The artwork of FAILE from artists Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller is a blend of mixed visual imagery and narrative that give you a perfect overload of the senses. I have always enjoyed their comic book themed pieces because while they represent a bit of classic nostalgia, they also have a twist of modern themes as well. FAILE’s recent collaboration with the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center stood tall and glorious with the installation containing several individualized painted wooden pieces. Their transition from putting art in the streets to an established place such as the Lincoln Center shows how powerful the artwork of FAILE has become. I was able to speak to Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller on this successful installation, how living in Brooklyn has sparked their art and how they go about reinventing their art for the next audience. This is their story….


What does each artist bring to FAILE in regards to the creation process for the art?

Well it’s just the two of us Patricks, in collaboration. When we started there were three of us with Aiko Nakagawa (Lady Aiko) who left in 2006 to pursue her own career. In many ways we like to think that we work like a band. We both have our individual skills but it takes the two of us to really make the music or art in our case. At some point we are both involved in that creative process and shaping the artwork in a particular way. 

 How did FAILE first come together and where did the name come from?

Patrick and I met the first day of high school when we were 14. We used to trade sketchbooks and had a mutual appreciation for art. In 1999, when we were both away in college we decided to take that continuing collaboration to another level, creating our first series of works on the street. It was a series of sleeping female nudes, which was in some response to seeing works on the street that were more masculine or aggressive art at the time. We wanted to convey something softer and beautiful, a nod to a classic art theme and given it was a new project the name ALIFE was a perfect fit. The work had a life on the street – it was there one day and gone the next. It so happened, that there was an urban clothing and culture brand with the same name that had, coincidentally, opened around the same time in NYC. Given they were a bit more recognized, we were faced with changing the name. The idea of failing and from that gaining the strength to move forward and grow resonated with us, hence the anagram FAILE. 

Do you feel that social sites such as Twitter and Instagram have played an integral part in spreading the word about FAILE? Do you feel that there are any disadvantages to social sites regarding how your art is displayed?

It’s amazing. We actually didn’t really start using Instagram or Facebook in a concerted way until this November and the following has been amazing. It really is a new way to connect with an audience – to share the work that’s being created in a way that can reach anyone. That was the whole idea with street art for us in the beginning, that we could reach so many people just working directly on the street, not being burdened with approval from the formal art world. Social media and the internet reach people in the same way. The only disadvantage is that art is never as good in a photo as it is in reality but for many that is not possible to see works that are in other parts of the world or on the street for a short time before disappearing. Also for young artists in small towns around the world, the internet and social media, let’s them participate in a global dialogue even if they can’t travel or few people can see their work in person. They can still have an impact and a voice. 


FAILE is doing an amazing exhibition at Lincoln Center that involves the New York City Ballet. What can you share regarding this project and what are you hoping that the audience will take away from the experience?

The project with NYC Ballet has really been incredible. They have an amazing heritage of artist collaborations from Warhol, Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel and many more. In their modern art series they are really trying to continue their tradition of being at the forefront of what’s modern. We’ve created a very large-scale installation there and the response has been great. Exhibiting in LincolnCenter in New York is an honor and NYCB has been an incredible host. I think our hope was to again introduce new audiences to our work and new audiences to the ballet. There’s a real generational crossroads at the ballet and it’s been great to support these two worlds meeting. 

My favorite pieces from FAILE are the ones that have the vintage and comic book feel.  How did this theme in your art first come about?  

We’ve always considered our art as something that is influenced by many different bits and pieces of culture and ephemera. We like to find these bits and pieces and weave new narratives, a modern mythology that is created through our icons and images. It’s how we grew up being told stories to, being advertised to and really just absorbing an overwhelming amount of information and visual language from. Comics, newspapers, advertisements, religious ephemera, punk flyers, skateboard mags – it’s all a part of what speaks to us and our work is born from that. It’s about finding a link in all the madness and creating something of meaning that we can create and share. When we first started making images, they were more simple standalone images (BunnyBoy, FAILE Dog, Surfer Horse), over time we wanted to create more complexity in the images through narrative and language, this was the beginning of the more comic book style works like Agony and Ecstasy and Forbidden Love. 


On your Facebook page, it mentions that FAILE “blurs the line between “high” and “low” culture”. What did you mean by this?

As mentioned, our work references many aspects of culture whether it’s architecture, religion or politics to everyday advertising, the urban landscape or printed ephemera. In this process, the work really takes from all these and creates something new. It becomes a commentary and visual representation of a whole that includes ideas of high and low culture. This also creates new objects in our work for instance, the FAILE Prayer Wheels are inspired by Tibetan Prayer Wheels meeting something like a newspaper advert stand. We were inspired by the idea of – what does one pray for in a modern, materialistic society – which when conceived in 2007 seemed so prevalent. Pairing the traditional prayer wheel with sex ads, the language of advertising and whimsical icons from our work was more commentary on the kinds of objects that might be created from this modern world or that an outsider might say we covet on a sacred level. Playing with and mixing these ideas is a big part of our inspiration.


How has living in Brooklyn influenced the art created by FAILE?

From our point-of-view, Brooklyn in the last 13 years has really become a stronghold of creativity in art, music, writing and cuisine. It’s amazing to be in a place where so many of the things that we’re inspired by are being created. In many ways, Brooklyn and New York City has been our muse. It’s influenced many aspects of our work that’s been woven throughout our imagery, painting and sculpture and we hope we’ve taken from that, transformed it and brought it back to the city in a fresh way. 

Is it difficult to not repeat subject matter?

Much of what we do relies on creating icons and images that resonate with people over a long period of time and about creating our own language of symbols and mythology. Each of these images is a broader part of the work of FAILE. In that way there is something that becomes necessary in keeping older works relevant in the way they interact with newer images. We’ve always tried to keep pushing ourselves and to take risks. We don’t want our fans and collectors to feel like they know what they’re going to see exactly at a show. In our career both on the street and in the studio, I think we’ve done a good job of keeping the element of surprise there – while still giving a clear link to its evolution as FAILE. 

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