CLEVELAND, Ohio – Green is going psychedelic. Funny Money, the ongoing project of colorfully altered global currency by Cleveland’s Josh Usmani, will be collected into the artist and writer’s first book, the 224-page, full-color “Altered Value: The Art of Funny Money” (1984 Publishing), out Oct. 19.
“In an age of hyperinflation in the art market, I believe that turning money into art and back into more money is the most appropriate response to the reality of the current situation,” says Usmani.
Ten years ago this September, the 2008 economic crash shook the country. (Tomorrow happens to mark the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy, which remains the largest filing in U.S. history.) Just months before, Usmani had left his full-time job behind with ambitions of becoming a professional artist. With mere pennies to his name, he was soon faced with a new reality.
The constant thread within it all, of course, was money.
Usmani did the only thing he could as an artist: Spun the ominous timing of his career trajectory into inspiration. And so began his ongoing project, Funny Money, an artistic protest-turned-visual spectacle. With tongue-in-cheek, offbeat transformations to each bill, they become a reflection of our own obsession with money and capitalism. The splashy, rigorously detailed pieces have gone on to be shown everywhere from local galleries to, most recently, Saatchi Gallery in London.
The book includes more than 150 drawings from 35 countries. It debuts with a launch party 5-9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 19, at the Tregoning & Company gallery at 78th Street Studios at 1300 West 78th St., with more appearances to be announced.
The book is currently available for pre-sale at 1984publishing.com.
“Altered Value” includes a forward by renowned currency collage artist Mark Wagner, an introduction and “frequently asked questions” page by the author, step-by-step process notes and additional context notes.
There will also be 50 copies of a limited Artist Edition, which contains a real dollar bill with hand-colored letters and numbers, as well as a full-color clown portrait. Five randomly selected Artist Edition books will receive an original, fully-rendered Funny Money drawing (a $450 U.S. value).
“By drawing directly on actual bills, Josh encourages viewers to explore creative expression and question the concept of value itself,” 1984 Publishing said in a statement. “He has certainly altered these notes’ worth, but whether Josh has increased or decreased their value is up to each viewer to decide.”
Over the past decade, Usmani has been active in the local arts community, including workshops, lectures and panels in venues such as Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Mandel Jewish Community Center, SPACES and more. Since 2014, he has taught youth arts and cartooning classes throughout Northeast Ohio. Previously, he was Visual Arts Editor of Cleveland Scene Magazine and director of PopEye Gallery.