They say one day robots will take over the world… But who are they anyway? And why are they teeing up robots as bad guys? What if they were good? What if robots didn’t necessarily take over the world, but were more of our buddies? What if they brought joy, followed you around giving compliments on say, your pants or a school project? What if robots offered great advice or boosted your confidence? What if…
Thanks to today’s featured artist, that “what if” just turned into “what is.” Addicted to Sharpie Oil-Based Paint markers, Gary Hirsch has assembled an army of androids that love, caffeinate, knit, stop time, even give you permission to be a bit callous now and then.
Hirsch, creator of Joy Bots took time to answer our Sharpie Q&A. Warning, it’s a bit lengthy but a guaranteed good read!
Featured Sharpie Artist: Gary Hirsch
Tell me about yourself! Where are you from? Interests? Likes? Dislikes? Pet Peeves? My life has been made up of a series of collisions: I am an actor (improviser) and a business consultant/facilitator, and a painter, and a Dad, and a wanna-be marine biologist. I collide all of them in various ways…it’s never a dull moment. I found (really co-founded) a mini-micro-national, creative consultancy called On Your Feet. We use highly experiential methods from the world of improvisation, and elsewhere, to help organizations communicate, create and relate—all while having a ridiculously good time. Before On Your Feet I was an improv performer (still am), painter (still am), and t-shirt artist (nope gave that one up).
I am best know in my adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon (I am an ex- Cleveland Heights, Ohio guy) for a large public art commission that the city asked me to create in 1996; it’s called Upstream Downtown- eighteen giant aluminum fish that hang from the open spaces of one of Portland’s ugliest parking garages, hopefully the fish make it a little more beautiful.
Likes: The Ali G Show, Peach Tazo, Baba Ganoush, Radio Lab, The Moth, A Sunday night show of AsssCat performed a The Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC or L.A., my son’s band Meet Your Monster, and I am a sucker for the video series “Where the Hell is Matt”, the guy that dances seemingly in every country on the planet (my daughter rolls her eyes whenever I watch it because I inevitably cry every time and whisper things like “ yes….this gives me hope….”).
Peeves: Anything passive aggressive.
How did you get started as an artist? When I was growing up I had a lot of nightmares. You know, your basic, run of the mill nightmares- giant hands swooping down from the attic, grabbing you out of bed and swallowing you whole, where he would land in a stomach that was really a grave yard populated by zombies, yeah those kind of nightmares…On these nights when I couldn’t sleep I would sit with my father in the kitchen and draw the monsters from his nightmares. We would stay up for hours and my Dad would help me name these creatures (My parents saved all of these doodles, I still think they are some of my best work). Once during a late night doodling session my father leaned over and said, “You know, if you can create them, then you can also erase them.” So I would draw and erase and after a while the nightmares would come a bit less frequently. I never stopped doodling since.
How would you describe your personal style? I am a doodler at heart. I must doodle to survive, period. This got me into a lot of trouble in school, because teachers always thought I wasn’t paying attention when I was scribbling in the margins of my notebook. But I was, I really was Mrs. White! Years later I saw an article that found that some people listen better when they are doodling….yes! Vindicated!
Where do you draw inspiration from? There is an army of artists that I am in awe of: Goya, Haring, Beckman, Dubuffet, Scharf, Baseman. Last year, I attended Tim Burton’s visual art exhibition at the MOMA and that was enough to keep my inspiration gas tank easily full these past 7 months. The thing that all of these masters of their craft have in common is that their work is all about stories. I am addicted to stories. I dive deeply into the world of story and narrative, mostly through my experiences as an improv theater performer. What keeps interesting me is the idea of incomplete story…of starting something and inviting the audience to finish it, to co-create it with me. Sure, I have something in mind when I paint…..but so do you when you look at the painting. I love that a single piece of stimulus can ignite a flood of ideas and stories.
How do you use Sharpie markers in your work? Discovering the Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Marker was a revelation, really (and I am not just saying that because you are Sharpie, that would very brown nosey)! It was kind of like a divine intervention from the art gods. I needed something with vivid color, fast drying that could work on a domino….viola, prayers answered!
Favorite Sharpie. Why? I’m currently having a love affair with Sharpie Extra-Fine Oil-Based Paint Markers. Beautiful, consistent line, allows me to get small and tight with details, dries amazingly fast, and sticks to everything….cue the music I feel an endorsement coming on!
What is it about robots that you love so much? I had this idea about 5 years ago: Imagine that you had an imaginary robot that followed you around all day and gave you outrageous compliments. It was a fun idea to imagine, so I included it in an illustrated journal that we made for our On Your Feet clients and gave them out when we were running innovation and creativity sessions. This image of a robot that follows you around giving you compliments keep haunting me…I mean seriously, how cool would that be? It would be invisible and only you would know it was there and it would say things to you like “ Nice pants” or “That was a smart thing to do” or “You made the right choice.” So this year, I thought, “Let’s make the robots real” and after playing with several surfaces, we stumbled on the domino. Now instead of an invisible robot you have a small pocket robot.
What does one do with an army of robots? What do the robots do for me? This tiny robot army is programmed to bring you joy! Each Joy Bot is hand-painted, on-of-a-kind pocket friend.
To activate simply:
- Allow your robot to get to know you by placing him on your desk, kitchen counter or cubicle or wherever you spend the most amount of time.
- Wait until he notices something about you (it won’t take long) and then listen while he tells* you how wonderful you are, or how much he loves you, or how brave you have been, etc. (what he says depends on the type of robot you have selected). (see attached image of a sample of the operating instructions that come with every Joy Bot)
- Take him with you everywhere you go for the maximum domino effect.
* The robots don’t really talk (’cause they’re painted dominoes) but you can imagine that they do.
There are 10 types of Joy Bots:
- Love Bot: Programmed To Love You
- Joy Bot: Programmed to Make You Feel Great
- Brave Bot: Programed To Give Your Confidence a Jolt
- Listening Bot: Programmed To Listen To You, Unconditionally
- Yes Bot: Programmed To Say “Yes” To Anything You Say
- Mean Bot: Programmed to Give You Permission To Be a little petty, mean, or whiny
- Caffeine Bot: Programmed To Wake You Up
- Knitting Bot: Programmed To Make You a Knitting Sensation
- Time Bot: Programmed to Stop Time (so you can re-live great moments or erase bad moments)
- Advice Bot: Gives you Outrageously Useful Advice
What is your favorite bot? I’m a big fan of The Time Bot. It stops time so you can go back and erase a stupid mistake or relive a wonderful moment. A very useful ability, I would say.
What is the Caffeine Bot’s favorite kind of caffeine? No surprise, it’s coffee. I made them to accompany an exhibition of paintings that I was having in my neighborhood at a local coffee shop. I imagined that having a Caffeine Bot would help me reduce my coffee consumption because they are programmed to Wake You Up. (no such luck, still pouring down the coffee.)
If your Joy Bots had a theme song what would it be? No brainer….Robot Parade, by They Might Be Giants, one of my kid’s favorite songs! Also love Birdhouse In The Soul by TMBG as well, either work.
Why is the Mean Bot so mean?! He’s there to give you permission to be a little mean, or petty, or “snivelly”…S ometimes we just have to vent…The Mean Bot lets you express the darker side, without shame.
How do you come up with all of the robots? It’s all about the story they tell the viewer. I want to make Bots that can give you advice, tell you how wonderful you are, or stop. The idea is that they all have to help you have a conversation with yourself. Of course, the Bots don’t actually talk but still people have told me things like, “My Bot just encouraged me to take risk” or “I felt great today because my Bot told me to how nice and helpful I am to my business partner.” I had one woman contact me for a set of Brave Bots for her family to help them who with coping with the recent death of a loved one. Are these people crazy? Of course not, they are just realizing something about themselves. The Bots don’t actually talk, but something about them allows people to imagine that they do, and somehow gives voice to a few, small and hopefully wonderful tid-bits about themselves.
What’s in the future for Joy Bots? Not sure, they really do have a life of their own. I don’t have a ton of time to make them right now because I’m so busy with my consulting work, so any painting time is a luxury and a treat. I love making small batches of limited editions when I get spare moments. I have been approached to mass produce them for the gift market, but I can’t see doing that, it is such a joy to strap on my head phones with a podcast from Radio Lab, or The Moth, listen to a wonderful story. Let my mind wander, and slowly paint, not knowing what will emerge until the final stroke of the pen. I will just keep making them, and showing them to whoever is interested and let the rest work itself out.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Oy, I hate questions like this because it assumes I know WTF I am doing. I guess I would say what I say to my 16 year old son who is trying to break into the music industry and that is, Make the call. If someone says “you should call me,” DO IT. If something happens don’t ponder if it is “good” or “bad,” ask yourself “What can I do with this?” This is ingrained in me from all of my improv work. Improvisers are masters at using what they have and turning nothing into something. I see opportunity in lots of things; I would encourage other artists to turn down the dial on their own self judgment, notice more around them and use it as an opportunity.
Anything I didn’t ask that you would like to add? Sure, but this interview is way too long as it is. I’m an extravert and have to talk to think, so thanks for letting me blab!
Thanks again to Gary for the EXCELLENT interview! Be sure to check out the Joy Boy website and build your own BOT army!