Boobs, butts and birds: How a secretive Toronto artist found a career (and controversy) on Instagram

Canadian "post-pop" artist Fucci never asked to be put in a gallery, but he's shown his NSFW paintings — curvy CMYK sex jokes and sight gags — worldwide.

Fucci never asked to be put in a gallery, but he's shown his NSFW paintings worldwide

Fucci. Falling Apart, 2016. (www.fucci.ca)

When Fucci signed up for an Instagram account in 2014, building a fine-art career wasn't the plan. But looking at his experience, intentions don't necessarily always align with reality.

"I don't think I ever reached out to be in a gallery," the Canadian "post-pop" artist tells CBC Arts by phone, but as his Instagram's popularity grew, the galleries came to him — starting local (Toronto's Super Wonder Gallery) and rapidly going global. The demand has been such that he can't exactly recall how many shows featured his NSFW cartoon paintings last year. It's either 16 or 17, he says — and those exhibitions were in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. As for the Instagram's progress, his follower count is past the 35K mark.

Fucci's latest solo exhibition, Soup du Jour, is on at Toronto's Only One Gallery to April 7. (Courtesy of OOG)

Fucci is currently part of a group show at Vancouver's Winsor Gallery, and Friday, he launched yet another exhibition: Soup du Jour. Appearing at Toronto's OnlyOneGallery to April 7, it might be his only solo offering in Canada this year, he teases. "There's no focus, and that's what I love about this show," Fucci says. "That's why it's called Soup du Jour." The exhibition features a collection of new and old acrylic paintings, original drawings, sculptures and prints — as well as a few brand collaborations, including a hand-painted bicycle he designed with Fuji last year.

I think just having the work speak for itself is enough on its own.- Fucci, artist

But before we go any further, let's talk about that name. It's an alias — obviously. "The meaning is like 'fake Gucci,' fake whatever," he says. "I thought it was sassy." And three years since he started using it, the artist continues to work anonymously, with plans to keep his identity a secret for the time being, at least.

Still, there are a few biographical details on record, and here are the bullet points. He's a he, for one — a 25-year-old dude who was born in Helsinki and raised in small-town northern Ontario — though he's worked out of Toronto the last seven years. He got into art during his teenage punk days, putting out flyers and T-shirts and flyers for his band, before eventually moving to the States to get his M.A. in graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. School led to a job back in Canada, predictably enough — a corporate gig he describes as "soul-sucking." And that grind prompted him to pick up a hobby circa 2014: drawing and painting the CMYK sex jokes that now largely dominate his Instagram account.

Why doesn't he use his real name? "I just feel it's not necessary at this time," Fucci says. "I think just having the world speak for itself is enough on its own."

So let's see what it has to say...
 

Doing it for the LOLs

The artist loves a sight gag. "I'm not like a contemporary art snob where I'm going to give you this crazy back-story on my work — some unneeded art statement on all the pieces. It's just what I like drawing," he says. So as far as his declared intentions go, Fucci's only MO is the LOLs. "It's just witty comical stuff. If I can throw in something that makes you laugh, then that's good," he says. The jokes are vulgar but goofy — gags for that part of your brain that still thinks typing "80085" on a calculator is hilarious. But, says Fucci,"I don't think it's the sex that's funny."

"It's a little risqué, yeah, for sure," he says, but the humour? "I think it's in the situations."


 

Boobs, butts, birds

As for subject matter, the guy clearly has a focus. Every image is a tangle of contrasting colours, bubbly lines and lots of babes. Nude women with curves like Barbapapa Kardashians, specifically.

"They're faceless — they have no character. That's what I like about it," he says. If that statement's ringing some "objectification" alarm bells, Fucci responds by saying his intention is the opposite. He wants the viewer to feel like they're in the piece. To his thinking, if you can't see anyone's faces, then it's easier to imagine yourself in the picture. That lady telling some unseen jerk to get out of her face? That could be you. Same goes for the ones crying over spilled wine...or stumbling around their condos, possibly searching for pants. "I like having some allure in the work, to have everyone relate to it."

Still, it's clear that Planet Fucci definitely has a gender imbalance. There are a few men around, but women rule — so why ask the viewer to relate to a mudflap-bombshell female form? Per Fucci, there's actually no particular reason. He just likes drawing curves. "Everything in my work, it has curvature. Even the typeface [...] it's real curved. Everything goes together. It's very bubbly."
 


 

That darn copycat controversy...

All those dangerous, Technicolor curves have gained him international attention, good and bad. Online, he's frequently accused of ripping off another artist, Parra, and Fucci's aware of the controversy. That Dutch artist — one of Fucci's oft-cited heroes — deals in the same R-rated Yellow Submarine aesthetic, and has been doing it since the mid-2000s. His designs have appeared on coveted streetwear T-shirts and skateboard decks, along with gallery walls. (One of his sculptures was included at this past winter's Juxtapoz x Superflat show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, for example.)

"He kind of inspired me to draw when I was a teenager," Fucci says. "I just loved the comical form. It just spoke to me."

"I've never intentionally lifted his work or anything like that," says Fucci. "He hasn't touched on the issue at all. I don't care to touch on it. It's just whatever. Art is art. If you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't."

Any potential controversy hasn't appeared to slow demand, as this spring's two concurrent exhibitions would suggest.
 


 

What's it all about, Fucci?

"It's just me. It's self-expression for me," he says of his work, and last year he quit his graphic design gig so that he could focus on the Fucci project full time. "It's what I love doing," he says, "and it's a new realm for me. It's not design. [...] It's really exciting. It feels like moving to a new city."
 


 

Fucci. Soup du Jour. To April 7 at OnlyOneGallery, Toronto. www.onlyonegallery.com