Syd Garon recently changed his name. Why? "I don't want to do the same thing over and over," says the LA-based animator. He's now directing under the moniker "Syd + 1," and feels completely dedicated to the productive disruptions of collaboration as a working method. Proof? He's just finishing up a set of three music videos that were based on the collaboration between an animator and an artist for tracks that were in turn based on the collision of seemingly unlikely pairings of musicians. I know - it gets confusing. Anyway, the videos are part of a larger N.A.S.A. project - N.A.S.A. is North America/South America and is a collaboration between Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon, and for their recently released album The Spirit of Apollo, the pair brought in musicians such as David Byrne, Karen O and Kool Keith, among others, to lend voices and create compelling synergies. The videos followed suit, and Garon happily found himself working with artists Shepard Fairey, Marcel Dzama and Sage Vaughn, basically trying to make paintings move. What was that like? "For the track 'Money,' which was produced by Sam Spiegel and features David Byrne, Chuck D., Ras Congo, Seu Jorge and DJ Z-Trip, it was so clear that Shepard Fairey was the guy to work with," says Garon, referencing the LA artist best known for the controversial red, white and blue Barack Obama "Hope" poster. The track considers a line from the Bible that notes "for the love of money is the root of all evil," and given the iconic nature of the theme, Fairey's distinctive graphic style offered a perfect correlate.
"He basically gave us access to his entire archive," says Garon, who also worked with 3-D animator Paul Griswold. "We went through it and created sequences out of the images. Then we took Shepard's original works and basically deconstructed them, and then animated them. Our main goal with the project, though, was to think about what a Shepard Fairey painting would look if it could move." Garon adds that "it took forever," partly due to the complexity of using so many images. "Plus, if Shepard was traveling or in jail, it would just take a bit longer to get new images." (Garon is referencing Fairey's arrest in February in Boston for tagging.)
The video gives Fairey's flat imagery depth, and makes the pared back visual style move in tandem with the track's lyrics. Images of airplanes, oil wells, dollar bills, dictators and torture depict the "root of all evil" but rather than merely moving across the imagery in two dimensions, Garon and Griswold take us inside the images, so that while the video's homage to a constructivist aesthetic best known in the format of posters may be flat, the video itself is an iconic image environment.
For the second video in the trilogy, Garon had the pleasure of collaborating with artist Marcel Dzama and Superstudio's Johannes Gamble, working from a track titled "The People Tree," which features David Byrne, Chali 2na, Gift of Gab and Z-Trip. "The song is a debate with God," explains Garon. "We thought it would work to make a folklore Bible, and Marcel's art was such a perfect match." Dzama's ink and watercolor drawings feature delicate storybook characters with correspondingly idiosyncratic foibles - indeed, as the video title suggests, Dzama does draw tree people, and they figure prominently in the video, which again, gives motion, rhythm and pattern to otherwise still, flat images. And rather than the bold red and black palette of "Money," this video tells its story in muted colors, and seems to have been sent from another era. Garon reports that the video was re-shot on film, using very old stock; the footage was subsequently mistreated - trampled, dragged and, fittingly perhaps, even scratched by a cat. The resulting piece is nothing less than dazzling as Dzama's odd yet poignant characters twirl through an enigmatic tale.
For the final video, Garon collaborated with LA-based painter Sage Vaughn on "Way Down," a song that features Barbie Hatch, RZA and John Frusciante. The song is about forbidden love, and the reference that came to mind was Vaughn's paintings of warring birds who represent LA gangs. In the video, a Blue Jay and a Cardinal fall in love, but their relationship is forbidden. "It was an intense collaboration," says Garon, adding that luckily Vaughn lives around the corner from him in Los Feliz. "Because he's a painter who works with fine detail, it might take a week to do a painting," Garon explains. "So he'd paint something, we'd scan it, then animate it, but often one sequence could take up to 60 paintings." The tragic story juxtaposes the delicate birds with the city's barbed wire, dirty streets and murky skies, and dripping paint hints at the violence to come. It's a surprisingly moving video, with shots that sweep through the sky following the gliding birds.
Based on these three projects, Garon is definitely moving in the right direction. Collaboration, and the collision of differing formal styles, modes of working, impulses and histories, is really working. "I will work in collaboration always," asserts Garon. "It keeps my own style fresh, and keeps me learning and growing."
images #1: "Way Down"