A runner-up in accomplishments only to James Franco, Pharrell is a Grammy award-winning music producer, singer, rapper and fashion designer. The Renaissance Man also collaborated with Takashi Murakami on a series of sculptures, was named Esquire's Best Dressed Man in the World and has a son named Rockett Mann. And now the ever-cool creative is spreading his online doctrine en masse with carefully curated conversations about art and inspiration. It may be YouTube, but things could get deep.
Episode one was taped in David Salle's Brooklyn studio and townhouse, now on the market for $10 million. The studio space looked as if it were conjured from an overzealous imagination, with massive, juicy post-modern canvases jumbling art history with playful giddiness. On the half-finished canvases half-dressed women were sprawled between interjections by a Dada rubber chicken, Yves Kleinish blue body print and Magritte-esque floating hot dog.
Almost as surreal as the studio was the trinity of art pioneers sipping water in the center of it. There was Pharrell, the interdisciplinary culture maven, with frosted blonde hair and a button-down somehow incredibly high fashion and reminiscent of Seinfeld's puffy shirt. Then there was veteran provocateur David Salle, the proud host in a slick blazer and surprising white flip-flops, along with street art softie KAWS hunched over in a black t-shirt and cap. If the three were a 90s boy band, Pharrell would be the heartthrob lead singer, KAWS the dangerous-yet-sensitive one, and Salle the raunchy virtuoso. It was a bizarre love triangle for sure, but it somehow worked.
I asked Pharrell how he settled upon Salle and KAWS for the opening act. "They're incredible," he responded. "Salle was relentless in his struggle to express himself and his persistence paid off. This is what faith in oneself will give you. A studio like this, a house like this..." He motioned around a multi-million dollar living space covered in Salle's own work, but I was skeptical. He continued, "I don't mean it in a material aspect, but look around. You feel like you're in some kind of kingdom of his mind." Pharrell delivered whimsical naïvety in a manner so convincing it almost seemed factual.
Salle, whose interviews and essays are particularly eloquent, saw an underlying connection between his work and KAWS' street art style: "All pictorial languages have more in common than they are different. Our surface styling is quite divergent." He continued, "KAWS arrives at the image through drawing, and I arrive at it through value pattern -- light and shadow, but knowing how to use an image is what's important, and we both do well by that measure."
Their conversation is as much inspirational as informative; think "VH1 Behind the Music" meets "Art21." When KAWS is too humble to finish a thought Salle swings in with a line so smooth you'd swear he'd gotten the questions beforehand. Right when you start to feel you're just listening to three guys with a lot of passion and creativity, not that different from the rest of us, enter a beautiful young nude woman bearing a pitcher of water. Yup, the water girl is naked, and no one comments on this fact. She refills the boys' water cups soundlessly and, after a wink from Pharrell, shuffles on out again. Pharrell later called it an "unexpected flash of beauty," but the questionable prank served as a gentle reminder that we're not like you. KAWS, ever the voice of reason, said, "I just assumed that was normal for David's studio..." (He might be right.)
Aside from the "Boogie Nights" moment, the conversation achieved an organic balance of charisma, intelligence and honesty that gave a satisfying, if not incredibly groundbreaking, story of three very successful artists. As far as YouTube goes, it's about as high-brow as you can get without opening a second window. And who better to lead the public to a higher art consciousness than the man who sees conversation as yet another one of his mastered art forms?
"Words are like different forms of art, they are meant to help you express yourself," Pharrell explained. "Different forms of art are like different languages. Instead of Chinese being for two billion people, imagine if it was just for one person. That language is your identity, your fingerprint. That's when you know you've done something."
Watch the first chunk of the interview in the video below and the full conversation here. (Awkward naked lady moment at 16 minutes.)