On a nicely moneyed afternoon in the Design District during Art Basel Miami Beach, Sam Borkson and Arturo “Tury” Sandoval—founders of the artist collaborative team Friends With You—are entertaining a few friends, customers and acolytes at their retail operation in the Melin Building. The resolute cheeriness of the upstairs space is dominated by an FWY neon sign and pale-blue walls with renderings of fluffy clouds and rainbows. The merchandise on hand includes jolly cell-phone covers, Albino TTT throw pillows in the image of friendly killer whales, Cloud City CDs, Malfi toys that resemble pear-shaped penguins and, of course, FWY sticker sets to ramp up the brand.
This afternoon’s cast of FWY devotees includes pierced downtown characters in Fugazi T-shirts, a buyer in an “It’s all about the pig” T-shirt from a barbecue joint, and FWY’s publisher, a tall, imperious, pinstripe-suit type from Germany’s Die Gestalten Verlag, which has put out a sparkly $60 monograph on FWY’s oeuvre. In another corner, a Japanese artist is taking in the scene: Over the course of Art Basel, the cameo appearances will embrace FWY fan Pharrell Williams, shoe designer Christian Louboutin, artist Shepard Fairey and representatives from such clients as Nike and MTV.
The FWY studio and offices in the back, akin to Pee-wee’s Playhouse in the glory days, are rocking right along. Curiously, the founders conduct meetings in an office with bare walls and green felt pads on the floor for conference seating. The only decorative element is a plastic statue of Mickey Mouse on the floor, akin to a Buddhist shrine, with Sandoval noting, “Walt Disney was ahead of his time, an icon, a symbol of what we want to accomplish.”
The partners are both 30-ish unaffected Miami homeboys, frank potbellies poking through their black FWY shirts, with Borkson doing most of the talking: “I was raised in Plantation, went to boarding school and then went straight to work; Tury came from Cuba at 14. We both always wanted to do fun, accessible art, though there is still a stigma attached to commercial art. And we’ve always wanted to stay in Miami rather than live in New York: That city is a rat race that sucks all your energy.”
The FWY gestalt is all about harnessing positive energy, an artistic manifesto centered around the message of magic, luck and friendship: On their website, FWY is billed as a “portal to a secret club and lifetime adventure.” All that whimsy has taken them a long way, from the Skywalkers blimp parade during the 2006 Art Basel Miami Beach to this summer’s Luminato art festival in Toronto, as well as image branding for Red Bull, Volkswagen and Coca-Cola, and music videos for Gwen Stefani and Santigold.
To Borkson, the horizon is rosy (“Now we finally have a retail space to test our products”), and for Sandoval, the promises of the future are even more glittering: “We want to do our own theme park one day. Both of us are the kind of people who’re engaged with their dreams.”
IMAGE: Sam Borkson (left) and Arturo "Tury" Sandoval in front of the FWY Fun House