Cactus Man

"Modern art is great, but you have to take care of plants – right?"

February 03, 2022

Avant Arte presents a multimode collaboration between DRx (category-defying creative and ‘fortune telling’ collector, Darren Romanelli), SRL (Specimen Research Laboratory, an offshoot of trailblazing streetwear brand Neighborhood) and CRamics (graphic designer turned ceramicist, Candice Romanelli).

man in baseball cap crouching down holding a cactus man action figure

Video by Jack Pearce, filmed at Romanelli's Los Angeles home.

Comprising a unique stoneware pot, a vinyl figure and a limited edition T-shirt, the release enshrines an ongoing collaboration between husband and wife whereby Candice’s handmade sculptures act as 1 of 1 containers for rare plants grown, staged and shared by Darren.

Under lockdown, conversations on rare plants between Darren and Neighborhood founder Shinsuke Takizawa evolved into a series of photoshopped, human-cactus hybrids – a perverse digital echo of the experimental ‘grafting’ techniques used in cactus cultivation. From the collages came Cactus Man, a super hero-esque character calling to collectible subcultures, particularly those of Japan, as well as high-octane ‘tokusatsu’ cinema.

digital collage of man with cactus head holding long thin cactus
Darren Romanelli standing in a glassless greenhouse holding a long thin cactus

digital collage of man with cactus head holding two long thin cacti

Realised as a vinyl figure – complete with removable mask, hands and apron – Cactus Man is accompanied by a limited edition Neighborhood SRL T-shirt and a debut edition release from CRamics. The shirt anchors the figure to its subcultural origins, while the slab-made, fired stoneware vessel connects Cactus Man with a profound appreciation for collecting, cultivation and botany at large.

True to Romanelli’s reputation as a multi-hyphenate practitioner, the 3 artefacts deftly entwine tenets of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture – questioning how said categories have been and might be defined to begin with.

3 questions

Ahead of Cactus Man's release we asked Darren Romanelli and Neighborhood founder Shinsuke Takizawa for their takes on collaboration, collecting and notions of taste.

The collaboration feels very 'now' on multiple levels – why do you think that is?

Shinsuke Takizawa: In the early 90s during the time of so-called ‘Ura-Harajuku Culture’ there were no words to describe what we call a ‘collaboration’ now. We used to call these types of projects ‘double name.’ Most of the time our partnerships will be among friends, or with a brand or company we respect. I think 'collaboration' is becoming very mundane and casual. This said, I will continue to search for exciting new projects.

Darren Romanelli: The collaboration has the perfect balance of everything I could want in a drop - a mix of high and low, humour and creative exploration. The origin of the project stems from an authentic narrative between friends and family. Each of the items are complimentary of one another - the grounding quality of the ceramics match with the streetwear collectibility of the toy and t-shirt. The collaboration pulls from subcultural contexts and at the same time pays tribute to my personal experiences and relationships.

Candice and Darren Romanelli working on ceramic plant pots in their studio
gloved hands holding ceramic pot with small round cactus inside
What started your collecting journey – an artwork, an artist or something else entirely?

Shinsuke Takizawa: I don’t know the reason, even for myself – just things that interest me: art, music, motorcycles, vintage toys and planes etc. But I do like delving into and understanding their existence, background and history, I think. By doing so I feel you can find and start to see the essence within them.

Darren Romanelli: When I was around 8-9 years old, I remember moving from SF to LA in 1984. That is when I started collecting Coca Cola pins from the Summer Olympics that happened in LA that year. I also have memories of being obsessed with Jordans at that time and Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp decks, Grateful Dead ephemera and salt water fish tanks - all of those were my passions as a kid. I couldn't get enough. I was constantly rearranging my collection, creating different environments in my bedroom.

It hasn't changed, that drive and those obsessions still resonate with me today. I put the same energy into whatever I'm exploring. I'm really inspired by collecting, it fuels my own creativity.

Darren Romanelli holding up long sleeve black T-shirt
ceramic pot and cactus man figurine in garden next to cacti
Darren Romanelli playing with Cactus Man figurine
Though subjective, we often think of taste as innate, that someone has an ‘eye,’ or doesn’t. How do you define taste, how do you define your taste, and how has it changed over time?

Shinsuke Takizawa: It’s interesting to wonder about sense and sensation. I personally think that it is both from the environment you grew up in and somewhere in your genes. This is because, even if you look at the same thing, depending on the viewer it will look and feel different. I don’t think it changes, fundamentally what you have will always be there, but at different stages of human growth our taste will also change and evolve.

What I can say for sure is that sensations in childhood (particularly perception) are pure and unlearned, thereby honest and straightforward.

Darren Romanelli: I define taste as connection - a reaction or feeling to a particular experience. There is a community aspect to it as well, a collective appreciation, a connection between people with a similar taste or eye. My own taste is continually evolving as I grow and absorb information and experiences. I'm attracted to things that challenge or move me. I'm interested in that emotional reaction. To me taste is really defined by what you love.

I'm attacted to things that challenge or move me.

For more on Darren, visit his artist page.

Video and stills by Jack Pearce.
Edition photography by Eddo Hartmann.
Additional images courtesy of Darren Romanelli.

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