When most people doodle in their school notebooks, they usually do not create characters that become known throughout an entire underground art community. Then again, most people are not Goons.
Goons, who prefers to be addressed by his moniker, is the Chicago street artist—currently based in Vermont—known for his brightly colored, big-mouthed goonie characters with enlarged lips that populate his imaginary world of Goonswood.
While attending Columbia from 2004–2008 as a film + video major, Goons took only one drawing class, during in which his professor was unable to see his artistic vision.
Since graduating in 2008, however, Goons has more than proven his professor wrong. He has been featured at Art Basel in Miami, created the viral “Clean It Up” video for Orbit gum and designed personalized album artwork and music videos for bands like local favorite The Lemons.
The name “Goons” comes from the goonie-like characteristics of his designs—a quality the artist himself said he shares. Goons’ reckless, do-it-yourself style is cartoonish and well-suited to his signature wheat pastes, the name of the homemade glue he uses to affix his images to outdoor sites.
“I didn’t want to follow the system to get to the galleries,” Goons said. “I just thought you could get so easily lost if you were like, ‘I’m [going to] go to school for this and get there eventually.’ Especially in art, it would have watered me down, and I would’ve lost my creative vision for creating big things.”
Though he resides in Vermont, Goons said he regularly returns to Chicago, pasting his work all over city walls or contributing to local alternative art gallery Galerie F, 2381 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Billy Craven, co-owner of Galerie F, said he is a fan of Goons because his work is so easy to appreciate.
“His artwork has never been something that was over your head,” Craven said. “It was easy to look at and get a giggle out of it. The imagery of how the person was posing or the text with it was always very simple and humorous.”
Simplicity is what Goons said he cherishes most. He has never been known as a political street artist. Even with his recent “Chump” design—a character with a striking resemblance to Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump—the artist said he designed it all in good fun.
“I try to stay out of politics, because I never want anybody to feel alienated,” Goons said. “I don’t really believe in politics, because no matter who the president was, my life has never really changed. I just thought it was funny drawing that line between Trump and Chump. I feel like a chump would say what he felt, no matter what and either be loved or hated for it.”
Juicy James, a percussionist for The Lemons, was introduced to Goons’ work while playing in his other band, Today’s Hits. He said the camaraderie Goons brings to every design for The Lemons helps the band grow.
“[Goons] had told me that ‘teamwork makes the dream work,’” James said. “It’s been very true. It’s one of those things where we’d always joke that we’d take him to the top, and he’d always joke that he’d take us to the top. It’s fun to be on that ride together.”
The feeling is clearly mutual, according to Goons. After designing The Lemons’ full-length release Hello, We’re The Lemons, as well as the band’s music video for “Ice Cream Shop” and a number of other designs, the relationship between the two has only grown.
“I like to think of it like Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground,” Goons said. “They inspire me and I hope to inspire them, and I just want it all to be seen as art.”
Goons said art is now his full-time job and he cannot see himself working for someone else in a different line of work. Creating his characters is when he is at his best, he said.
“It has been hard at times, but I know it’s the right direction and couldn’t have been done otherwise,” Goons said. “I’ve tried everything else. Nothing else feels right. This is my thing. It’s a lifelong thing.”