relationship with music and the music industry is a weird one. I’m really happy that people trust me to do music videos and stuff, but with music especially the work I’m doing I have this weird idea that doing art and making money are two different and it's almost by miracle that people have been able to sell music. And in that way that with the advent of the internet is the true nature of music exposed which is, you know, if music is transference of ideas then ideas have no economic value. the economic value comes from withholding the ideas as opposed to the idea itself, but it's just that us as humans beings have to eat and that requires money and the withholding of ideas and become products and then the withholding of these products become currency. So I can see why the music industry is in trouble by trying to sell this product that has no inherent value, inherent economic value. It seems like with changes in anything you just adapt to it, if people don’t' have money to do big budget videos anymore there's always digital cameras. There’s all this technology to still do it on a much smaller scale and still achieve what previously needed tonnes of money to achieve. So in that way creatively I’m not that worried about that, because as long as there's creative people out there work will always be turned out. But whether or not people can eat or whether after the music videos made it'll make any money that's the real concern but that's not a concern for me. if you're actually interested in art or making anything that's artistic that should be just be a sideline thing, once your stomach starts grumbling, apart from that you just wanna be doing good shit. You can start worrying later.