Lenny McGurr, better known as the multidisciplinary artist Futura (fka Futura 2000) started in the world of graffiti before branching out to the world of fine art, street art, and beyond. A certified “old head,” he's designed some of the most covetable sneakers to date (forget the Dunkles, all praises to the FLOMs) and during NYC streetwear's late-'90s heyday, was behind labels like Project Dragon, Subware, and the seminal Nort/Recon outpost done with Stash.
These days, he's busier than ever. Supreme's updating some of their collaborative work from the vault, Futura Laboratories is cooking up new products on a more consistent basis, and he's got high-fashion collabs like last year's Off-White™ collection and this year's capsule with COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT.
He's also on deck as the art director for one of NTWRK's upcoming digital events, creating community online during the Covid-19 crisis. We took some time with the artist to discuss his breakout year, and his unexpected connection to the U.S. Postal Service.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Jian DeLeon: You've had a busy year. This week alone you've got your latest Supreme collab and your first collection with COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT hitting Dover Street Market. What haven't you released yet that you're stoked on?
Futura: Wow, yeah. I mean, there's still projects...as you can imagine, everything has been delayed and pushed back due to the situation at hand, but last year was incredible, and a lot of that was the buildup to what's happening now.
What Supreme is doing is just re-releasing something I did years ago — the handwritten Supreme — and we added the “Justice For All” messaging on the back which is relevant to the time. One thing you didn't mention is the BMW, which was going to be the main thing of 2020. We were actually in Munich in mid-March. I was hand-painting the interiors before we had to get out of Europe.
JD: Right, it's the Futura edition M2, which looks absolutely insane. Is this the first time you've worked with a major automobile company?
Futura: Yeah, that's probably one of the most unbelievable jobs I've had, simply because I've been driving a BMW for more than ten years,.
JD: Yeah, I've seen your car parked around Brooklyn a couple times. It has a pretty recognizable license plate.
Futura: Absolutely! I got that vanity plate. So yeah — it's a real thing; it's not a stretch — and the fact that they came to me with the M2, plus the history of BMW's art cars dating back to the '60s, it's great to be part of that catalog. For other companies, you might get to paint a vehicle and they put in on display then have it somewhere in a garage, but BMW actually wanted to go into production.
I painted a car that's the 1-of-1 art car, but then we got a team of artisans who were able to replicate what I did on the outside, and translated that to a catalog of 500 cars. That's why I was in Munich, I was painting the interiors — like the dashboard trim where the gearbox is. There are maybe over 1,200 pieces I physically painted. Those original pieces go onto every car. That's a very cool thing about this project.
JD: As a BMW enthusiast, why did you gravitate towards the M2?
Futura: It's the car I always wanted. I always wanted an M5, but the M2 hit and I was like: “Oh man, that's really it.” There's just something about that car. It's about performance. It's not meant for New York streets, but I would love to drive that car in, Utah, Montana, or on the Autobahn, obviously.
JD: Back in February when the BMW collaboration was announced, your capsule collection with COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT was also making its runway debut in Paris. While it's not the first time your work's been on the runway, this is the first time you've collaborated with CDG. That label occupies a special place in culture. It can touch sneakers, streetwear, and high fashion without losing its appeal. What's been your perception of the. brand?
Futura: I can recall a CDG show in the '80s where Basquiat was a runway model. It was like: “Oh, Jean's here. Wear this shirt please, and have him walk down the runway.” I remember him telling me the price. Even back then, Japan was always expensive as an import and had a level of quality that you knew was above perhaps what Americans and Europeans were doing. Certainly Americans.
Later they did interpretations of Jean's work in their collections. So for it to all come around in full-circle like this is great, and I mentioned that to Rei [Kawakubo]. I don't know if I had met her in the past, but it's a cool story for me...It connects very strongly to all the things that I'm really into. Japan's been very good to me, not in my experiences there, but how I feel about working with my Japanese collaborators, contemporaries, and homies.
JD: The U.S. Postal Service is a hot topic right now for some very good reasons. Besides the slap history of post office stickers in graffiti, I understand you have a more personal connection?
Futura: I used to work for postal service back in the day...'88 or '89. The '80s were amazing, but for the graffiti guys there was only about five years before people were kind of over it because now you had [Basquiat]. You had other artists emerging that were much more important, and I was looking for any kind of job. I was a bike messenger, but then I got injured. We were independent, freelance guys with no benefits, and my son Timothy would've been three or four. So I got a job in Long Island City at the post office right across from PS1.
The crazy thing about that was in 1981 I was part of a huge show called “New York New Wave” at PS1. It was a seminal show of the era. We were all in it, and then six years later here I am working at the post office across the street. But luckily I recovered. It was Agnès B. in 1989 that helped me leave that job because I had an exhibition. Someone was very supportive of my work and offered me a show.I sold four paintings — two of which were bought by Agnès B. — and that was the beginning of my. life as a wannabe artist.
JD: I don't think you're a “wannabe artist” at this point.
Futura: Well, I think you're right and I appreciate that, but I was really wanting to be one back then. So, yeah man, I went from USPS to having an atelier — which even sounded cooler than a studio.
JD: Since everyone's buying. stamps right now to help support the post office, if you could design a stamp, what would it be?
Futura: That's a great question. Well...let's just say that's TBD, because given my own personal history with them, I wouldn't be against that at all. I mean, that's the dream. First of all, as a child, stamps were one of the biggest visual inspirations of my life, along. with television. But I come from a visual stimulation culture revolving around things you could tangibly look at and touch — like stamps and money, the design of money. So yeah, designing a stamp would be crazy.
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