Conducting this week’s CREATOR SPOTLIGHT is Dimitri Simakis, the Creative Director at GIPHY Studios, and the co-creator of the found-footage art collective, Everything is Terrible! & Memory Hole. He lives AND works in California.
Parker Jackson is the Senior Art Director at GIPHY STUDIOS and a Painter. Nothing else about him is known, including what he looks or sounds like. Begin Interview:
DS: When looking at your work, I kind of feel like I’m at the Louvre if it was taken over by goblins. Right away, you’re drawn in with unsettling fear, but there’s an overwhelming sensation of warmth that forces you to keep staring at it. Is your intention to balance the ugly with the beautiful, or is it something else entirely?!
PJ: Wow, not much else I can say — that pretty much nails the intent behind my work perfectly. I’ve always kind of seen my work as portraits and paintings from some alternate art history from a dimension lived in by other beings. I know it’s sort of scary or disturbing looking to a lot of people but in my mind these scenarios and characters I paint are all (mostly) benevolent. They’re just different looking. My primary influence growing up comes from watching horror and sci-fi movies at an inappropriately young age, and then as I got older I got really interested in art history, in particular northern renaissance art, so those two things just kind of splash around in my mind and get regurgitated on to a canvas.
DS: Phew. You recently collaborated with ROKH with a fashion line based on your artwork. That’s incredibly rad, and how exactly did that come about? How did you feel about your work translated into a completely different medium?
PJ: It was really just as simple as them reaching out, expressing admiration for my work in a really nice way, and asking if I’d be down to work together on some garments. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered before, and historically I’ve always turned down collaborations or requests to put my personal work on shirts or for brands and stuff but I really liked their work and was honestly just curious to see how it would look. I had also coincidentally been watching old seasons of Project Runway so that might’ve had something to do with my willingness to participate.
DS: Favorite painter, director, album cover, book, Garbage Pail Kid, and movie poster- go…
PJ: Jan Van Eyck, he’s basically the great grandfather of all oil painting and I don’t think anyone has ever really topped his level of talent and beauty and use of the medium. I watch a LOT of movies so this one’s a bit harder, It’s hard for me to not just cop out and say Stanley Kubrick because he kind of is the best director ever tbh but my two living favorite directors are probably Yorgos Lanthimos or Michael Haneke. My favorite album cover is “The Narcissist II” by Dean Blunt, I have a background in graphic design and there’s really not much visually outstanding about it, but for some reason it’s just the absolute perfectly simple graphic image to pair with the album. Garbage Pail Kid would have to be “Peeled Paul” this image of this guy peeling off his skin to hang up in his closet. When it comes to movie posters I almost universally prefer the versions that come from different countries, in particular Poland has a lot of really great and bizarre poster designs for my favorite movies. I’d have to go with the polish version for either the Fly or Alien
[ Poish Poster Archive — highly recommended viewing].
DS: Your paintings have a life of their own, but you work for a company that makes cute GIFs where your work is shockingly adorable. How is that possible, and how do you balance leading a double life?
PJ: I think it’s partially born from my background in design again, I was born an artist — but making a living just drawing what you want to see is far from a guarantee so I spent a lot of time learning other styles and how to give people what they want to see even if it’s not necessarily my vibe or personality. Honestly it’s not always easy, putting yourself in some other mindset, trying to find that sweet spot of mass appeal when my personal instincts are always pointing me towards something very weird, but I suppose the challenge is part of the fun. I do however have a very split life, as soon as I come home from work I shed my shell and my bat wings and teeth unfurl and I paint fucked up things until 2am.
DS: You’ve been with GIPHY Studios since the very beginning. Do you mind telling us how you got here, and has it changed your approach to art in general?
PJ: As I’ve said a few times already, I got my start in graphic design, making logos and doing very corporate creative work. All the while on the side I started learning animation for fun — it wasn’t something I was formally taught. At the time tumblr was really big and a fellow artist friend saw I was doing animations and asked if I wanted a job in LA at an animation studio. I was living in Arizona at the time and not completely satisfied with making logos for law firms all day so I jumped at the opportunity. Eventually that animation studio job led me on a direct path to GIPHY. It’s crazy because when I went to college the idea of making a living off of animation, especially GIFs — seemed impossible. It never even crossed my mind as a possibility. So I guess what I learned is to just pursue things you like and interest you and you might be surprised by the opportunities and paths that open up because of it.
DS: Love that! Do you have a personal favorite GIF or sticker that you’ve made since you’ve started here?
PJ: I did this whole really simple series of this alien abduction in like six parts and each GIF revolves around the phrase “wtf” and I’m still really proud of it.
DS: You created the character of Mushy here at GIPHY, which, according to my calculations, has billions of total loops. How was Mushy born, what purpose does he serve, in your opinion?
PJ: I think every animator dreams of coming up with their version of Mickey Mouse, this sort of perfectly cute character that you can just project anything onto that is universally liked (and also makes billions of dollars annually in merch/licensing). I think it was sort of a mix of making a character like that with the simplicity of design of a character like Hello Kitty who I’m also a big fan of — this character that doesn’t really have a “personality” but just does whatever they want and looks cute doing it. It’s a life anyone would want to aspire to I think.
DS: After a long day at work, do you have to fight the feeling to get back to a particular piece, or are the evenings a good time to get motivated?
PJ: I basically force myself to be creative, I save about an hour or two after work to eat and relax and then I’m back into my creative mode. I’m most definitely nocturnal and all my best work and ideas happen sometime around midnight — 3am.
DS: If aliens landed and they asked you specifically to show them only one movie, what would it be and why?
PJ: Ummm, it depends on the temperament of the aliens in question — here’s a few scenarios:
The aliens are malevolent: I show them “Independence Day” to show that we have Randy Quaid on our planet and we aren’t to be f*cked with.
The aliens are intelligent and peaceful: I show them “2001: A Space Odyssey” so they can see we’re thoughtful and capable of beautiful things and want to reach the next step in evolution.
The aliens are chill: I show them 1996’s “Fear” with Mark Wahlberg, no real reason I just think they’d like it.
DS: When this (pandemic) is all over, what’s the first non-U.S. city you’d like to visit, and what meal will you be ordering first?
PJ: Somewhere in Japan, but not like the typical urban sprawl/super tech city like Tokyo, I’d love to go somewhere very quiet and lowkey and historic with lots of temples and really good fresh sushi.
DS: That sounds really comfortable. BTW would you rather have the knowledge to magically speak and understand every language, OR the power to fly?
PJ: Toughest question yet. Is it like …Superman flying? Where I can just zoom around with my arms stretched out? Or do I have to flap my arms? I thought at first flying is the obvious answer because you don’t need magic to learn languages but when I started to realistically think about it, flying would attract so much attention from world governments that I’d end up in some lab being experimented with or shot out of the sky or something. So I think functionally you could do a lot more with speaking every language.
DS: There’s no right answer (but that was totally the correct answer). So, what are you working on now, and care to talk about it?
PJ: New paintings; and no.
DS: Yeah I feel you. See you on Zoom in an hour, probably!