Joey Colombo is a self-taught creative living in Oakland, California. With a studio in Berkeley, he churns out ornate and intricate collage works featuring a very familiar, yet often overlooked medium – currency. What started simply as a doodle on a dollar bill, has since grown into a complex and burgeoning art form; from one-liners and graffiti, to custom outerwear and large format pieces in which he uses his own blood as a medium. Joey has successfully carved out his place within a facet of artistic ability that most don’t have the patience for. How did you get started as an artist? Do you have any formal training?
I always doodled in school, but never had any formal training. I was a photographer in my free time (after work, the weekends) and about 4 years ago I was filming a friend paint a mural for a large graffiti show in the Bay Area (San Francisco bay). As I was filming a timelapse I decided to walk around and check out the work of other artists involved in the show, while walking around admiring everyone’s work I thought to myself “I could do this.”. That night I went home and started doodling. At this time I was working as an artisan for an artist named Gordon Huether in Napa, California, working on large site specific installations for airports, universities, city halls, etc. Fast forward 8 months of doodling on paper and graffiti characters in the streets, I painted on a $20 bill with some water colors. After a few of those I thought about all of the layers I used in photoshop and thought it would be interesting to layer one dollar bill on top of another. So I got an Xacto knife and went to work. The first piece was horrible but people loved it. About 6months later I made a few more for a show using bills from other countries. After the show I was googling currency art to see if anyone had written about the art and came across Mark Wagner’s work and was blown away. Fast forward again about 8 months of water coloring characters and doing murals around Oakland and struggling (starving artist) my best friend Dillon Forte told me I should revisit my currency collages. So last year 2015 I started really focusing on the currency collages and they blew up. Everyone I’ve show them to has told me they’ve never seen anything like it before and that’s an amazing thing to execute in art. Mark Wagner actually sent me an email and told me he loved my work and sent me some of his scrap eyeballs in the mail. Also around that time people from all over started sending me paper currency from around the world. This is all still new and I didn’t have a vision of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do until last year. Now I’m focused and have a clear vision of what I’m doing and what’s to come. I haven’t left the United States yet but my art is in homes all across the globe. France, Germany, Australia, Italy, Japan, and China.
What prompted you to use currency as a medium?
I liked the fact that currency is used as a control mechanism but also a tool to get places and things. We all use currency to live. I’ve taken something of control and made it my own. I receive bills in the mail and buy them online from all over the world. Each of these bills has its own story and energies, some fed a family, some were part of crime, some were used for gifts and some were used to harm. I take bills from all over the world and collage them together to create beautiful pieces of art. All of those different energies and stories stop there in this final piece of art I create and become something else that will have its own story. I think that is a very powerful, thought provoking conversation piece.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
I’ve gotten a lot faster at cutting and a lot better, but pieces can take from 2hrs to 40hrs depending on the intricacy and size.
Who/what inspires you most?
Music, art, and people.
How do you challenge yourself to grow and stay creative?
I’m always pushing myself and learning, trying new techniques. For example I cut the little statue out of the back of a US $100 bill. I pride myself not only on how crazy my designs are but my cuts as well. There are about 9 known currency artists in the world and I want to stay in my own lane and stand out.
Do you have any future projects/collaborations in the works that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on a few pieces of Steve Aoki as well as some other well known celebrities. But my friend Dillon Forte and I just opened up an amazing art studio/showroom gallery in Berkeley. I’m extremely excited about that.
Any advice you’d like to give to someone starting out as an artist?
Yeah, DO NOT LISTEN TO PEOPLE AROUND YOU TELLING YOU IT WON’T WORK. I’ve always had real jobs construction, refinery worker, stationary engineer and when I decided to become an artist full time to follow my dreams and passion I was met with a lot of negativity from him and others around me, telling me it’s not going to work and I need to have a real job. Well I proved him wrong and showed him the checks I started getting from my art and he’s now a believer and supports me 100%. If people tell you your art isn’t good take that and build on it. Always try new things, I’m a photographer, videographer, painter, graphic designer, I make clothing and sculptures. There are endless opportunities out there you’ve just got to be ambitious.