Meet Matt Gualco.

As an artist, Gualco makes posters, pins and portable merchandise for a living. But as a businessman, he makes art that is both wearable and profitable. Dressed in a NY Giant dad cap and a graphic tee that said, "Punching a Monet, Acid on Mona Lisa", it is easy to assume that Gualco is a comedian. But he is not.

Gualco is an artist, but at the same time, he's also a business. While most artists produce art in large-scale pieces, he makes art in small portable objects whether it be fanny packs, pins, stickers and/or posters. Packed with an effervescent and humorous charm, Gualco's energy is a fresh of breath air in the notoriously elitist and uptight art world. It is no secret that I've enjoyed Gualco's work ever since I stumbled upon his booth at the New York Art Fair last September.

A couple of weeks ago, we met up at Daisy's Diner, a '50s-inspired American café in Brooklyn's Park Slope. While munching on sandwiches, soup, and burgers, we chatted about misheard Jay Z lyrics, the meaning of "Art Bae" and pop culture.

Mountain View

You were born and raised in Sacramento, California, then you had a BFA in painting at the Kansas City Art Institute and later, an MFA in New Genres at the San Francisco Art Institute. Why did you decide to pursue two college degrees in the field of fine art?

I was always in the arts, in a way. I had a really good nanny. She would always do art projects with my sister and I. She was very supportive of giving art projects - that's when we were growing up. It was something that caught on. I spent a lot of time doing art. It just carried on throughout my life. I've been interested in art and communicating through art in a different way, not through other forms in a way.

I grew up with a learning disability called dysgraphia. I couldn't write well while growing up. It was hard for me to be myself. Art was a good way to show off who I am in a way. When you have learning disabilities, you are socially inept. You don't know normal social cues. I always stuck with my art as it was a way to escape through things and feel my surroundings around me and stuff. It was just support. I support my parents and I had supported my art teacher, Mr. Amrhein, in my high school. He's retired now. He helped me take my slides, put them in the sliding bin and I got accepted at Kansas City Art Institute. After two years of junior college in Sacramento. I did art there, too.

I'm glad that you found a way to channel your energy into art. Given what you've told me, I've noticed that you tend to put so many texts over image. I remember you have something like "Jeff Koons Balloons" where basically mocks Jeff Koons. You have other text-based images like "Art Bae" and "Basic Bae". Why is it that you are so attracted to words?

I was listening to Jay Z's 'Picasso Baby' and the words from the rap was "Jeff Koons balloons, I just wanna blow up." But in my mind, I heard "Jeff Koons ballons make me wanna throw up." I was like, "that's brilliant!" I kept listening to it and it says "blow up", not "throw up". A lot of my art is like, changing around lyrics. I have another piece, "Foreplay in my foyer, fucked up my Warhol." It's from a Beyonce song...'Drunk in Love'.


I did another Jay Z quote, it's called "Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner." I made some posters about that and then, I just wanted to make art about words, about music in a way. Taking words from a song and make it into an art piece.

That's really awesome, though! I had no idea that it was derived from music and not a spoof of what you had in mind. I feel that it's fascinating that you're a Jay Z fan and how you make art inspired by Jay Z and Beyonce lyrics.

As an emerging artist, you've own first place for San Francisco Art Institute's Anne Brewer Memorial Award MFA and Outstanding Graduate Student Awards. You were also the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts Merit Award winner in 2001. What did you exhibit and what was it like for you to partake in these competitions?

The BFA wasn't a competition as I didn't know. They didn't tell me. The earlier books I made in grad school were performance readers and I spelled it backwards. I showed it up like a shop. It was in a hotel room in San Francisco in the Mission District, I think. I set the books up with spinning racks so people could read them, print it out some big old frames and stuff. I put them out there; I was really not thinking about it at all.

Wow! I'm glad that you made it, though.

Yeah, it was fun! I was very surprised when they announced their graduation and said my name. I was shocked. I wasn't trying to be good.

So many artists put the try in "try" and what I like about you is that you do it.

I just keep making different ways from poster to sticker to button. There's always a next step on how you're going to produce an artwork. I always think, "What can I do next?" with this art piece, to change it a bit. My Art Bae poster, Art Bae sticker, Art Bae hat, Art Bae fanny pack, stuff like that... really figuring out in a way that's limited edition. Twenty-five of my fanny packs have been gone, five hats - they're gone. I ran out of stickers.

You know, the Art Bae lapel pins, I sold out at the Fair. After that, I'm gonna make an Art Bae lighter in baby pink... and trying to do different variations of it. I like to make limited quantities of art so that people want them more.

I like that it's a very smart approach to commodify your art. When you create each merchandise, did you really have what the customer wants for a particular season in mind?

When I was thinking of Art Bae, I was on the subway and there's this man and woman talking. She's talking to her boyfriend or husband and said, "Do you know that 'bae' means shit?" He's like, "What do you mean 'bae' means shit?" Because in Danish, "bae" means shit. I was like, "Oh my god, that's amazing! How can I make 'Art Shit'?" Everyone says, "it's baby", but to me, it's "shit". I call these people "art shit" - wearing "art shit" t-shirts and "art shit" fanny packs, so, it's funny to me. It means "baby", too, in the new lingo. I like the Barbie font because it's a way how people can recognize it. There's an artist called "Art Baby Girl", I gave her credit. So, I kinda morphed it into pertaining to what I knew - a hidden message. It's like an inside joke to itself. They're really not aware of its translation.

I've noticed that about your work, too, because you translate all different types of humour into your art. You do this in a way that's somewhat critical. Artists are also critics and in this case, you criticize high art in a way that's humorous. What drives you to see art through a critical lens?

It kinda just happens, it's like a thing. For example, the James Franco book - I just had a dream about it that there would be a middle finger in between all his pieces. I just kind of went there and did it. Speaking of my "No Regerts" poster, I had a conversation with my old roommates talking about no regrets. I was thinking about my lack of spelling. I spell "no regrets", "no regerts". I used to spell "them", "theme". You know, I'd add an extra letter to it. I used to think "baby" was spelled "babby".

Really, what!? I never saw that! No way!

Yeah! You can see from Letters to a Young Actress (co-written by Brian Henkel) that my lack of knowledge of spelling is in the pages. I found Letters to a Young Poet and it was this book that already lent out from a student who got it and I morphed the words into today's society. It's not a negative view and I like to work with other artists because I want to translate what they see.

I'm doing another book right now called Frank's Oceans. It's my next book. I'm working with this other girl - Marisa Sottos - I met at the fair and it's like pictures of Frank and oceans, in a way.

It's literally his name!

Yeah, Frank Ocean. That's gonna be the next book. I did the Lemonade book with the Beyoncé stickers and the sparkly stuff. The next chapter is Frank's Oceans.

That's so cool that you collaborated with artists that you've networked with at the NY Art Book Fair! I just saw your affinity for pop culture runs so deep - as seen in Your Priority, Lohan Count Think Yell, Lindsay Lohan Performance Reader and the Gospel of Kim. Your idea of celebrity is very satirical. How do you relate yourself to celebrity culture?

The rise and fall, triumphs, the disappointments like Kim K getting robbed... Now, she doesn't want her richness anymore and I think it's relatable. It goes beyond life, people and friends and stuff and what they do.

Were you always into pop culture?

I'm very interested in what happens every day with celebrity life. It's really about what's happening today. How can I make it into my own language and what everyone else is thinking.

It's nice how you put in so much empathy. Compared to Andy Warhol, he puts them on the pedestal. I just remembered that you poke fun of high art. One particular work you have is called I Just Want a Title.

It's just books from my cellphone that I took for 5-6 years. I just took pictures and edited it on my flip phone on a Paint thing. It's just about my adventures in the U.S. and like transferring what it is and what it could be. Everybody really gets confused about it because they open their booklet like, "Oh! Oh! I just want to title it Cindy Sherman's Untitled. And like, 'Oh, this is gonna be great!'". They open it and it's not what they thought it was. They thought I was actually going to it Cindy Sherman's Untitled Photographs, which is funny.

I think that's a dope title, too!

Everyone's like, "you should do this!"

I also love Cindy Sherman, but it's a little frustrating for me. It's like, why does every single one has to be called Untitled? It's kinda pretentious. Is that what you had in mind when you were making I Just Want a Title?

I just thought what's a good cover, but photos are untitled, but the subtext of the titles in the photo. In a way, it's confronting life and what it could be. Like, Amazon, people being jealous of your iPad, just like what people see and what people think in a way. What I think could relate to it.

Speaking of your favorite artists, who inspired you?

Daniel Johnston, Mike Kelley, I really like him. My friend's a really good artist, Clayton Skidmore. Art Baby Girl - Grace Miceli. She's wonderful. Who else do I like? Whoever's hot at Chelsea. I go down to galleries in Chelsea once a month to see what's on the walls.

That's so cool how you are inspired by modern and contemporary art. It tells me that you're not someone who looks back into the past. Lastly, what do you think is going to happen that can change the future of art?

Probably the demand of it. Everybody's changing it, big and small. Artists are changing it from the inside out. You don't have to be a top act to succeed, you can moderately succeed and still feel good about it. You need to keep going. It's not about how much you make or where you are showing it. It's about who really loves you.

You can view more of Matt Gualco's work by heading here.