Pop art has consistently remained a mainstay of fandoms and the artistic eyes since its debut over half a century ago. These days, although we might not be looking at Lichtenstein as the pinnacle of the genre’s magpie tendencies, or sitting around staring at Warhol’s groovy-colored cans of soup anymore, we have instead discovered new figureheads of pop culture — artists who continue to capture the various nuances of modern mainstream media and make it their own, bringing previously hidden elements or contextual clues for their place in the wider cultural conversation to the fore. Luckily for us, one of those figureheads is none other than graphic artist Butcher Billy.
Originally born Billy Mariano da Luz in his home country Brazil, Butcher Billy’s art has taken the world by storm — drawing from a deep love of movies, comic books, TV, and music from early childhood and often marrying them into a perfect amalgamation of where the heart of pop culture lies. With work featured in outlets including The Guardian, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone, it’s no surprise he’s become the man to look to when it comes to finding the pulse of the era.
NeoText was lucky enough to correspond with Billy via email and get a further look into what makes the mind of such a subversive creator tick.
Chloe Maveal: You’ve clearly had a lot of pop culture influences, but one of the ones I see most depicted in your artwork is the influence of superheroes — particularly the characters of DC And Marvel Comics. What’s your relationship like with comic books? Can you tell me a little bit about how you tap into that old school design work that you manage to achieve?
Butcher Billy: I’m not a huge comic book reader these days, but it has been a big part of my life since childhood, along with video games, movies, tv, music etc. I think my first memories of characters like Superman, Batman and Spider-Man were from TV series, cartoons and movies. Comics were a way to keep consuming, and at the same time seeing them in animation and live action certainly helped me to create my style of work, in which reality and fiction often clash and there's a mixture of all these different media.
Maveal: What’s your process? It looks as if the work is all produced digitally. Are there particular programs that you like to return to?
Butcher Billy: It's all produced digitally in apps like Illustrator and Photoshop, but all of my visual inspirations come from the 60's, 70's and 80's - times in which computers were not yet a part of the design process. That's why it's so important to me to keep a handcraft quality to everything that I do.
Maveal: Who are your biggest influences? Is there a guiding light, outside of the artists whose work you’re specifically and intentionally referencing in each piece? (Again, here’s a lot of comic book imagery from the 1960s and especially ‘70s in there; with that in mind is this a core text for you personally?)
Butcher Billy: I would say Kirby, Ditko, Pérez and Garcia-López are some of my heroes in comics, but it all depends on the message I'm trying to achieve in each piece. In terms of inspiration I try not to think of people specifically, but more like the zeitgeist. I've been releasing a lot of work that is based on how video game cartridge box art was made in the late 80's/early 90's, for example. In other works I explore how horror book covers were made in the late 70's. Also how the blaxploitation genre used to release their movie posters, or how designers used to come up with the art for vinyl sleeves or magazine ads back in the day etc.
Maveal: How much does social media play into your work? Looking at your Instagram, you pick subjects — Zemo in the club from Falcon and Winter Soldier, King Shark from Suicide Squad, even a particularly great Zack Snyder’s Justice League as done by Dario Argento— that are trending on social media; are you looking to pick up on that kind of buzz intentionally, or is it just a happy coincidence?
Butcher Billy: Yes, I suppose I do like to talk about what's going on in the world through art. Not just in entertainment alone, but mix it with politics, religion, social movements etc. So if I'm going to tackle Homelander from The Boys, he will be wearing a 'Make America Great Again' uniform. If I'm going to address Marvel's Black Panther, it's going to be Angela Davis under the suit. In my take of a famous picture of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn will be cosplaying Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. If I'm going to do a poster for a Zack Snyder movie, I'm going to shift the director to someone else that I judge to be a true visionary. Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man as Jesus Christ our savior? Sure. And if I'm doing an art series based on Wandavision, why not add Rosemary's Baby, American Psycho, Poltergeist, Saul Bass, David Bowie and Twilight to the mix?
Maveal: How do you choose the topics of your pieces, outside of the commercial commissions? Is there a moment where you’re just watching a movie casually just shoot up and go “WAIT. I HAVE TO MAKE THIS!”
Butcher Billy: I get that question a lot, and I sincerely don't know how to answer. I guess I try to think about what Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein would be doing if they were alive and young today, and go beyond that. You'd probably have to be in a 'pop artist state of mind' 24/7 to pick up all the signals the world sends to you, mix everything and translate them into art.
Maveal: The pop art mash-up has a punk rock history, especially when it comes to satirizing and commenting on the subjects of each piece; how was that informed by your (former?) day job of working in an ad agency? Does it change when “Butcher Billy” creates art for corporate clients? (AKA, is that selling out?)
Butcher Billy: That was actually the reason why I came up with a pseudonym and even a different persona when I started to release pop art on the internet. It was even my intention initially to keep myself anonymous like Banksy, but I guess I wasn't really good at that - or didn't care much about it.
Maveal: Was it strange when your Butcher Billy work started getting attention from companies? From other interviews, it seems as if you created it as a personal outlet entirely separate from your day job. Was there a feeling of work seeping into this one-time release?
Butcher Billy: Well, it was kind of weird since I used to work for years in a small local agency that didn't care much about my ideas, and suddenly I was being interviewed by international newspapers like The Guardian and getting hired for freelance work by companies like ESPN and Netflix. Needless to say, I didn't stay in that job for too long after that.
Maveal: So much of the Butcher Billy brand seems to be intentionally referencing and lifting from other people’s work. Is there an original property that you have that you’d want to work on in a similar style, or is the entire point of Butcher Billy making something new out of something old, so to speak?
Butcher Billy: I guess I've always liked to take what is considered pop culture from a variety of sources - music, comics, movies, games etc - and mashes them all together to come up with something that draws on nostalgia, while, at the same time, provides the audience with a fresh take on a familiar scene. It's that sort of rule-breaking, chaotic attitude that inspires me.
Maveal: What can you tell us about what to expect from you here at NeoText?
Butcher Billy: I'm very excited about it. I've been hired a lot before for developing characters and such, but usually that won't go beyond quick concepts and single pieces. This is the first time that I get the chance to create and explore full universes, expanding them in a story from beginning to end. It was kinda scary at first, but I'm loving to work on it and see how everything is coming together.