There are skulls, and there are Rx skulls.
Portland street artist Arrex, or Rx Skulls, is known best for his stickers. After five years in the street art scene, he has created hundreds of variations of his original skull design – in an Rx sticker pack you will find an insane variety of skulls: solid black, textured, collaborations with artists from around the globe, in a diverse assortment of colors and sizes. A self confessed ‘squeegee head’, his vinyl skulls are all screen printed and hand cut in the Rx laboratory – high quality, hand made jams that have appeared all over the world.
Arrex took a break from printing and cutting vinyl to answer a few questions…
UCC: When did you start putting work up in the street, and what attracted you to move towards street art?
RX: I had been drawn to street art even before I knew what it was.
Art projects I completed in college were often out in the public space, ‘culture jamming’ as Ron English would say.
I love to travel so I would always photograph graff and street art almost instinctively. When I returned from a 2 month long backpacking trip across Europe in 2009, with thousands of street art photos, I started realizing that my home city of Portland was not without street art itself.
I starting noticing it in my own neighborhood, and at that point it clicked in my head that this art form was accessible – it was not just for a certain group of individuals. I desperately wanted in.
UCC: The skull is a widely used motif, yet the Rx skull, in all its variations, is still quite distinct. What lead you to choose the skull? What went into the initial process of creating the Rx skull, and were you mindful of making it unique?
RX: My day job is in graphic design – so that naturally seeped into my street art project subconsciously.
Branding is something I really enjoy, the cleanliness, quickly identifiable, and consistency of it all. That’s what makes my project easily recognized even though I’ve chosen possibly the most overused icon in popular culture.
While studying abroad in England, I visited the Natural History Museum. Like always, I had my camera and was snapping photos of anything and everything. I photographed this really beautiful skull in a glass display about evolution. This skull was the most evolved of the set. It has a really great gritty texture and gorgeous decayed teeth. I snapped one photo and even through the glass it came out crystal clear.
At this time in my design studies I would use photographs a lot as the basis of my illustrations – I would trace from a photo and then elaborate via Photoshop or Illustrator. Back at school I started using this skull more and more frequently.
When I graduated and returned from my European trip, I was inspired to create my own street art. When I thought about what image to use, the skull was what I naturally gravitated towards. It may have been an experiment to see if I could even screen print stickers – I doubt I knew it would point the direction of my artistic career for the rest of my life at that stage.
After those first few runs of skull stickers it became a fun challenge – how can I keep producing this same skull over and over and over and maintain this consistency of branding while still keeping things fresh and new? That’s the challenge I accepted and have been working on since 2010. Block printing this original skull photo and then screen printing that scanned block print was how I got the original skull style I use today – though it took about a year before I landed on the crazy eyes design that defines my project.
UCC: You work in many mediums but focus on stickers – why?
RX: I’ve always loved stickers. I collected them as a child. I covered my walls with them, my notebooks, my skateboards. When I got into street art there were these choices – spray paint, stencils, hand drawns, digital… I had already been screen printing t-shirts for some time, and I always loved stickers, so it was an easy decision to choose stickers.
I love that I can have hundreds of them ready to go right there in my pocket- no paste needed, no brush, no cans of paint. I make them from scratch so I’m able to give them away to people I meet as well, which is so fun – because everyone adores stickers for some reason. I love also how it changes the way you look at the city – street artists see the world much differently than the rest.
UCC: You also seem to be a die-hard squeegee fan – of all the methods of making stickers, why this one?
RX: Screen printing is the most cost efficient, weather resistant and time efficient way to make stickers. They are clean, professional, and handmade which I take a lot of pride in. I love that I control every step of the process from idea to physical piece of art. I spend my days staring at a computer screen, so it’s essential to my mental health that when I come home from my cubicle that I get my hands dirty in the studio.
UCC: I heard that you once printed stickers with your own blood- what was the motivation behind that?
RX: I was having my first big art show in Portland – a show with Nate Luna, a very good tattooer and painter. I knew I needed to bring my A-game. I also knew that most people were getting really apathetic about art shows. They’d rather sit at home and see photos of it online later than spend the time and effort to make it over to the gallery. I needed something to get people to come to my show so I decided to give away 80 sticker packs to the first 80 visitors. This still wasn’t enough – people could always come to the show later and buy a pack for a dollar. I decided at that point to screen print these 80 stickers with my blood – make it something so obscure, ridiculous and unique, that you would just have to come to the show to get a pack. It worked.
UCC: You did a really big installation at Threadless HQ in Chicago – How was this different to putting up work in the street? Would you ever consider putting you work solely in this sort of context?
RX: It was awesome. So many graff writers and street artists will tell you that it’s all about the adrenaline rush, it’s about saying “FUCK YOU” to “the man”. I completely disagree. My art is not anti establishment and I hate adrenaline rushes. I loved doing a huge installation that I could take my time with. I’d never done something that large before so it took a lot of time and planning. It took over 12 hours to install fully. I really hope to do more installations like that in the near future.
UCC: Do you have a specific message or purpose behind your art, something you want people to think about/ feel when they see your works?
RX: Yes and no. One of the reasons I chose the skull for my street art project, that I haven’t mentioned, is my fascination and fear of death. In the span of two years four of my family members were diagnosed with cancer, one died from a fall, and I had a brain tumor removed. These skulls have always served as a sort of “memento mori” for me – that’s Latin for “remember death”. It’s a very morbid “carpe diem” of sorts.
I would like to think people can see that in my work but I doubt it. I have a lot of fun with them so I don’t think that shines through. One of my favorite things is making fun of hipsters with my skulls – which should be quite evident, and is also ironic because I think most people would say I am a hipster… ha ha.
UCC: Have you ever had any run-ins with the law?
RX: No. *Knocks on wood*
I have been yelled at and chased many times however. Once I was grabbed by the neck and thrown out of a pub.
RX: Personally I think that public space is just that – public.
We all pay taxes for metal signs to be erected, and for electrical boxes to be installed. These items are ugly and boring. The exterior of an electrical box is useless – the back of a street sign serves literally no purpose. To decorate these public items should be completely legal.
I do not believe, however, that graffiti writers or street artists should get up on private property – that’s not your property, and who’s to say they want your skull or tagged name on their building?
UCC: Thank you so much for your time!