Online Ceramics: Meet Elijah Funk and Alix Ross
What do avid A24 fans, Deadheads, and John Mayer have in common? Honestly, probably a few things, but odds are they’ve been won over by Elijah Funk and Alix Ross of Online Ceramics. Beginning in 2016, the psychedelic streetwear label is known (and loved) for producing hand-dyed t-shirts and sweatshirts out of their LA studio. After all, “they are the fastest tie-dyers in America,” according to Ross.
Like other popular streetwear brands, there is a high demand for these items; made in small batches, they’re not very easy to get your hands on. That is if you’re not showing up at their DIY pop-ups that happen sporadically throughout the year.
There is an inherent authenticity behind what they do; Funk has been making iron-on tees since the early days of his 5th Grade band, Ginsberg (you guessed it – named after the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg.) Although Funk and Ross are both heavily rooted in music, Funk admits that the drive behind forming these bands was to create the merchandise.
The native Ohioans first met at the Columbus College of Art & Design, where they bonded over the absence of meeting other “really hip, and fun and interesting,” art students. Although they’re not huge fans of their Alma Mater, they admit that there was a small, yet special, influx of students that passed by during their time there.
Fast forward to 2019, and they’ve collaborated with spiritual teacher and psychologist Ram Dass, John Mayer, and A24, the cult-favorite production company behind movies like Hereditary and The Lighthouse. All things considered, it seems a bit random, but once meeting with the duo, it all makes sense. Just as Funk’s high energy and conciseness balance Ross’s dreamy, laid-back demeanor, and just as their chaotically designed shirts featuring distorted trees, skulls and mushrooms sport phrases like “ONE LOVE,” they’re entirety as a brand is a perfectly concocted whirlwind. Just before Halloween, the pair passed through New York and met us to chat – read below.
You guys met in Ohio (where you’re from) at the Columbus College of Art & Design — were you guys immediately friends?
Alix Ross: Pretty much, we didn’t hang out until later, but we were immediately-
Elijah Funk: I think we were immediately like, “I’m going to be friends with that guy, you know?”
Did you guys meet in a specific class?
AR: We were the first people we met at the college. I was moving my stuff into the dorm with my parents.
EF: Yeah we met in the parking lot. We thought everyone was going to be really hip, and fun and interesting. And it was a bunch of animation people, so I think we were both kind of bummed on the demographic.
AR: We had an immediate realization that we picked the wrong college. Yeah, that school sucks, it would be horrible to go to that school right now.
EF: It ended up being the perfect school because a lot of the people in our world are still from that. There were some really good professors and really good people.
AR: There’s like 16 of us; there were a lot of really creative, talented people in our year. I try to figure out why it was so cool that year; I think it was because Obama got elected and the recession happened at the same time. There was something weird… so many cool artists were doing stuff at our school during that time. And then the second we all graduated, it just disappeared. There was no one making interesting work.
EF: Even professors have hit us up since, saying “We miss all you guys.” It was a really special moment.
What did you study in school?
EF: Fine art. I had an art history minor that I gave up on. I loved it, I wanted to be a teacher.
AR: I started off studying film, and then eventually switched my major to fine art when I was a sophomore.
What books are you reading now?
EF: I’m reading Ghostland right now. I’ve been on and off this really long, detailed history of Charles Manson; it’s like 900 pages, in super-specific detail about his whole life, Grateful Dead books. Bass Culture, which is this insanely comprehensive history of reggae, also have been in and out of Graham Nash’s autobiography Wild Tales.
I read that you had been making shirts since you were 12 – what did those shirts look like? Would you do an archive collection?
EF: In some ways, the designs are really similar, actually. My mom jokes about an archive collection. When I was in Fifth Grade, I taught myself to make them when I started my first band. I wanted to make merch; that’s, I think, actually why I started playing in bands. I wanted to make merchandise for it. I taught myself to do iron-ons, and then by Sixth Grade, I taught myself how to hand-paint screens and print them in my mom’s basement. I spent pretty much my whole childhood just printing. My mom has big Rubbermaid bins lining the walls of her bedroom, basically just full of stuff that I made.
What was your first band called?
EF: Ginsberg, it was named after Allen Ginsberg.
When you were in 5th grade you were reading Allen Ginsberg?
EF: I remember there was this episode of The Simpsons where a hippie named his dog Ginsberg. And I was like, What is that? What’s Ginsberg? So I got into that.
Initially, you wanted to create Online Ceramics as an art and bookstore? What was the first t-shirt that you made?
AR: Our friend Sonya, who runs the brand Come Tees, asked us to make a t-shirt for her at the LA Art Book Fair like three or four years ago.
EF: It says “My religion is Kindess.” I still think it’s one of our most tried and true, popular shirts.
And so then in the process of actually making them, you hand-dye everything…from start to finish, how long does it take? How many do you make?
AR: We figured out that we can make 500 tie-dyes shirts in one day. I think we are the fastest tie-dyers in America.
EF: That aren’t mechanized…I’m sure there are machines that do it, but human beings just squirting tie-dye on a shirt.
I imagine you’ve totally got it down at this point, can you do it with your eyes closed?
EF: I don’t do it anymore, but we could.
AR: We’ve figured out a way to streamline it.
How many people work in the studio?
AR: There are up to six or seven people around at all times.
How did you pick your team?
AR: Mostly our friends. Our friend Jack, who is our main production person, he’s like our best friend. It just made sense. He’s really gifted and talented at everything. We’re really lucky to have him. And then everyone else, it’s all based on the vibe. It’s important to us that you bring a vibe and good energy, more than anything else.
EF: We’re not taking resumes.
So your studio is in Lincoln Heights – do you guys like the LA scene? Do you think it adds to your process or your creativity at all?
EF: I don’t think it could exist anywhere but LA, truly.
AR: Online Ceramics is so LA.
EF: It’s like an LA experience through artmaking, for sure. Not New York, but I think people are more receptive to us in NY.
AR: I love New York, it’s the best for everything in culture. Specifically, the art in New York, it inspires me more than anything else. Art in LA doesn’t inspire me at all. It’s really rare that I find myself an art openings in LA; there are a few galleries that I really love in LA, but overall it doesn’t really inspire me. I just feel like it’s really soft.
EF: Everyone’s like really encouraging of each other, to the point of lack of competition. Everyone is just like, “I love you and I support you,” and NY is a little bit more like, “I want to beat you.” So I think people push just a little bit harder here.
I’ve noticed that in NY, the speed of things seems to be one of the best assets. Your ideas are constantly in motion. But I think in LA, you kind of have the breathing room to actually create things.
EF: We’re really fortunate that manufacturing t-shirts in LA is pretty easy, from a mechanical standpoint.
AR: From a production standpoint, in America, it’s where most of the sewers are; you can do everything in LA. We source everything in LA. We’re able to directly talk with people that are a part of the production.
The screen printing in LA is really specific, it has its mark. You can tell when something looks screen printed in LA. Each screenprinting house has a specific kind of like “watermark.” It’s really subtle things, but you start to notice it when you’re doing it long enough. The printer that we work, we really like because it’s like really thick heavy inks; that’s a heavy East LA trait.
EF: You can like walk up to a shirt and be like Jose printed that.
It’s cool that it’s a name too; it’s an actual human being that you’re thinking about.
EF: There are fully humans involved in every step.
So what are some of the qualities and traits that you look at when you’re sourcing? What is important to you guys when you work with people outside of yourselves?
EF: We always make sure that it’s fair wage, American-made. We want to make sure that everyone down the line is getting things correct. We know that this printer that we’re using, they take care of their employees. We know that our t-shirt manufacturer is paying fairly. That’s probably like the number one.
AR: We were trying to work with different factories that we’re making more sustainable products, but when you actually start to look into it, unfortunately, it’s not very sustainable. No one actually needs another t-shirt. Like, it’s not important. We’re in a really privileged place where we’re making something that people want right now. Our main thing is to be as least wasteful as possible and know everyone personally.
EF: When you deal with people like that too, you get higher quality objects. You know when you’re getting a cheap t-shirt, you can feel it, it feels like trash. If we’re going to do it, we want to make sure the shirts last.
To go off your point, when you put so much effort into it, it’s not only about the shirt at that point. It’s the community that you’re building, the message that you’re sending. Not everyone needs a t-shirt, but there are so many other factors that play into it.
How do you keep this fun and entertaining for yourselves?
EF: We have so much fun all the time. We’ve been hanging out for over a decade, Alix, Jack, and me. We’ve all lived together, had studios together.
AR: We used to run DIY noise and punk venues; it’s like an extension of that. We started out collaborating in that way, booking shows and playing in bands together; it’s just evolved into Online Ceramics.
EF: It’s kind of like one of the major bosses in this thing that we’ve been building forever. We’ve done warehouses before, and now we have a new studio. lt’s basically shit we would be doing with each other. We just moved into a new studio where we’re all in the same building all the time.
AR: We do this thing in LA called Spookytober, where we screen horror movies. We try to think of fun ways to interact.
EF: It certainly gets tiring, to be like, “We have to design eight more shirts in the next week.” How do we do that logistically? The other good thing too is if you get like a little bit beaten down, you can just be like, “Dude, I can’t do this today, I need you.” And at this point, like, we’re all family. We’re stuck with each other. We just support each other.
Do you wanna talk about your website?
AR: I was always really inspired by web 2.0 graphics. I knew the second we started making the shirts, this is our website. I saw it in my head. I’d been sitting on that domain for over a year before we started the site. At the time I was working for Laura Owens and I wanted to start an online marketplace. I wanted to have her stuff on there and Elijah’s and a bunch of my friends.
EF: I remember he was like, is this name cool? Tree Goblin was our other option.
You are constantly pushing the limit with what you put on your shirts? What’s the next way you’ll push that boundary?
AR: We’re at this point where we’re kind of retracting.
EF: It starts to look a little bit snarky, so I want to be really sensitive of that. But in the beginning, it was really fun.
AR: In the beginning, I was like, “Oh, we’re gonna make a DMT shirt.”
EF: And we did, we have.
AR: But now, it’s really subtle. I’ll put the LSD molecule somewhere, and you won’t know where it is.
EF: Or you definitely know where it is.
AR: I recently decided that I’m an undercover agent for Krishna, and I’m gonna start like putting like the Mama Mantra into the shirts.
EF: I don’t have any big plans for anything too crazy. If something’s funny we’ll do it. He’s going one way and I’m going another way, visually. We’re about to release a new shirt this week that’s actual digital collaging; kind of like 90s early internet style. I’m building universes digitally and printing them.
You just did the merch for A24’s The Lighthouse, you’ve done merch for Midsommar, The Witch, and Hereditary — what was that like?
EF: With The Lighthouse, we basically had no idea.
AR: With A24, they’re like, “Yo, do you want to do this? And then they’ll send us a script.” I would never read it. I don’t watch trailers to movies before I see them.
EF: You watched the trailer to The Lighthouse…
AR: Because we had to…
We’ll watch the trailer and pick out stills from it. We’ve basically created a template for A24. They’re really fun to make.
EF: When we started working with them, it was for Hereditary. We had no clue what that movie was going to be about, it was kind of a gamble.
AR: I knew it was going to be fire. Every movie they have us do, I know it’s going to be dope. They are so cool, and we just trust them 100%.
Do you wear your shirts?
EF: No, it stresses me out.
AR: I wear the A24 stuff, it’s my favorite.
EF: Some of the earlier Grateful Dead stuff is my favorite stuff. I want to get back into that stuff because, in the beginning, I was a bit ignorant to design, and now I’m actually good at it.
AR: Sometimes you can get too good at a program though,
EF: You just get too familiar with the process.
So what do you do after that?
EF: Create 3D digital words.
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