friends with you interview friendswithyou
Kyle Chesser, Courtesy of Westfield Centre San Francisco

You might not realize it yet, but you probably know FriendsWithYou. The artistic duo, Samuel Albert Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III (aka Sam and Tury), are best known for their cute “Little Cloud” character. And after appearing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, installations across the US, and merch including iPhone covers and lamps, the smiley cloud has become an almost ubiquitous presence in the design world.

Founded in 2002, FriendsWithYou works across a series of mediums, everything from painting to bounce houses. The artists’ designs have also started popping up at festivals. So far this festival season, FriendsWithYou has had installations at Coachella and Pharell Williams’ Something in the Water.

We caught up with Sam and Tury at Coachella, where we checked out their installation at the American Express Platinum House featuring a brand new bunny character, as well as their on-stage design for J Balvin. Wanting to get a better insight into how the two artists work, we discussed luck, positivity, and why they consider FriendsWithYou to be pre-Instagram art.

friends with you interview friendswithyou
Getty Images / Kevin Winter

Can you tell us a bit about how FriendsWithYou came together?

Tury: I think it was really like an organic thing. We started by just hanging out. We had this shared sense that we wanted to be together and make art. We didn’t expect what our collaborative journey has become. It’s been so amazing to learn on the job by making, in our eyes, the most diverse and strangest art practice that exists.

So what was the inspiration behind the bunny installation at Coachella?

Tury: We’re calling the character Lil’ Luck, and our idea was just the idea of going down the rabbit’s hole into this abstract, inter-dimensional metaphysical space of color, you know? And immersing you inside of that.

It’s really just like an entryway into the experience of coming and sharing this communal experience, which really ends up being what this whole hoopla is about. We’re giving you this amulet to just open your eyes to really what we’re all sharing together. It’s kind of like the magic of what we create with all of our work is just trying to give a tiny reprieve from the crazy, chaotic, fucked-up world we live in, you know? Like even if it’s a little bit.

friends with you interview friendswithyou
Casey Kelbaugh

How do you distinguish yourselves from other artists producing character-based work, such as Takashi Murakami and KAWS?

Sam: You have to have your own space. That’s what makes your art practice good. But we don’t need to differentiate ourselves with those artists. We’re brothers with Warhol, Murakami, Jeff Koons, and KAWS, and we’re in discussion with them. What we’re doing is bringing a different concept to it. So it’s like if KAWS is like, “The whole world is like this dead Mickey Mouse,” we’re bringing this love and happiness. It’s not the opposite; it’s like a continuation of the conversation.

Does social media or Instagram influence your work at all?

Tury: To tell you the truth, I don’t think that it influences our work. Before social media, before Instagram and all that stuff, we always had that calling that we wanted to make things that were relatable and that people want to share. It’s almost like the internet caught up to what our message was originally.

At the same time, things that are built for looking good on Instagram, we feel that they take away from people’s soul, because then it’s like it becomes only about the ego, not about what the experience is. So that’s the only difference. We look down upon those things because we don’t want to create soulless experiences that are only about the ego. We really want to share love, and we do it in a very earnest way. It’s not cynical. We make every little thing to make you feel good.

What’s one thing people wouldn’t know about the process of putting all of this together?

Tury: Like how fucking hard it really is and how crazy it is to do all this stuff. You really have to be a solid unit, because it’s so hard to make an artistic vision come to life. We’re in the dream part now, but it’s been a journey. We’ve lost money and we’ve lost a studio, and we’ve lost so many things in the pursuit of this intangible idea that we’re spreading, you know? It’s very difficult, but as difficult as it is, it’s like 10-fold rewarding.