Exclusive: Interview with Kirk Demarais of the Secret Fun Spot

The Griswolds, image credit: Kirk Demarais
The Griswolds, image credit: Kirk Demarais

Click to view a slideshow of Kirk’s work>>

A series of dreams-come-true strung together; that’s the best way to describe the rising career of Kirk Demarais: artist, filmmaker, designer, collector extraordinaire, and the man behind Secret Fun Spot. Demarais began studying art with a few courses in college at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. A factory job post-college convinced him to pursue an artistic career, and he landed a gig designing animated e-cards as a creative for DaySpring Cards, a division of Hallmark. Determined to apply the skills from his day job to his recreational interests, Demarais created a website to showcase his vintage pop culture collections of toys, graphics, and mail-order catalogs.

One thing led to another; a cartoon Demarais created about a boy shopping in a vintage catalog led to a short film called Flip; Flip led to Foot, a short cartoon made in collaboration with Funko, and a gig doing graphic design for the SS Adams Prank and Magic company. The design gig led to a book deal to commemorate SS Adams’ 100 year anniversary, a project that Demarais, a life long collector of SS Adams products, describes as “a dream come true.”

In 2007 Demarais spotted a show of work from 100 artists, paying tribute to cult films called Crazy 4 Cult, at Gallery 1988 in LA. For Demarais, the show represented a merging of his interests in film, drawing, and pop culture. Below Demarais reveals to Flavorpill how he eventually landed a spot in the show, and shares thoughts on his work and art in general.

Flavorpill: You were pretty impressed with the first Crazy 4 Cult show. How did you eventually get your work in it?

Kirk Demarais: I admired Crazy 4 Cult so much, and wished I could have been a part of it to the point that looking at the show was almost painful. I love creating stuff; I did illustration in college and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do more of. I also have a love of films, and the films that were covered included some of my favorites. It was one of those things where I thought, “Oh man, it would kind of be the ultimate dream to have any part of this.” A year later I saw a post online saying that it was going to be an annual show, and that there would be another one in 2008. I thought, “Oh wow, I need to try to get in this somehow.” I figured it was probably too late to get in for 2008, but I loved the concept so much that I had to just give it a shot.

I started thinking about what I could do to get in. I was talking to my wife, and she reminded me of a family portrait we had seen the week before at a sale. Then and there the concept just hit: what if I were to take the family portrait idea and apply it to cult films? The first film I had in mind was Fargo. And then I thought, “Oh man, the The Shining, what about The Shining?!” And so, just of my own accord I used colored pencils and did the best I could to semi-realistically depict what the families in these films might have looked like if they had just gone to Sears and taken a family portrait on the weekend.

I was going to email the pictures to the gallery curator Jensen Carp, and then it occurred to me that I was going to Comic-Con, and everyone else in the world seems to go to Comic-Con, and that maybe Jensen would be there. I checked out his blog, and he said that he was planning on attending. He even mentioned a specific booth at 4 p.m. on Thursday to help a buddy of his. I put my art in my backpack and went to Comic-Con. Jensen had never seen me before, knew nothing about me. I had to get on Flickr to see what he looked like. I just decided that I was going to meet him there. Sure enough, he was there just as he had said. It took me over an hour to get the guts to walk up to him, pull my art out of my backpack, and show him what I’d done. He looked at my work and said “Oh you’re in, you’re in.” It was this incredible dream come true.

That was July of last year. I was in the Crazy 4 Cult show that August. They had it again this year, and he asked me if I’d like to contribute again, so I came up with four more film families. They went over really well and this past week I’ve gotten a lot of attention for them.

FP: A retro aesthetic is a common thread in all of your work. What’s the allure for you?

KD: I was born in 1973 and I remember liking vintage stuff even when I was 5 and 6 years old. I remember going to Las Vegas when I was little, appreciating the wacky lettering on the neon signs; they were great examples of the type choices they would make in the middle of the century — the ’50s and the ’60s. There was something about the clean lines and the optimistic feel that the design had back then, whether it be the furniture or the advertising, or any of that stuff. Even as a kid I was just drawn to it, and I can’t fully explain it. I don’t remember ever discovering it; it’s something I’ve always known that I like. I didn’t start trying to find stuff and collecting until I was in college and I had a little income. I still love it, and I can’t really put a finger on why.

FP: Films have become such a significant part of your work, especially the most recent stuff. Can you talk a bit about that?

KD: The other common thread of my work is popular culture, and just art in general. I’m interested in almost all art forms, be it design or fine art or music or filmmaking. Especially filmmaking because it combines so many of the other elements, from the sets, to the music, to the storytelling. It all culminates in film, and film has always been a tremendous interest of mine. It has always been there. I guess you could point it back to Star Wars, and even before that Mary Poppins and the Disney movies.

FP: Why did you become so interested in pop culture?

KD: Probably because there weren’t many cultures available to me growing up. I grew up in a small Arkansas town. There was the culture that was right outside the door which was fine, but not super appealing, especially to a kid, and then there was the culture that I saw on the 13 television channels that we got. I watched way too much TV growing up. I don’t get TV now; I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time, but I am obviously heavily influenced by what I saw growing up. We got HBO when I was a teenager. I had it in my bedroom, and I would watch anything and everything. That’s probably when my love for film deepened.

FP: What do you think the relationship between pop culture, cartoons, and vintage culture is?

KD: Cartoons seem to be a common interest for a lot of artists, and also vintage stuff. It seems like four out of five creatives I meet are going to have toys on their desk, and some appreciation for mid-century culture. The only logic I can figure is that cartoons are one of the first art forms that we’re exposed to as kids. Cartoons are drawings come to life, and a lot of artists are able to hang on to childhood more than other adults do, so cartoons remain accessible. Cartoons seem to be in a lot of artists’ subconscious.

FP: Has your work with vintage culture influenced the modern cartoon work you’ve done?

KD: Absolutely, even the Crazy 4 Cult stuff, it has a kind of cartoonish feel to it that reminds me of the Wacky Packages stickers I collected as a kid.

FP: Are you familiar with the controversy around Shepard Fairey’s work? You do a lot of referencing of images created by other people in your work. Do you see Fairey’s case affecting your own work?

KD: Yes, I’ve been following Fairey’s case pretty closely. Indeed I do a lot of referencing from other works, especially in this recent batch of stuff. I’ve been pretty oblivious as far as thinking in those terms. Maybe I should be more careful. Maybe his situation should be more of a cautionary thing for the rest of the art community, but I remain hopeful.

FP: Have you seen the website Awkward Family Photos?

KD: Yes, it’s great. I used that site as reference for backgrounds. The other site I used was a site called Sexy People. Both of those sites are awesome, and were definitely influential in this project.

FP: What’s next?

KD: There are some opportunities that popped up this week, and a couple of other things that haven’t been finalized yet. I’m going to be doing more family portraits, and I started writing for the novelty shop and supplier, Archie McFee. They’re about to launch a website called Monkeygoggles.com.

FP: If you could be any fictitious character who would you be?

KD: Now that’s a tough question. It would definitely be a character that exists in the past, because it would be my way of time traveling. I was just thinking today about the show Mad Men. I was thinking it would be cool if they happened to come into contact with a joke shop from the ’60s in New York City. So, maybe I’d become a character in Mad Men just long enough to walk downstairs, out of the agency, and down the street to see an old novelty shop.