22 Jan
The inexplicable beauty of hideous monsters

When I first saw Joshua Ben Longo’s creations I knew I’d stumbled across a little bit of pixie dust. I can’t totally explain it, but his monstrous creations just resonate with me from a distant place reserved for childhood wonders — stuff like comic books, monsters both repulsive and whimsical, sci-fi flicks and, yes, stuffed animals. So it’s really not surprising that after interviewing Joshua I realized that the inspiration and bizarre well from which these creatures spring is a deep underwater reservoir fed by all the above. Whether its his obsession with the Hulk, Cobra Commander and Muppets, or the compulsive hours spent creating a deceased monster with spilled entrails, you realize its just great to see someone so utterly devoted to something so intrinsically innocent…even if the innocent wear hideous, sphincter-shapedf masks…

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about your background.
I grew in Northeastern New Jersey, USA. I was about twenty minutes from Manhattan. You pronounce it “NUe-Herrrrzee”. My father has a grand Italian nose and moustache and spends his time playing the mandolin in the garden. My mother is the most encouraging supportive person who you will ever meet. When I start a new job the first thing she always asks is “Does everyone think Joshy is handsome and special?”. I was voted best smile in my high school yearbook. I used to play in a black metal band. I grated expensive cheese, at least a thousand pounds, for a summer job during college.

What’s your first memory of monsters? Is it a warm, positive memory or a frightening one?
The first real memory of monsters was a nightmare I had when I was very young. The nightmare goes something like this: We were having dinner at my parents when a burglar came in and forced raw eggs down my grandmother’s throat. They started to protrude through her throat. I must have been five or six.

Why do you think they’ve influenced your art so profoundly?
My mother loved Alfred Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone, and old horror and science fiction films. I grew up watching cartoons, reading comics, and imagining myself as a muppet. The fantastic and absurd were encouraged in my house. I also have a brother very close in age. When we were young and made up games I would always be the “Bad Guy”, not by choice, but because he was older.

Do you think always playing the bad guy has made you empathize with the monster within?
I think my experience playing the bad guy was more about my brother controlling the situation as older siblings do. My associations with “good” guys or “bad” guys as a child were limited to: Good guys don’t look as cool and wear bad outfits. They had normal haircuts and glossy attributes. Bad guys have a much better fashion sense and were crazy looking. GI Joe was a perfect example. You had Duke, blond, blue eyed, good ol’ boy and then you had Cobra Commander, serious outfit, a variety of awesome masks to hide his disfigured face.

Hit the Jump to see 4 more galleries of Joshua’s creations, a behind-the-curtain peek into his work studio, some drawings of the Hulk his mom made him, and just to continue reading one of our favorite interviews ever…

“I am sure I am not the first artist to do so, but I feel pretty good to be one of the few who put an asshole on the face of a stuffed animal.”

Was Where the Wild Things Are a childhood favorite, and/or a present-day influence?
I love that book, but I was more a Shel Silverstein and Dr.Seuss fan. I love what they did with the movie. I am just disappointed I didn’t get to work on it.

Can you tell me the inspiration for the Little White Three? What was the “ah-ha!” moment in which you invented it?
The idea was born after seeing a children’s store window filled with undressed child mannequins. They must have been in-between dressing. It was very uncomfortable. I wanted to make bigger pieces, something people could respond to differently than the stuffed animals. Like a scene freeze-framed on a playground. They were created with the intention of feeling the same emotions if you were to see children playing, but…… as you got closer …slight discomfort, euphoria……When I finished sewing the toes I felt the “ah-ha” moment. The toes are just sooooooo small.

And the Big Monster? Any influence from that Tauntaun scene from Empire Strikes Back?
I was actually thinking of a desert scene with little flying man vultures circling above. I eventually decided not to add them, because I wanted to add a little mystery to as why the monster was dead.

Big Monster

A Dictat on Ettiquette: Explain how you came up with this thing, and what does your girlfriend think of it?
This monster was actually two pieces when I first created it. A smaller monster lived inside the mouth of the larger monster. A symbiotic parasitic relationship of sorts. This is how my girlfriend remembers this piece, two friends, not a giant asshole with teeth. I don’t think she would have liked it if started the way it ended up. When photographed, the piece was just stronger visually without the small monster insert. I am sure I am not the first artist to do so, but I feel pretty good to be one of the few who put an asshole on the face of a stuffed animal.

A Dictat on Ettiquette’s duo-holed creation


Do you sew all your creations? It seems your sewing skills must be almost as good as your design skills.
Almost…..I would say just as or better. I sew everything myself. When the workload gets very heavy I bring in interns or ask my girlfriend for help. I started sewing when I was 13. I started hand sewing my own bondage pants when I was in high school. I bought my first machine in college. My girlfriend and I now own two modern tabletop Singers, a console Singer from the sixties, an industrial Singer from the twenties, and a five thread Juki serger. We take it very seriously.

What’s up with the Hulk? Are you aware that the first appearance of Wolverine was when he fought the Hulk?
The Hulk was my first and favorite hero. I would make my mother draw him over and over and over. Green body. Purple pants. What else could you ask for. Pure unadulterated rage, something I rarely if ever experience and don’t understand, but magical. Oh….I am very aware of Wolverine’s first appearance. Personally I think Hulk could take Wolverine any day.

That’s pretty much a no brainer. Did you ever read that What If? issue where they posit the question, What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?
What If? was a great series! I have never seen it and wish you never brought it up.

The Hulk series, including handmade macrame (the last 3 are original Mrs. Longo creations — don’t you wish your mom drew you Hulks as a kid?)

Some of your monsters are adorable, and some are absolutely hideous — even if they still retain “cute” elements like being furry. Is there a process to deciding when to go cute and when to go repulsive?
I never want the pieces to be too cute or too hideous. I always want some twisted in-between expression that makes them endearing and frightening. For me the extremes seem too obvious.

Why is your dog, Sir Orold of Lexington, so rad? And what’s up with the name?
You just have to meet him in person. He is the most handsome behaved dog you will ever meet. He makes hearts melt when he sneezes. Sir Orold was his name when I adopted him. He was a year old. Moose is the most common name we call him these days. He has many names……Macho, Muchacho, Toodles, Choodles, Pachooki, the list goes on.

How’d you get your start in designing? What’s the first thing you remember doodling that could be deemed “design”?
I went to Pratt Institute for Computer Graphics and switched to Industrial Design after the Foundation year of drawing, painting, and building. I didn’t really understand what it was, but I enjoyed working with my hands. The first design doodle was either awful or genius. Either way I don’t remember.

What got you into manifesting your vision through fur and plastic teeth?
I didn’t want to put eyes on my creatures. People have a tendency to go straight to the face and then to the eyes. I wanted the viewer to experience the expression through the form and gesture. The face needed a visual detail as did the rear end. The fur sends most people back to their childhood. I think most of my pieces do. Hopefully a strange inherent emotion surges and mixes with your current associations of fur and creates a lovely emotional cocktail Frank Sinatra would approve of.

Who are your design heroes?
Vivienne Westwood, Jim Henson, Phillip Glass, Lee Bontecou, Tim Hawkinson, Charles and Ray Eames, Gene Kelly, Eva Ziesel, Brancusi, Noghuci, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kubrick, Tony Robbins, David Bryne, Freddie Mercury, Willie Nelson, Murakami, Brian Froud, Rembrandt, Salvatore Dali, Walt Disney, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Yan can cook…….Designer: one who creates an experience.

How do you overcome creative block?
As a teacher and as a result of my educational background I have an arsenal of brain laxatives…I draw from life, watch old cartoons, work with my opposite hand, make a mess and then try and fix it, Abstract three dimensional sketching (like sketching with a pencil but with objects in space)…I love deadlines.

“Hopefully a strange inherent emotion surges and mixes with your current associations of fur and creates a lovely emotional cocktail Frank Sinatra would approve of.”

Proudest professional achievement?
I have had a solo show at a museum, the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. I was flown to France as part of the Nouveaux Monstres exhibit outside of Paris. I have designed products for companies that have been in stores across America. I am steps away from making a living off of what I love, but what I am most proud of is getting to teach 3D Design and Drawing through the Industrial Design program at Pratt Institute.

What’s the most interesting example of design work you’ve seen over the last year?
Be it industrial, fashion, product, packaging, etc. I hate to admit it, but I just bought a new 27” iMac and it has changed my life. I was working on a G4 from the nineties until recently.

If you were lost in a supermarket, in what aisle would we find you in?
My girlfriend responds “When I lose you in a store, you are either looking at toys or smelling cheese.”

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