Part reference to early animation and comic art, part manic cynicism, Jaik Puppyteeth’s artwork is as magnetic as it is disturbing. Not only is this Kootenay native a visual artist, he also writes for VICE, giving sarcastic advice ranging from how to date while sober to how to get your boyfriend to wash his dick. The familiarity of cartoonish characters and wavey speech bubbles cleverly lures audiences in, only to shock them with themes of self-loathing, societal doom and hyper-sexuality. He can’t remember a time when he wasn’t painting or drawing, as illustration is what he’s always wanted to focus on professionally. SAD writer Becca Clarkson caught a moment with Jaik right as he was installing his latest show, Puppyteeth Carnival, to talk about the artist’s inspiration, development and future ambitions.
Becca Clarkson: Let’s take the homoerotic, anthropomorphic elephant out of the room: Why Puppyteeth?
Jaik Puppyteeth: I used to draw people with really big gums and really small teeth, which I referred to as puppy teeth. When I was looking for a moniker to make more “lowbrow” work under while I was at Emily Carr, I went with that.
BC: How did you make the decision to go to Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design? Was it one your family supported?
JP: It was the only school I applied to go to; It seemed like it had the right amenities and reputation for what I wanted. Yes, my family supported it, even if they thought it was a bit silly.
BC: The way you illustrate human eyeballs is very jarring and unique. Has this always been a characteristic of your work?
JP: Not always. It used to be more subtle, but it’s gotten more exaggerated over the years. It’s really a callback to early animation and comics. As far as influences go, I really like both Dick Tracy and Orphan Annie comic strips, as well as tons of others. I am inspired by outsider art and signage, antique toys and dolls, early horror and sci-fi films. I secretly love colour more than I put into most of my work.
BC: How did you end up writing relationship advice for VICE?
JP: The editor liked my tweets and saw value in my voice. She’s rad! I started writing for them last year and thought that I was so unqualified to be giving relationship advice that it could make a funny article. It’s really fun to read peoples’ problems. I’ve always written as well, and I like to read a lot. I am pretty sarcastic in real life, so it’s nice that it can translate into my art and writing. I plan on writing a book sometime soon. I think it's going to be fiction, but I'll infuse a lot of personal experience into it.
BC: In one of your VICE pieces, you write that “Self-care is definitely something I had to do in order to start being a productive and professional (???) in the creative field”—What’s your personal brand of self-care?
JP: I wasn’t at all productive when I was drunk and high all the time. I don’t have a happy medium when it comes to drugs and alcohol, so I gave them up altogether. I am also pretty reclusive and don’t tend to let a lot of people into my life. Sometimes I don’t know if that’s self-care or self-destruction, but it’s working for now.
BC: A lot of artists have been known to experiment with psychedelics while creating their pieces. Alternatively, a lot of artists are typecast as heavy drinkers due to some sort of inner turmoil. How do you feel your sobriety lends to your art and what is your response to those artistic stereotypes of projects and muses being enhanced by drugs or alcohol?
JP: My sobriety was the result of me trying to engage with that romanticized stereotype of a tortured artist who self medicates with substances. The substances were fun but I never actually made any art, so that was one of the main reasons I stopped. I realized I was wasting my twenties.
BC: In your interview with BeatRoute this year, you said “I’m cynical and jaded… I’m a failure in a lot of respects and I respond to that by making fun of it. A lot of my drawings are about aspects of my persona… It’s cathartic to have people relate to them.” In VICE, however, you also talk about “cat-fishing” certain likes/dislikes/aspects of your personality. I’m always curious about whether artists who are successful for being raw ever worry about how they’re being perceived by friends and strangers alike. Do you ever find yourself censoring your art from being too personal? Are there any lines you’ve made a personal agreement not to cross?
JP: I try not to censor myself too much. My parents have always been super supportive, and I think they acknowledge that my work is therapeutic for me. It helps me unpack a lot of things when I focus on them. There are aspects of my personality that I amplify for my online brand, and some that I sweep under the rug. Where we’re at technologically, I think that’s just a good use of the tools we’re given, and not a sleight at the viewers’ expense.
BC: How does it feel to be at a level of success where your artwork is tattooed on so many people?
JP: It’s pretty crazy, honestly! The style of lots of my pieces makes them easy to translate into tattoos, and I think I sort of opened the floodgates by posting photos of peoples’ Puppyteeth tattoos, and inspired more people to get them. Sometimes the tattoos are of pieces that aren’t my personal favourite, but I’m happy it resonates with them enough to have it permanently.
BC: Do you have a project you’re most proud of/excited about?
JP: I think I am most happy with my book projects. It’s really satisfying to design them all and see them as physical objects. A lot of people classify me as an internet artist, so it’s important to me to have my work on coffee tables and in closets in order to dispel that a bit. The internet is great for exposure, but you can’t be stuck there. I am also working on a drag carnival, which is a Puppyteeth Carnival themed drag show that will be an immersive installation mixed with crazy clown drag. Steering away from traditional, antiseptic gallery spaces is also important to me, and I am proud to find ways to work around it and represent my art more fully.
BC: Do you do anything else to supplement your income? What’s your experience working as an artist in Vancouver?
JP: Just art and writing currently. It's sort of hard. I mean, I live in my studio so it's not like I lead a glamorous life, but I'm comfortable. I don't have too much of a problem getting financially compensated for my work now. I’ve been entering art shows and selling work through galleries since I was in high-school. If people don't want to pay me for my work they can find someone else to exploit.
BC: Where can Vancouverites go to view or purchase your work?
JP: My website jaikpuppyteeth.com, Instagram (@puppyteeth), email; I set up studio visits for people who want to buy originals from me all the time, too.