Pt. 1 Interview with Laurel Shada: Appropriation, Art and Status
When the Jeremy Scott exhibit was at the Dallas Contemporary I couldn't wait to visit. His clothing is eye candy for the imagination. Take the paperdoll dresses that were styled so creatively. Is this the layer of a serial killer? Or the collection of a genius designer? Either way, I'm sold.
Some of his art and designs push me to question fashion, art, consumerism, and appropriation - pieces like his McDonald’s collection are a mish-mash of pop art, and he charges a pretty penny for the items. If you haven’t seen his McDonald’s fashion, click.
Not judging here. I'm an observer in this art/fashion cycle and appreciate the seriousness and the obsurdity. When I see rip-offs of his appropriation on the racks in Forever 21, it completes the consumerism life cycle.
McDonald’s logos as fashion speaks to a greater question of why large logos are fashionable. It also makes me wonder who gets to decide what logos are in-fashion, and what logos are out. And who has the right to appropriate whom?
While researching logos and fashion for a photoshoot, I ran across these luxury Band-Aids. Created by artist Laurel Shada with Bad Company Art, the decorated Band-Aids, she calls them Brandaids, blend social commentary, experimentation and appropriation. First, they are cool - I haven’t seen them before which led me to instantly purchase 3 for a photoshoot. The more I looked at Laurel’s Instagram feed, the more I wanted to talk to this artist about her work - How is her appropriation different than Jeremy Scott’s - is it different? And who gets to decide which piece of fashion is more valuable?
Listen to our interview below for Laurel’s answers - and keep an eye on my Instagram to catch my photo shoot using Laurel’s creations:
Jami: I was doing some research and just looking at your posts and I saw your post that you did last night. I think it might be a kind of a good place to start. Just the Gucci face with it eating the dollar.
Laurel: So yeah, that was a collaboration that I did with another artist on Instagram. And they took my dollar and incorporated it into their art, which I thought was really cool. The thought behind all of the stuff that I've been doing, especially on the $1 bills, the Brandaids is taking super mundane, everyday things and turning them into something exclusive or a luxury item. Something that we all have, but then you put a logo onto it or say it’s designer or something and all of a sudden it sky rockets in value.
Jami: Take me a little bit further into that thought process. Where did this start from and how did that journey begin?
Laurel: I started going to a really small, gifted private school when I was six. Most of the families there had a lot of money, didn't have a hard time paying for things. My family wasn't like that. We had a really hard time paying to go to school there. I always had resale clothes, so I was never into luxury items, designer things. I was never in this whole hype community or the clout communities that they have going on.
So, I figured if I could take everyday things and turn them into something luxury, that that would be really interesting because I never had anything that before, but I always had Band-Aids. So I guess that's really all that it was. Especially when I was younger, resale shopping wasn't cool. So I couldn't go and tell kids at my school, oh yeah, this is Salvation Army, isn't it sweet? No, they'd think it was gross or not cool, even though I thought it was fucking awesome because I always had really cool style and stuff.
Jami: I can relate to that too. I just remember, because I didn't have any brands either and I was outside one day and one of my neighbors, she was like oh, well I'll sell you my Guess jeans for $5. And it's oh my gosh, a brand name logo. I went inside and mom's like no. You're not doing that. We can afford jeans. You don't need them just for the logo.
It's interesting and you bring up resale shop, because I just started to think about art appropriation and low art versus high art, low fashion versus high fashion street wear. I just find it very fascinating that you can have something walking down the street. One day it's just what someone put together. Then the next day a luxury brand has reappropriated that and has slapped a label on it.
Did you ever follow Bill Cunningham? He was a photographer for the New York Times.
Laurel: I don't think so, no.
Jami: So Bill Cunningham, he's passed. But the cool thing about him, he had such a cool format on the New York Times is that he would walk the streets of New York and take pictures of everyday street wear.
Laurel: Oh sweet.
Jami: Yeah, so he would level up, he would see trends and he'd photograph them and it really didn't matter who was wearing it. I just liked him because he was kind of the great equalizer. And it's just clothing or it's just an object. I don't know, I just really liked this conversation about fashion and art.
Jami: You have the word art appropriation in your Instagram. What do you mean by that, how does that apply to your work?
Laurel: So basically I didn't want people to think that I was trying to make bootleg items Gucci or Fendi, Louis Vuitton or whatever because bootleg is generally making an exact copy of something that another company makes and also, in that, taking away profits that they could be making. So for instance, if you make a bootleg item and someone buys it, that probably means that they're going to be buying the fake item instead of giving their money to the company that originated the design.
Laurel: Within art appropriation,and I did some art appropriation pieces of the Mona Lisa when I was in high school, is it's taking an existing piece of art but applying it into your art and making it an element of the piece that you're doing. So, by using the Louis Vuitton logo, I'm appropriating their art and putting it onto a Band-Aid. So, they've never made Band-Aids before, so I'm not taking away any of the profits that they would be making from their designer Band-Aids. Instead, I'm just using a piece of their art within mine. So almost like sampling and music and stuff that like.
Jami: That's interesting too because what I started to think just while I was on this topics, I was like oh, I wonder if Fendi or Louis Vuitton are I going to appropriate your art and start making their own.
Laurel: Oh my gosh. That would be so cool.
Jami: It would be very meta, I feel like it's full circle.
Laurel: Yeah, definitely.
Jami: So along the same lines, art appropriation and sampling and I started to think about when does it become right or wrong to appropriate and at what level, is there a line that can be crossed? So I was researching skater culture recently for a photo shoot. I just wanted to kind of see how the body language of skaters are. I found this article about Jeremy Scott, I think it was in 2013. He had pictures on sweaters that were pretty much 95% copies of skate board artists. And Jeremy Scott, I'm a fan of his work because he takes logos and then he makes art into it and it's this commentary about, I mean fashion into it and it's this commentary about consumerism.
Jami: But do you have any thoughts on that or do you think that there's a line? If someone started appropriating your work, do you have any reaction to that or any thoughts on that?
Laurel: Let's see. Well, I would say definitely if you're going to do any type of art appropriation, if it's not a super well-known piece, make sure that you're giving credit and people can find the original artist who did it.
Jami: That's a valid point too, homage. You're paying respects to that artist.
Laurel: Yeah, and if I was going to appropriate a small Instagram artist's work, I would make sure to give them credit. I'm pretty sure in all of the appropriation works that I've done, I think I've tagged all of the brands. Yes, even though everyone knows it's Louis Vuitton, I don't want people to think that I'm just trying to steal their stuff for profit, you know?
Jami: I liked that you tagged the brands. I like that there's a message behind your work and just appreciated that you're not hiding. It's like hey, here I am. I have something to say. And you're just kind of, I'd say ballsy about it in a way. I don't know how you feel about that, but I think it's kind of ballsy.
Laurel: No, I was definitely a little scared when I started doing it because I was like oh, what is they come after? you know what I mean? But then I also thought there's people actually selling bootleg items on the street and online and stuff. I would assume that they would go after them before they went after me. But I just want to make sure that I give everyone proper credit because I've had ideas stolen before. I've had friends in the art community who have had stuff stolen before and it's not cool. So I think everyone should just always have credit for whatever it is that they came up with.
Jami: Yeah, especially for being the originator of the idea. I know that I followed some button makers before and the next thing you know there's a pin of theirs ripped off completely at Forever 21. So I could actually see something like that happening. I just love this idea of designer Band-Aids. I was at a networking event last night, so I was talking about the interview I was going to do with you. We were talking about the designer Band-Aids and they were like oh my gosh, that's so cool. I was like yeah, you should check it out. So I was showing your Instagram page around, so it was kind of fun.
Laurel: Oh thank you.
Jami: You're welcome. So do you look at the work of Andy Warhol or Shepard Fairey or Banksy and artists who started, well, I don't think Warhol necessarily started super small, but you know where reappropriation is a part of their gig for a bigger message?
Laurel: Yeah, I definitely do. It's really interesting because I've been doing art for basically my entire life and it's really, really hard to get anywhere with it I think. But then when you use a brand that's a bigger, then you get recognition. That's the part that I think is really, really interesting. And I think that's why a lot of artists who get very well-known have done something along the lines of art appropriation because it gets them out there and it gets them noticed because whatever brand they use is a brand that people are used to and familiar with and they latch onto it when they see another artists doing it.
Jami: Yeah, I think it's also, so my kind of interpretation of your art when I look at it is it seems a little street wear to me in a way because it makes brand names accessible. I don't know if you watch Project Runway at all.
Laurel: Yeah, yeah.
Laurel: I didn't, no. But I used to.
Jami: It was this really interesting take on street wear and taking athleisure wear and then elevating it and it's about big logos and big patterns and just loud statements. It made me think of your art as well. So, whenever you have these Band-Aids, or you call them Brandaids.
Jami: I love that. I didn't know that part. How have you seen them used or do you wear them or how are they to be shown off?
Laurel: So I haven't worn any of them yet. I took a little video of myself with one of them on my face just to show people how I thought people might.
Jami: Oh, did you really? I didn't see that.
Laurel: Yeah, it's a little further down, like I first started doing them.
Jami: Oh I see that. Yeah, okay.
Laurel: Then I also have one on my friend's leg. He's got a ripped pair of jeans and he's got the brand aid on his knee there. I think it's a Louis Vuitton one. Then a girl that has ordered them, she had one on her finger and he just took a glamor shot with it and that was pretty cool. I'm hoping that I'll get to see some more photographs with people who had bought them and what they're doing with them.
I think there's actually quite a lot that you could honestly do with the Brandaids. I even thought about using them as a patch on a jacket, sewing them onto a jacket. So they are made of fabric. That's the kind of Band-Aids that I used to put them on, the type of Band-Aids that I use for them. And I was like I guess you can even sew it on the fabric and that might be kind of cool.
Jami: Yeah, I see the one with the knee and I really like that idea too because I can imagine, as I kid, I mean, there's no way I could have afforded Louis Vuitton anything but sure, let's put the logo on my knee and it'll show through my ripped, worn out jeans.
Jami: I love that. So I'd like to talk about your dollar bills. I first was looking at these and I want to shoot them for my portfolio. I thought it would just be a really interesting take on a commercial picture, using these brand aids and these other objects that are logo driven because I'm kind of in a point, well I'm not kind of. I'm in a point in my portfolio where I want to reach higher brands because they have the budgets to pay.
Laurel: Yeah, definitely.
Jami: But the accessibility to those brands is really hard to get. You have to know the stylist that has the access. So I thought, well here, I can have access to the brands in a different way. So it ties into the dollar bill. So tell me about how the dollar bill started.
Laurel: I had been doing all different kinds of money art for a few years. My main type of art that I do is ceramics and metal work. So I started off with cutting coins. I would cut the heads out of the coins and stuff like that, just for a practice and using my jeweler saw.Then people thought that was really cool. So then I started painting on dollar bills. I'm doing a Simpsons line of bills right now. So I'm doing with Bart and Lisa and Millhouse and stuff.
Laurel: Then I thought, oh well, it would be really cool to make a $1 bill into something luxury. A $1 bill isn't necessarily a luxury item, but you put a logo on to it and people go crazy for it, even though it's just a $1 bill. So I guess that's kind of how I started with it.
Jami: So tell me about your other art. I looked at your ceramics and it's so unique and I noticed that they're handmade too. So all of your work, it looks like it's handmade from scratch?
Laurel: Yeah, so of my jewelry that I do and all of my ceramics that I do. I don't use any molds. I don't do casting at all. So all of my ceramics is completely hand built, hand rolled, all of that stuff. That also means that none of, none of them are the same at all, because I didn't use any molds for it. Then the same with my jewelry. I cut from sheet metal and I ball my own silver. I do all of that. I can do custom work for people if they need a certain size or certain widths of a ring that I already make, if they want a name stamped into it or whatever.
Laurel: I really tried to accommodate to what people are looking to get, but also by making sure that everything is still super unique, super handmade, and that no one that buys anything from me is ever going to get the same thing twice.
Jami: Where do these, both of these forms of art of yours, do they connect at some point or are they separate or does one serve the other?
Laurel: Well, I started off just doing ceramics because my mom and my grandma did ceramics art shows before I was born and while I was younger. So I've pretty much done ceramics for my entire life. Then I took in college a ceramics course and a jewelry course. I wanted to find a way to meld both of those together. So I started doing the pierced Tiddy mugs so I could use my metal within the ceramics. I tried also doing some ceramic Cabochons, which I can use in my jewelry as a set stone.
Laurel: So I'm trying to mix those two together while also all this art appropriation is going on. I've got in the works some ideas for ceramic pieces that also include the logos and stuff. I'm hoping that those turn out well, but I'm not sure.
Jami: I saw your Easter egg.
Jami: That was fun. I know it didn't turn out you wanted it to, but the message still came across. I was like what can't she put a logo on?
Laurel: Thank you.
Jami: What can't she do?
Laurel: Literally anything.
Jami: Have you seen the teeth inlays where you can bling out your teeth?
Laurel: Yes, oh my gosh.
Jami: So you could do that with … Or you could have it transition into your own logo so you could become so good at that. Then you just have your own logo in there and it becomes as popular. So I guess that is the tie into Warhol. I've always found Warhol such an interesting art figure because it's like is he creating art or is he just reflecting society back on itself and selling it?
Laurel: Yeah, so that's really interesting because through all of this, it's really definitely been such a social experiment that I've been watching just to see how people react to something so cheap and so simple, like a Band-Aid, but by putting this logo onto it, it literally turns into a luxury item because the Band-Aids alone only cost between maybe seven to 10 cents each. Then you put this logo on them and I've been selling them for $10. So it costs 100 times as much, which is, I can't comprehend that. It's crazy to me.
Laurel: And who knows? I could have even sold them for more, I don't even know. But $10 was just what I decided to ask for and they sold.
Jami: I was just thinking that too. What's the boundaries if you started putting gold on them and then you were able to increase the value in some way? Just because it was shiny. It didn't even have to be real gold. It could just be paint.
Laurel: Yeah, I have no idea even. I want to try doing some other stuff and kind of seeing if I could get more for it. And not just because I want to make loads of money or something, but because I just really want to see how much people would pay for a Band-Aid.
Jami: That's really interesting. It makes me think of the egg on Instagram. How it just turned into this thing. It's now a character and it travels. It just started off as this picture. It's genius but then who's the joke on? Who's laughing about all of that?
Laurel: Yeah, and we're all following this egg. It's just an egg.
Jami: So do you have any goals of this being bigger? I just see such a story here of documenting this and seeing kind of where it takes you. Do you have any plans on that?
Laurel: Well, I've actually got a really cool collaboration coming up with another Detroit artists. He does these amazing encapsulations of different art pieces and all different kinds of stuff and they are cool. I'm actually having some of my dollars done and I should see them in a few weeks. I just dropped them off yesterday. But I'd really to be able to work with more artists because that's something that I've never really been able to do within my ceramics or my jewelry because I think that's a lot, for some reason it's a lot harder to do with those mediums. But I feel like the appropriation items that I'm doing, I feel that's a lot easier to do with another artist or something. So I'm hoping I'm able to do more of those types of collaborations with people.
Laurel: I don't really know what I'm expecting from it. I'm hoping that people will also see the other types of art that I do my ceramics and my jewelry and get interested in those things, but I'm not really sure. I'm just kind of rolling with it and seeing where it goes right now.
Jami: Just my last question is where are you today and what does the view look from where you're sitting?
Laurel: I'm sitting in my bedroom and I am staring out of my window and I've got a whole bunch of plants in my window.
Jami: Oh nice. What kind of plants do you have?
Laurel: I've got lots of succulents. Then I've got a cute little clover plant. Then some type of hanging plant that I don't know what it is, but it's got really pretty green leaves.
Jami: Well, I'm very excited to find ways to use the Brandaids. I was looking at your feed and your website. I love to hear the stories of people's growth and just where ideas originate from and who gets to label art and fashion. When I asked you yesterday if you want to do an interview, I was like hmm, I wonder if there's a podcast here or if anyone would listen. I just think it's interesting, the backstories of artists and what people are doing online and I thought yours was a really good one. So I appreciate your time.
Laurel: Thank you.
Jami: Was there anything else that I missed or anything that you'd like to talk about?
Laurel: I don't think so. I've got a whole bunch of ideas for other cool stuff that I want to make so I hope that people will continue to follow my work that I'm doing because I definitely have some things that I want to create and show everybody, but I guess that's pretty much all.
Jami: Well, thanks so much for your time. I look forward to seeing where you go with it and what you do with a logo next. And also where your personal art goes.
Laurel: Yeah, thank you so much.
Thank you Laurel for talking with me about your art and your Brandaids. View her shop, Bad Company Art where you can view and purchase her handmade creations, including her Tiddy Mugs and jewelry. And swing on over to her Brand-Aids to view her latest designs.
Look for part 2 in this series on Laurel’s Brandaids to post soon. I’m currently concepting the shoot, and look forward to sharing the results here on my blog, and on my IG feed.