In an age when everyone is an artist and consumerism a well-tuned craft, New England-bred multi-disciplinarian Gordon Holden challenges the established bounds of fine art with his aptly named Consume Cool branding. Appropriating the Coca-Cola logo, Consume Cool has found its way onto everything from shopping carts to corn-hole yard games and even Holden’s own bicep. “Pop art is just art imitating life. But when art becomes so enmeshed in life, that’s something new. It’s like a bridge. Is this art or not? That’s up to you to decide. I can make a painting and someone will pay a lot of money for it. Or I can make you a hat and it’s $50. It’s consumable on all socio-economical levels.”
Paige Silveria: What kind of brands did you consume as a kid? Were you brand savvy?
Gordon Holden: I don’t know that I was brand savvy. I got my inspiration from Lifestyle magazines like Thrasher and Transworld and MTV. I wanted to imitate what I saw but I wasn’t really sure why. I remember this Steve Berra Airwalk ad where he’s doing a 50-50 down a ten stair and I was like, “Oh Airwalk is a cool brand.”
PS: When did you start thinking about the power of branding?
GH: It was much later in 2009. I went to a couple of factories in China with my dad. He owns a plumbing-parts manufacturing business and goes there regularly. I went to this denim factory that made Ralph Lauren—all these brands that you separate price-wise but they’re all made at the same time and with a lot of the same materials. It was really enlightening. I liked the idea of perceived value, but I realized that the actual value is what you make it. Like I got this Patrick Ervell rain jacket for around $400 and I was super excited about it. And I wore it in the rain one time and water literally came through every seam. The jacket sucks, but you want to take care of it because it costs a lot of money and looks cool.
PS: You saw through the veil, but you still participate?
GH: Yeah, I mean everyone does. You can’t reject something that’s alive and well in our society. I just embraced it.
"I liked the idea of perceived value, but I realized that the actual value is what you make it."- Gordon Holden
PS: How did Consume Cool begin?
GH: I was living in Newport, Rhode Isand and I was trying to think of what to put on my new website. I didn’t want to share anything that I was doing personally, I just wanted to imitate something that I thought was cool. I briefly worked for this Australian surf company that had an office in California. I was very fascinated by the idea of their blog; it was something that I saw as a goal. Then when I started to work for them, I realized it was literally all smoke and mirrors. I came out to California with this notion that these brands are fully functioning awesome places. And you go there and there are three people who have no idea what’s actually going on. They’re getting yelled at from some head office. It’s all just a front to make people buy into whatever it is they’re selling.
PS: What was the first iteration of Consume Cool?
GH: I think it was in 2011. It was a graphic on my site first and then someone wanted me to make stickers. So I made some and handed them out and started to see them on Facebook and places. People interacted with it. They were comfortable with it and wanted to show other people. And that’s fascinating. Was I making fun of consumerism or did I really like it? However it was seen—whether it was positive or negative—it still worked.
PS: You’re also a fine artist, how do you keep your other work separate?
GH: Last year I did a show in LA with my candle-drip paintings and people were asking me why I didn’t use Instagram. I didn’t think my other artwork needed to interact with people if they weren’t seeking it out. But Consume Cool could be that thing that reaches out to people and they respond because they feel that they’re a part of it. A painting when someone sees it, it makes them feel conflicted. They’re not sure what the artists’ intentions are. There are way more questions. A painting is so personal; it can make you feel good or it can make you feel bad. There are so many other facets to it. With Consume Cool, there’s an immediate acceptance because of the familiarity.
" With Consume Cool, there’s an immediate acceptance because of the familiarity." - Gordon Holden
PS: It’s like fast fashion versus couture?
YGH: eah, exactly. People might not get couture, so you have to have a diluted route as well. Are you trying to reach a large population or are you trying to be very specific? Our thinking processes are becoming vertically integrated. We’re looking at all of these shortcuts. It’s not about being so inspired and wanting to spend a lot of time crafting something special. People just want to get stuff out immediately. They want to make money. That’s where consumerism comes in. One of the things that I love about Consume Cool is that I don’t have an attachment to it. When you make something personal, you’re kind of afraid of how people will respond to it. But with Consume Cool, I’m always just thinking about the next thing. Like I got it tattooed on my arm and I was like, “Oh it’s great! It’s awesome!” And then I just forgot about it, thinking about what’s next.
PS: I saw you started doing commissions.
GH: I have. This guy hit me up about putting it on the arm of his Black Denim white leather jacket. It was so organic. I didn’t have to sell him on it. With my personal work, I have to sell it to a degree. People go, “What’s good about this?” And you try to explain the concept. And they’re like, “Oh cool.” With CC, everyone wants to be creative, so here’s a thing to be creative with. Stick it wherever you want.
PS: So Instagram is the perfect conduit for Consume Cool.
GH: Yeah, because it has a lot to do with propaganda and reaching people at that core desire. My paintings are more of a personal inner output and the CC is more of everything outside of me. I like to keep some things more private. With an understanding of art, you realize that Consume Cool is art. But when you don’t understand art, you just think it’s a social experiment. It’s how you perceive your own practice. It’s part of my art, but it’s a day-to-day thing that I think about all of the time. Because if you’re self-reflecting all of the time, you’re not experiencing things. With CC it’s more about experiencing things.