Dreamers + Doers highlights emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and up-and-coming ones to watch. Whether it’s starting a new business, creating something beautiful, or just daring to do things differently, we stand behind those taking steps toward something new.
Years ago, we first stumbled across Adam J. Kurtz's work on the internet in the form of these cute pins (that post is from November 2011, if you're wondering), and the rest is history. Now, the artist has released a book, 1 Page At A Time, works at Buzzfeed where he gets to let his internet creativity freely flow, and has an entire collab here at UO featuring his original artwork. Not too shabby for only four years time!
To captivate the internet for so long is a feat in itself, but once you check out Adam's work or spend a moment on his Twitter, you'll understand the appeal: his comics are witty (sometimes sad, but always relatable) and his "I'm stressed but it's funny" tweets have us clicking the "favorite" button more times than we can count. We caught up with him right after the launch of his UO collab as part of our Dreamers + Doers series, which celebrates emerging artists, designers, and creatives who are doing things differently. If you're as enamored with Adam as we are, then make sure to come out to his NYC event at Space Ninety 8 on April 23rd from 6-9pm. He #promises that it'll be a good time.
Photos by Francisco Marin
Hey Adam! Can you tell us a little bit about your collection for UO? How did it come about?
Hey UO! Uhhh well, like most things in my life, it was kind of a fluke? My creative journal 1 Page at a Time was picked up to be carried in UO stores, so my work was introduced to the people who make decisions about these types of things. Turns out some people in the office were already following me on tumblr — a couple lucky coincidences. It’s only about two hours to Philly so after some emails back and forth (and UO releasing an exclusive edition of my existing I LOVE YOU LIKE mug) I came down to hang out for an afternoon.
What was it like learning UO was interested in making a whole line with your work?
It kind of happened in stages, which helped me not freak out. First it was licensing a mug I already produce. Then, it was maybe adding one or two original pieces. It kept growing the more we talked, and then a little more when we met in person. It felt like a true collaboration. Joking together about ideas and me being like "okay so this one is weird, but..." and UO being like, "No, this is awesome, let's do it."
Where did you pull inspiration from for this collection?
This collection fits really well with the same kind of items I’ve been making independently for a few years now. I make lots of separate pieces for my Internet Gift Shop, a project that’s meant to explore value and create tangible pieces from short bursts of emotion. The really nice thing about this collection is that most of these are dream items that I’ve wanted to make, but have been avoiding because of the difficulty of shipping heavy, fragile objects. I pulled from lists of thoughts and feelings, and looked for fun combinations. The ashtray and SUNSHINE mug bring new life to old sentiments that I’ve explored before.
What’s the story behind the ADAMJK UO Text flask?
It’s such a simple visual joke — I just imagine the end of the night when you’re so drunk that you try to order a pizza on your flask. They’re roughly the same size, too. I’ve had this particular idea floating around for a long time, and I almost had these made on my own last year. I’m glad I waited because... I am not a company and I don’t really know what I’m doing. UO did an awesome job on them.
When did you first realize that your work was starting to gain a lot of recognition?
It wasn’t until I created my SORRY I AM SUCH AN ASSHOLE balloons in 2012 that people really started noticing me. They were featured on a lot of blogs over a few months, and people didn’t just like them, they wanted to own them. It was the first time that I sort of jumped from my little tumblr world to the real world, and it really meant a lot to me. Since then, I’ve hit other points along the way where I’ve paused and thought “Wow, this is really happening.” Right before my book came out, I met the artist & educator James Victore, and he basically told me that this impostor syndrome thing isn’t going anywhere.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is a real thing that affects people, and I guess myself to a degree. Just this idea that earned success isn't deserved. It's especially hard because I feel connected to a large network of awesome and creative people, and everyone is working so hard and finding their own successes. Even when I was almost done making the book, I would sit there and think "Why am I the one making this book? This other dude is so much smarter, that girl is so much better at drawing!" It can be hard to step back and remember that yes, other people could have done what you did, but instead, you did. You made this thing that people like, no matter how simple it might be. If it's not obvious, I spend a lot of time inside my own head.
What do you think resonates so strongly with people when they look at your work?
Sometimes, you just like things, and you don’t know why. A thing out there in the world just makes you smile or makes you happy or makes you feel and it’s too late, it already happened. Honesty and authenticity are important, and so is space to interpret and connect. I try to make simple, nice, real things that make me happy, say something I need to see, or tell me something I need to remember... and maybe it helps someone else too. I think a lot of people just see what I am doing and believe it.
Any tips for other artists out there who share their work on the Internet and are looking to reach more people?
I wish! I think I probably seem better at this than I actually am. Which might be the best advice I have. Be yourself. Don’t be “AN ARTIST” or “A BRAND.” Be a person and be honest and let people in on that. I used to have an art blog and a personal blog and a photo blog and it’s like, nobody loves you that much. Just be yourself in one place and let people decide what they think. If they like it, they’ll stick around and maybe tell their friends. Or they won’t. Hopefully you’re doing what you do because you love it anyway.
When you were growing up, what shows/music did you like? Do you think they continue to influence you?
Did you spend a lot of time on the Internet growing up? Any favorite sites you liked to visit? Funny stories?
OH MY GOD, YES. I built crappy websites and played Neopets and had a LiveJournal and more than one MySpace profile and made gifs and was on message boards... I feel like I grew up in this weird sweet spot right before “social media” was really a thing. I learned all these new ways to communicate and use language and images and luckily got past my awkward teen years before too much technology was accessible. I think I would have created a lot more embarrassing, lasting content that would still haunt me today.
If your Myspace profile still existed, what kind of pictures and lyrics would we find on it?
It would be all old episodes of my freshman year radio show and a bunch of Bright Eyes stuff probably. I learned web design teaching myself how to do MySpace layouts and I remember having a very elaborate Conor Oberst design once. But those MySpace layouts led to my first paid freelance gigs, doing profile designs for a bunch of musicians... including Faith Hill? The Internet is so weird.
Do you ever get sick and tired of Internet culture, or is it something that’s always an escape for you?
“Internet culture” isn’t one thing! The Internet is somewhere between a mirror and a megaphone, really. Information and jokes and aesthetics spread fast and then get rehashed and remixed and it’s really cool to be able to see so much of that happen. There are lots of great communities to either be a part of, or more likely, peripherally observe. I get sick of the parts of “internet culture” that I don’t like in real life either. The parts that fuel my insecurity or jealousy. Instagram can be really tough sometimes because of all the filters. The supportive and creative cultures are amazing. I have some awesome friends who I know only because of our overlapping internet circles. It’s so empowering to know that there are people who get you, get what you’re doing, and appreciate it. There is inspiration out there. There are great people who do cool things and it’s fun to watch. Old friends and people I’ve met only once or twice but feel like I know. It’s all about what you choose to let in, and sometimes you do need to reassess. I try to unfollow the stuff that doesn’t make me feel right. If you’re drinking a perfect coffee with perfect toast and perfect clothes while looking perfectly past the camera, then I gotta go. I’m on coffee number two and there are crumbs down my shirt and bags under my eyes. I like nice things, but I can’t see them constantly. Get real or get outta here.
Come out to Space Ninety 8 on April 23rd from 6-9pm for a chance to chat with Adam and check out his full UO collab!
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