Badass Interview: Artists Martin Ansin and Kevin Tong Discuss Their New Mondo Gallery Showcase

Mondo artists Martin Ansin and Kevin Tong talk about their past, present and future.

Last Friday, the Mondo Gallery in Austin unveiled one of the most highly-anticipated showcases in its two year history: the Martin Ansin/Kevin Tong show. Both artists have contributed an absurd number of excellent pieces to the Mondo canon - many of them for previous Mondo Gallery shows - but poster nerds (myself among them) had longed for the day that both artists would be given the creative free reign that comes with a one- or two-man showcase. They did not disappoint.

I had the opportunity to sit and chat with both Martin Ansin and Kevin Tong during the show, and each had some enlightening things to say about their past work with Mondo, the artwork they were unveiling during the show and projects that they'd be keen to work on at some point in the future (yes, I asked about Bladerunner and Creature From The Black Lagoon). Here are some images from the show, along with some direct quotes from the artists behind the work.

Kevin Tong's Aliens

I started by asking each of them if they'd felt any pressure about the show. Kevin Tong says: "Well, yeah. These Mondo shows are a big deal, and a SXSW show is one of the biggest slots you can get. And to be working with Martin…I mean, I have so much respect for him. So, yeah, the stakes couldn’t be higher. It was very intimidating to be in on this show; it felt like, 'Man, there’s a lot riding on this.' When they first asked me if I wanted to do the show, my mind sort of went blank - y’know, like when you’re just given too much to process? I said yes, because I knew I’d regret it (if I didn’t)…but I didn’t know how I’d get the work done on time, I didn’t know if I was good enough to be paired with Martin - and I still don’t know! - but I just thought, I’ll figure it out."

Martin Ansin's Prometheus

It sounds as though Ansin felt the pressure, as well: "There’s a lot of pressure. The good news is, I have Kevin handling the other half of it [laughs]. So it’s way easier than if it was just my name. I’ve been working on pieces for this since last year. All the way up until last month! I wish I could have done more for the show. We actually have a list of stuff we’d like to do, and I get through it as I can."

Martin Ansin's Flash Gordon

Asked which of the pieces took them the longest to work on, Ansin says: "That’s hard to say….they all took a lot of time for me. Lots of detail. The Flash Gordons took a long time, but it doesn’t really show. It’s all based on linework. So all the shading and stuff that’s super time-consuming…I dunno, that one probably took the longest time."

Martin Ansin's Alien

After a moment, Ansin correct himself: "Actually, no, the Alien probably took longer than that, just because I wanted to go back and get a lot of reference for it. Stuff like every nook and cranny on the ship…I wanted to get it just the way it is, so none of it is, y’know, made up by me or anything like that. Trying to replicate all of that faithfully was very time-consuming."

He goes on to say: "I think I’m actually taking longer now with every poster. Some people get faster with age, I get slower. Once I get started on a piece, I won’t let it go until it’s done. Maybe that’s why there aren’t so many pieces here today. I wish I could have done more. I would feel worse about it if the pieces weren’t good. It’s a lesser evil."

Kevin Tong's Wizard of Oz

Tong, meanwhile, tells me that his glorious Wizard of Oz piece literally took him years to put together: "Easy: Wizard of Oz. The top part of that print was done on a computer, and the bottom part’s done by hand, which is on purpose. I started sketching that one out when I was in France, which was back when Mondo was doing the Iron Giant screening. That was, what, two years ago? I worked on that one off and on for that entire time. But I’m really glad, because everyone seems to really enjoy that one."

For my money, Tong's Upstream Color was one of, if not the, best print in the entire showcase, so I made a point to ask about that. Here's what he had to say: "Someone asked me earlier what my favorite poster in the room was, and I said Upstream Color. It’s not a blockbuster film, obviously, and that’s what I love about it: I love rooting for the underdog. And Shane was onboard! He loved the poster, approved it…I was so excited about that, to be doing something he was really cool with. Probably my favorite thing to work on."

Kevin Tong's Upstream Color

I tell him that we need a Primer poster to complete the Tong/Carruth series, and he tells me: "I’d love to do a Primer poster. I guess for this show it could’ve gone either way, because Shane was like, “Do whatever you want!” But I’d seen Upstream Color more recently, and with Primer…I’d have to sit there and think about (how to do that). I think I had more to go on, visually, with Upstream Color. So that’s how that went. But I’d be very remiss not to do a Primer poster at some point."

Martin Ansin's Robocop

Asked how he selected which films he wanted to tackle for the showcase (and how he decided to approach each), Ansin says, "I tried to cover all my bases. I have the Flash Gordon, with the cleaner linework, it’s character driven. And then I did Alien and Prometheus as super-detailed, stacked-up (compositions) with many scenes coming together. And I tried to do Robocop like it’s in its (original) VHS colors. It feels like I’m attacking different targets, so I’m giving options to whoever wants to buy. I don’t expect people to buy these just because: I want them to buy them and hang them because they actually like them. I don’t wanna take anything for granted."

Kevin Tong's Hannibal

When asked what he'd work on if he could produce a poster for any film (free of the red-tape that studios and licenses can bring to the creative process), Tong tells me: "I think the holy grail - for just about every poster artist I know - is Bladerunner. And that one doesn’t even have that much red tape, it’s just that we’re all so close to it: we don’t want to fuck it up. Like, even if that one was given to me I might not do it. It’s a respect thing, almost like we don’t want to capitalize on it. If someone believes in Jesus, for instance, they don’t want to be Jesus. It’s not like, “I love him so much I want to be inside him”, y’know? Except Kanye West, maybe. Kanye West wants to be Jesus."

Ansin agrees, telling me that he'd love to work on Bladerunner if given the opportunity to do so. It's a pairing of artist and film that many of us are very, very hopeful to see come to pass at some point in the future. It's a position Ansin is probably comfortable being in at this point, given the number of films many poster collectors would like to see him tackle. One in particular, Creature From The Black Lagoon, has been high on my wish list for years. When I asked about the piece, here's what he told me: "The thing with the Creature is, it’s gotta be done right. And it’s been done right already." [I disagree] "Well, I’ve kind of left that one out on purpose so far, so that I can come back later and do it when I feel like I can do it right. With the Universal Monsters, I try to get every (monster)’s story into the poster, something that would make you want to go and see the movie again."

We're holding you to that, Martin.

Special thanks to Kevin Tong and Martin Ansin (both of whom are enormously friendly, gracious, and, on a personal note, heroes of mine), the folks at Fons PR, and - last but not least - everyone on the Mondo crew for throwing yet another great showcase.