Midnight call launches artist’s career

Ten years ago, Nathan Jurevicius received a midnight phone call from Hong Kong. The man on the other end of the line asked him if he would like to create adult toys with him.

Not those kinds of adult toys, the man explained when Jurevicius hesitated. Instead, he was looking for vinyl toys suggestive of children’s playthings… but with a mature twist.

He represented a design firm called Flying Cat and had spotted Jurevicius’s illustrations on the artist’s website.

At the time, Jurevicius had finished a bachelor’s degree in design at the University of South Australia, and was working as a freelance illustrator for various magazines in Australia, Asia and the United States.

“I was a starving artist with a craving for work,” Jurevicius told a roomful of art students at Centennial College’s East York campus on Feb. 23.

That late-night phone call from Hong Kong kick-started his career, as a working relationship soon formed between him and Flying Cat. They took up a character in one of Jurevicius’s online games called Scarygirl, who is by no means a conventional Barbie doll.

Over the years, Scarygirl’s look has evolved, but she’s best known for sporting an eye-patch, a tentacle topped with a hook for one arm and what appears to be a dog’s bone for the other.

“All the characters in my work have deformities,” he said. “It’s my way of saying, ‘don’t judge based on appearances.’ There’s an unexpected beauty and kindness you can find to things that might ordinarily seem scary.”

Scarygirl quickly branched out into designer toys. The toys would later lead to an explosion of artistic work tied to different companies from around the world.

“With all my projects, I start off with a seed of an idea. I then expand it into multiple avenues and explore different partners to do it with,” Jurevicius told the art students. “Scarygirl started off as a toy and then went on to different things like mini-robots, online flash games, a graphic novel and limited edition products.”

While Jurevicius’s career launched with Scarygirl, by no means did it end with her. Companies like Medicom and Kidrobot have commissioned him for other projects.

MTV Canada hired him to create characters for their TV spots. The result was Godzilla-like 3-D characters dancing to hip-hop beats in the streets of Toronto. Subsequently, MTV in Latin America adopted one of those characters and used it as a figurine for awards nights, handing them out to musicians like Snoop Dogg and Fall Out Boy.

Kidrobot, a designer toy company in New York, recently sent Jurevicius on a three-day tour of the U.S. to promote a toy he designed, the Dievas Dunny — a “soul-escorting black owl.”

“They sent me from Boston to San Francisco to Miami to New York and now I’m here,” Jurevicius said, referring to his venue at the Carlaw Avenue college campus.

David McClyment, the co-ordinator of the fine arts program at Centennial, said Jurevicius is the quintessential embodiment of an artist.

“This is the kind of designer, artist, cross-disciplinary person that we wanted our students exposed to,” McClyment said. “I know our students will feel both challenged and inspired in terms of what they think their life is going to be like as an artist.”

Remembering his own start in the industry, Jurevicius said he easily relates to the students.

“I got started by bugging people to death. I gained experience by watching other people work. I formed relationships with other people who did work I wanted to do,” Jurevicius said. “I wouldn’t hear from them for a year. And then one day someone asks me to create images for a book. Those images go online and someone from Hong Kong just happens to see it and calls me up.”