Artist Spotlight: James "Barf" Callahan
Toxic Coffin definitely started in part as a much needed outlet for Stephen to create a bunch of spooky designs and illustrations he doesn't get to do on a daily basis. That being said we also hoped this journey would open the doors to collaborate with amazing artists we're always inspired by. After a year of cutting our teeth as a new brand we finally made that day come true and we couldn't have worked with a more rad human than our Richmond pal, JAMES "BARF" CALLAHAN.
We met James while attending college at VCU in Richmond Virginia. He had already graduated and was working as a professional illustrator. It didn't take us long to realize the impact he had on our city. Almost every local punk, metal and hardcore band had album art and merch done by him. His illustrations were used in local shops, restaurants, events, comics, posters, skateboards... anything and everything and it was rad as hell! This doesn't come as a surprise because James has such an awesome way of creating art that will make you look 5 times at it and still find awesome details you never knew existed. If you could bottle up the entire energy of skateboarding counter culture, classic Looney Tunes, and mix it all with the monster from The Thing, you would have a perfect recipe for James' art.
Because of our deep love for Richmond, the Halloweens we spent there, and skateboarding around the city, we knew James was the perfect artist for our Return of the Living Shred shirt and it couldn't have turned out any better.
SHOP OUR RETURN OF THE LIVING SHRED SHIRTS BY JAMES HERE
To give you a deeper dive on our friend James "Barf" Callahan we asked him a few questions for this Artist Spotlight.
The first time I met you and one of the first pieces of your art I ever saw was during my freshman year of art school. There was this block festival with backyard wrestling and bands. I'm walking by this booth and see this giant painting of a pinup girl, except when I look closer she has super hairy legs, pimples, green odor coming off her body, bad teeth and a huge turd sitting right next to her. That painting stopped me dead in the tracks and I exclaimed “Holy shit!”. Next thing I know a guy working the booth shouts for you and says “HEY BARF! YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER ADMIRER!” I immediately bought up all the comics you were working on at the time. PLEASE tell me you remember this painting?
Ha ha, I do remember it. I think that particular one lives somewhere in Los Angeles now. I used to do some drawings like that which were meant to mess with uptight straight dudes. The idea being that they’d see the art from a distance and get all worked up about sexy lady art, but then feel weird and confused when they got up close and saw she had a 5 o’clock shadow, zits, and scars. I gave that gag up years ago though when I realized that it can also come off as a negative and offensive extreme caricature of someone transgender or non binary. I’m still finding new ways to mess with squares though.
Of all the years I’ve known you and chatted with you I don’t think I’ve ever asked this or even questioned it, but how did you get the name “Barf”?
Oh that one’s got a secret origin. If the world finds out then my cosmic powers will be jeopardized.”
You spent a lot of time working on comics and Rotting in Dirtville (you can view the full comic on Jame's instagram @barfcomics) is a personal favorite of mine because it reminds me of Richmond. Do you have an all time favorite comic artist?
I don’t know if I can really pick one. Jim Phillips and Geoff Darrow have a noticeable influence on my technique, but I could name dozens of others who have inspired and challenged me. I appreciate artists the same as albums, absorbing all the subtle nuances and then finding the next source of creative motivation and aesthetic curiosity.”
Your monsters and creatures have always been a favorite of mine. They’re always so intricate, mutating and no detail ever seems left unimagined. You’re kind of a mad scientist. Do you have a process for conjuring these characters?
Thanks! Well, I try to start by coming up with something I’ve never seen before. For better or worse, it’s hard for me to envision something that couldn’t function physically in our world so I’m compelled to design these creatures with anatomy and or machinery that could move and carry weight. I think this helps the reader grasp the tangibility of these monsters and creates a more visceral experience.
There’s been so many, but do you have a favorite monster creation?
That’s tough. The creatures from the original The Thing immediately come to mind though, just because of the creativity and originality.
Do you like horror movies? Have a favorite film or genre?
Yeah, I love’em! The original Halloween stands out for its simplicity but also as being a true auteur creation from Carpenter. American Werewolf of London lives comfortably in my all time top ten, with its gleeful soundtrack contrasting horrific scenes. Generally I really enjoy practical effects and there’s no genre that highlights people’s ability to invent illusions like horror. I just recently watched Dead and Buried and was blown away by some of the things fabricated for that film.
Video Fan (RIP) will always have a very special place in our hearts. We found so many movies there that we would have never found anywhere else. Do you have a hidden gem find or any special memory about the best video rental place ever?
Damn I miss that place. I can still conjure up a pretty vivid memory of the entire layout. I loved that they had a section that was devoted to directors and you could explore someone’s entire catalogue without looking all over. Everyone who worked there loved their job and it showed. It was such a joy and the city is poorer for its absence.
You’ve also made a shit ton of rad art within the skate industry with clients like Thrasher, Creature, Shipyard, Lovenskates and even your own company Nowhere. What has been your favorite skate project you’ve worked on?
I did a project with Carhartt (which was as big of a skate company as Vans in many places outside of the US for a time). It was a three board series of an evolving graphic and shape. The art was a wizard performing a spell by cutting off a snake’s head. The second graphic had the wizard exploding with snakes shooting out of his body, and the third was a giant snake monster with bat wings. Each board came with a pack of stickers to customize the background and a comic that told the story of the wizard and the snake beast. I’ve done a lot of other great skate projects but that was the most intricate by far.
Check out the full Summon The Snake Beast project!
Best part about skating in Richmond?
Currently it’s the community! I’m in awe of how much people have organized to make things happen- whether it’s showing up in numbers to get sanctioned parks built, making DIY spots, supporting creative endeavors, or being an inclusive environment - Richmond has become an amazing skate city. It’s a total contrast to the skater vs. skater vibe of 20 years ago.
Worst part about skating in Richmond?
I have to have a stupid job!
What’s your worst slam?
I’ve had plenty, but I guess it’s the double compound fracture that snapped my forearm in half. I still have two plates and thirteen screws in my body from that one.
What do you like to skate the most these days?
I’m trying to be a little more versatile these days, so even though I’m not very good at it, I am enjoying some street skating for the challenge. There’s nothing like a good pool or bowl though.
Choose one… you have to push mongo the rest of your life or only skate in those giant Osiris D3 shoes from the early 00s?
Haha if I could go fast enough I wouldn’t be bothered by pushing mongo. Those moon-boot skate shoes must offer some kind of padding, so maybe they’re not so bad? I’ve got no worries about style points so I guess I’d take either.
Richmond is a very special place for Lance and I, especially during Halloween. It’s the main reason we reached out to you for doing this shirt design. It has this gritty punk vibe, but is also very historical. It really does have a certain spookiness to it and was the place where Lance and I really expanded our obsession with horror films. Do you have any rad Richmond Halloween memories?
Oh man, I was a terror on many Halloweens in Richmond in my college days. We’d run the streets and cause chaos on a level that’s hard to imagine now. It had an especially haunted feel then, with so many more abandoned buildings and decaying homes. It was a degenerate’s playground.
What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve made, what’s the worst?
The worst was definitely a dead Dale Earnhardt. It was the same year he died and I thought I’d get NASCAR fans to try to fight me. That didn’t work, and a few were actually psyched, which was not fun. The best was probably a fake gore costume I made in middle school out of found materials. I had a ripped open hat with latex worms from fishing lures made to look like brains. I had a ripped open shirt with strips of rubber made to look like ribs laying over top of clumps of red paint and wads of string for flesh. I even fashioned a knife used to rip up carpet to a belt that made it look like I had been stabbed in the stomach. Surprisingly, the school didn’t take the knife away until lunch. Different time I guess.
Any fun projects you can share that you are currently working on or something we should be keeping an eye out for?
I’m collecting all of my skateboard art to date in a book that will be out next year. Also I’m back to working on comics, some solo and some with my old partner Rick Spears. Stay tuned!
Be sure to give James a follow and check out all of amazing art!
Instagram @barfcomics: https://www.instagram.com/barfcomics/