Exclusive Interview: Artist Olly Moss And His Top Secret 'Paper Cuts' Exhibit

When people think of a "pop idol" they generally think of someone who is young, talented, had a quick rise to fame and the kind of devoted loyal fan base who'd wait 24 hours on the street to see them. By those standards, and many more, U.K. based artist Olly Moss is now a pop idol. He rose to fame with his extremely popular designs for Threadless, began making insta-sell-out posters based on properties like Lost, Star Wars and The Evil Dead and quickly became one of the most in demand and influential pop culture artists today because of unique minimalist style and obvious passion for the material.

Moss was at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles this weekend to premiere his first solo art show, an event which had been shrouded in secrecy for months. Fans began lining up 24 hours beforehand to have a chance to snag a Moss original and as the opening drew closer speculation ran rampant. What would fans see when the doors finally opened? The answer ended up being not only incredibly brave and exciting, but a reminder that pop culture art is still, actually, art. Titled Paper Cuts, the show featured 300 laser cut, black Victorian silhouettes of pretty much every pop culture character you can think of from movies, television, comics and video games.

Moss exclusively spoke to /Film about his surprising show minutes before the doors opened. We discussed the concept, his rise to fame, favorite art, and the time his computer crashed trying to buy his own print from Mondo. After the jump, read the full interview, see photos from the show, the process and more.

First up, here's a SMALL sampling of the art Moss did in the show as well as some process shots. Each piece was drawn, then laser cut, mounted and framed. Mouse over each for the title of the piece because they're almost as surprising as the art. The interview is below.

/Film: How did you come up with the idea for this show?

Moss: When I was first coming up with ideas for the show I had about six different ideas and I looked at them all and I thought, well, to start I was going to do about 60 of these and a bunch of other stuff. And I started drawing them and I thought this is enough for a whole show. There's so many things I can do with it and kind of set all the expectations, twist them, like I did with the Where's Waldo and Die Hard with the broken glass and stuff. I thought there's totally a whole show in this idea so I'd do that. So it's probably about 5, 6 months ago, maybe, so it's been a long time in the works.

And why did you decide to be so secretive about it? People who've been outside for 24 hours have no idea what to expect when the door opens.

The thing with it was, I would like to do previews but obviously if I showed one piece it would have totally given the whole thing away and I wanted people to come in and be surprised and have that fun of going around and spotting the characters that they like, because some of them are hard to get and that's why we kind of did the quotes and tried to not make them too obvious. Kind of like the joy of recognizing something that you connect with.

What are some of your favorite pieces in the show?

My favorite piece is Bill Murray. The Peter Venkman Ghostbusters one. I really like him. The ones I'm keeping for myself, I'm keeping all the Blade Runner pieces except Dekkard. All the Replicants I guess, unless he's a Replicant, who knows? That's my favorite movie so I'm keeping the owl and Replicants.

That's so cool that you're keeping some of your own pieces.

Well I felt it would be cheesy to make doubles for myself. I almost kept the Grim Fandango, Bill Murray and a couple others but I just thought if I don't have to give them away then I don't feel right charging people.

You've become so popular so fast, what's it been like to have this happen, to have people wait 24 hours just to see some of your art?

It's totally bizarre to me, but also really cool that people care enough about the stuff that I do. And it's fine, like I understand that these people, a lot of them, are obviously interested in stuff that I do, but are really interested in just the kind of themes that I work with more than that. But it's awesome. I'm just such a big fan of the themes that I work with. The movies, the video games, the books. I hope that kind of shows thought my art and I hope people connect with that. It's awesome.

I know myself, the people outside and the people who read our site got into it because you're doing art about the stuff we love. Was it just because you're such of fan of that that you choose this route as opposed to a more traditional kind of art?

Absolutely. I have no interest in doing anything else. And I know sometimes I get people accusing me of doing popular art just to sell but it's not that at all. I'm just such a massive fan of this stuff and I really hope that comes through in the art itself. That the love of it is obvious and people don't see it as transparent to sell pieces.

We know about your t-shirts but art wise you got started with the Locke print, a Saul Bass inspired minimalist thing. Now, so many people online are doing the minimalist thing that's its kind of become a joke. How do you keep yourself fresh and innovative?

Trying to do different stuff. The thing I did with the Star Wars posters and Evil Dead poster is like try and take the concept that people really liked about the more minimalist stuff and make it more illustrative and complicated and sort of excessive and striking. With this stuff I just wanted to do something different. I've used Victorian silhouettes in my work a lot before. I remember I did this sort of stupid, Penguin video game book cover for The Sims and it had a big wall of these things and I've always really liked the aesthetic. So I thought 'Oh I can do a whole gallery show like this.' You've just got to keep it different. I've got a bunch of other ideas and doing something like this where you're given a space to transform, is totally new. I just want to keep trying new stuff and new media.

This exhibit is so different from the usually pop culture gallery shows where there might be a theme but to see so many pieces that look similar, you've achieved what you want to. It's going to knock people on their ass

The one thing I'm really worried about is the people out there who've been waiting since last night, two in the morning, are just going to want movie posters. And that's what I didn't want to do. I didn't want to just go 'Oh hey here's a bunch of movies that I like and I've just made posters for them.' Because I don't do movie posters unless I'm commissioned to do them. I think that's a bit cheesy.

No, trust me, they're going to like it, and you'll find out in about a half hour.

Oh god. [Laughs]

What's great about your stuff and what everyone loves is that, at first glimpse, it's simple. But it's only simple because it's an idea that obviously took a long time to get there. How much time do you spend on figuring out an idea for a piece versus actually making them?

It really depends on the piece.

So what about this show?

This show is something I've wanted to do for a really long time so it's difficult to say exactly how long there's a seed of an idea that's organically grew from a really small place while I was sort of doing other stuff and it sort of snowballed I guess. For like a regular piece sometimes it's like a lightning flash and you get and idea really quickly and it takes 20 minutes to make and you're done. Other times you send a sketch and a sketch is perfect and it's brilliant but then you spend a week just moving type around and tweaking things until you're happy where it is. Other times it's just a complete struggle to find an idea. Like the Source Code poster, I had such a hard time coming up with an idea until I found something that I liked and I went through about three different versions of it that are totally different.

What's the longest that you've ever spent creating a big poster or a big print?

Usually the ones I spend longest on are the ones that people don't like. [Laughs] The longest time I guess, I had the Star Wars job for a really long time before I decided exactly what I wanted to do with it. And those, maybe about a week each to do detail and that kind of stuff.

What about Locke's Secret? Most people know you from that and the Star Wars.

That's so crazy for me. I feel kind of bad about how popular that is because it's such... it was the first Saul Bass inspired thing that I did and it's obviously SO Saul Bass inspired. I like the idea in it, I think the idea was strong, but it could have been done in any other style with the wheelchair and the footprints. When I look back at how popular that print is, it's kind of weird to me. It's not my favorite at all.

What is your favorite?

Of everything I've done? Oh Jesus. I can't look at anything I've done and be happy with it. As soon as I put it up I just see everything wrong with it. I'm sure you're the same way with writing and stuff. But I guess my favorite idea was the Dirty Harry but then I got an email from someone who sent me a link to one that he'd done that was similar like a month before I did mine. I'd never even seen it but I was like 'Damn, that sucks.' Even if you think you've got a great idea someone else has probably done it before.

You've sort of become, no pun intended, the poster child for...

I think that pun was intended.

You're absolutely right, it's right here on my paper, you caught me. But you, Tyler Stout, Ken Taylor and others are sort of leading this movement that Jensen [Karp at Gallery 1988] and Justin [Ishmael at Mondo] are spearheading of pop culture art. Do you think this has legs or does it have a shelf life? Because it seems to have exploded out of nowhere.

I think there's definitely a problem with over saturation. I really like doing something like this where I can sort of see myself doing more installation-y type things. But I don't think I'm ever going to stop working with pop culture. I wouldn't be interested in doing anything else really, I love it, it's so much fun for me. I'm totally obsessed. But people always ask how you justify doing work with pop culture. And it's kind of a pretentious justification but if you look at classic art, a lot of it is religious and mythic iconography and symbolism. Now a days it's a similar thing. It's just instead of having Hercules, Athena and Apollo it's Darth Vader and Optimus Prime. More stuff that you recognize, stuff that you have an instant connection with, stuff that stands for the same concepts.

I guess almost everything is in this particular show but what are some of properties that you haven't really had a chance to work with yet?

I've tried a million times to do a Blade Runner poster and I just can't come up with anything that I like. It is my favorite movie of all time and I can't do anything that screams to me that it's my favorite movie. I find it easiest to do posters for movies that I'm not attached to because I don't get bogged down in every little detail, every little thing I like about the movie.

And you're not Tyler who just throws everything onto a poster.

Tyler's the best. I'd would love to try some stuff like Tyler. He's such a fantastic artist it kind of blows my mind. I had his Iron Man piece before my old boss stole it from me.

That was my next question, what kind of pop culture art from other artists or things do you own that you cherish?

That's tough. I just got Tyler Stout's Akira poster that he did which is great. There's a bunch that I wanted that I never managed to get. People think I have this crazy hook up at Mondo, no, I've tried that Mondo insanity and it's really tough.

People are going to love to hear that.

I tried to get my own Star Wars posters. I thought 'Man, this is going to be tough, I wonder what it's like.' Cause people were complaining about trying to get these things so I was like 'I'm gonna try, I bet it's not that difficult.' My whole computer basically crashed. It was ridiculous. It's really, really hard. But I really wanted Jason Munn's Dr. Strangelove poster. I thought it was fantastic.

How do you determine the size of the prints you do? Is it determined by the company? Because you usually work in 18 x 24 and...

I don't like doing 18 x 24. A lot of people call me out for doing 16 x 24 but I don't like the dimensions of 18 x 24. Like a 16 x 24 is the same dimensions as a theatrical one sheet shrunk down and a lot of people shout at me for making things they have to custom frame but I don't want to add two inches to the side and kind of destroy the composition just because they make a $20, cheap-o frame.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A 16 x 24 looks great in a 18 x 24 frame, just throw some black construction paper behind it. Great interviews and craft tips, only on /Film. Back to Olly.]

What about the run?

The run is totally not up to me at all. I mean, I have very little input in anything other than just making the image. Sometimes if I make a piece, the last thing I want to do is have too few or too many on sale. It's difficult to judge because when you're doing movie posters it's not just about the quality of the art, if it's a movie that people hate. If Tyler Stout did a Sex and the City, it would be beautiful looking but who would put it up? So it's always tough to judge what you want for a run. Obviously the Star Wars posters were a high run because everybody loves Star Wars. Something like the Source Code poster or the Moon poster would be a little bit lower because it doesn't have the same mass appeal. They're amazing movies but it's always a tough call.

What's cooler for you? To see someone wearing your t-shirt or to get a Twitpic of someone who has your poster in a great frame?

Oh man this is awesome. I always think a frame because a t-shirt is so disposable. You throw it on, throw it off. If someone is willing to put a piece of yours on the wall in their house and have it there for a long time, that's always special to me. I remember when I had the Star Wars posters someone sent me a picture of his kid's bedroom and it was Star Wars everything. Lightsaber night-lite, the X-Wing bedspread, just absolutely everything. And then above his bed, he had the C-3PO Star Wars poster I did and it just blew my fucking mind. This young kid who fucking loved Star Wars liked my shit enough to put it on the wall.

Has your popularity added more pressure when you approach a project?


Are there any negatives? I mean obviously it makes you strive to be better.

No, it's a good motivator to do good shit. Even you were saying earlier that a lot of people were doing minimalist posters and that's awesome to me. It just means I have to try harder and do stuff that's a little bit different and push it in new directions.

Paper Cuts, Olly Moss's solo art show remains open at Gallery 1998, 7020 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA through May 20. Visit www.nineteeneightyeight.com for more information. For more photos of the show from Moss himself, click here.