To any collectors of vinyl art toys, custom motorbike enthusiasts or just frequenters of urban landscapes almost anywhere in the western world, Tristan Eaton’s work will be instantly recognisable. Once a graffiti artist dodging the LAPD, in the past decade Eaton has been invited to create gargantuan public murals such as The Revolution Will Be Trivialized in Paris, Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite in Berlin, I’ll Die For You in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, Crime Fighter in Detroit, Audrey of Mulberry in New York City and Rebel Roots Rebel8 in Los Angeles.

Born in LA in 1978, Eaton’s family moved to London when he was eight, relocating to Detroit when he was 16, at a time when the city was famed for high unemployment, escalating crime rates and mounting racial tension. “It all amounted to incredible, crazy influences – graffiti, music, skateboarding,” says Eaton. “I guess I got my start freelancing in Detroit as a teenager. I began designing posters for nightclubs, bands and radio stations and started silk screening them at a shop that did all the famous pop posters, so that’s how I started making a living from art.”

It was during this time that a call from Fisher Price led to Eaton designing toys for the company, an experience that stood him in good stead when, during his studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York, he met the owner of Kidrobot, Paul Budnitz, who introduced him to the crazy world of collectable adult toys. “Everything fell in to place,” he says. “For the next few years that was it – I did graffiti and designed toys. Art toys were already big in Hong Kong and Japan but Kidrobot brought the genre of to the US. Initially we worked with some of the Asian companies, but we had to wait so long for stock that we thought: ‘Fuck it, let’s make our own.’

“That’s when I designed Dunny – it was different to anything else out there, no sharp edges, just a sexy, smooth form and it hit a cultural nerve with a generation of kids who grew up on nerd culture but now had a high disposable income. The appeal can’t really be vocalised – it’s like when you’re a child and you see something that is so cool you just want it. People saw vinyl toys dressed like them with sneakers and funky stuff and there were only 100 of each design made so there was limited-edition appeal. It was a kind of underground culture.

“I started painting motorcycles in New York as well, DMX Ruff Ryders bikes. It was awesome. I studied under one of the best bike painters in the city – Scott Chester of Acid. A lot of my current technique is from those days.”

LA Story

Eventually Eaton returned to LA to make an animated TV show for Disney. “It was all exploration for me,” he says. “I always wanted to get to where I am now, making fine art, but I had to survive so I explored as many avenues as I could to see where it took me. There were times when I knew I wasn’t ready to pursue my painting full time, but equally, when it was right, I felt it and instinctively knew it was time to stop all the other bullshit.”

Eaton started his own design studio – Thunderdog – in 2003 working on commercial and advertising projects for clients ranging from Nike and Reebok to Barack Obama. Rapidly gaining global recognition, public art has remained an essential part of his portfolio and today he focuses on fine art and large-scale mural work, saying: “Outdoor, public art is the most important to me. It has the ability to inspire and transform our communities.”

In 2016, Eaton moved in to a whole new medium when he joined forces with Hublot to create the limited-edition Classic Fusion Aerofusion “Concrete Jungle” watch. The idea for a Hublot watch paying homage to New York City came from the brand’s US Managing Director Jean-François Sberro. Already a fan of Eaton’s murals, he suggested the idea of commissioning a painting to be incorporated into a watch design. Keen to represent the “concrete jungle” more literally, Switzerland decided to take the idea one step further by adding a unique bezel in the form of a concrete alloy exclusive to Hublot. Eaton’s painting Liberty (2016) is displayed in full technicolour glory on the reverse of the watch.

For his part, Eaton was delighted to collaborate with Hublot. “Some people may see it as strange that someone who started out in illegal street art is now working for big corporations,” he says. “But for a long time it was very hard for anyone in my world to sell paintings or get big commissions. So I started to see advertising agencies and brands as patrons of the arts in the same way as the church was for Michelangelo. Sometimes you need a benevolent partner to help you stay independent.

“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this project but I love the finished watch. Hublot was great to work with – we talked about colour and logo placement plus the concept of the painting. Then we each did our own thing and came back together. There were three original paintings and all are now with Hublot – the design will never appear anywhere but with them, on the watch, the box and maybe in Hublot stores.”

Limited to just 50 pieces sold through Hublot’s New York boutiques on Madison and Fifth Avenues, the 45mm microblasted black ceramic case is water-resistant to 50m and features a signature bezel in concrete and epoxy resin. Powered by the HUB1155 self-winding skeleton chronograph calibre with 42 hours of power reserve, there is a date window at 6 o’clock and chronograph counters at 3 and 9 o’clock.

Hublot
Hublot
Hublot

The Miami Heat

Although collaborations with artists – especially street artists – seem to be the strategy du jour for watch brands (a subject covered in depth here), Hublot’s interest in, and connections with, visual art run deeper than most. The brand has been a supporter of Art Basel Miami for the past four years and, according to CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, Hublot is continuing to raise the bar in its art partnerships.

“Every year we try to do better,” he says. “So many brands have followed us into Art Basel Miami, but in the beginning we were almost alone. Miami is a city where Hublot has always been very successful because it is linked to Latin America and we are huge there. Art Basel Miami is THE event of the city and every year we find new and exciting ways of holding events and getting involved.” Examples of Hublot’s involvement range from the 2014 collaboration with Thierry Guetta – a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash – star of the Banksy film Exit Through The Giftshop, to last year’s live inking by friend and design partner Maxime Büchi from Sang Bleu tattoo studio.

Ricardo Guadalupe

Putting its money where its mouth is, Hublot’s partnerships go well beyond the usual sponsorship deals. In addition to the love-it-or-hate-it Andy Warhol-inspired Big Bang Pop Art series, the brand has produced several limited-edition timepieces in tandem with artists.

In 2015 we saw the Classic Fusion Enamel Britto watch designed with Brazilian neo-pop artist and sculptor Romero Britto, with the artist’s signature motifs reproduced in champlevé enamel on the dial. The same year saw the release of the Classic Fusion Cruz-Diez, a watch created with Venezuelan Op-Artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. Based on the 1964 installation Chromointerférence, the idea was for the “canvas” to be screen-printed with bright colours covered by a distorting medium that, when moved, creates new colours and shapes.

More recently, May 2016 saw the unveiling of the magnificent Big Bang Sang Bleu, a watch we featured here and long since sold out. And during Art Basel Miami 2016, watch lover and darling of the fashion industry Bradley Theodore was spied partying with other Hublot resident artists, sparking speculation of a potential collaboration with the artist known for his skeletal portraits of fashion icons.

Classic Fusion Enamel Britto
Big Bang Sang Bleu

The Art Of The Message

“It’s about connecting tradition, innovation and the future,” says Guadalupe about Hublot’s love affair with art. “Street art and tattoo art respect tradition and technicality but they have modern inspiration and application. Street art in particular echoes Hublot – we are not a traditional brand repeating the past, we are a brand connected to the future.”

Guadalupe, like Hublot’s Chairman, Jean-Claude Biver, recognises the importance of appealing to a new generation of potential watch buyers and. And while football and Ferrari may be the right channels for current Hublotistas, this new generation has to be reached using their own medium, their own language.

“We have to shape the consumers of the future,” says Guadalupe. “Our repeat buyers have been with us for 10 years – that is as old as we are. That is why we are working on younger people to get brand loyalty and to get them to follow us until they are 60. And of course we will grow up together. But people will always want something unusual from us – simplicity and tradition don’t cut it at Hublot. People want sapphire, tattoos, crazy colours and materials. That is Hublot and that is what we will give them.”

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