Born in L.A. in 1978, Tristan Eaton started pursuing street art as a teenager, painting everything from billboards to dumpsters in the urban landscapes of the cities where he lived, be it London, Detroit, or New York. He designed his first toy for Fisher-Price at 18 years old and soon became a driving force in the world of designer toys. Eaton’s work for Kidrobot, including the famous Dunny and Munny art toys, helped him achieve international renown and an ever-growing fan base. After forming his Creative Agency Thunderdog Studios in New York City in 2004, Eaton became a leader in the advertising and commercial-art spheres, and is regularly commissioned by a roster of clients that includes Nike, Versace, and even Barack Obama.
These days, Eaton is one of the most prominent street artists working today. Eaton’s large scale mural work features a meticulous, visual collage of pop imagery mixed with his unique personal style, all executed with freehand spray paint on a colossal scale. Eaton now focuses on his Fine Art and large-scale mural work full-time, which can be found in dozens of cities across the globe from Paris to Shanghai.
Eaton’s work can also be seen in the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) permanent collection.
Tristan Eaton: The Shape of Everything, All at Once…
By Carlo McCormick
(Excerpt from the 2015 book ‘The Murals of Tristan Eaton’)
Culture, as a creative force of youth, has a kind of migratory madness never staying in one place too long, as if knowing that stasis is where industry, imitation and exploitation ossify its energies into the co-options of middle-aged, middle-of-the-road sellouts. It’s a ragged, restless and unruly voice that’s been running amok for at least a century now, louder and fiercer in different genres of music depending on the era, moving freely through visual vernaculars be it customizing the secondhand or inventing any variety of media such that comics, tee shirts, record covers, toys, cartoons, games, activisms, graffiti, tattoos, surf/skate/snow boards, and just about any product we can imagine as a canvas for new ideas and sensibilities. Tristan Eaton is an inheritor and heir-apparent of this delinquent linage and polyglot master of its coded language. Between his commercial design projects and those other escapades that are, well, not so sanctioned, he’s helped define more than a few moments along the way, any of which could have settled him in a well-established career, but the poor chump is an artist after all, and about as likely to stay still as he is to grow up.
Looking at the twenty murals executed over the past three years that are included in this volume (merely a selection rather the sum of all the walls Tristan Eaton has done in this time) is to see this moment in the global mural movement in all its glory and to witness the evolution of an artist at a time of great culmination. His work seizes the radical potential of this most ancient medium, murals, as it is being realized by post-graffiti generations armed with the skills of vandals, the tools of urban developers, the permission of the authorities and the heart of the people. He’s there making his mark at this gateway instant when new levels of tolerance, support and understanding have converged with the affordability and accessibility of basic technologies to allow individual expressions to be writ large, to address public space on a scale often many stories tall. But he’s not here by chance or circumstance, and he comes with the wit, wiles and wisdom of a longtime traveler in the wilderness of iconoclasm, a man who has learned some hard lessons and picked up some mad chops along the way. An art of the present, we way leave it for time to decide precisely where Eaton will fit in the larger story of mural art, but to understand his work in this medium, why it looks like it does and says what it says, we have to see where it’s coming from.
Public art is pulled along by the insecurities of society while it is simultaneously propelled by the aspirations of its culture. What is wrong with this world is the strange attractor, but the source is so often how we hope to make it better. This is as true of the most destructive and antisocial acts as it is of those that bring about a collective wonder we call beauty for lack of a better term. Fluent in both, Tristan Eaton is the symptom and solution of our contemporary discomfort, an artist whose circumstances have so often driven him to subversive strategies while tethering him to the basic necessity of making an art that can pay the rent. What we see then in this work is not simply a novelty of style we can compare to the similarly signature work of others working in this way in public art today, it’s the shape of a kind of creative schizophrenia, an amalgam of incompatibilities, a hybrid of impossible oddity. This is the form, the kind of crazy-epic collage of the scattered and shattered brought together, whole. These are the steps that a criminal mind and a commercial hand take when they try to wrestle and dance their way to harmony. It’s the highly skilled illustrator proving that he can paint, the painter proving he can think, and the thinker proving that he’s down for a bar brawl. It’s the kind of crazy shit you get when a great storyteller gives up on being literal and jumps into the puddles of abstract thinking with an armful of loaded iconographies. A deconstruction we can only measure in its composite, everything fits together because it must, because these are the dangerous questions of a pathological problem solver answering to their own existential doubts.