Ben Davies is a Welsh based artist and toy maker new to the game yet already generating a lot of buzz thanks to his debut art toy release, the Slave keshi figure – released under the ‘Drwg Co’ label.
‘Drwg Co’ is an art collective made up of Ben and Roger Phillips, with each bringing their own unique talents to the creative partnership – with Ben commenting:
“I draw things crudely and come up with the ideas, as well as being the public-facing mouthpiece of the whole endeavor. I also do anything digital, be it online, colouring, making graphics and sorting all the moulding, print production etc.
Roger will do much of the finalised line art, the sculpting and generally provide fatherly advice throughout.“
(Picture below of The Slave keshi figure from ‘Drwgo Co’)
With lots in store for ‘Drwg Co’ and a major buzz building, now is the perfect time to get to know all about Ben + ‘Drwg Co’ by reading the Art Talk below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, Wales.
City, State n Country your from?
Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, Wales.
Born and bred.
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together your pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING man!
* age 5 – beginnings:
Ghostbusters and Turtles.
Toy life begins.
(Picture below of Ben as a child)
* age 10 – continuations:
I tried to design a toy for the mech featured in the SNES game Probotector. I wanted that thing to exist so bad!
I guess I didn’t know it then, but maybe it planted a seed in me that if I wanted something to exist, then I couldn’t just wait for it to be done by somebody else.
* age 15 – getting serious:
Discovered McFarlane toys and realised I could keep buying toys well into adulthood.
* age 20 – young adult:
I wanted to create video games, or at least comment on them for the longest time. They were my first passion, after all.
I had lots of fun writing for the Mishka Bloglin and Omega Level back in the day, but gaming reached a point where there was nothing but negativity and, towards the end, every week I would sit to write my column and could think of nothing positive to say.
That’s when I ended it and decided to find something positive to do with my time.
* age 25 – adult mode:
I started getting motivated to make things.
I met Roger and Tattooist Ash Davies. Both those guys are such a huge inspiration to me. They are both so talented, far more than myself, but they inspired me to at least break through that barrier and stop telling myself that creating things was only reserved for those with genuine talent.
Ash is so prolific and motivated and Roger seemed to respond to my enthusiasm and made me feel like my ideas were good enough to persue.
All this stuff changed my world view.
* age 30 – fully formed:
Now, I get such a kick out of seeing people make things and watching positive energy make its way around the globe and the universe.
I love watching how it resonates with people and I love making things now – even if they only reach a handful of people – these things are little vessels for positive energy.
All of that, I think, really makes me feel pretty content with my 30-year-old self.
(A recent picture of Ben, below)
Struggle is vital.
DEVO, Beastie Boys, Super Furry Animals
Favorite TV show(s)?
Sopranos, Simpsons up to season 8, The Young Ones, anything and everything involving Reeves & Mortimer.
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
When I follow the football, I’m an Aston Villa man, But the less attention I pay, the better they fare, so we have a weird, distant relationship.
Princess Mononoke, Heat, Falling Down.
(Pictures below of some toy mock up sketches by Ben)
Favorite books and comics?
Anything by Junot Diaz or James Stokoe.
Oh, and Saga is perfect.
Why the name ‘Drŵg Co’?
I wanted something Welsh.
I didn’t want to go overboard with my Japan obsession so I played it close to home.
It translates to ‘bad’ in English and I thought it may at least remind people of A Clockwork Orange if nothing else.
Favorite other artist(s)?
Ash Davies, hands-down.
Then Sexual Youkai, Junko Mizuno, Jamie Hewlett and Yoji Shinkawa.
(Picture below of some art by Ben)
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Probably the moment where you stop just doing things to amuse yourself and throw your own body to the wolves.
By that I mean when you shit yourself because you’re not sure if anyone on the internet will like what you do.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Ironically, the internet.
I still freak out at how wonderfully interconnected energy and creations can be amongst these little pockets of people.
Sure, over saturation is an obvious downside, but there’s plenty of diamonds in that rough.
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
I have no idea what it is that we are making.
For now, I just look at it as toys, and things to accompany them.
I try to keep us making original stuff, but there’s no escaping overbearing influences and I wouldn’t ever try to pretend otherwise.
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
When I met Roger (the other half of Drwg Co) he fed off the vinyl toys and new art that I showed him and encouraged me to make things with his help.
Then, I began feeling terrible if I ever went to get a tattoo with Ash and had no presents for him, So I always try to set myself the task of making something new before each session! This all happened within the last 5 years or so.
(Picture below of some art by Ben)
What did you draw and make as a pre-teen child?
Violence, robots and robot violence.
I watched a lot of very unsuitable 80’s and 90’s anime when growing up.
What did you draw and make as a teen?
Dicks on friend’s school books. Tonnes of them. Not quite as bad as the kid from Superbad, but enough for those scenes to really resonate with me.
Also, lots of crude porno storylines in X-Men Cartoon Maker for Windows 95.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
Seeing Ash just make things and put them out into the world because he loved it and was able to do so.
He threw so much encouragement my way, as did Roger.
I know I sound like a broken record, but really, those guys set me on a path for life.
(Pictures below of some art by Ben)
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
Describe the process of producing your keshi creations? – from original sculpt, moulding, production, to finally holding that sweet sweet rubber in your hands… (dot point all o.k.)
I’ll sketch my ideas, talk them over with Roger and make them work in 3D, then he’ll sculpt from my turnaround drawings usually.
After the sculpt is done, it’s off to Tru:Tek where he makes the mould and casts them.
In-between that I’ll be making the packaging and stickers etc.
We’re pretty much always making graphics to be used in some form, somewhere down the line.
(Pictures below of the 1st ‘Drwg Co’ figure, the Slave Keshi – Part of the ongoing Secret Chief series)
I know ‘Drŵg Co’ involves both yourself and also Roger Phillips…
* what role do you each play within the group?
I draw things crudely and come up with the ideas, as well as being the public-facing mouthpiece of the whole endeavor.
I also do anything digital, be it online, colouring, making graphics and sorting all the moulding, print production etc.
Roger will do much of the finalised line art, the sculpting and generally provide fatherly advice throughout.
* how did you and Roger come to connect?
We work together and realised we were both quite serious collectors.
He has a huge Batman collection and the same sort of outward passion for pop culture that I do, so it was unavoidable, really.
* I know you work in a school + also met your friend and collaborator Roger through work – what exactly do you and Roger do for a day job sir?
We both work as either classroom assistants or special educational needs 1:1 workers.
* do you see yourself involving other permanent collaborators in the future?
Yeah, for sure.
I’ve not given it much thought as yet, but when Ash gets two minutes I’ll be pestering him for some graphics for the future.
(Picture below of some art for the ‘Drwg Co’ Secret Chief series)
Are art-toys for the kids?
I think to be a toy it has to be inherently fun in some way.
If it’s completely inaccessible and serious, then it’s not a real toy.
Is the rise of ‘art’ toys an indication of the changing nature of ‘art’? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much $$$ and time?
Can it be both?
I think there’s definitely just lots of people out there who get a little bored of collecting and then want to contribute, like myself.
But then you have things like the Kaws toys and Nags and that stuff is intentional art to me, because they so clearly have subtext.
(Pictures below of the so far first of many ‘Drwg Co’ zines)
What does your family make of the whole perpetual adolescence/Peter Pan aspect of toy art + toy collecting?
I have a fantastic mother and girlfriend, both of whom have never given me any shit about having a career or a nicer haircut.
They have both just always wanted me to be happy and so long as it doesn’t bring any negative consequences (debt, refusal of responsibilities) -it hasn’t so far- then they encourage me more and more.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
I am, and always have been obsessed with tangible objects. I could never sit still for movies (except Star Wars) but would happily play out my own storylines with toys for hours on end.
I had entire sagas going on as a kid.
What are the top 3 toys you own + why? – And please provide some pics of them!
Rotting Meat Mishka Boogie-Man. I know that if I didn’t have this guy then I would be unhealthily obsessing over finding one still to this day. It’s rare enough that owning it is a relief, but more than that, it just has everything I look for in a toy – clear, with guts, characteristic paint, GID, and some novelty from flashing LEDs.
Cure Ukkariman Keshi. These were very kindly sent to me from Cure/Mr U.O. himself after I entered the Japanese raffle with my tokens from the Ukkariman stickers. They are such perfect little sculpts and a huge influence on what I want to make in the future.
Snailiens. A good friend of mine brought these back from a Florida holiday when we were kids. We had no concept of what they were but they felt so unusual and alluring back then. We talked about them for years and I think they remained in relative obscurity, even within America. A year or two back he tracked down the whole set for me as a birthday gift so there’s a fair amount of emotional value attached.
(Pictures below of Ben’s favorite toys)
Odds n Ends
Please describe your experiences growing up in Wales?
Being surrounded by nature is beautiful, something I didn’t fully realise until I spent 3 years in the city.
That’s why I’ve always wanted to stay here, plus I love our accents, and weird languages.
I’ve never wanted to be anywhere else, so I’ve got nothing but love for growing up here.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
She was in control and a hot redhead.
Does sex change everything?
Shit, I’ve been going out with the same girl for 13 years so I’ve never had to question it.
It’s an animal impulse though, and I think we probably attach way too much meaning to the act sometimes.
It shouldn’t change things, but probably does.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
I was really concerned about the condensation in our house ruining the top job my girlfriend had done of painting one of the bedrooms.
Stupid stuff like that plays on my mind and creeps into my dreams all the time.
(Picture below of some ‘Drwgo Co’ stickers)
Have you ever tried psychedelics of any sort? And what was the experience like?
I’m definitely interested in such things but will stop there (I do work in a School after all).
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I think more than anything, I want to assemble a funeral playlist that’s so good that people will be asking for a copy once the service is over.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
Don’t hurt anyone and it’s all cool with me.
Please describe what you think the Welsh Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
It is, and almost always has been, dominated by Rugby.
However, we’re lucky enough to have an evolving city in Cardiff that I think will soon play host to lots, more interesting facets of culture that will see that diversifying in coming years.
More than anything though, you can bet it will all be underscored by an intense hatred of the English, I don’t see that going anywhere any time soon.
Which 1990’s era cartoon, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
I like my sex toys to be clinical, functional and effective. You know that he’d just nail it.
Who would win in a fight and why: a Welsh farmer on his way home from the pub Vs. A gang of teen Chavs out on the town?
Damn. That’s close to home! I’d bet on the farmer because those kids don’t know what a real fight is.
Get 8-10 pints in an old-fashioned valleys sort who works with his muscles all day and he’s going to be pretty invincible.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Nothing set in stone, but working on it.
Any major projects you want to hype?
Check out Tru:Tek – indie toy grind extraordinaire.
And Ash Davies just put out an amazing tattoo magazine called Best Intentions that features Mr Gordo and the almighty JK5, alongside many others.
Thanks for having me!
(Picture below of what may indeed be some upcoming colourways of The Slave keshi from ‘Drwg Co’)