By Lola Kelleher
I had the opportunity to have a conversation with artist retro, B, whose work was featured on the cover and interior of Honeysuckle’s most recent issue, ONE. As the founder of creative collective Artists Revolution Movement (ARM), retro, B provides connections to a growing network of talented animators, designers, writers and other visionaries. This New Year’s Eve, some of the minds behind ARM participated in Honeysuckle’s Times Square billboard campaign, joining brand partners in a historic initiative where art, lifestyle, cannabis and hemp brands played in videos there for the first time ever. One prominent location included animated collages designed by retro, B and other ARM artists.
retro, B’s California-based, open, and exuberant, manner shined through once we got started talking art. To find out more about her roots and where her art practice is taking her, read below!
When did you form the artist’s collective ARM?
This is something I’ve been working on for five years. It started out as a living Rolodex of people I garnered over the years that were talented and skilled. I started as a child actor and found my main skill was the ability to find patterns and connections. These people seemed like they would make an impact on art. I am a lifestyle designer and I did this with the people around me, tailor[ing] their life to be a reality rather than a dream. We all believe in the same thing. It’s about elevating people rather than judging. When you look at life that way, it becomes more fulfilling. ARM isn’t just for artists, because everything is part of the movement. I represent cinematographers, artists, designers; we are all doing it for art. Energy is a currency. We pay people for their talents with their time and energy and money later on.
What makes ARM’s movement “Revolutionary?”
ARM is revolutionary because instead of it being about how many likes or followers you have, we are in it for the art. I am giving a platform for people of all art forms to come forward and showcase it. It’s a renaissance of the arts (I was considering using this word instead of revolution). It’s a re-interest in art. People share stuff because they want to get likes. We’re revolutionary because we’re creating not simply for likes. I’m not against social media in any way; it’s just reminding people the true reason why you’re sharing work. When you’re an artist, you want to be appreciated for the beauty of things. We are an instant gratification society; when you cater to what you post, you forget this. ARM is a renaissance. It’s okay to be passionate and it’s okay for people not to agree. We want you to question and experience it. I do social media because I’m passionate about the art.
Your collages often include vintage photography, advertisements, subaquatic, and planetary images often in states of decay or in which the scales are disturbed in a surreal manner. You designed the cover for Honeysuckle Magazine’s ONE. Could you tell me about your intention for the piece?
I’ll tell you a bit about my background. I am a self-taught artist; I never took an art course. I took art history in high school. It’s been an evolving concept. I am person who is concerned with an interesting journey into myself. Retro is a part of it because I am stemmed in the past, recognizing [that] we learn [from it]. I bring pieces that aren’t seemingly poignant, but that allow the viewer the opportunity to find meaning in it, because I found meaning in it.
The cover art: Ronit [Pinto, Honeysuckle’s founder] was referred to me by our mutual colleague Nadya Rousseau of Alter New Media, and Honeysuckle contacted me to collaborate on a piece after they saw my bubble series. We included the people featured in the issue’s cover stories… Honeysuckle always liked to include an homage to the upcoming issue. The black panther is a nod to the next issue on African American culture.
Part of Honeysuckle‘s mission is to nurture the creative spirit, which is why we chose your depiction of a woman (the feminine spirit) breathing life into the Earth. How did this reflect the issue’s theme of sustainability?
When it comes to the environment, we are the key factor. The Earth is in a bubble because we are much like a bubble. If that bubble pops, everything goes with it. You see the black panther and butterflies and everything; it’s very simple in the respect that we don’t know how, we don’t see how much power we hold from inside the bubble. Leonardo DiCaprio is a big contributor to the environment, definitely backs up working on sustainability as ONE. The people involved have deep insight and care for the issue.
How did you come up with the idea to use Times Square billboards as an exhibition space during the New Year’s Eve campaign?
When I was offered to do the advertisement space, I [suggested to] Ronit that we use the middle board to display a lot of advertisers. I got the idea to do a collage showcasing many of Honeysuckle‘s New Year’s Eve brand partners. My brain said this was all going to be art.
I did other adverts—A Pac-Man that eats the world and says “game over” that was on the other side for the collage. There were a bunch of different advertisements that are on the artrevmo.com page. We did all three at the same time because it made sense to have things run together. They are all sociopolitical statements.
What is the scale of your work and how did it feel to have it displayed at such monumental dimensions in Times Square?
It was a learning curve. I am self-taught, so I never did any of this before. First I had to learn how the pixels worked, but I absolutely loved it. I never did anything this big or electronic. It was a whole new adventure. I learned [Adobe] AfterEffects. I’m used to my photo editing software, but it was intoxicatingly difficult and absolutely awesome. Myself and my collaborator got 20 hours of sleep that week. We had to layer that in piece by piece and build it to scale and that took a week. It was cool. It’s all original content, but it was ridiculous.
There is a rich history of feminist artists using Times Square as a platform (Jenny Holzer’s “Messages to the Public,” for example). What was it like to be in conversation with this history of noncommercial art portrayed in the most commercial setting on earth?
The whole idea is I’m an artist and the whole thing is #justart. When I was offered the opportunity to do it, the first thing I wanted to do was to do art. I gathered some of the best people I know. I’ve been in L.A. a long time and have a Rolodex of contacts. I said, “Listen, we are going to do this.” They all had their individual styles as well, but it was purely just for art. There was no question in our minds we would do something different. It was about doing it in a commercial space that in itself was the reason. I wanted to take space and time away from advertisers in that space. You disrupt the media and commercialism for art, which in and of itself is sort of an advertisement, but it has a little bit [of a] deeper meaning to be [considered] purely art.
How has the legalization of cannabis affected your practice?
We legalized it over here [in California]; it’s less of an issue. We had some cannabis and hemp companies represented in the collage. I heard how the people putting it on the billboards had a huge backlash that we did not expect [though it eventually became a milestone when they changed policies to do so]. We were all blown away. That was a little roller coaster because they were representing so many. Ronit had to fight to get this shown.
As Californians, we have accepted it as medicine, but the reaction in New York was very interesting. [Legalization] hasn’t affected my art [but cannabis] might make my art more creative at times. I’m definitely an advocate for it. I am an epileptic and CBD was given to me to regain my normal life, if you will. I make art that has cannabis references. I’m definitely pro-cannabis. Obviously I’m a proponent. We had Happy Munkey [and other brands] in the campaign and I hope this opens the door for New York. People were paying attention.
What’s it like making art during the Trump Era?
Adversity in any situation, as an introspective person, has brought to my attention things they need to see. For example, in the Industrial and the Pac-Man pieces I make [serve as] a retro reference to garner attention. Even Honeysuckle Magazine connects the seemingly unconnected, which becomes poignant. I use things that people see consistently and can relate to and during times of adversity where people are choosing sides, there is something that unites us all and that is our power as a group. And the opportunity—showing people that we are the agents of change—is what my art is there to do. Change stays with you and [inspires] recognizing and practicing everyday to be better.
Where do you source your imagery for your collages? Who do you go to for inspiration?
That ranges. I love going into old National Geographic or Life magazines. Sometimes I get random pairs of ideas. The whole world is filled with connections. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s sometimes annoying to others because I find connections in everything. Everything is art to me. Even the splatter on the ground from water, I’m like, “Oh my God, do you see the dinosaur in this?” So I’ll take a picture.
I want to create the world I see that people don’t know exist, but is right in front of them. I pull info from everywhere; people sometimes send me photos on Instagram to contribute to what I do, so you can say every single moment, even when I’m sleeping.
There’s like this 100-year-old newspaper from a giant book as big as my upper torso. It has all these news stories and advertisements. I started there. My friend found a suitcase on Sunset Boulevard with vintage photographs [inside]. A lot of pieces are retro pieces that I hate to cut out of their original source. I have a deep sense of love for things. They come from a variety of pieces, but they’re all very old. I did a project a while ago for a Christmas thing from old Sears catalogues. It’s an adventure into the retro realm.
For inspiration, I’m going to give you two to three people I am collaborating with. One is Desha Stewart, who did collage and animation and is extremely talented. I got inspiration from this underground artist. Another is Shane Kirby, the owner of HRTBRK studios. ARM houses more than just artists; this studio facilitates content and helps tailor the other artists’ dreams. Scott Longnecker created ART the AI in my “You don’t read anyways” advertisement—which is aimed at bringing people’s attention to the latest trend of AI and its continual growth and questions what AI can do in and where is it going next. He’s a creative individual who has many ideas and I’m super excited to be working with him. Ronit challenges me and helps me grow. Shout out to Honeysuckle!
What are you working on right now?
ARM: Next month we are coming out with an art show, a music video, and on top of that, in two months we are releasing a documentary. We have a lot of things coming up. Everyone involved in the New York campaign is going to be equally involved in all these things to come.
The music video is for me, retro, B. I have a background in acting, but I found my soul in music and took two years off to do art and music. This is my fifth music video [and] my first huge soundstage and first collab with all of the artists and doing something very collage and pop art.
The documentary was started two-and-a-half to three years ago. I went out to Utah; I met my dad for the first time basically and made a documentary with him, for which I am now finishing the editing. And we’re adding animation. No documentary has done what we just did. It’s the Tarantino of documentaries and I don’t want to release too much info about that.
See retro, B’s next exhibition in REFLECT, presented by RAW Hollywood, on February 27th, 6:30PM PST at Boulevard 3 in Los Angeles. Buy tickets here.
Lola Kelleher was born in New York City; from a young age she discovered art and writing as means of expression. Studying at ICP and Cooper Union as an adolescent, she then earned her Bachelor’s degree at Barnard College with a degree in Art History and a minor in Psychology. She continues to live in New York and enjoys underground music, contemporary art, and critical theory.