Final month on the Columbarium funeral house in San Francisco, mourners gathered for the artist Frank Kozik, who died not too long ago at 61.
The copper-domed rotunda on Loraine Court docket was crammed with bikers and musicians from the Bay Space, together with artists who took half within the Lowbrow motion, the California pop surrealism scene from which Mr. Kozik emerged in his 30s. Some friends wore flannel shirts and leather-based jackets. One man with silver hair wore a Hells Angels vest.
Within the Nineteen Nineties, Mr. Kozik attained underground fame along with his Day-Glo silk-screen live performance posters for Nirvana, Pearl Jam, 9 Inch Nails and different bands, shaping the visible language for the grunge and different rock actions. Within the early 2000s, alongside artists like KAWS and Futura 2000, he was a pioneer within the artwork toy boom, producing tons of of mischievous animal collectible figurines that grew to become coveted by collectors.
Mr. Kozik’s best-known creation, a cigarette-puffing rabbit character referred to as Labbit, is among the most recognizable vinyl designer toys ever made. He launched a lot of his creations with Kidrobot, a retailer that launched artwork toys to the mainstream via collaborations with the band Gorillaz, the designer Marc Jacobs and the Museum of Trendy Artwork. Exterior Kidrobot shops, there have been typically traces for Mr. Kozik’s newest drops, predating immediately’s hypebeast culture.
As Mr. Kozik’s mates stood as much as learn tributes, a display screen displayed his posters for Soundgarden and Sonic Youth, in addition to photos of his toys, like a Labbit branded with the anarchist image. A rendition of his 1993 Nirvana poster, depicting two youngsters operating throughout a area to hug an antennaed creature with bug eyes, accompanied this system.
At a gathering open to the general public later that night, Mr. Kozik’s followers would have the possibility to mourn his death, however this ceremony was stored intimate. Sharon Kozik, his spouse and enterprise supervisor, watched whereas a pal learn the eulogy Ms. Kozik had written.
“Frank constructed his life by making his personal selections,” it stated. “Tragically, for causes I don’t know or perceive, he determined to finish his life on his personal phrases.”
Mr. Kozik died by suicide at his house on Might 6.
“I do know all of us need causes, however it’s not that easy,” Ms. Kozik stated in an interview per week after the service. “There was Kozik, after which there was Frank.”
“Whenever you have a look at his work,” she continued, “it’s humorous, however it’s additionally darkish and daring, and that’s how he was as an individual. So far as his loss of life, all I’ve to say is what was in my eulogy, which is that I don’t perceive it. However I believe it’s all proper there in his work.”
Deconstructing Pop Tradition
For 40 years, Mr. Kozik plucked imagery from American popular culture and twisted it into the playfully violent visuals that grew to become his signature.
As an example a double invoice for Stone Temple Pilots and Butthole Surfers, for instance, he depicted a cherubic schoolgirl holding a bloody cleaver and a platter topped with Jerry Garcia’s severed head. He as soon as designed a Labbit suited up in leather-based bondage gear, its mouth zipped shut. He used recurring motifs like Charles Manson’s mug shot, voluptuous satan ladies and a hard-living, unshaven Fred Flintstone.
“All I do is eat the mountain of pap that surrounds us,” Mr. Kozik as soon as wrote, “and extrude it in what I believe is a extra palatable kind.”
Since his loss of life, a few of Mr. Kozik’s followers have been dismayed that his legacy hasn’t been acknowledged extra prominently by the artwork world, particularly on the East Coast, the place a lot of its gatekeepers lie. But when the artwork group’s response has been muted, that has solely solidified Mr. Kozik’s fame as a roguish outsider.
“Kozik was a punk rock Warhol,” stated the artist Shepard Fairey. “He was all about subverting tradition. However whereas Warhol was hanging out with the Rolling Stones and the attractive folks, Frank was listening to Black Sabbath and chain-smoking and never making mates. Even his most well-known character, Labbit, it would look cute, however it’s about subverting tradition. Kozik noticed his work as a Trojan Horse to seize folks’s consideration earlier than reminding them that every one is just not excellent in paradise.”
“He wasn’t good at sucking as much as the institution,” Mr. Fairey continued. “The artists who enter artwork historical past are ceaselessly the folks sucking as much as the individuals who write artwork historical past. I’d like that my work be remembered, so I’m prepared to play the sport to a level, however Kozik didn’t have endurance for that. To listen to he’s now been unsung, I believe, is one thing he’d have enjoyable being bitter about.”
As Mr. Kozik instructed it in interviews, his penchant for defiance might be traced to his youth.
Born in 1962, he was raised in Madrid throughout Francisco Franco’s dictatorial regime. His father was an American serviceman, his mom a Spanish aristocrat. After they divorced, he grew up along with his mom’s household, which he as soon as described as a “bizarre, rich, super-old-fashioned family of fascists.” When he visited his father in California, he was tantalized by American popular culture, so he moved to reside with him when he was a youngster.
Within the suburbs of Sacramento, Mr. Kozik embraced the slackerish counterculture of the Nineteen Seventies, holing up in his bed room listening to Pink Floyd whereas studying comics like Heavy Steel. After a falling out along with his father, who struggled with alcoholism, he dropped out of highschool and fled his house. He joined the Air Power at 18 and was stationed at a army base close to Austin, Texas. It was there, within the metropolis’s punk scene, that Mr. Kozik discovered his calling.
After his army service, he labored in development by day and immersed himself in venues like Membership Foot and Cannibal Membership at evening. He tried becoming a member of a band however realized that he was a hopeless musician, so he began making fliers with a Xerox machine for native teams like Scratch Acid and Butthole Surfers.
He stapled his fliers to phone posts round city, and other people quickly started to note the scrawl at their backside: “Kozik.” His legend grew when he made a copyright-defiling mural for a membership referred to as Emo’s: It depicted the Flinstone household and their pet, Dino, engaged in X-rated acts.
“I used to be a part of the trash world,” Mr. Kozik stated in a 2018 interview. “I used to be a no-education loser particular person and was positively into hedonistic experiences. Whereas I’ve an appreciation of tremendous artwork and I perceive it, I used to be going to punk rock exhibits, not faculty nor museums. All the stuff that actually turned my crank was that stuff.”
“Watch out what you want for,” he added. “Punk has knowledgeable every thing, from low to excessive, in that every thing is now atavistic. And that’s utterly regular to the purpose the place punk itself is the least fascinating factor ever. It gained, that darkish aspect, the hedonism and anti-intellectual. ”
When Mr. Kozik started producing his large silk-screen posters, he began receiving commissions from bands passing via Austin, together with Purple Sizzling Chili Peppers and Neil Younger. Rolling Stone printed an article crediting him with reviving rock live performance posters as an American artwork kind. He additionally directed the music video for Soundgarden’s “Pretty Noose” and designed the artwork for “Americana,” an Offspring album.
“It’s not an overstatement to say Kozik created the period’s visible language,” stated Josh Homme, the frontman of Queens of the Stone Age. “In case you have been in an alternate band on the time, you needed a poster by Kozik, as a result of it was its personal stamp of approval into the scene. And in case your band was horrible, you weren’t going to get one.”
By the mid-Nineteen Nineties, Mr. Kozik had moved to San Francisco and pivoted to indie document mogul, founding Man’s Ruins Information, which put out some 200 albums, singles and EP’s by bands together with Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Melvins and Excessive on Hearth. Mr. Kozik created the art work for the label’s releases. Man’s Ruins Information additionally had its personal poster printing operation, and its warehouse headquarters grew to become a hangout for the Lowbrow group.
He discovered it on journeys to Tokyo, the place the artwork toy movement was taking form. A punk streetwear model, Bounty Hunter, was distributing a limited-edition figurine of a boy sporting a cranium and crossbones sailor cap, and youngsters have been lining up outdoors its store within the Harajuku district to get one. A toy firm, Medicom, was additionally producing a plastic teddy bear with a paunch stomach. Drawn to the medium’s potentialities, Mr. Kozik sketched Labbit at an izakaya one evening, intending it as a play on Howdy Kitty.
“The preliminary idea for the Labbit is he’s who Kitty booty calls at 3 a.m.,” Mr. Kozik said. “He’s unemployed, he’s soiled, he’s nasty, however he’s sort of sizzling.”
At its peak Kidrobot had shops in London, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Manhattan. It collaborated on collectible figurines with Snoop Dogg and MF Doom. Crossing into fashion, it launched a set of toys that wore designs by Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten and Rick Owens, and Barneys New York offered a line of its sneakers and hoodies. However after Mr. Budnitz left the corporate, the model’s edge dulled, and most of its shops closed a number of years later.
Mr. Kozik was then appointed Kidrobot’s inventive director, but the scene was already transitioning into its subsequent iteration. Because the tremendous artwork world embraced the work of designers like KAWS, Mr. Kozik grew to become a celeb at conventions like DesignerCon and Comedian Con. Collectors typically cornered him to autograph their toys, and younger artists sought his mentorship.
Ron English, a pop artist and toymaker known for his nightmarish Ronald McDonald figurine, thought of Mr. Kozik’s legacy. “He’s the man who was at all times there first,” he stated. “He’s the man who paved the freeway so a KAWS may run down it.”
The Final Interview
As Mr. Kozik entered his 50s, he discovered himself in a fast-changing San Francisco. He lived in the identical rent-controlled condo that he’d moved into within the Nineteen Nineties and spent his working hours in a studio above a motorcycle restore store with the corporate of his Bengal cat, Eddie. He took on occasional poster jobs for bands like Primus and Blink-182, though designing toys remained his precedence. He additionally grew to become engrossed with NFTs, adapting Labbits into digital fashions.
After marrying a photographer, Sharon Selden, in 2009, a few of his tough edges softened. “He’d developed his persona through the years, however he didn’t must be Kozik with me,” she stated. “He lightened up. I took him to a sugar egg making class. And he did one thing he as soon as stated he’d by no means do, which was come to Disneyland with me.”
However to his followers, Mr. Kozik’s punk stature loomed massive, and he was characteristically stoic one afternoon in March when he sat at an arts heart in Haight-Ashbury for what can be his final interview.
Sporting a black fleece with its sleeves rolled up, his forearm tattoos of sparrows carrying skulls seen, he talked with a Belgian filmmaker, Olivier Piérart, who’s engaged on a documentary concerning the tradition of rock live performance poster design.
Within the interview footage, which was considered for this text, Mr. Kozik sips from a espresso mug and seems lower than enthusiastic as he discusses the imagery he created three many years in the past.
However his temper modified when he was requested a heavy query.
“Some folks assume you’re not appreciated,” Mr. Piérart stated. “Are you aware why?”
“If folks don’t recognize what I’ve accomplished, that’s tremendous,” Mr. Kozik replied. “That doesn’t matter to me. I didn’t do it to be appreciated.”
He added: “That is who I’m.”