We sat down with Nil Ultra, the artist behind our latest OBEY Artist Series collection for Spring 17, to talk about his career and the work he created for the series. Read more below.
Name and where are you from?
Working under the name Nil Ultra. Living in Los Angeles.
Tell us how you got interested in art and design.
I’ve been drawing since I as a kid and always had an interest in design even before it was defined to me in my later teens when I discovered it was something I was passionate enough about to pursue as a trade.
When did you know you wanted it to be more than something you just did for fun?
Commercial art class in high school.
Tell us a bit about your journey through the professional design world.
It’s been wild. From magazines to agency work to freelance to apparel, I’ve been very lucky and had the pleasure of working for some heavy hitters and learned so much. Mac James, who was my mentor early on, had the most effect on me. He worked under Bob Cato at Columbia records and shared so many things that Bob taught him. It was while living in New York and seeing how Mac and Bob were so prolific that inspired me to have little to no limitation on creative pursuits.
For a good portion of your career you were a freelance designer. Does that have an effect on the way you approach your design?
Yes. You can make it good or you can make it yours. Through freelance I learned to not be attached to anything in particular and create quality work and enough of it that I’d be proud with anything the client ends up choosing.
A lot of the work I’ve seen from you revolves around collage. What drew you to that medium?
Collage combines design, illustration, exploration, and patience. It’s a medium that I find the most pleasure in due to the endless directions one can go and interests one can have. There’s a design sensibility and illustrative skill in good collage and asemblage that drew me to the medium. Rauschenberg, Ray Johnson, the Dadaists, and the work of Gee Vaucher and Winston Smith on the punk albums of my youth were all early influences.
With collage, your source material is so crucial. Do you have a process to compile the fragments with which you work?
Some elements end up on the studio wall or a metal document box I carry awaiting their counterparts, although most compiling is in my head.
You did three designs for your artist series. Can you tell us about those pieces?
As with all my work, they are pieces built from vintage magazines and ephemera. All three are works I saw in my head and hunted down the appropriate images to use. They’re all simple ideas: god smoking weed, a hand struggling to break through a wall, and America actin’ a fool. Sure there’s metaphors and messages in there but really I just wanted to make the images. The purpose materializes as the pieces do.