Juce Gace, also known as Julien, has been making a name for his mischievous figures since getting noticed by toy manufacturer Mighty Jaxx when he first made pins and patches for fun on the streets. For his standout piece, A Wood Awakening, the Paris-based creative reimagines the childhood icon Pinocchio with what he calls “the foolishness of adulthood,” a theme that continues to play out in his subsequent works. Despite establishing a signature style of cheekiness for his figures, he continues to juggle visual arts with his passion for screenwriting, which he had begun pursuing before dabbling in toy design.
In celebration of the holiday season with HBX, Juce Gace has launched a new edition of his Groot-inspired collectible, I Am Wood - Golden Edition. HBX Journal caught up with the multi-talented creator who opened up about the beginnings of his toy designing journey, his creative process, and the significance of reinterpreting childhood characters.
How did you get into your line of work in producing collectibles?
I have always loved toys as far as I can remember, but I wasn't in that field at all! During my literary and screenwriting studies, I always continued to draw for fun and make some pins, stickers, clothes, prints, etc. to stick in the streets. That's when a toy company found me and proposed that I create my first art toy! The childhood dream came true [laughing].
What is the toy-making process like from design to execution?
After discussing it with a lot of other artists, I determined that we all have a different processes! I always start with technical drawings or 3D sculpting once I already have a precise vision of the design in my mind. Then, the whole process is to get the piece as close as it can be to my initial vision. After that comes the work with my manufacturer to get all the molds, colors, and finishes perfect. I think leave a bit of time to design the box and certificate before the art toy is ready to be announced and shipped!
Is there a figure or piece of work you're most proud of?
It's difficult to answer this question. I'm always super proud of the last piece I'm releasing [laughing], so I'd say I Am Wood (Golden Edition)! I pay attention to details a lot, so I usually work a minimum of 7-8 months on a piece before it arrives in the collector's hands. With such a timeframe, you're obliged to love what you do, or else you get bored, impatient, or discouraged!
What is it like to juggle screenwriting, graphic design, and toy design? Does one discipline influence another in terms of how you create?
First, it's exhausting [laughing]! But I feel very lucky to spend all my time doing what I love. Passion is the key, right? I'm always surprised how when I feel stuck writing a script, working on an art toy gives me my inspiration back. And otherwise! One discipline is literary, and one is visual, but both need structure and tell a story to the audience. At the end of the day, I sometimes feel like I do the same thing: I try to spread something, including love, kindness, tolerance, and self-esteem, to the world.
You always say that your goal is to "make fun with art," have you achieved this, and how?
True! I always feel like art that comes from the darkest part of an artist's soul can sound a bit pretentious and serious. That's not really the way I picture it. For me, art is about having fun. For the artist, for the collector, and for the viewer who will discover the piece at the collector's place! The whole world –especially these last years – gives us enough sad vibes daily, so yes, I make fun with art. It's a way to escape, to feel secure, to learn how to build a better place.
Your signature piece is A Wood Awakening. Why Pinocchio, and what is the inspiration behind his "Wood?"
This character is one of my biggest childhood icons, and I was raised with it. He wanted to become a real boy, and I wanted this too. He was clumsy but determined, and so was I! After some dumb jokes, I found the idea of how I could re-imagine this lovely woody puppet who grew up like me! The piece is about accepting your own body and feelings and about tolerating others who struggle with their own body and feelings.
You mentioned you're influenced by "the cuteness of childhood icons and the foolishness of adulthood," could you talk more about where these ideas stemmed from?
We're not smarter than kids [laughing]! We're definitely more mature but is it always wise? I love to play with characters to make them jump from their naive and cute world to our down-to-earth one. Most of our favorite childhood icons couldn't survive in real life, and I try to question why.
Besides yourself, do you think there's a trend in appropriating childhood characters in pop culture or consumerism nowadays, why and how?
Of course, a lot of artists play with these codes and characters, but I don't think it's a trend anymore: it's been 40 years now! This is the new main subject of art: how did we end up trapped in a world where capitalism is everywhere, entrepreneurship is the new fancy, and brands are more powerful than countries? The reason why artists appropriate pop culture icons is that capitalism appropriated all our brains first, and we struggle with this nowadays.
What sparked the upcoming HBX-exclusive release, and how is it different from previous releases?
First, I was pretty thrilled to be contacted by HBX about a collaboration. Hypebeast is a media platform I respect a lot, so it sounded amazing for me to think about I am Wood (Golden Edition) together. This chrome aesthetic of the piece makes it shiny, colorful, elegant, and hype. I had never self-produced a chrome piece before, so it was quite a challenge, but it was needed to make our collaboration shine bright!
How do you hope to challenge yourself as an artist moving forward?
In many ways! New materials, original characters, exclusive events, collaborations with worldwide artists, and so on. The only goal is to keep being surprising: that's how I keep having fun and making people happy!