The Multi-Disciplinary
Artist Chris Cadaver

“I just had a weird long day,” Chris tells me over our FaceTime call. It’s 10 PM and this is the second time I have spoken with him today. Just an hour earlier he sat in his car explaining to me that he had been driving all over LA trying to pick up a spoiler for his car that he found on OfferUp. Two weeks prior to this, Chris Cadaver, Miami-born artist, left his home of New York for a funeral in Los Angeles. Already planning to move to LA the week after he explains he tried to pack as much as possible for the trip. Looking at a photo of his suitcase it’s filled with various toys, self-designed plushies, and a pair of “Brazil” Nike SB Dunk Lows. It’s the last day of the month and Chris is sitting in the kitchen of his future roommate's house while we talk. Tomorrow is the day they will find out if they’ve been approved for their new apartment or not after weeks of searching. “Fuck” he exclaims, “I feel like I’m floating.”

Multi-disciplinary is a near-simplification regarding the many facets and moving parts Chris is involved in. Designing and arranging merchandise and graphics for Stray Rats, Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean’s Blonded, and more, his range permeates through and exudes studied yet offbeat sophistication. Moving between merch design to 3D work, vinyl packaging to stage and video design, Cadaver is a person of many hands, sublimating his taste through areas that seem dissimilar but all call to one another in stylistic unison.

You texted me at like 2 AM last night, what’s your schedule like usually?
It’s pretty open and free. I don’t have a full-time gig and most of the recurring gigs I do have a lot of flexibility. Half of the week I might be chilling and the other half probably working but somehow everything goes into the work eventually.

You’re originally from Miami, how did that shape you growing up?
There is so much downtime and also physical distance between people that the actual people who were into the same shit that I was into lived like 30 minutes away, 40 minutes away, but the thing about Miami is there’s so much downtime to get bored and get lost in some imagination and shape a world. Plus there’s nature to get inspired by, I guess New York kids get inspired by their buildings and shit but, I don’t know. I feel like the nature, the isolation and that boredom is really what shaped me to get into whatever I’m doing these days.

When did you move from Miami? And you moved from Miami to where?
I went to college like straight out of high school like 18, went to school in Tennessee for 2 years then came back. When I came back I spent maybe 3-4 years kinda developing an online portfolio, what I can do, networking. I would travel a lot to like New York or LA or whatever, any city I could get a gig in. Then I finally moved to New York at the end of 2015. I was living there for almost 5 years now but I literally just moved to LA.

You were in an electronic duo?
Oh shit, yeah yeah haha.

How old were you when that happened and is music something you’re still interested in or is it fully just design now?
Music was the first thing I was into before design. When I was in middle school I was in band. I tried every instrument but sucked, well not sucked but didn’t have the patience then I got into the trumpet. I played trumpet all throughout middle school, I was like first chair, I’d like battle with one of my friends, Ashley, who could stay in first chair. I don’t know if you’re familiar with band but like at the top of every week there’s I guess like a duel where the conductor asks every second chair if they’d like to do a piece against the first chair and if they did it better than you they were crowned first chair. First chair gave me privileges like solos and you know, you just sat in front of everyone or were first in line and leader of the trumpets.

That was my first real intro to music I guess, or playing it at least with other people. Now I play bass guitar in my friends band YEEK. I also do most the creative visual design aspects of his music venture, we do it collaboratively. Outside of that I’ve been producing beats and shit since high school. I’ve done some production for some artists and I’m actually working on a solo project that’ll be mostly electronic, nothing like singy or pop. Mostly just experimenting with digital audio workstation.

When did you discover Gorillaz and what impact did they have on you?
I found them in middle school. I think I found them on Limewire when you could just download music videos. Somehow I found the 2001 song on Limewire and I watched it and was like “What the fuck, is this a cartoon?” It looks like it would be on Adult Swim, I don’t really know what this is, then I did my little deep dive and saw that this is the creation of Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn. It’s music but it’s also art, it’s animation, it’s a show, it’s a world, you know? I’m really into the idea of world-building because you don’t really need to be confined through a profession or a skill set. You are just a creator of a world and you get to make up the rules, how it sounds, touch all the senses.

When you started animation your work had an Adult Swim look to it, how much Adult Swim did you watch growing up and how did that influence you growing up?
I watched a lot of Adult Swim. My cousin from New York moved in with us when I was maybe 10 or some shit and he was in high school. He’d wake me up in the middle of the night and be like “Dude, we’re watching South Park.” on like Comedy Central. Then I got into late-night television and was like oh, there’s cartoons after my parents go to sleep that are fucked up, I want to see what’s up with that. Then I found Adult Swim and I had these other cousins who were big influences and they put me onto anime. I guess when those two worlds collided, late-night television and anime that’s Adult Swim, at least in the early 2000s. InuYasha, Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, all that stuff was on Adult Swim and it was always separated with these subtitled cards that would be like, white Arial text just across the screen with the really crazy J Dilla bumps in the back or like, you know. But when I came back from college I made a YouTube channel that was pretty much a rip of that but it was localized into South Florida. I promoted it through twitter and just talked about shit I was really into, the music I was into, the brands in Miami I was fucking with. I made it a twitter thing and somehow I tapped into the local creative scene and I wasn’t really aware that I would do that. I was fresh out of college, I didn’t really finish my degree all the way but I learned a lot.

I was bored, I kinda got that initial creative wave that Miami throws on you. I came back and was like, I’m bored, I’m not hanging out with anyone, I’m gonna sit on the computer till I make something. That kinda unfolded into the Adult Swim type show. It was called Stupid Wizard and it was on on Sundays. I did maybe 8 episodes, it was a fun rollercoaster but it literally launched me into the local creative scene and I started doing animation and videos for people.

You’ve been painting recently is that something you were into before quarantine or is that something you just picked up?
I’ve just been into art since I was young. Maybe I jumped the gun when I said I was into music first. When I was in elementary I was in a little art class and my teacher was super into pushing me. I remember I had little paintings at the state fair, I’m pretty sure everyone else in that class was on that tip but, I was like “Oh, I want to be a painter.”, I’m pretty sure I said that once. I could draw pretty good with pencil and understand color theory so paintings were always around. It was one of the classes I had to take in college, like a weird painting class.

“Cave Painting 2” designed by Chris Cadaver.

I just wanted to take design and make it bigger. Like put it on a bigger scale than a t-shirt. With a t-shirt you just get like, 30 inches of canvas. The most recent one I just did was like 5 feet tall and that’s the biggest shit I’ve ever made. I took a photo of myself next to it, I’m like oh shit, I designed that on a computer and now it’s in front of me but I scaled it and I feel like when art gets scaled it’s louder. It gives you more room to do less. I’m kinda a lazy designer but I really love the mantra of less is more. I feel like less is more when it’s bigger. That’s really why I’m into painting right now, I want to scale my designs physically and I want to scale it back in a design sense. Simplify it but make it big.

You learned 2D animation using a light table in college, how was that? Animation is one of those things I wish I had the patience for but learning to do it using a light table is a whole other thing, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on that process.
I remember going to my first day in animation class and my teacher Zach was like this younger type of guy. He was probably like early 30s and we’re all like 18, 19. So he was kinda hip and we were just like oh shit, you’re kinda the youngest teacher I’ve had and he goes up to the front of the board and writes “Principles of animation” and gets a fat stack of animation paper with holes in the bottom and puts it on the desk and is like, “You guys need to get a lot of this because we’re going to be drawing a lot.” That’s kinda how the first day went.

He taught us how to flip between pages so you can draw your starting pose and your breakdown pose, you flip between those and you’re like what does the in-between of this look like? There’s a whole technique to doing it, it’s a very dexterous activity. I guess thinking now how I can just open up photoshop and hit a new layer and just start drawing and drop the opacity, that’s like technology innovating that process. We had photoshop when I learned that shit so a lot of us were just like why are we doing this? We came here to learn how to make a video game and you’re teaching us how to draw the same shit 50 times. I don’t want to do that but we watched a lot of old animation and learned where it came from and there’s a way you pay it forward by learning that process first.

I feel like it instilled a lot of patience and respect for the craft itself. The principles of animation were founded in 2D before they were applied in a 3D space. Now you just open up Cinema 4D and do a key frame here, go all the way to the timeline and do another key frame there and it just does it for you. A lot of those ideas were crafted in a 2D space. These guys had to study their surroundings and act out the scenes they’re doing in a mirror and try to draw that on paper. I’m really glad I learned the 2D stuff first and would like to really go back into 2D on day.

How do you determine which projects you do?
Stuff I do now is very much merchandise and brand identity, it’s very much based in the music industry. Most of my past clients have been music artists.

I have to bring up the Blonded socks, how did that come about?
Frank is such a meticulous, precise, executed human being. Behind the scenes, a lot of stuff gets worked on and a lot of stuff gets thrown out. The way I ended up doing this ellipse logo that came out was, I think I was having coffee with him.  He was like “What do you see yourself doing?” and I say something like “I’m trying to be a director, I’m trying to design, I don’t really know.” and he says something like “Okay, alright.” and that was kinda it and then 2 weeks later someone on his team says “Hey, Frank wants you to design something.” and I was like “Oh shit, alright.” so I was designing things and sending it back to his team. It was weird cause I don’t know his team like that and the communication was getting lost so I just started texting him and was like “Yo look at this.” and he’s responding to some “Cool.” and heart annotates a few. He’s so busy that I can really only talk to him in person. But yeah, the ellipse logo just happened. I didn’t know what they were gonna put it on, I thought it was gonna be on a t-shirt then they found some socks that fit.

“Ellipse Logo” Blonded Radio merchandise designed by Chris Cadaver

I took that photo [of the socks] on Thanksgiving. I went to Frank's house with a few of my friends. Most people in New York were out of town so we had a really toned down Thanksgiving. Someone had the ellipse socks on and I took a photo of them, someone there was like, “By the way those aren’t out yet so don’t post it.” and I’m like “Oh I know, I just need a photo before I never see it again”. I really hate posting a really edited photo or editorial stuff so I was really glad I had a picture of my friends foot. I’m kinda hoping to gear up to work on some more stuff with them. I’m working on Golf stuff right now and you know, Stray Rats stuff and maybe more Marc Jacobs stuff?

You and Julian Conseugra are both from Miami and both ended up in New York, when was it that you two met and where were you living at that time?
So I was working on a lot of that localized stuff. My friend Giovanna Morin, he was becoming friends Devin Christopher who was one of the main photographers for Stray Rats in 2015. Devin lived in a different part of Miami. Where we lived was kinda the suburbs but it was also really tucked away and hidden. Not a lot of people were doing creative stuff and if they were they weren’t being given a platform so when Devin met Gio, Gio showed him all of our shit. My shit, my friend Lazaro, just our friend group really and he was really amazed. Devin showed Julian and was like there’s these kids down south who are hella ill, they love the brand, you should meet them.

I don’t know what I was doing this day, I think I had to go to work or something but basically all of them got breakfast together and I had to go to work. I saw on instagram that they were hanging out and was like oh fuck wish I could’ve been there. Meet the guy from Stray Rats and pick his brain, like how’s it living in Miami being into the things that we are. So they all met, came back and was like dude it was really sick, Devin and Julian really want to meet you. You’re the only person who wasn’t there and they’re interested in your animation and video stuff you do. They got in contact with me and said they wanted to get a video for Stray Rats, you should come get pizza with us and talk about it. I remember I got there and we started talking about the video shit super serious. We were trying to have business, like here are the terms, this is the scope of the work, etc, etc. But me and Julian were just super into the same obscure video game references, cartoons and the same type of humor that after 2 hours of us sitting there with Devin there as well, we were all just cracking up. It was really sick and he was like-whenever I tell this story it’s not funny but he pretty much asked me like “Yo, I want you to be a part of Stray Rats” and I was like “What?”, he probably didn’t really say it like that but no one can remember their past perfectly. He basically told me I want you to be a part of this and being a part of this has a lot to do with loyalty and there’s a lot of brands in the US right now kinda doing the same push and I just want to know if you could be committed to doing the Miami shit. From that day on me and this guy just been friends and it grew to where it is now.

Me and all my friend group used to just hangout at his spot downtown. We all kinda still lived with our parents, we were like 21, I was probably 22. That was like 6 years ago? The rest of my friends were even younger than me so we just weren’t really doing much so we were just hanging out with our older homie who had a crib and had a brand. He was showing us shit then he ended up moving to New York, I remember helping him pack up and he was giving us a bunch of Stray Rats shit he couldn’t  take. Fast forward a year and I went to New York to visit, I had been there 2 times that year just to hangout and link up with Julian. He was telling me “New York is pretty sick, I can see you being here.” and I’m like “Yeah yeah yeah. Cool cool cool.” I was just freelancing a lot so I was in LA a lot and in New York, I was thinking do I move to LA? Then I started going to Japan and was like, do I move to Japan? Then I moved to San Francisco for 3 months randomly but somehow I found my way back to New York at the end of 2015 on a birthday trip for Laz and we were hanging out with Julian and his roommate Gino. My boy Dino also came with us on that trip and Dino and Laz were getting ready to get on their flight the next day and I was like I’m gonna just stay. I’m gonna move to New York to just... I don’t know. I think it was really just Julian and Gino offering that I could crash on their couch till I figure it out. Gino eventually moved to LA and I moved out of the spot I had and into that apartment and Julian and I just started working together more, hanging out more cause we were roommates. I was already kinda doing stuff for the brand, I designed this Grateful Dead inspired graphic then next thing I know I’m submitting designs weekly and spending late nights at the Stray Rats office in Chinatown.

Being around Stray Rats came with new influences and meeting interesting people like some of the Odd Future guys. The deep cut hardcore shit I was learning because I didn’t grow up in hardcore, I grew up more in skate but, a lot of that stuff started bleeding into my designs and influences. Even up to the Marc Jacobs thing that happened recently. I met Ava because she worked with Stray Rats on the Rat Girl dolls. That’s definitely a homebase for me, Stray Rats and to this day… to this day I help with designs. Moving to LA has been kinda hard because it’s just very different because I was definitely a part of his family and all the people I met through Stray Rats. Now it’s kinda like oh shit I have a lot of possibilities and opportunities to venture into my own thing. I don’t know why I moved her but it’s probably for a reason that’s super far in the future that I can’t even see yet.

You recently worked on some designs for Marc Jacobs new Heaven line how did that come about and when was it offered to you? In one of the pictures you sent me you, Ava and Julian are all together standing around your rug.
Yeah that was when I got back from LA, from quarantine and the first thing I did was… I guess I can admit this cause I didn’t self-quarantine for this but I went to the Marc Jacobs office and Ava was showing me all the pieces that made the cut. They were shooting the lookbook and they had the little room set where all the models were standing in and she was like “Yeah, this is the rug.” and I’m thinking what the fuck, that’s huge and I need it and I’m moving to LA and I need it. I was working on it for like a year.

I designed that stuff in September last year but the funny thing about it was Ava said we’re gonna give you x amount of money just send me some designs and we’ll see if we use any of them. I’ve never designed for Marc Jacobs before so like what the fuck does Marc Jacobs want? At the time it didn’t have a name it wasn’t Heaven yet, they didn’t really have a real scope of it they just knew it was gonna be this homage to the 90s era and you know, what we see today now that it’s out. She just said make some shit and I’m like’s 5 very different graphics.

On one of the graphics was this little drawing. It was in the corner, it wasn’t even a graphic. I just threw it in there and that was the crazy daisy drawing. They actually didn’t use anything but the little drawing that wasn’t meant to be a design. By the 5th design I didn’t know what else to do like, let me do something that’s not really a technical design I guess, I’ll just draw stuff. I drew Marc Jacobs in my handwriting then was like oh let me go get some line drawing that I’ve done and grabbed this face and had another silly face I made and just put them there and put the daisy in the corner. Like, don’t look at this but this is the vibe.

“Crazy Daisy” sketch for Marc Jacob’s ‘Heaven’ brand designed by Chris Cadaver.

If I had send sketches to Marc Jacobs I’d be so anxious.
Yeah, I didn’t know what to expect. I remember texting Ava like “Hey, I just sent a few designs I hope you like them”. I wasn’t sure if they were good or not for Marc Jacobs. Every design I made was me trying to understand the Marc Jacobs vision and distribute it back in my style. What they picked was a little drawing in the corner that wasn’t for anyone, it was for me.

That’s always something really special.
Hell yeah and I’m trying to tap into that more. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my past being more focused on other people’s stuff and which is fine, I made a living doing that. I made a way for myself and now it’s like I’ve got the access, the tools, and the time to change the direction of what I’m doing.

Moving forward as an artist who is seemingly entering the next chapter of their life what do you think is next for yourself?
I feel like coming to LA and getting my own studio, this homespace that’s really tucked away is going to give me time to isolate and make more things that come from inside rather than how do I understand someone’s vision and articulate it through my way of art? I think that’s the hardest part. A lot of people can’t work a 9-5 their whole life and are like “Oh, I wish I did freelance” or  “I wish I could do my own thing”. It’s not that you’re afraid of leaving your 9-5, you’re afraid of having to be the say all of yourself. It’s easy for someone to tell you to come in at 9 and leave at 5 but it’s harder when it’s like okay you’re your boss, what’re you about to do? Are you going to work everyday? It’s really hard when it’s you vs. you vs. everything. I’m really just trying to change it up to evolve. That’s something that Julian always showed me. This guy’s literally had a brand for 10 years and the graphics don’t stop. It’s like fuck, how do I still like this? You have to grow as a person and stay honest and vulnerable to that inner child. It’s not enough to do what you did last time. It’s enough for some people, but I don’t know, there’s a really interesting endless supply of ideas inside all of us as long as you can submit to that inner child.

As for the job type of stuff I’d like to art direct. I think that’s the only way for me now. I can’t collaborate with brands anymore and be like I’m going to design this for you, let me twist myself into any shape that you need. It’s more like I want to carry and consult. I have a lot of references I’ve seen over the years, I have a lot of taste that I’ve accumulated through the life I’ve been able to live. It’s a blessing.
“This is the suitcase I packed before moving to LA. Just a few toys that I’ve collected going back and forth to Japan and being on tour. The plush on the right belongs to one of my really good homies that has a brand called Happy99 thats like their mascot. The thing on the left is one of my characters that I make named Bun.”

Text: Zane Olson
Graphics: Chris Cadaver

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