Friday, April 17, 2009

Hungarian Mustaches

Going back to the very first entry on this blog, I wrote about the Hungarian influence on my work, which stems from growing up in a home with Hungarian graphic design, folk art, and books all around. As it goes, I recently had an opportunity to make some Hungarian-influenced work for an actual Hungarian-influenced context. The Hungarian Cultural Center of New York City has been sponsoring a year-long celebration of Hungarian culture called Extremely Hungary, in both NYC and DC. They have flown in musicians from Hungary to play at Carnegie Hall, held readings with Hungarian authors, organized Hungarian food cooking demonstrations, and then most recently, sponsored a Mustache Contest.

I've been using mustaches in my Illustration work since I started Illustrating. They always seemed like they should been there on the faces of my characters. Mustaches make a great graphic presence on a face, and have always felt like a finalizing mark to make. Mustaches appeared in everything I made from editorial illustrations to pieces I made for art shows, such as this one from 2000:

As time has passed, I started to worry that I was using the mustache as a crutch, and I started to lay off a little. But then in 2009, the Mustache Contest came to town, and it soon became clear that I was to be making a collaborative mustache with Illustrator and friend Aya Kakeda.
I love Aya's work and need to devote another blog entry to say how much and why, but briefly here, I will say that she makes work that is funny and mysteriously dark in a compelling way, full of story, graphically interesting, and from her unique vision. Aya has her own connection to Hungarian culture, having spent a month working in Budapest with a team of New York artists, creating a miniature model of Manhattan for the Sziget Music Festival in 2007.

So we soon found ourselves meeting once a week to plan and craft a wearable mustache that we would enter in this Mustache Contest. Collaborating with Aya was a great experience of sharing a vision, and working together in many steps, each invented as we went, to realize it. We sketched our ideas, quickly agreed on the concept, and then basically proceeded to create this mustache out of felt, needle, thread, and glue.

Each week we'd meet and make more progress on figuring out how we'd fit in, the structure, stuffing or no stuffing, and most fun, the decoration.
The mustache came together as a dialogue between the two of us, and so it feels very right that it's a two-headed, connected form that we wear and move around in together.

Going through this creative process with Aya, I am convinced that collaboration is where the best ideas can emerge, and where the magic happens.

Last night, at Radegast Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Mustache Contestants, judges, and hundreds of friends of all gathered to celebrate and award the mustaches.
Aya and I won the "Dali" prize, for best art mustache. The runner-up, Francois Leloup Collet, was a beautifully ornamented Mustache Tree, which culminated in a mustache growing with bird's nests and birds. (I wish I had a photo of him. Here is a video that captures the mayhem of the event, and shows the Mustache in motion. Thank you Paul Adams, for taking and posting video of us, and Peter Hamlin, for the photos.