‘SCUM BOY. TRANS 3D Artist. Motion Graphic Designer’. These are the descriptors that are shared on Scum Boy’s Instagram profile. With a distinct style dominated by pastel colours, detached body parts and mannequin-like figures, Scum Boy plays with branding and pop culture references, while building a 3D queer world. His work reflects on a younger generation’s questioning of established social structures, exploring sex, sexual identities, and drawing from his own experiences and view on the world.
I had an interview with Scum Boy to find out more about his journey as an artist.
How did you get into graphic and motion design?
I’ve always had a love for intense, in your face graphics and art but never really thought there was a place for me in the art world. This whole 3D animation thing started when I saw these posts on Instagram of satisfying 3D animations and I was really drawn [to] the contrast and juxtaposition of realism and surrealism. After a while I thought maybe I’d try my hand at it. I downloaded the software and I kind of got addicted to it. It has now taken over my whole life in the best way possible. Everything I see in the real world I visualize within my 3D world, and vice versa. If I see something cool the first thing I think about is “How can I translate this into my 3D world?”. Then my head starts coming up with all these different ideas to express my inner dialogue and often my thoughts regarding sex, sexual identity and how I might navigate those factors within my external world.
Please share more about the name ‘Scum Boy’? How does this relate to your practice?
Scum Boy became a thing a few years ago in Joburg. There were two bars right next to each other in Melville, and when I was a teenager I would pack a bag and I would just go there and have a good time. I would inevitably always fall asleep on one of the couches there and it got to a point where the managers and bartenders became my family because I spent so much time there. I would spend days on end just roaming JHB city and staying with people at this bar. I was the youngest out of everyone so they looked after me and one of them referred to me as their scummy hooligan, and from there it just became a part of who I am. I think Scum Boy encompasses everything about me and my work in a simple palatable way. Scum Boy was never something that I intended to be a whole thing, it just naturally progressed into that – I am Scum Boy and my work is ‘Scummy’. The work I do, unless it’s a commission, is for me and my own exploration of the world. It’s my way of putting my experiences and thoughts onto the screen, and through that medium, into the minds of my viewers. The name is my conduit.
How do you like to describe your work?
I like to think it has a sort of pristine vulgarity to it. My work is honestly just a conglomerate of different elements that I just throw together until it makes something that I actually like. [Most] of the time I don’t like it, but then I just delete everything and start over again. I’m trying to translate my 3D queer world into a 2D heteronormative world. Everything I make is a piece of my world. My work is me and I am my work, the two merge into one, whether I like it or not.
Some of your work plays on branding and pop culture references, with a dark tone (i.e. work for Willie Norris Workshop). Could you share more about this?
I use a lot of branding in my work only because I can do whatever I want in this 3D world and I guess having high fashion labels within it is me knowing that this is the only way I’ll be able to have them. If that makes sense? In no way in the real world will I ever be able to afford Balenciaga or YSL but I can add it to my art and in some small way I actually do have it. It’s purely me being materialistic and wanting to wear this shit, obviously I want to be able to wear high end labels everyday but that’s unrealistic. I’m a struggling artist from Joburg. This is the closest I’ll get to what I want. The majority of the work I make will have some small dark element to it. Not by choice, it just kind of happens. To be honest I don’t really have much control over what happens when I sit at my desk and work, it kind of just happens. I get into a bit of a work spiral, and the rendering process almost possesses me for that [moment] of time, and the moment I come out of it I’m confronted with a more clear version of my thoughts and emotions. It’s liberating, frightening and cathartic in a way. The work I did for the Willie Norris Workshop was really fucking fun. He had a vision in his head and asked me to put the momo piece together and yeah it came out really cool, plus he’s queer which makes everything 100 times better.
Your work is also a reflection of generational and cultural moods, (i.e. ‘Light and Breezy‘, ‘I brought myself a pair of sneakers and now I like sneakers.’
I think I enjoy representing the generational transitions within myself and also the community I belong to. It’s always been interesting to me to witness people becoming obsessed or immersed in new trends, purely from what they embody from films, music or video games. A large part of my work also focuses on quotes from people around me. The cultural moods I harness come from messy dialogue, stories being told, such as with the piece, “I was dumped at evol while Pussy Riot was playing“. This was basically a conversation I had with a close friend, an experience which might have taken on a mundane tone if I had not recorded it. The captions are relatable, and funny, and in that way relatable to the ‘scummy’ side I see in our generation, generations past and cultural moods.
Your work also makes reference to Jewish roots. Could you please share more about this?
I have been denying my Jewish roots hugely because of toxic masculinities in most religious communities. However lately I have tried to reclaim that part of my identity in a more open way; I think experiencing more queer Jews in Cape Town and how they have created a community devoid of those harmful aspects because of their liberating views on gender and sexuality has made the process easier for me, and in some ways, almost exciting. My art simply serves as a palatable and tangible platform for me to do this.
You also make work that speaks directly to your own transition. Could you share more about this journey and how this is present in your work?
Again, my medium of work and the platform I have created serves as a means to an end; my goal is always to have the agency to dissect what I’m feeling and represent that on a screen, to offer myself for understanding and maybe in the process offer that same facet to other queer and trans individuals in my community. Currently I have been focusing on trans-themes within my work, because sometimes it’s more difficult to put desires, difficulties, fears or happiness into words with regards to my transition. I don’t always know how to explain or verbalize these things, because often they are hard for myself to swallow, not to mention anyone who doesn’t possess an open mind. The illustrations have become my words, and have helped me curate a better dialogue. I have words now, because of my visual elements. It’s still a difficult thing to talk about.
You have a distinct style, with pastel colours, detached body parts, and mannequin-like figures being the most prominent visual elements. Could you share more about your style?
My roommate refers to me as a ‘gross Dali’, so I guess you could say I enjoy employing surrealism into my world. I like that I can create whatever I think, I feel a power in that, even if it’s some crazy bullshit; there are never binaries or boundaries. I can dissect what I want, for whatever reason, and feel control in that process. My art is sometimes about gaining control and losing control simultaneously.
Sometimes I do shit purely because it excites me and I don’t entirely know why, but that’s the freedom that I possess in my work: it’s for me. And that process is something that I have yet to articulate, because I am not done yet.