What do candy, cakes, cookies, and ice cream have in common with cats, skeletons, sloths, and human hearts. If you are reading this you probably know the answer, Michael Banks of Sugar Fueled. With a fan base as big and wide as his characters’ eyes, Michael took some time out of his heavy travel schedule to talk about painting the sweet side of the surreal.
A few weeks ago, I passed a big corporate candy store here in NY shortly after garbage pickup. A trash bag had burst, filling the gutter with bulk candy and broken glass. I hope you don’t mind that it immediately made me think of you. Can you talk about the sweetly sad themes in your work? You often portray cute creatures next to dropped donuts, spilled ice cream, sidewalk gum, etc.
Most of my work incorporating cute animals and sweets is just a fun way to mix and match things I love and think are cute and inspiring. As far as the street cats and puppies I paint, sadly this is the world humans have made for them to live in and I paint it as a reminder for people to change and be more mindful of pollution. I also have a weird obsession with discarded treats and a large collection of photos of sweets on the streets.
Though your work is very detailed and painterly, the characters translated to enamel pins so beautifully. Are there other production categories that you would like to explore? Are we going to see full Sugar Fueled vinyl figures?
Thank you! Converting my work from paintings to simple line drawings for pins was very easy since I was in the tattoo industry for 18 years. It's very similar to making line drawing for tattoos and tattoo flash. I did have a clothing line for many years and am looking forward to going back to that and actually plan on making an entire product line in the next few months. More pins as well as patches, stickers, necklaces, key chains, purses, wallets, charms, stationary and for sure toys are in the future. I would love to have a vinyl figure and am working on that to be out in the next year. Fingers crossed!
Speaking of the pins, the rainbow vomit kitty must be the best seller. Is this, and the similar paintings, an expression of sweetness overload or just so much happiness it has to vent?
To my surprise he quickly became the best seller. I wasn't sure anyone would like it when I painted him. I thought it may be too silly but everyone loves him and I have gained a ton of new fans from the design. He is titled "Overdose" and I painted him as a character for my children's comic book as an example of what happens in my world of imagination when you eat too much sweets.
Your full-pupil big eye style takes on a different effect when applied to your princesses. The animals look sad, surprised, or happily overwhelmed, yet the same detail on the female figures gives a feeling of power. Sleeping Beauty is awake behind the wall of thorns, Cinderella seems to be reconsidering waiting for the prince, and the Little Mermaid might be out for vengeance. Am I off base? What is your take on merging feminism and cuteness?
The giant, black glass eyes come from cute, little junk statues called Sillisculps I have collected since I was little. I changed my style around ten years ago to these eyes because I wanted something to make my work stand out aside from so many other big eyed artists. I only paint animals these days but I loved painting cute strong woman. Haha... I love your take on my princess series but I simply paint them with these eyes because I think it's cute.
I read that you listen to movie sound tracks while you work. Are you a Bernard Herman or a Ennio Morricone man? Who sound track do you love and are there film directors who influenced your style?
I do, I cannot work without some sort of music. I will definitely pick a score or album to fit the feeling or theme I'm going for in my painting. When I'm working on super detail I love to listen to scores and really mellow music. Alexander Desplat and Danny Elfman for a more dark but whimsical piece. For magical, fun and playful paintings I love to listen to James Newton Howard, Alan Menken, John Williams, Sherman Brothers or artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Sigur Ros, Hot Water Music and 80s hair metal. Hans Zimmer and Neurosis always seems to work great for dark themed paintings. When I get lost in painting backgrounds and fur for hours I will listen to the fastest music I can find like Brain Drill, Mulk, Origin, Burning Cyborg or noise like Melt-Banana and Merzbow to pass the time. As far as films, Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro are my two favorite directors that are a huge inspiration to me visually.
With sculls, Siamese twins, and human organs mixed with confections there is a subcategory of your work that is like Willy Wonka curated the Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities. “What’s on the Inside that Counts”, the human heart of candy, is my favorite of your paintings. Where do the medical/ sideshow influences in your work come from?
I've always loved oddities as well as old sideshow/ circus art, vintage Halloween, and toys. I have collected old junk from thrift stores since I was little so they do make their way into my work quit often.
It’s not a stretch to say you have a surrealist style. Who are your favorite painters?
My all-time favorite painter is from the 60's / 70's big eyed movement known by Gig who painted the pity kitties and puppies, and of course the queen of big eyes Margaret Keane. As far as recent artists that push me to be better all the time, my favorites are Greg Craola Simkins, Mab Graves, Jasmine Becket Griffith, Cuddly Rigor Mortis - Kristen Tercek, Ron English, Todd Schorr, and of course Mark Ryden. Anything with tons of details and textures really inspires me.
As a fellow lover of sweets, looking at your paintings makes me hungry. In addition to being a painter of confections, are you also a baker?
Me too! Haha... I'm not a baker but my wife / manager is and she keeps my belly and eyes full of sweet inspiration.
Do you paint portraits and commissioned work? With your huge fan base, you must have received requests for wedding or pet portraits. Any unusual requests?
I do and have done quite a few portraits over the years. I have had to cut down recently since I've been so busy with gallery shows but still take some every now and then. My favorite and most unusual would have to be a tattoo I did on my good friend. He was wanting a super happy old lady in a rocking chair so I told him he needs a portrait of my grandma. She is one of my favorite people and always made me smile so this made me very happy.
Michael Banks is freelance artist based in Burbank, CA by way of Orlando, FL. He specializes in pop surrealism, lowbrow oil painting, and comic. His goal is to make the world a little sweeter and happier.
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