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Hike up the stairs at 145 Pearl St. to the rough loft space and you find a storefront with an awning. Continue inside and there are a jukebox and security cameras and racks of doughnuts. Except the guy in the apron behind the counter ringing up an order is some sort of lizard-person. And everything—including the doughnuts—is handcrafted from wood.
“We all grew up in the ‘90s with cartoons and things like ‘Roger Rabbit,’ these real-world people that are part of a cartoon world,” says Colin Driesch, one of the artists that make up the !nd!v!duals. “For us all of that was really appealing. How amazing would it be to live in a cartoon world?”
Past an “employees only” sign on a door to Janky Donuts’ backroom, you discover another lizard-person behind another counter, but this one is stocked with pistols and grenades. “The doughnut shop is secretly a front for smuggling guns in the bottoms of the boxes,” Driesch says.
The !nd!v!duals began about a decade ago when by John Bisbee, a Maine sculptor teaching at the Art Institute of Boston, invited a student by the name of Luke O’Sullivan to be one of the artists building interactive art installations at Bonnaroo music and arts festival in Tennessee. The festival would supply the materials.
O’Sullivan built something on his own the first year. The following year, 2006, Colin Driesch and Dominic Casserly helped him build a sort of tree fort surrounded by sails.
“We never meant to start an art collective. We never meant it to be wood. The only way it happened is we went down there and they gave us a big pile of wood,” Driesch recalls. They were asked back the following year. “That was the first time we thought this could really be something.”
The !nd!v!duals grew to be five guys, most of them now around age 30. Driesch, Casserly and Winston MacDonald, a friend of Casserly’s younger brother, reside around Boston. O’Sullivan is now in Philadelphia. Andrew Meers, whom Driesch and Casserly met while studying at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, is now in Memphis.
“We had really different focuses at the time,” Driesch says of the group’s beginning. “I was doing film. Luke was doing painting. Winston was doing biology. This was what was put in front of us.” Today when not doing !nd!v!duals projects, O’Sullivan is a bartender and screenprinter, Driesch works on educational software, Casserly does photography, MacDonald makes videos, and Mears fashions handcrafted knives.
They followed Bonnarroo appearances with exhibitions, beginning in 2008, at Coleman Burke Gallery, which Bisbee co-ran—two shows at its venue in Brunswick, Maine; one at its storefront in Portland, Maine; and one at its New York outpost. They filled the spaces with screwball collections of giant, cartoony monkeys, elephants, wolves and alligators cobbled together from old doors and planks and various scraps of “found, salvaged wood.” Which helped make their makeshift, off-kilter constructions feel like the creations of some wonderful eccentric residing along Route 1—and also helped keep down the cost of materials.
“Janky,” Driesch says, “it’s a word we’ve used for a long time. It describes our work. It’s piecemeal, unbalanced, kind of jagged.”
“That very first show at Coleman Burke, we just didn’t know what we were doing,” Driesch adds. “Our tools were very crude. Our skills were very crude.”
As they did more projects, they learned to create skins for their critters by layering narrow wood planks like shingles. But their style remains “very free-form, very fluid. We don’t measure anything. Very patchworky,” Driesch says.
Their process generally involves driving around in Driesch’s Ford Explorer scouting for furniture or old lumber being discarded and throwing their finds in the back. Then they’ll sit together and jot quick loose marker sketches of their ideas before breaking up into teams of two—one duo, say, constructing the head, the other pair building the body. O’Sullivan screenprints many of the details onto the pieces.
“The bigger projects we all come together and put these pieces together. We had to fly everyone in for this one,” Driesch says of Janky Donuts. “All hands on deck.”
The !nd!v!duals’ projects tended to be collections of individual, free-standing characters. But their “Lovesick Café” at the Orchard Skate Shop in Boston in 2011 “was the first time that we really elaborated on what a full installation was,” Driesch says, “creating all these accessories, all these props.”
It offered a walk-in environment, a restaurant populated by green leaf-ball creatures dining on cubes of meat—that a kitchen scene suggested were (cue ominous music) cut-up people.
“Our humor is very sarcastic,” Driesch says. “I think that’s why we all became friends. Not everyone appreciates that kind of humor.”
The !nd!v!duals liked the idea of inventing fake restaurants and shops—complete with dedicated websites—because these businesses seemed to offer endless ideas to riff on. O’Sullivan suggested creating a doughnut shop. The group developed it into a story with the gun smuggling thing, which was inspired by, Driesch says, “a pizza shop that was a street away from where I work by North Station. They got caught smuggling cocaine to people in the know in their pizza boxes.”
So Janky Donuts’ backroom offers racks of outlandish rifles and automatic weapons. Han Solo’s laser pistol from “Star Wars” and a grenade launcher are also included. There are flak jackets hung on the wall, a mounted buffalo head, and a gun range where visitors can fire off custom air rifles. The two wooden security cameras in the front room actually work—the critter behind the counter is watching the live footage on a tiny monitor propped on the counter. Oh, and hidden behind that “employees only” door is a bomb as big as a person.
Janky Donuts reads like a satire of America today—doughnuts, guns, surveillance, American flags. All run by lizard-people. “There’s no big social commentary that we’re trying to go for,” Driesch says. Though he acknowledges, “We were definitely playing up a little bit of America’s obsession with guns.”