April 2017

The Dark Arts

WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK WBYK Text: He She It They I Images: We Buy Your Kids

The Gruesome Twosome. The most Exquisite of Corpses. The hardest working couple in the business. Biddy Maroney and Sonny Day are – the ominous yet entrepreneurially-adventurous sounding – We Buy Your KIds. We knew the WBYK name before we knew the lovely people behind it. We first spied their iconic Popfrenzy posters printing the town red some four-odd years ago. And had to find out more. Their work is very much their own: scary, funny, witty, delightful. Mysterious, magical and mythical… and looking at it always makes us want to stand up straight, pull our damn socks up and smile. Intertwining amazing symmetry, purpose and discipline with irreverence and fun it seems they’ve managed to find the Golden Mean in their work. As a couple who work together ourselves, we were intrigued to find out if these two have found the same balance behind the scenes. We met up with Sonny and Biddy at Bodega – a shared favourite, to chin-wag, lolly-gag, and hopefully learn a bit about how WBYK do it all.

He She It They I: OK, let’s get this out of the way – what’s the origin of your name and what’s the best response you’ve received upon announcing: Hi, we’re from We Buy Your Kids?

Sonny Day: I came up with the name as a joke while I was working in a cafe when I came to Sydney.

Biddy Maroney: I liked this one time when I rang up a client a year or so back, and the phone was answered by a new receptionist. I left a message “…just to call Biddy at Webuyyourkids. She’ll know what it’s about” – and there was just this weird awkward silence before she answered “OK”, a bit grim and suspicious. After I hung up I realised the lady I was leaving the message for was heavily pregnant.

HSITI: As a couple who also make together we’re interested to know – did you start out as work partners and fall in lurve/or lovers who fell into working together?

BM: I think we both really liked each other’s drawings from the start so it was a part of what attracted us to each other. But we didnt really start working together for about five years.

SD: I remember when we first started seeing each other I was like, “we should totally do stuff together.”

HSITI: You both come from artistic backgrounds, Sonny as curator/artist and Biddy as designer/artist. Did you consciously decide to toss in your day jobs and focus on WBYK or did it just kind of happen?

BM: It really just kinda happened. We were working together at nights doing Popfrenzy posters while I was still at my last job. But when I quit that job it was just because I wanted to quit that job and I didnt really know what I was going to do. I thought I’d take some time and figure it out. But we’d been doing a few Popfrenzy posters and Mess+Noise – when it was still a printed magazine – did a big feature on us. And that came out just as I entered unemployment. And I guess we really lucked out because that ended up with us doing a bunch of posters for bands who had seen the article on us. And luckily the the work has kept flowing. Sonny was still doing coffee until about 18 months ago, and still coming home and doing a full day’s/night’s drawing after hours.

HSITI: On that, Sonny, you’re like a GPS for the best coffee in area. What role has coffee played in your life, your career and day-to-day doings?

SD: Coffee was and is still is a big part of my life, I spent 10 years working as a Barista and three of those running a small boutique roastery called the Golden Cobra. Working in Cafes has allowed me to make heaps of really close friends both as customers and in the coffee business but I think the most important thing I’ve taken away is how to deal with people. There is’nt a better way to hone your people skills than working in a cafe.

HSITI: Best Coffee in area/s?

SD: I dont get out that much, but here’s a short list:

The Kick Inside – Erskineville
Forbes and Burton – Darlinghurst
Campos Coffee – Newtown
Mecca Espresso – Sydney CBD

HSITI: Could you tell us about the first piece you co-created?

BM: Beyond decorating someones birthday card I think it was for an exhibition at Phatspace – maybe six or seven years ago. It was a whole exhibition where the artists were all couples. We didn’t really know what to do. We did two drawings together – they were pretty clumsy and I can’t remember exactly what they were of. I think I did my bit in ink and brush and Sonny kinda wrapped the drawings up with pen. I think there was a big witchy woman and he drew little ghosts flying round her. Or something.

In hindsight I had a huge collection of coffee cups that I’d saved from going in and visiting Sonny while he’d be working behind the coffee machine at a café. He’d always draw something on the cup for me and I’ve kept them all. I wanted to do something with those but didn’t know what, and then a friend pointed out that cataloguing and presenting them as a timeline collection could have been my input to the collaboration.

HSITI: As a creative team, what would each of you say you have learned – or nicked – from the other, in terms of work styles, practices or methods?

SD: I dont know about nicked but Biddy has taught me so much about the basics.

BM: I think simplified things or more graphic compositions. Sonny can make awesome, (sometimes deceptively) simple compositions that are really striking and he just sits there and bangs them out one after the other. Shits me. I wish I could do that. Left to my own devices I kinda faff about and overcomplicate stuff. We both draw cats the same a bit now. And often I have to do fake Sonny when I’m working on something and redrawing bits. I think I’ve nicked a bit of how he draws hands as well. Spindle Fingers. But I still can’t draw hands right.

HSITI: Do you find yourself working together in the same way now? Biddy, you told us that you felt ‘emasculated’ when Sonny was at the gallery setting up your recent exhibition Bootleg – and you were at home manning the hamster wheel… Do you have designated roles, or do you both slide between the two?

BM: It’s all overlapped and melted into one another ’cause essentially most WBYK stuff is a sort of hybrid of both our individual stuff. But in a terribly broad series of generalisations I would say:

Sonny: hand-made. Biddy: computer-made.
Sonny: outlines. Biddy: fills.
Sonny: straight lines. Biddy: curvy lines.
Sonny: anything with boobs; massive eyeballs; a guy in a cloak; stuff with square heads; symmetrical layouts; weird scales; hands pointing at knives.
Biddy: colours and textures; anything with a side-on profile of a woman’s head; anatomical cutaways; type; centred stuff; no messing with scale.

HSITI: Ever the suckers for peeking behind the curtain, do either of you have collections or quirks that need to be aired? We know Sonny has a pretty serious skate-deck habit… Biddy?

SD: I’ve got a wish list a mile long when it comes to decks I dont have, I’ve mainly got Toy Machines and Alien Workshop boards on the walls with some other randoms. But I’ve been feeling comics again lately so I guess that’ll be the next thing I start hoarding.

BM: I love to watch really bad BBC murder mysteries. And now I love really souped-up Historical Sexy Drama. With beheadingments. I got so upset at running out of episodes of The Tudors I watched Rome. Nothing beats a good Morse though.

HSITI: So, there are a few recurring themes in your work: Snakes; fluids; symmetry; wavy lines – and a dash of the witchies. Are you one ridiculously rad person split into two, casting your wands over the work, or do you have two distinct tastes that come together in your imagery?

BM: Well, thanks, thats very nice. We have quite a lot of similar interests but we like to focus on the differences a bit I think. Or something that we mutually like, but from different angles. So the witch thing is a common theme because Sonny loves doom-metal ’70s zombie movies or Dario Argento horror movies – sexy metal witches having an orgy in a room running with blood. And I like clichéd Edwardian Edward Gorey tombstones and Vincent Price sitting in the shadows with some bats, in a room with stiff creepy portraits on the walls and Miss Havisham cobwebs. We both like both those lists of things actually, but are each more focused in one particular direction. So we just have fun with it and I think it comes out looking like neither one of the two directions in particular.

We Buy Your Kids

Bootleg is on until April 10 at Mart Gallery.

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