Lily Black can be described in many words, but ordinary is most definitely not one of them. In the current 1AM SF gallery show “Into the Darkness”, Lily’s custom toys are the showstoppers. Veteran artists in the field claim that his pieces are knock you outta your shoes good. His attention to detail, use of random materials, and his thought provoking messages draw people to the intricate world he has created.
As a resident artist and teacher of 1AM SF gallery, we wanted to peer into the mind of the person who is taking the custom toy vinyl world by a storm. Look out because Lily Black has arrived.
How did you start in custom toy design? Who/how were you introduced to it?
It’s weird, I was a toy designer for Chronicle Books in a very free lance sort of way. ‘Spike and Jeff’s Sailcar Kit’, I’m Spike. I’ve been working on ‘Darth Barbie’ in secret of course, for years, I just didn’t think anyone would be that interested. 1Am is on the way to the store where I buy lunch everyday. It’s that good (Split Pea Seduction on 6th). Finally, I couldn’t contain myself. The store has toys and paint. It was just a matter of time. When I asked Dan what they did in there he told me about do it yourself toys. I stopped short of saying all toys are do it yourself toys and bought a Munny. It’s in the show it’s the Munnykampfwagen I Ausf. A (check it out at the 1AM gallery or visit www.toyjunkiesf.com).
What is your inspiration?
Besides Dan Pan? Um jeez, what isn’t? Bobby McFerrin is probably the only thing on earth I’m not a little curious about or inspired by. That ‘Don’t Worry be Happy’ song is like kryptonite to me. It changes. I try to remember that. What I like is going to change and that’s fine. I used to love baloney and american cheese sandwiches, when I was five. This week, I like these erotic toys from Japan. Last week, I liked reading reference material about the vk3001 or Maus tank. It changes you see.
What training have you had to bring you to this point in your career?
Um, corset training? Yeah, I can go down to twenty four inches. Does this come with a picture? I went to community college for everything. All the art classes, except photography. Their clean clothes inspired in me a deep mistrust that has lasted until this day. Ano, Nihongo no kurasu o benkyoo o shimashita. I took red cross training for all kinds of stuff like how to give CPR to a rubber dummy. One time I took a nonviolent crisis deescalation seminar. That was rad. Study is cool for its own sake. I’d study anything. Though if there was a seminar on Bobby Mcferrin I’d run away like my tail was on fire.
How long does it take you to make one piece?
Well, how long does it take to make a duck? You could say the egg is laid and the duck comes out and it takes that long to make a duck. Also you could look back to where ducks diverge as a species from other similar birds and say It takes that long to make a duck. So yeah, three weeks. I’m kidding. I have no idea.
It’s a life of looking and practicing. the execution of one piece isn’t something I gauge, so I don’t have any real stats. Like the sign says “open ’til closed”.
What materials do you use?
No stained glass. I really dislike working with glass. Anything else is fine. For a while I used to cut things out of the covers of match books. What’s a good answer? Hmm. I use what’s handy.
Your customs usually include accessories from action figures. Where do you get these accessories?
I look for bargains. I’m going to stop there because that is such useful advice. Look for bargains.
Your pieces for “Into the Darkness” are incredible. You approached the theme differently then the other artists. How did you interpret “Into the Darkness”?
Shucks, the show was incredible. A lot of people worked really hard on it. Honestly, I didn’t interpret. I guess my stuff is so morose and sad-making all on it’s own that it was a good fit. Isn’t that depressing?
As a resident artist and teacher at 1AM SF gallery, can you tell us how you became a part of the gallery?
I should have read ahead and seen this question coming. I would have saved my juicy origin story for this part. 1AM is on the way to the place where I buy my sandwich, everyday. Today it was a Monte Cristo. It was magnificent. I became a part of things I suppose by showing up. There might have been more parts, but that was the kicker.
How are your “Toy Modification” classes going?
I think well. The people who attend appear to like it a lot and no one has gotten hurt. Right now the classes are small, so each project gets lots of attention. I like it at any rate.
What can students expect from your “Toy Modification” classes?
Successful careers as artists. That was so funny, I’m crying as I type this. Really it’s a micro shop skills class built around what ever the project toy of the class is. Razor saws, X-acto knives, files, etc. and painting techniques all get explained with an emphasis on safe and cheap ways to do things.
How did you get into teaching?
I lost a bet. Got mixed up with the wrong crowd and now I’m a teacher.
I get this enormous satisfaction knowing how things work and shedding my own ignorance on topics both great and small, so I’m going to guess that other people feel the same way. The things that frightened me the most were things I didn’t understand, so I think the ritual of teaching anything is important, because the ritual of learning does so much to assuage fear.
Can you walk us through your typical day?
I make something or draw something, however small, I don’t care. I just like to work everyday. Also I write, even a few sentences everyday, and I go to band practice twice a week. Then there is the aforementioned sandwich and sometimes one of my stupid and taudry get-rich-never schemes will take up part of an afternoon. The cat and I go outside into the garden too. Everyday. Her name is Laika and she’s my trophy cat. Yeah, a typical day is playing handmaid and door person for an irredeemably spoiled cat. Oh and I eat a handful of prescription meds. I’ve got HIV, cabin fever, the delta blues, the sniffles, and just a list of stuff.
Tell us something that people don’t know about you but you want them to know.
Papercastlepress is going to publish one of my books, maybe more. There is a sample at papercastlepress.com in the future titles section. If you like it, go on Sophie’s blog and tell her. It is a little randy so heads up. Fawnmowerpettingzoo on myspace is pretty groovy too.
If you had three wishes what would it be?
They came true. Now, I’m not stupid enough to wish for things. Once an angel visited a Russian farmer and said, “I’ll grant you any wish, but what ever I give you I’ll give to your neighbor two times.” The farmer thought and said, “Gouge out my eye.”
Do you live by mantra? If yes, what?
Oh God, yes tons of them. “Who dares wins”, “You only live once at a time”, “If I can not find a way I shall make one”, “Nemo me impudae lacessit” that sort of stuff.
Can you tell us what our fans can expect from Lily Black in the next 5 years?
Crow’s feet, best case scenario. I can’t guess. Can you? I’m sure it will involve an avalanche of work, but no, I haven’t a clue. What a lame answer. I don’t think I’ll become the darling of interviewers in the next five years if thats any help.
… Custom piece you have created: The next one, it’ll be amazing.
… Art piece you have created: Me.
… Montana Spray Paint Color: Marron chocolate, hands down. Alien is a tougher call, probably spectra black, it’s a life saver. Verde Luz is the best 94. Carton and hueso are hard to live with out too.
… Toy growing up: An action figure of Xera, cornelius’ wife from the planet of the apes. I’m not kidding.
… Toy now: These goofy little Masceinen Kreiger 1/35 scale toys.
… Artist (dead or alive): Ace Freely
… Magazine: Fangoria, old ones, what ever Dan’s got.
… Book: Dan Webb’s books in Oakland. About a pound a week on average.
… Place to go to get your creative juice flowin’: After Dan Webb’s books, I’m cool. Dan said that is how the cloth chairs got ruined, now he has got a plastic one. Those creative juices can wreak havoc on a nice upholstery job.
… Kind of caffeine to keep you movin’: I take caffeine indiscriminately. Perhaps if Bobby mcferrin was handing out coffee I’d have second thoughts, but I’d pretty definitely take some.
“Into the Darkness” exhibit will be at 1AM SF gallery through July 3rd. Come on by or visit www.toyjunkiesf.com.