Expat artists in Prague making art affordable for the city’s residents

Fruit Juice Collective: Vinny Bonger, Big Kill, and Kilo Blimp

Art can be expensive, but three expat artists who go by the pseudonyms Vinny Bonger, Big Kill, and Kilo Blimp, are partnering with local Prague businesses  to make art more accessible for the city’s residents. The founders of the Fruit Juice Collective joined me in the studio to talk about their art philosophy, their current exhibitions, and the importance of art being accessible for everyone.

[Vinny] “We met about a year ago through Instagram funnily enough, and we came together because we all just wanted to create and make art, by ourselves. All three of us are artists and painters, and we were fed up with trying to go to galleries and have them take a fifty-percent commission. So we thought, hey - let’s do it all ourselves!”

Tell me about your art work and how you’re fighting inflation with your work.

[Kilo] “That is one specific concept we had for a show called Cheap Art Supermarket. We have a pre-existing pricing structure that we try to keep our art as low in cost as possible, because we really believe in art being accessible, we don’t like the idea of pricing people out of being able to purchase a painting. But for the Cheap Art Supermarket, we wanted to go even further with that idea, so we decided to price every painting at the cost of the physical item that we painted. So each painting was 67 crowns, or 120 crowns. And it was mostly trying to allow more people to buy more paintings and hear about us, but also about inflation and how everything is getting more expensive, so we wanted to turn something that is usually very expensive, like art, into something as cheap as possible, and really flip it on its head.”

[Vinny] “Art is generally reserved for the rich, it’s very exclusive. So what we’re trying to do as Kilo said very eloquently, is we are trying to make it more accessible for everyone. We have our own thing called the Accessibility Art Pledge that we’ve written, and it’s like a contract between us three, that we only sell our paintings at a certain price, and we stick to that structure rigidly in order to make it more accessible for anyone to buy a painting. So whether you’re working in a bar, or wherever - you’re able to buy artwork. Art should be for everybody, and we love the fact that people can have our art in their homes, it’s lovely and it’s such an honor.”

When you started the collective, were there clear gaps in the art market that you saw here in Prague, that art was very exclusive?

[Vinny] “It’s not the art scene in Prague, it’s the art scene as a whole, I would say. You either get the really cheap art that is poor quality, or if you want something original, you’re looking at something that’s really expensive. So it wasn’t even a gap in the market, it was just a philosophy of our own that we shared. We just like making things, and if I didn’t get paid for painting, I would still paint, and I think we’re all in agreement on that.”

[Kilo] “I think another thing is that all of us here, being expats in Prague, at least for me, is that we had a lot of trouble getting our artwork out there. A lot of galleries here in Czechia want to feature Czech artists, and that’s admirable, and I understand why that’s the case. But it means that expats like us don’t really have a chance to showcase our work. So we thought, "Let's just do it ourselves.”

You work a lot with small local businesses in Prague, can you tell me about that?

[Vinny] “We mainly work with Bistro 8 in Vinohrady and Virgin Coffee, and the deal we have with them is very collaborative. We are small fish in a big pond, and so are they, so why don’t we just combine our fish and be bigger fish in a bigger pond? We work together and put the art up in their spaces for free and we sell them and switch them every three or four months. We also throw shows in their spaces where they can make a ton of money on the parties, and we get all the profit from our paintings. So we have this really nice relationship going on.”

[Kilo] “it’s also really nice now because we’re starting to build a community of people who know about the shows and come to every show, and it’s a mix of expats and Czechs as well. But people know that there is going to be an event with live music from Big Kill, new paintings every few months from the three of us, and also supports a local business like Bistro 8. We like the idea of trying to bring people together around art.”

Vinny Bonger,  Big Kill and Kilo Blimp | Photo: Barbora Navrátilová,  Radio Prague International

Why is it so important to work so closely with local businesses, especially at a time right now where inflation is so high and really impacting them?

[Vinny] “The relationship started with Honza from Bistro 8 during COVID, he wanted to bring more people into the business, and it started out by us having a mutual love for each other’s work, and then it really started to work for him, more people were coming through Bistro 8 and the paintings were really brightening things up. There wasn’t really a trigger or motivation behind it, it all happened very organically and naturally, and we realized what we were doing as we did it, rather than having a concrete, set methodology.”

[Kilo] “I also think all three of us individually like to do things ourselves and have control over what we’re doing, and build things in an organic, grassroots way.”

When it comes to Prague as a city, since none of you were born and raised here, does anything about the city inspire your work?

[Vinny] “That’s a really hard question. Every time someone asks what inspires my artwork, it’s actually just the conversations I have with Kilo and Big Kill, it’s no specific inspiration. It comes from conversations and the things I see - the bizarre happenings and bizarre conversations we have.”

[Big Kill] “Sometimes these things just stick in your head, and you think “I’ve got to do that, or paint that”. It doesn’t really matter if you’re doing it for money or for yourself - you just can’t really get it out of your head.”

[Vinny] “I think that makes it super original. When we did Cheap Art Supermarket, the idea came from a random conversation we had with each other one night over some beers, it was a joke initially. We just thought ‘do you think we could sell paintings at 69 crowns each?’ And we said, let’s just do it. We just have fun with it, and we have really open ended exhibition topics. Another one we have right now is called ‘Mood’, and everything is happy in it. Our next one is called What is Going On, and that’s going to be based on super random ideas, we don’t have one main source of inspiration.”

[Kilo] “I think one of you two said this already, but all of us just paint because we really love painting, we love making things and that is really our source of inspiration. We want to have fun, and we want to do something together that brings us joy. Outside of that, I don’t think there are specific parts of living in Prague that are inspiring, but we just want to make things that are happy and make other people happy.

You have some pretty big projects coming up that you’ve recently announced, tell us about what’s to come for the collective.

[Vinny] “Coming up soon is our collaboration with a second-hand shop in Prague called Young Dust, we painted a mural there earlier in the year, and now we’re doing an exclusive collection of jackets and pants that are all hand painted, they’re called juicy jackets. We also just got confirmation that we will be doing a big mural in the back garden of Sir Toby’s hostel, and we just got confirmation from the Prague 3 municipality that we will be doing a mural on the side of the FC Viktoria Zizkov stadium. On the more altruistic side, we’re doing a venture with a charity for women who are going through difficult times. We’re creating one painting for them, and we’re giving it away for an auction.”