If you don’t already know pop-art sensation Timmy Sneaks, you will soon. The Malden native—who incorporates cartoon characters, superheroes, actors and other cultural icons into his super-bright work—is splashed on walls across town in spots such as Riccardi, The W, Ghost Walks and Bijou, and across the country in the homes of professional athletes and celebrities such as DJ Khaled and Post Malone. He’s even cropping up in singles—in his September mixtape, Tdot Illdude raps that the 29-year-old is “the new Picasso.” Here, Timmy covers ditching his tattooing gig and spray-painting Lambos, plus some slick talk about messing around with oil paints.
Where did the name Timmy Sneaks come from? Some of my favorite movies are old gangster movies like Casino, A Bronx Tale, Goodfellas. In all those movies, all those guys have really cool nicknames. I was sitting around with my friends one day—one of my other favorite things is sneakers—and someone randomly said, “Timmy Sneaks.” And I was like, “Wow, you know, I love it.” It really just stuck ever since.
What was your first year in Miami during Art Basel like? One year before that I had left tattooing completely. And I told myself, “I’m going to give myself one year.” I worked, I painted constantly, right up until Art Basel. I had to send all my stuff in to try to get accepted. I was trying to get a booth, and they were actually all sold out by the time I decided I was going to go. One lady hit me back a week later and was like, “We actually just had one person drop out. We really like your work. Would you still want the booth?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” And this was like September, October, so we only had a month or two before we had to go down there.
Pop Star: Original artwork on the cover by Timmy Sneaks for The Improper Bostonian. Photo: Leo Orange
The next year you spray-painted a Lamborghini. How nervous Were you painting a car that expensive? I think I’ve done three now at this point, but the very first one I was kind of panicking in the beginning. I was never gonna let it show. But the first time you’re painting a car of that caliber, you don’t want to mess anything up, you don’t know what to expect. So yeah, the first time was definitely a little bit nerve-wracking.
Do you go in with a game plan for that sort of thing? I look at the cars as more of a performance, because people are coming to watch you. I switch my style up and I use my bright colors instead of trying to sit there and paint line work and things like that. People are going to sit around for five, six hours—you kind of want to keep it interesting.
Photo: Gabby Baglieri
What’s your process like when you’re standing in front of a canvas? That I usually go into with a little bit more of a game plan. If it’s commission work, it’s usually coming from working off someone’s idea or something they had in mind. My favorite pieces are when a commission comes in and someone’s like, “Do whatever you want to do.” When I have that freedom, I have a lot more fun with it because I’m basically just kinda running with whatever’s going on in my head at the time. A lot of it’s pulling references. I watch cartoons, I look through comic books. I look through magazines, I listen to a lot of music. A lot of it’s cartoons that I grew up on. I was born in ’89, so I grew up watching ’90s cartoons, and I feel like it’s something nostalgic. Everyone can relate to cartoons and that’s part of why I use them so much, because whether you were born in the ’70s, ’80, ’90s, whatever it is, there were always cartoons on Saturday mornings.
What’s one of your favorite commissions? Nike came to me for a commercial for Kyrie and they asked if I could do a 10-foot piece with Kyrie in the middle. And that was exciting because they were shooting the commercial around Boston, so they invited me to the set one night and Kyrie was there, Gronk was there. The commercial actually aired on Christmas Day. Seeing it behind the scenes and then seeing it come together, that was a real fun, inspirational thing, seeing it all from the beginning to the end.
Is there anything in particular that you’re interested in or inspired by at the moment? I actually recently got into oil painting, and that’s been a big game changer for me because I just started playing around with it. It’s a whole new learning curve ’cause I’m used to acrylics. In a weird way, it’s not like starting over because I’m using techniques that I’ve learned, but, it’s definitely pushing myself outside of the box compared to what I’m used to working with.
What made you pick up oil paint? When I went to LA, a good friend of mine, Brent Estabrook, he’s really good with the oil paints. His style is a lot different than mine. He paints these realistic teddy bears. He was like, “Hey, you should push yourself and try using the oils. They are a lot different, you’ll get a totally different look and texture.” So I was like, “Yeah, let me give it a try.” Literally, the next day I went out and I got all the oil paints and I’m like let me play around with it. I was just hooked on trying to see where it could go. So my next thing is, I really want to combine the pop-art style that I use now, but maybe with a traditional method like oil.
You started at Savannah College of Art and Design studying industrial design. What made you switch to illustration? I was almost hedging my bet on industrial design. When I first told people that I was going to art school, especially family, everyone panicked: “Oh, my God. What are you going to do when you get out?” I was taking industrial design to satisfy people. And then as I came into my own, it was like, “OK, but what I really want to do is drawing and painting.” And originally, it was possibly going to be advertising or something like that. And then I just went a completely different route and started really taking the painting thing seriously.
Photo: Gabby Baglieri
What’s the biggest thing you learned in art school? Self-discipline. One thing that was really, really big was meeting deadlines. Savannah Art really taught you the business side of things. It’s always been this thing in people’s heads that, you know, you can’t make money as an artist. And Savannah taught you how to stay on top. And self-discipline was definitely a big, big part of it. They would overload you with work and make you meet a deadline. You may have hated it at the time and not understood why you had to do it. At the point where I am now, I look back and I realize how important something like that actually is. I mean, my last two years in art school I spent in an apartment off-campus living by myself, and painted and was drawing every single day, was super-focused. And I think that alone has just carried on to help me get to where I am.
Did you ever wonder if you wouldn’t be able to make a living? I’ve always been fairly confident and I knew what I wanted to do and I knew that I was going to do whatever it took to make sure that I was fine. I’m a pretty hard worker and I don’t like to lose, so it’s almost like a competition to me. I don’t like being told no and things like that. So, I would just really make sure that drawing and painting was going to take me to where it took me. Definitely in the beginning you’re nervous about it because you don’t want other people to say, “See. I told you.” You know what I mean?
Was there a moment where you thought to yourself, “OK, this is going to work out for me?” One was meeting my manager. I always wanted to be in a situation where I was just doing the painting and when my manager came along and was able take over the talking to people and getting deals done, that was one of the moments where I was like, “OK, another person actually believes in me and believes that this could actually be something.”
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