Wander through the streets of Los Angeles and you’ll probably spot a Clone - a hooded figure slumped over, texting on a phone - discreetly stenciled on the side of a building. You might see graffiti artfully placed on a luxury fashion brand’s billboard while driving, wondering if it’s been placed there intentionally.
Most likely it isn’t part of the brand’s ad campaign. It’s been put there by the subversive street artist Thrashbird. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, but born in Southern California, the city of Los Angeles has become the perfect backdrop for the irreverent artist’s work. Specifically placed in populated urban areas, Thrashbird’s imagery takes on tough political and social issues in a satirical and provocative fashion, often times eliciting an instant visceral reaction from his audience. DSTLD commissioned the artist for its first shoppable collaboration and our co-founder and co-CEO Corey Epstein sat down with Thrashbird to discuss his impressive rise to street art fame.
“I got into art very young. My mom was really supportive of my creative endeavors. I grew up in the Eighties, so I had Lincoln Logs and a lot of very analogue types of toys, blocks and Legos, things like that. I would come at her with these creations I would make. And apparently, she gets a kick out of it because I would always call them creations.
I would come up and say “look at my creations.”
I didn’t nurture the creative side as much as I embraced my athletic side growing up. I was very into sports, predominantly baseball when I was young, and skateboarding and snowboarding. Snowboarding became my main focus. Art took a back seat to everything for a long time but it was always there, and there was this side of me that was never really comfortable with the way things were in society. That was brewing underneath all of that. And I kind of figured that eventually I would become an activist, but I didn’t really understand how or really know what I wanted to say.
I moved out of LA to embrace the creative side. That was how I looked at it, and it was a choice between New York or LA and I chose LA because I’d been living in endless winter and I didn’t want to live in winter anymore. I needed a break. In hindsight, I think I would have chosen New York because I just love it there, and sometimes I feel like what I do as an artist fits better in New York. Just given the culture of LA - I’m not going to use the word fake - but it’s a little more, I guess, laid back than other places, so if you’re a protest artist or you do a lot of art that’s around politics or social commentary, if it’s not over the top funny or bang you over the head type of imagery then it gets lost out here a little bit. Not that New York is a more serious place, but I feel like what I do resonates out there a little more. Although I have an incredibly amazing fan base here that has grown along with me through the years and they’re really loyal and I lean on them for support. I’m very glad in the end that I actually was here. Also, you can get away with a lot more out here than you can in New York. New York’s a lot more difficult to do what I do. There’s bigger penalties and they pay more attention to it.
When I started becoming a street artist, I knew the direction I wanted to go was to comment on the things that were not okay with me.
You know, things that I didn’t agree with, that I felt were injustices or the misdirection of society. That’s kind of where I jumped off from versus going the route of an artist whose imagery is more about affirmation and making people feel good.
I took this route of misdirected anger and I had a lot of frustration about who I was as a human being and my sexuality and all of these different things I was trying to figure out. I didn’t know how to channel it, so when I started putting art on the streets it was very abrasive and it was incredibly polarizing. I feel like some of that work is some of the best work I’ve ever done, even though it’s very raw and it’s not refined at all. I’m glad that it came out in the way that it did, even if it was really abrasive. I think that sometimes when you hit people in the head with a hammer versus touching them with a feather, you get more of a gut reaction and that’s what I was going for.
I wanted people to know, to remember and think about it. If you hit them hard, they’re going to remember it. Over the years that’s evolved because I’ve embraced certain things about myself and through that, it’s changed what I do creatively and it’s changed the way I talk to the world and the way I want the world to talk to me.
It doesn’t always lead to a great open discussion with people if you’re hammering down your views at them versus starting to ask a lot of questions and say well okay, why is it that way or why do you believe this versus saying your wrong and you need to think the way I think because it’s the right way.
That’s never going to get anybody anywhere. Both parties become defensive and there’s no dialogue. So I think I’ve matured a lot as an artist and I don’t know if I would have matured if I hadn’t gone to street art.
I think social media helped because you can have dialogue with people directly whereas before it was comments on a blog. Someone would blog your piece, what you did in the street, and then you’d filter through the comments. With things like Instagram and Twitter you get to talk with people, and for me I grow as a human being from it and that’s the biggest thing - I feel like I’m becoming a better person in a lot of ways because of that dialogue. The other side I think it does lead to a lot of unwarranted criticism and negativity that I think a lot of people don’t understand how to cope with. I still feel like we’re at the very beginning of what social media and communication is going to represent culturally. I am grateful for it because it’s allowed me to have a bigger conversation through my art with people, which is really cool, and it’s directly influenced my art. A lot of what I do is commenting on what’s going on socially or culturally, or what’s trending. I guess you could say I like to take a satirical view on things that I find to be not in the best interest of us as the human race so I use that imagery directly on the street.
It’s interesting because it makes your work interactive where people can actually not only think about it, but they can physically interact with what you do and I think that helps them understand and engage more on a human level. I think it evidently leads to the embracement of each other and each other’s individual ideas and thoughts on life. Everybody’s morals I guess you could say so that’s been an interesting journey.
This is my first collaboration with a clothing company and I’ve been very particular about it. I have certain ethics and viewpoints on manufacturing and production and just generally on how business is done. I really liked where DSTLD was at with that so when the time came to talk about collaborating, I was really on board because I genuinely liked the direction that DSTLD is taking. I also want to always support independently owned businesses. I want to be a part of the journey of people who are doing it for themselves cause that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve embraced the DIY spirit, DSTLD’s embraced the DIY spirit and they’re innovative in the way they’re approaching it, and that was really appealing to me.
On top of that, their wardrobe is pretty much my daily wardrobe and I really like what they make. I was really excited when the opportunity presented itself because it’s my standard uniform. Black skinny jeans are a staple in my wardrobe and I love the fit, I love the way I can work in them really easily. They’re not restricting so I was just like, yeah, these guys are great I really like what they’re doing, I want to be a part of it..”
Thrashbird portraits captured by DSTLD’s co-founder and co-CEO Corey Epstein.
Shop the DSTLD x Thrashbird collection.
For more of Thrashbird’s work, click here.