Kozyndan -- Freelance Illustrators
Kozy and Dan Kitchens of kozyndan produce absurd artwork to reflect what they think is an increasingly out-of-whack world.
Published: Friday, January 23, 2004
Kozy and Dan Kitchens of kozyndan are illustrators of anything and everything out of the ordinary. The duo met at Cal State Fullerton and both majored in Illustration, fueling their passions to begin a career together in freelance drawing and painting, specializing in digital artwork. Giant Robot magazine gave kozyndan their first break, setting up their first art show, printing their illustrations, and selling their merchandise at the Giant Robot store. Kozy and Dan were recently in New York, signing the first collection of their work, Urban Myths, published by Giant Robot. Kozyndan artwork consists of panoramics, CD covers, magazine and book covers, and advertisements, to name a few. More information can be found at kozyndan.com.
Interview with Kozyndan
November 7, 2003
Interviewed by Angie Kang
Transcribed by Jen Chong
Angie: Please introduce yourselves and tell us a little about your backgrounds.
Kozy: I’m Kozy. I’m from Japan. I’m 24.
Dan: I’m Dan from Southern California, 27, grew up here, and went to school here. I met Kozy at Cal State Fullerton. We were both Illustration majors. We made art together at school and that was a year and a half ago. We’ve been able to pretty much make a living from this since we got out of school.
Angie: How did you guys team up to form this duo for Kozyndan art productions?
Dan: She was just drawing a picture of our apartment on this piece of paper she had and when she was done I liked how it looked and decided to color it. I scanned it on the computer and started painting it on Photoshop. She helped me finish it up and we liked how it turned out so we decided to keep doing them. It just kind of blossomed from there.
Angie: So your first drawing was an apartment that you colored in. How did you progress the artwork from the apartment painting to what you do now?
Kozy: We were going to go to Japan. We were going to make some similar posters and we were going to sell them on the streets so we could make enough money to eat stuff, eat something good in Japan.
Dan: So we just decided to do it and drew a street corner this time instead of the inside of our apartment. We did something outside and started adding some stuff to it that wasn’t there and the next piece was just adding a little bit more things that weren’t in the environment that we were drawing. It just kind of progressed until we were really focusing on making our own areas in these real environments. So we just started making pieces where we were recreating real places but then inserting whatever we wanted to have in there.
Angie: In a past interview, you said that you had an affinity to absurdity. What is it about absurdity that makes you drawn to it? Why do you think you can better express your art through absurd images, rather than comprehensible images to the public?
Kozy: I think we are kind of absurd people.
Dan: I think the world is kind of absurd. I think everything is absurd. I don’t think any of this is comprehensible.
I think the whole world is completely out of tune or we are out of tune with the world. The way we live, that whole system, these cameras, sitting here interviewing and answering questions is all so far removed from how we evolved as species. You know, like how all those cars are driving by, it’s just of out of whack with the rest of the world. All of the other creatures just kind of live naturally in the world but we are all just fighting against what’s around us, just trying to contain and control it and it’s all absurd. We’re a part of that and we’re totally sucked into that so it just seems natural for us to make these images that are sort of strange.
Angie: How do you portray that in your images? For instance, how are we the absurd ones and the creatures normal?
Dan: I don’t think we even try to address that. We are so much far gone and we are so much a part of that that there’s not even a way of trying to express that. I think we’re just depicting this world. I don’t know if anyone is getting out of it that we’re out of tune with the planet.
Angie: Do you think your images are so absurd that the rest of the public may not connect to it or do you think that no matter what, it’ll appeal to the general audience?
Dan: Yeah. I think that they will still connect to it. I think that it just seems funny to them. But I don’t think anyone, not even us, perceives it to be as absurd as it really is. It seems pretty normal just like there’d be funny things thrown in there which is fine. It’s enough. People enjoy that.
Angie: Can you give us an example of one of your drawings that was absurd. What was depicted? What was absurd? What did you try to convey?
Dan: I guess a classic example would be the panoramic with the bunnies of New York with like hundreds of multi-colored bunnies just sitting in the streets of Manhattan. Nobody is really paying attention. Nobody really notices that they are there. For the most part, there are just hundreds of bunnies everywhere. People just think that’s cute, but I always envision it as this scenario like an army of rabbits coming in and descending into New York to destroy it. People just think it’s cute and don’t even pay attention. It was a total failed invasion. I guess that was a pretty clear example.
Angie: You produce artwork digitally, but you also use traditional acrylic and paint to create your work. So you use a modern form as well a traditional form. Why did you choose to do this instead of focusing on one form?
Dan: I don't know. We use whatever seems right for the image. Some of the images just take too long trying to paint them. We use whatever is most efficient for the image. If we had something super complex, we’d probably use the computer. But, a lot of our traditional paintings are more iconic and simplified just because it's easier for us, basically. It's whatever is most efficient. We like all mediums. We'll do silk screen if it's right for the image or paint or ink or whatever is right for the image.
Angie: Is digital artwork a new trend?
Dan: Yeah. It's a new medium just like acrylic would have been earlier in the century. Back then, you really weren't supposed to paint in acrylic. It's like, what's considered acceptable? We didn't know if it was something that was going to be long lasting so it took a long time for acrylics to gain acceptance. And before that photography was the same. I think digital is just the next medium. So, there are a lot of artists working digitally and it will probably grow. I mean, kids are just growing up with the computers being an integral part of their lives so I'm sure that medium, that tool, is going to be more prevalent in the future.
Angie: How do you two split the work? Is it completely joint or is it that one person sketches and another colors?
Dan: I guess so. Her drawings are more the final drawings. Usually I draw something or a character and she sketches or traces over it and re-draws it to her style. Some pieces are mine, but I'd say more are from her. She draws and then we do the colorings together.
Angie: Do you have a lot of Japanese inspirations, like anime?
Kozy: Not really
Dan: She’s not very inspired by Japanese culture. She's from there but ...
Kozy: I like traditional art. I'm not very encouraged by modern artists like Murakami, Nara, or anyone like that with comics. I'm not a fan of animation.
Dan: Yeah. I'm probably more influenced by contemporary Japanese artists and pop culture just because it's what's foreign to me. Just like European artists were influenced by Japan back in the end of the 1800's.
Kozy: Maybe I’m influenced because I’m Japanese. I grew up with Japanese animation so I can’t tell.
Dan: A lot of people say our stuff looks like anime but we never really think it does. The line work is certainly different and the coloring. We don't watch that much anime particularly. Maybe it creeps in because she [Kozy] grew up with it.
Angie: This ties into another thing that I heard. I know you received this bogus comment about being traitors to your respective countries. A gentleman was really upset thinking you guys had abandoned your roots whether to America or Japan. How did you guys respond to such criticisms? Why do you think you were getting such a backlash for being engaged in a culture that was different from your own?
Dan: That comment was based mostly from some comment I made when I was asked about George Bush and the kind of job that he was doing, so it didn't have anything to do with my art. The person that wrote to us actually likes our art a lot. He just thought that we were really traitors and not patriots just because we don't follow what Bush says. What can you do? If you’re an artist, I don't think you necessarily have an obligation to expound your political views but if you have a voice for the wider audience to hear , you might as well say something at some point if it's really eating at you the way George Bush is eating at us, destroying our country. It was somebody who really doesn't know what's going on in our country now so it's alright. You get those kind of people sometimes. There's not much you can do about it.
Angie: What is it like working with Giant Robot Magazine?
Dan: We have a pretty good symbiotic relationship with them. I think that their fan base is pretty much the same as ours. We got our start through them. They were the first ones to give us a show, to get our illustration printed, and to start selling our merchandise. It always works for them. It always sells and people like it and it works for us for the same reasons. So it's all around good. But, we don't work for them. They ask us to do stuff and we'll do it and we ask to do our shows there and they let us.
Angie: I think the reason for Giant Robot’s success is that it has an isolated niche market where they’re appealing to Asian pop culture. Is that the exact niche you guys are going for?
Dan: No, I mean we're not really going for any niche. It’s for whoever likes it. We get such a wide range of people that are into our stuff. That culture certainly is into our stuff but we also get a lot of people like street artists and ska and music people. Gay guys really like our stuff. For some reason, we have this huge following of middle-aged gay men. It kind of crosses over towards everybody. Whoever likes it is good to us.
Angie: Do you guys have any plans to extend your artwork to Asia?
Dan: We want to take our artwork everywhere just because we want to go everywhere. Basically, we use our artwork as a way to travel, to see the world. We don't want to be stuck in one place all the time. We want to see so many places. So, yes, we want to take it up to Asia if not for any other reason but to just go there and see it and have experiences in Asia. I want to take it to Europe so we can go to Europe. I don’t know what the future has in store for us. What do you want to do Kozy?
Kozy: In general? I have so many things I want to do. Books, bags, crafts, three dimensional art work, installation works, videos, motion graphics, music videos, production design, and clothing design.
Angie: As of now, is it just artwork available for purchase or do you guys have other products?
Dan: There are a couple of t-shirts and other random products. Mostly we have been doing prints because we’re mostly making single images. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We just started. We have a long way to go. I don’t know what will happen. Beginnings are fun.
Angie: Thank you guys.