Pop purveyors

This article was originally published in The News & Observer. Photo Credit: The News & Observer.

101 Lloyd St. is becoming a hot spot for hipster cool


CARRBORO — When Mike Maher moved his Wootini gallery to Lloyd Street, he didn’t realize he was building on a growing subculture on the Triangle’s art scene.

But moving was imperative. He had gone from selling collectible figures (known as “urban vinyl” in the world of “lowbrow” art) to showcasing the illustrations that inspired the toys. He needed to stay open later than Carr Mill Mall’s hours to reach his customers.

So he moved a couple blocks away to the building that houses T-shirt designer Danny Miller of Mini Cassette Tees’ and business partners Chip Hoppin and Patrick Cudahy of screen-printing company The Merch.

Together, the occupants of 101 Lloyd St. have started cultivating the lowbrow scene.

“The Southeast, as a whole, is sometimes forgotten about in this sort of work,” Maher said. “Sometimes art magazines just think of California and New York.

“My ultimate goal is to be like a visual version of The Cat’s Cradle. To bring emerging artists to the area, expose the artist to our community and show them that people around here care about this kind of art.”

The lowbrow movement stems from 1970s California when art took to the streets and started to represent pop culture. Maher says there are a few ways to describe the genre.

“The one I like a lot is called ‘pop pluralism,'” he said. “Maybe it sounds a little too obnoxious, but I mean, in one element it’s like pop surrealist art. Andy Warhol and Walt Disney would be good examples of that, but there’re other things.” Like Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama “HOPE” poster, he said.

More often, these artists have no connection to the conventional art world. Mostly graphic designers, they can be tattoo or graffiti artists, and their work can include comic illustration, punk music, or in Miller’s case, horror posters and graphic T-shirts.

A good hunch

It was Miller who convinced a reluctant Maher to move to the up-and-coming Lloyd Street business sector. Miller’s hunch came from his own experience.

Three years ago, after a business deal went sour, Miller joined Hoppin and Cudahy and started Mini Cassette Tees, which gives comic-book reading, horror-film watching, Sci-Fi fans handprinted designer T-shirts to sport.

Before that, The Merch sold just two original designs, most notably the “Cackalacky del Norte” T-shirt. Hoppin says screen-printing outside designs at wholesale can only take a business so far financially and artistically. Teaming up with Miller has helped The Merch experiment with retail, such as their Mexican wrestling masks.

Miller added, “Mini Cassettes is all original designs by us. We market, not just around here.” Their customers, he says, spans continents. “We’re really popular in Australia, Germany, and in the U.K.,” Miller said. “We’ve had customers in Japan.”

Mini Cassette’s best-selling item pays homage to the “Thriller” music video and depicts a zombie-faced Michael Jackson.