Efdot’s Murals for Optimists
Eric Friedensohn, better known by his alias Efdot, is an artist famous for his murals, stylish designs, and positive messages. Since he started painting professionally 10 years ago, Efdot has been creating what he calls “art for optimists,” reorienting the ways in which we engage with one another with art that is inviting, upbeat, and rooted in community.
Efdot started his career assisting sign painters around Philadelphia and then in New York City where his studio is now located. First inspired and encouraged by his grandmother, a stained glass artist, he had been interested in creating art his whole life. Growing up with the skateboarding culture, Efdot quickly discovered that the visual culture of skateboarding and art go hand in hand. “I would collect magazines and that’s how I started gathering my visual inspiration. My dad was also into rock music so we had vinyl covers around all the time. I think I was just exposed to good art at a young age. Skateboarding really shaped me into creating videos and photos and that led to graphic design and illustration more seriously.” Murals evolved from Efdot’s passion for typography and lettering. He studied graphic design in Philadelphia’s College and was noticing more and more of those beautiful hand-painted signs everywhere around the city. “They were really attractive to me, so I did a whole project based around hand-painted signs, documenting them and learning about the process.” When his project ended, he decided to reach out to some sign painters and got various assisting jobs. “I quickly realized I didn’t want to become a sign painter because it involved painting other people’s designs and I wanted to do my own lettering, which eventually led me to murals.”
Aside from the skateboarding culture, Efdot’s main inspiration for over 15 years has been travel–more specifically, travelling to Latin America. While living in Latin America for two years, he travelled around the continent with his We Work team. “I always wanted to live in a Spanish speaking country and I had this whole plan when I graduated: I wanted to work for a very specific agency in New York, that had an office in Barcelona. I had it all planned out, I was going to work there, and then transfer to Barcelona.” As things don’t always happen as planned, Efdot instead found himself trying to do full-time freelance, but it didn’t work out the way he wanted it to. Then he was approached by We Work. They were expanding and starting to grow their team of artists and designers. One year into We Work, they promoted him to an art director level and they added him to their Latin America team. “It was the best platform I could possibly find for my work. The creative director was very open to our ideas and helped us develop a new style to use in the work, try new things and collaborate. I got a lot of inspiration from those collaborations. Some of my best projects are from collaborating. I like it when I can add my perspective to a project and also combine that with the other person’s energy. For this to happen, you have to find the right balance and mutual respect. Looking out at what other people are making, figuring out what about that speaks to me. I love comedy and music as well, the list can go on and on, it’s endless but inspiration is everywhere you just have to keep your eyes open.” His practice is strongly informed by the art and architecture he encountered there. Most notably, his “Blob” character is the ubiquitous star of his pieces portraying a curled-up subject that evokes the smooth linework and forms found in Latin American aboriginal traditions. During his travels through Argentina and Mexico, Efdot borrowed colours and forms to take his work in a more abstract and playful direction, which felt more authentic to who he is.
"When someone looks at my art, I want them to feel a little sense of relief from what’s happening around them..."
Every artist's style evolves on a daily basis as they take in new inspiration and try new experiments. Art can change in a slightly different direction just by changing the tools. “I would describe my style as bold, colourful and playful. I’m actually partially colourblind, so I use very saturated colours, black and white and high contrast because it helps me see it better. I can’t really use neutral colours that well. My eyes aren’t trained. It simply doesn’t work for me, as I don’t get the same energy from it either. I work within my weaknesses.”
“When someone looks at my art, I want them to feel a little sense of relief from what’s happening around them. Almost like an element of escapism and optimism that isn’t easily found in the world.” It’s true that art is one of those things that is always going to be there. It’s the one thing that remains from every civilization, that, and storytelling. In regards to optimism, for Efdot it’s a choice. “It’s easier sometimes for people to feel optimistic, especially when you have privileges. But I know people who are very underprivileged or less privileged and they are still optimistic. It’s a choice, how you approach each day and situation. You can’t always control the circumstances you’re dealt with but you can control how you respond to them.” Efdot also highlights that things aren’t looking good today, “It’s going to get progressively worse as time goes on, just because of pollution and climate change. Systems aren’t changing fast enough. So, the way we approach our day is key.”
Efdot is currently collaborating with collectable company Topps on Project 2020, which features redesigns of iconic baseball cards with his signature style, a combination of art and sports fandom that is picking up recognition from both camps. Each artist has been given the same 20 cards, was told to reimagine them. There are no rules, however, Efdot set a few guidelines for his cards, to create some consistency across the set. “I’m just trying to apply my art for optimists philosophy to them and create a piece of nostalgia for people. The cards are getting reimagined as modern artwork, in a way that Topps has never done before.” No rules but with the cards artists were given a great starting point. It wasn’t just a blank canvas, “with my first card, I knew I had the player standing there, I played with composition. It’s actually a tribute to my grandmother with the stain glass pattern in the background. I started there and the cards became more and more history driven through my research.” He has also just launched his latest venture, Muralists, which is a community of aspiring and established muralists that offer insight, tips, stories, and features of other artists in the hopes of bridging the gap between fine art and street art. Muralists is accompanied by a podcast called Extra Paint. “This community idea sparked when I was in Buenos Aires. I was hiring these local muralists for We Work. I got to learn so much from them and I had some amazing conversations. I wanted to share that with people so I developed relationships with them and over time the community started to take shape.” Efdot launched the platform on Instagram first, as it’s such a visual medium. Posts are clearly more thought out and valuable, other than just reposting an image of a mural crediting the artist and then moving on. He wanted to go deeper and treat it similar to a curated magazine.
Efdot’s Topps project is going through to the end of 2020. Beyond that, he is building a small team for his new studio in order to delegate and make more time for original art and new large-scale murals – while streamlining his business. “I’m excited to build a team, because not only will I get to pass on my responsibilities to people and have more time for fine art, but I’ll get to mentor people and help them in their career. That’s part of what I want to do with Muralists. In my own studio, I’ll get to do it in a more hands-on way.”