I recently had the opportunity to chat with Josh Warner of GOOD ART HLYWD. In addition to making the dopest accessories you’ve ever seen - he’s also extremely eloquent and super easy to talk to. He shared some really compelling thoughts on art, heritage menswear, and just doing good shit in general.
Josh has mastered the art of re-imagining and over-engineering everyday accessories with detailed construction using precious metals. He and his team control every aspect of the design process - from sketching the design and carving it into wax - to making a master and casting it in his private foundry in Downtown LA. He’s been doing this for 20 years, his work is in Self Edge and Barneys, he’s at the top of his game - and he took the time to take a break from all that to talk to me.
GOOD ART products have a real way of changing your preconceived notions about what jewelry is and how something that you carry or wear can affect you. I asked Josh how he thought this happens:
Josh: Well, I’d like the credit to go entirely to the product but I think it’s also perhaps something about the word ‘jewelry’. A lot of people - when they hear the word jewelry, they usually think of the stuff their grandma or their mother put on before they went out to a fancy dinner. And so, when I started making stuff out of metal (literally the first thing I ever made was an earring, clearly a piece of jewelry) I was already used to making things; this time it just happened to be out of metal and I was planning to punch a giant hole in my ear to wear it. But where I spend most of my time is not thinking about things in terms of jewelry but more in terms of cool bits of metal that fit into your life.
Right now, within eyesight of where I’m sitting, I see lot’s of things I make that aren’t at all “jewelry”. I’m looking at an E~Z Slider keychain, a pin, and another pin that’s just a chain link I soldered a post on and now it’s also a pin. A silver top to a small amber coke vial. No, I’m not an advocate of doing drugs - I don’t like Nazis either, but we all have to admit they were pretty well dressed - I like when I can find something to admire and then find ways to sort of improve on it, my medium is precious metals... Sometimes people will grab something of mine and say, “I never liked jewelry, but I like this.” Sure it makes sense... but I think that’s because they never knew what jewelry could be.
Some of the coolest GOOD ART pieces I've seen are a sterling silver box-cutter, a 22K gold hognose belt buckle, and of course their line of sterling silver army men:
Josh: They’re cool as fuck! And it’s hard to call ‘em jewelry. I call the company Good Art because I figure it’s not as much what you make but more the effects you create, and the communication therein. I think that’s what makes something art versus not art. It’s the quality of the communication that makes it good or not. Before GOOD ART I was broke and making sandwiches in a crappy little deli in Santa Monica. Some of those sandwiches were works of art though man! So maybe anything can be art, the point is - What’s the communication? What’s the purpose behind it? Are you trying to make something that creates an effect. I try to make things that put aesthetics into people’s lives so...
We talked a bit about leather-working and how I don't usually consider myself an artist as much as a craftsman. I see people tooling or hand carving leather and I really consider that art. Cutting and stitching leather and placing rivets is more of a craft in my mind. We then got on to the topic of workwear, utility and style trends:
Josh: There’s an interesting change as of late. Over the last dozen years it became okay to have a beard, and blue jeans became high fashion instead of working man’s gear. And working man’s gear has now shifted to high fashion. I lived for a spell in Montana and the normal gear was double-kneed Carhartt workpants, Wesco boots, and you’d have a chore jacket with a denim shirt underneath… And zero regard for any recently-spawned Japanese Heritage brands' love of Americana. You were wearing that because you were cutting fuckin' wood and chopping down trees. And that’s the shit that you wear doing that.
So, that’s a paradigm shift I’ve seen over the last dozen years or so; where utility has become art or at least the lines are blurred. By the same token the guy who used to make a wrought iron fence was usually considered a craftsman who made a wrought iron fence, but in today’s nomenclature, you’d say that guy’s an artist. I can see both sides of that coin. For me, I think I have always sat slightly outside of the fashion realm just by virtue of my own taste and in part when I started doing this. In 1990 I was interested in these giant earrings I saw, my first glimpse of Body Piercing. I learned everything I could about it, and I started making earrings. My love of the whole body-piercing stuff was all about making stuff, the jewelry, it was making the shit, or inventing techniques that got me out of bed. I liked the making part more than the calling it art part. And I really like that blend between utility & art. I also like old stuff, the best old stuff was like that, somewhere between beautiful and useful. I love old Harley's, one I have is 70+ years old and the thing boogies down the highway at 80. Old as fuck and it runs like a Swiss watch... and it’s beautiful; And utilitarian. For me, the best stuff is the stuff that works well, evokes an emotional response when you’re near it, and gets better with age. Like me...
On style trends:
Josh: Here’s a trend… workwear means you're either a hipster or you live in Montana and chop wood. I think maybe that’s part of the confusion when I say I make jewelry and people tell me they don’t wear jewelry. I should stop saying that. The stuff I make spans a lot of categories and has less to do with trends than being pure and good and clever and fun. I make a lot of clips & clasps and mechanisms, and you could find similar stuff in life - made out of shitty brass or stamped out of tin. I like to then riff on that shit and over-engineer and rework the idea into something more… more better… more bitchen. And make it out of gold or silver, I love the insouciance of that.
There are short-cuts and there are earnest endeavors. And I’ve always fallen to the more rewarding side of loving and relishing in my work, rather than taking the short cuts. So I tend to not take many short cuts; I take the long way there, in most areas of life. For me it’s more about a good journey than a destination.
I thought I’d have more to say about trends, sorry. For me, truth is in design that stands the test of time. In earnest and clever work that creates a good effect. There's no trend more important than integrity.
I recently picked up a Vanson cafe racer style jacket. It's great looking - but I don't ride. I asked Josh what he thought about the cooptation of motorcycle style (heavy denim, heavy leather jackets, engineer boots, etc) by a larger audience:
Josh: It’s easy to understand where that comes from. Bikers are always on the way to a BBQ with titties & beer. Who wouldn’t want that… I don’t think civilians should wear 1%er patches for fun, but lots of styles have become fashion (to the uninformed). The biker mock-up is way more acceptable now when compared to when I was a kid, it’s always been cool, but back then it also came with a shitty stigma, and a knuckle sandwich if not authentic. Deep down we all love that freedom thing.
I love leather jackets and all the biker gear, it’s my comfort zone. And for those who don’t ride, well I think its a beautiful thing to allow yourself to be influenced by something that creates an effect on you. So go get a jacket if it makes you feel good, even if motorcycles scare the shit out of you. Just own that shit.
On bad style and bad taste:
Josh: I try not to hate bad style or taste, I figure those are punctuation marks on the good things I do. That said, I point and laugh way more than I should, like an asshole. Sorry.
On his core principles:
Josh: I always want to make something with integrity; I want it made well. I want the people making it to have earned a good living making it... I want the environment in which it’s made to be aesthetic. I want people stoked to come to work and feel like they accomplished something by the time they leave. I want the quality to always be such that it’s beyond reproach - when somebody says, "Fuck yeah; that’s a good piece." I don’t like doing repairs, so we make it so that we don’t have to repair it. We do very few repairs - maybe a dozen in a year - which is really almost nothing compared to the volume of jewelry that we ship out. The integrity of the product itself and the integrity of the design - it’s got to be fuckin’ cool. It’s got to move you. It’s got to move me anyway. It’s got to affect me in a good way. Beyond that, little else matters. Those are the real core values regarding GOOD ART. I could be missing something - like eating and riding motorcycles along the way. But truly, I just want to make good shit that creates good effects and have fun doing it.
On heritage brands and the future of workwear:
Josh: I love it, mostly. I don’t love stolen integrity.. like taking the name of an old and defunct brand to try and make your crap better, and unfortunately there are some pretty popular brands doing that shamelessly while most of their public is non the wiser… Spend your coin on the real shit folks.
I love brands like Wesco and Langlitz, they are the real deal. I love the whole crew at 3Sixteen, Johan & Andrew are the shit. They make killer quality denim and work-wear inspired clothes nice enough to wear to the office without looking like seasonal fashion. Thank you to Haraki at Iron Heart where everything is so overbuilt big guys like me can play rough without blowing out the crotch or seams! And then I really dig brands like Kapital where they just do their own crazy blends of heritage, super old boro and hippie-dippy happy faces. I think I’m too into these things I already love to care much about the future of workwear. For me the future is here right now and it’s very bright!
I asked Josh for some parting words or advice to live/work by:
Josh: I don’t like advice. I think it’s generally best to keep making your decisions based on what you know rather than what someone else tells you they know. Which is what I tend to give out as advise. That said, don’t lie, cheat, or steal. And don’t look for shortcuts. Work with integrity. Do good shit. Just do good shit.
I feel like we live in a pretty cool time. Despite the ramblings of the news and how terrible this is, and our president etc etc. Time to turn off the fuckin’ TVs, and don’t bother to read the newspapers either, same crap spewed there too - it’s the same shit yesterday and a year ago and tomorrow. You’ll learn nothing new and only get bummed about the horrible stories they’re telling. Instead go out and doing something or create or have a laugh with your buddies. Force yourself to smile and you’ll soon find something to smile about. So there’s my fuckin’ advices.
* Don’t watch the news - It’s bullshit. Don’t watch the news and if you take drugs, do it for fun - try not to do it to make yourself better because that doesn’t work.
He also left me with some parting words:
Josh: Don’t be a dilettante. If you’re gonna do it, do it right.
Now watch this badass video showing some of their production processes. Thanks again for taking the time to chat, Josh!