Design and abstract graffiti art legend Lenny “Futura” McGurr chopped it up with us last week Wednesday while waiting his turn to demo the creative features of Samsung’s new phone, the Galaxy Note II.
Futura, a father of two, spoke to us about his work with the Deftones, his relationship with his kids and his latest collaborations. His Samsung appearance came two weeks after launching his limited edition Hennessy bottle in New York, and one day after returning from Paris where the Euro launch of the bottle kicked off. Check out our chat with him below.
Mass Appeal: Congratulations on the Hennessey project.
Futura: Thank you, we just wrapped the American portion a week or two ago; and I just got back from Paris yesterday. [Paris] is gonna be the beginning [of the European launch]. We’re gonna’ do a couple of other cities globally but that won’t kick in ‘til the new year.
Is this your first time working with Samsung?
Yes! Actually, this is the first time I’m working with any technology brand. I dreamed about [working with] some of the giants of the past: the Sonys and the Apples but this is my first chance to do this. They asked me to do this and I’m really feeling the device. It’s amazing. I was getting really good on the tablet part of it, which is great for anybody that’s visually creative. If you’re really good with your hands, the tablet’s really awesome. Later I’m doing some live stuff with it. I guess they’re going to project it. They shot a video of me working with the device, too. I had it in Paris, running around, and my son Timothy, 13th Witness, he’s put together a video of that. He’s shooting Kanye tonight, too, so it’s a great opportunity. I get to meet Mr. West, too. I’m a big fan.
The last time I saw you was a few years ago. You told me you were sending your son to Japan because he was getting into trouble.
Yeah, and he’s obviously progressing into–
[Laughs] He did alright, man! I’m very proud of Timmy. You know, he was getting into trouble out here but that was five years ago. I think I sent him out there like ’02, ’03. Yeah, he came back like in ‘08. It was a great experience for Timmy. You get two months on a tourist Visa, you leave, you comeback. You play stamp games with customs. You can extend it up to a year. He stayed out there for four years! I think he got a good, independent education on his own in this foreign country. To his credit, he adapted; he learned the language. Being bi-national, he’s half French and speaks French, he’s doing alright. I’m very proud of him and his sister Tabatha. We’ve been working together. It’s great for me because I’m finally at the point in my life where I’m getting a couple big gigs like the Hennessey thing, which is a great opportunity. They were great how they worked with me. They put a lot of care into treating me with respect, which I’m [appreciative of]. Some financial opportunities have coming through right now but it’s the sort of the right time of my life when it seems to be fitting. You know, I wasn’t chasing money all these years. I was just trying to raise my family, keep doing what I’m doing and mature like anyone who wants to grow. But in the end I was more focused on the real things in my world, like Timmy and Tabatha and our relationships. So finally, the art thing is kicking in; people are gravitating in bigger numbers. Nothing has changed really, I’m just happy for the opportunities.
You’re known for a variety of things but I think your fans from the 1990s got into your work when you did the CD packaging for Mo’ Wax. Are you still doing that type of work?
Yeah, sure! You know what? I can let you in on a small secret but one of things I’ve been doing, including Hennessy and Samsung, and through being influenced by Timothy, I’ve got the new album cover for the Deftones coming out. It’s not my artwork; it’s not my “visuals” in that sense. It’s my photography. They’re giving me another opportunity. [Deftones] are major. The little check I got, I laughed. I was like, “Wow! Bugs Bunny signed off on that!” It feels kinda’ cool, actually.
You know, I’m gonna be 57 next month. Bugs came through. I watched a lot of WB stuff as a kid. My man Marvin the Martian, not for nothing, he’s pretty cool too. I’m doing things, for example the Deftones stuff, and that gives me a chance to diversity who I am creatively. It gives me a chance to get to an audience that may not necessarily know me. They might be more into music but they’ll be like, what’s up with that! It’s just another means of exposure that I am grateful for. From a graffiti artist, any purist from a million years ago will tell you, it’s all about self-promotion. What are we doing anyway but self promoting? By any means necessary your name gets put out there, people talk about you in some way, positive or negative.
You know the Hennessey thing: 200,000 numbered bottles. Come on, man! That’s like super getting up! And 1.9 million likes on Facebook for the Deftones visual information. And they didn’t even tell [people] who did it! It’s so exciting, man. Moving forward, 2012 has been great. 2013, I feel, will be a great time for me also. Plus, I had an exhibition of my paintings in NY about a month ago. It did really well. Everything is happening. It’s awesome!
I follow you on Instagram and it looks like two of your favorite themes are light and high heels.
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s my girl: I throw her under the bus! I even said to her, “Am I taking it too far?” She’s like no, because she’s so sweet and innocent. One of the things I love about being online, in a visual way, is talking with other people and translating messages via imagery or power of suggestion based on a caption. It’s all behind the scenes and visual mind games. I big her up a lot. There are also portraits of me in the mirror. I’m also big on those, too. The thing about IG is its so premeditated. I’m not using it like most kids, I guess. I’m not in the moment with it. I see it as more about the power of the collective. The archive’s an army and it’s all out there. I think there’s a great range of stuff there. There are people coming in hourly. I also like commenting with kids, too. I do it my own way, too. I like to go within people’s accounts or photo archives and comment on something shot 36 weeks ago. What that says to people is that that man looked through my stuff. What I love about the medium is everyone knows what’s going on here. Obviously people are hiding behind identities but for people who are just straight up, it’s all there. It’s quite entertaining, at least in the imaging and interactive part. Every day is like Throwback Thursday for me ’cause I’m gonna put up a previous image. Sometimes it’s not. Crazy enough, tonight, I have an image connected to this event. I have red neon I put up next to my signature. Sometimes it melds into reality but most of the time it’s a premeditated thing on my part. It keeps the competition in check which is why my girl is out of rotation for about a week. Its fun, I enjoy it. It’s so direct. I think people who are perceived to be well or famous, make time to comment and look at the work. In the real world, it’s hit or miss but online it has an effect on people in a positive way.
You’re almost 57. You’ve obviously grown as a person. Last week I read an interview on Huffington Post where you were talking about homophobia and how it may have prevented you from collaborating with well known artists in the 1980s.
It’s amazing you brought that up! I was like, damn! I wonder if people are gonna think about that! [The guy who did the interview] was on that pulse, he was very 80s centric. But what I said and I really dig what I said and it’s so true, he made it into an Andy [Warhol] thing. And I’m glad at the end they wrote something like, ‘It’s really pretentious to think Andy would work with you.’ And the fact its, yeah, he probably wouldn’t have. But [another] fact is Keith [Haring] was a great friend of mine. It wasn’t like I wasn’t around gay men and I couldn’t handle it. The fact is I was also on the fence about how I felt about all that. I tried to explain to people that there was a lot of other things going on [in the 1980s] and if you know your history, gays, homophobia, homosexuality, all of that shit was really in the closet. No one wanted to talk about it.
Yeah, a lot of the focus was on race and class [and feminism] at that time.
Thank you! We weren’t as up on political consciousness and people’s sensibility. I had to refrain from saying dumb shit that today I can’t really say. It never came with malice. I’m not a malicious person. I’m just a fucking class clown looking for a laugh. I’ll throw any race under the bus looking for a joke because I don’t even know who my parents are. So I already figured it out: I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m not Hispanic, I’m not Italian, I’m not Greek. I could be but I don’t know! Therefore, all my cynical comedy was, fuck all of you equally! But I actually didn’t feel that way with any real malice. It was just the kind of comic relief [after realizing] that we’re all kind of fucked. I don’t really regret saying those things because that’s really how I was. I think a lot of kids back then were [like that] straight up! When the melding of uptown and downtown happened, were like: yo, fuck that! People were happy. In a way, that machismo, whatever you want to call it, a lot of us did grow out of that. Or at least today, as older men or women, we got to reflect on how ignorant we were. That’s all it is.