Illustration house La Boca was recently invited to collaborate with street-wear veterans Stussy for their Guest Artist series, lending their sci-fi aesthetic to four distinctly La Boca x Stussy t-shirts. Stussy interviewed Scot Bendall, one of La Boca’s founding members, about the inspiration behind the pieces.
La Boca started 13 years ago, what was the original goal for the agency?
I never had any aim for us to become a purely commercial studio, I was always quite clear that I wanted to work on projects that I enjoyed and found satisfying. I really wanted La Boca to be fun, and for that to be reflected in our output. I just wanted to make strange stuff that made me happy really. Thirteen years later that basic philosophy is still pretty much the same I think, even though we have a few more people working in the studio now.
Before starting La Boca I’d worked at various record labels in London so it was a natural progression to focus within the music industry at first. We were quite lucky to form a close relationship with DC Recordings which much later led to working with many of our favourite record labels like Warp, Ninja Tune, Versatile and more recently Soundway and Death Waltz.
The visual language of the studio was more of a natural progression and at first was really just a reflection of the types things I was interested in personally. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to have really talented designers working in the studio so the visual style is an amalgamation of everyone that’s been involved now.
Are there any specially memorable projects that really stand out to you?
Our first real client was DC Recordings, who were based in the same building as us. They were a huge influence on me, especially the label manager, James Dyer, the writer Geoff Cox, and one of the artists, The Emperor Machine. Together these three people really changed my perceptions of what image-making can, and should be. They opened a lot of portals in my brain even if they didn’t realize it at the time.
We continued working with the label for over ten years and created nearly all of their visual output during that time. Looking back now it was a really good, exciting and often stupid time, and we had the chance to create worlds for so many great musicians like Kelpe, Padded Cell, The Oscillation, Tom Tyler, Arcadion: so many of them! I was genuinely invested in the label and loved pretty much every release they did.
You’re based in England, but your name and some of your work has quite an Italian feel to it. You’ve also worked with bands like Goblin – where does the Italian influence come from?
I grew up on a very grey housing estate in central London, so perhaps it was all the Italo-Disco I was listening to. I lived in Milan for a couple of years so maybe that has also had a subconscious influence on our work, it’s not something that anyone had pointed out before now. But it’s true that there are many Italian influences such as Superstudio, Memphis and of course the great Franco Grignani.
There is quite a distinct style to a lot of your work; bold colours and shapes that create an interesting texture and an almost 3D visual at times, was this something you’ve always been drawn to, or a natural evolution?
It was a natural development really. I always like to think of our images as freeze frames of moments in time. I picture what was happening five minutes be- fore the frame and what will happen in the next five minutes. Although we don’t use any 3D or animation software, I usually imagine our designs as being part of a bigger world or environment of some sort. It’s just a way of thinking really, I guess it helps me to visualize the same design from multiple angles and at different scales. Color is also very important to me. I think it’s also probably a result of my grey surroundings when growing up. There’s not a lot of aquamarine on housing estates in London.
Do you find there is a difference when you’re creating imagery for a poster, vinyl or clothing? If so is there a different approach based on how people are intended to interact with the works?
As a design studio, we usually have a client and an audience for our work. We’re not artists in that sense. Werre most often attempting to solve problems and connect with people in some way, but that definitely varies depending on the application. For example on a record cover we’re trying to bridge a visual gap between an artist and their audience, and the works are usually designed to be held close and (hopefully) cherished. On a poster we’re attempting to attract people from afar amongst a barrage of other visual material, so the approach is very different. On clothing, the designs are even more personal to the person wearing them as they are making a commitment to the design by representing it themselves.
Do you have any particular memories of Stussy from your youth? Were you into the brand growing up?
Stussy has been a staple in my wardrobe for over 20 years now. I am fortunate to be old enough to re- member the world before the internet, and have vivid memories of travelling across London to find Stussy. It was almost a rite of passage in the same way as buying records or comic books. It wasn’t easy back then either, and involved lots of phone calls to shops and long bus rides! I’m pretty sure I bought my first 8 Ball T-shirt, in salmon pink, at a shop called M-Zone, I was very proud.
Is there anyone that you’d especially love to work with in the future?
I went to the same school as Roots Manuva and I’ve always felt a strong connection to his music, so working on a sleeve with him would be quite special I’m sure. Other than that, there are still so many things I want to achieve – working with Stones Throw, a skate deck, surf board – a La Boca book, an exhibition in Tokyo – there’s no time for sleep.