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It often starts with a blank canvas and an outstretched arm that extends into a thick black marker. In unhurried yet unhesitant motions, thick, smooth lines materialize into a dance of anticipation for his 2.6 million Instagram followers – what has Mr Doodle conjured up now?
Artist Mr Doodle, or in private, Sam Cox, is a 27-year-old professional doodler who has been making waves in the art market since 2017. According to Artnews, his works amassed nearly US$4.7 million in sales across three continents in 2020 – in a span of just nine months.
In July 2022, Mr Doodle held his first solo exhibition with Pearl Lam Galleries – called “Doodle Transformation,” featuring a series of doodles entitled “Abstract Doodlism” – in Shanghai and has collaborated with brands including Tesla, Fendi, Converse, Puma, Samsung and MTV.
We caught up with Mr Doodle to chat all-things-doodling and learn about his approach to art and how love has filled his doodle-covered world with color.
Covering the entire Earth with doodles
Mr Doodle’s love for doodles began at an early age and has since grown into an obsession. He says his intention is to doodle as much as he possibly can until “the entire Earth is covered in Doodles.” From doodling canvases to T-shirts to Tesla cars and an entire house, Mr Doodle is certainly on his way.
“I enjoy seeing happiness on people’s faces when they look at my doodles,” Mr Doodle says about what he hopes to achieve with his art. “My art makes me happy, and if it can make someone else feel the same, my goal is achieved. I also love to see how my art inspires little doodlers to express their emotions and thoughts through art. I can’t ask for more.”
While Mr Doodle studied illustration at the University of the West of England in Bristol, he realized that doodling was his calling. He dubs this compulsion to doodle as “Obsessive Compulsive Drawing.”
“There isn’t any particular inspiration behind my doodles, they are just born from the compulsion to draw and consume surfaces,” he says. “I haven’t ever experienced a situation where I don’t know what to draw or ‘artist’s block.’ I think you can always create something; you can just start with a random, abstract shape and build from there, it’s just a case of learning not to be too much of a perfectionist.”
Stretching his visual language
One word often used to describe Mr Doodle’s doodles is “busy.” His doodle characters multiply over the entire surface, almost like Hong Kongers packed on the Admiralty MTR during rush hour. Yet, unlike that dreaded scene we know all too well, the doodle characters never feel like they are fighting for space. Instead, these bobbling figures are meticulously assembled in a way that you can see every probing expression and quirky interaction.
“I started at a very early age, but my particular style is something I started developing when I was at school and university. I would draw for 14 to 16 hours a day, every day, because I just love doodling.” says Mr Doodle. “One of my school projects was called “Obsession,” for which the focus was my drawings and how much time I’d spend working on them. I was covering sketchbooks and furniture around me with doodles like a constantly growing virus. I never stopped since.”
We see a turn of style from the signature black-and-white “graffiti spaghetti” to colored-in romance-centric pieces in 2021 by virtue of Mrs Doodle. While Mr Doodle dawns his fully doodled black-and-white suit, Mrs Doodle stuns in the colored version. “Mr Doodle in Love,” debuted at Shanghai K11 Art Museum in March 2022 and invites viewers into their love-filled year of marriage with collaborative pieces between the two – Mr Doodle doodling the characters and Mrs Doodle filling in the colors.
“We love talking about ideas for pieces, spaces and projects. It’s really fun just working on ideas together, sometimes it’s all we talk about. Often we’ll go to sleep at night and then after five minutes of laying there, I’ll suddenly say some idea I have, and we’ll quickly discuss it before sleeping,” he says about working with Mrs Doodle. “Through our collaborations, I have learned to share my canvas with someone else, which I hadn’t done much before, and I’ve also learned that Mrs Doodle is a very fast painter, too!”
Mr Doodle plays around with another new style debuting in July 2022 at “Doodle Transformation.” The exhibit shows smooth, organized figures replaced with looser lines and colorful, layered figures. The exhibition description explains that this style was inspired by drawings he created while in a psychiatric hospital.
“I thought it would be fun to try out different ways of visually communicating my doodles, one of those ways was to create my doodles in a looser, layered, more abstract method, hence the new works in ‘Doodle Transformation,’” Mr Doodle says. “These works were really fun to make, and I think the series really stretched my language to a new realm. It’s fun to take something that you do every day, all the time, and try doing it in a slightly different way. I’m looking forward to experimenting more in the future.”
His process has also played a part in his engagement with his audience. Because he has been creating live drawing performances, characters have had to become “more clear, bold and simpler” to achieve the speed and visual interest that captivates the viewer. Mr Doodle admits he has gotten rid of “unnecessary textures and things” for “more iconized and bolder” characters, objects and patterns.
“Doodlism is the next Cubism”
It does not take long on Google before you see these two names pop up together – Mr Doodle and Keith Haring. Haring was an icon during the 80s pop art movement and graffiti sub-culture in New York, with a signature style of colored, stylized figures and objects in black outlines.
Skeptics often compare Mr Doodle’s style with Haring’s and have doubted his originality as well as if doodles can be considered fine art at all. The distinction Mr Doodle asserts is in the meaning of his art and how its lack of political or social message is what sets him apart from his predecessors.
“Every form of art has its critics and, of course, something like doodling, where the work is created semi subconsciously and the process is fun and carefree, is certainly no exception,” Mr Doodle says. “However, doodling, in my opinion, is the purest way to express yourself through visual art. It’s something that has existed since the beginning of human civilization, perhaps before any other form of art. So, in many ways, I feel it has more of a reason to exist within fine art than other art forms do. I believe a new generation of doodlers are coming and maybe Doodlism is the next Cubism.”
What to doodle next?
With a strong appetite in the Asian market, Mr Doodle has held many exhibitions in Asia but has plans to focus more on his home country of England in the future. Earlier this month, he revealed his latest massive undertaking – doodling his entire home in the UK. He also has an online shop where fans can purchase doodled items and wear their love for doodles on their sleeves.
In Shenzhen through November 20, his exhibition “Abstract Doodlism” features more layered, spray works with Mr Doodle’s “loosened approach” as a sequel to “Doodle Transformation” at Park View Gallery.
“I hope some of you guys are able to see it,” Mr Doodle says. “If you do go, take pictures and tag me on social media, I’d love to see!”