In conversation with the artists behind GPA 6.9

With all that’s happening in the world, people tend to find their sweet escape through social media, especially by creating a voice on Instagram. That’s no different for Jae Who and John Spinnenweber, the founders and creative minds behind GPA 6.9, a creative pop culture brand that focuses on photography with the aid of mixed media to translate its messages to its audience.

First of all, I think our readers might have the same question that I do: why the name GPA 6.9? 

GPA 6.9 reflects the tone of our work. It’s a subtle statement that pokes fun at people who are overachievers. It’s a funny number and a grade point average that’s unattainable. It pays respect to childish thinking. But, people shouldn’t think too hard about the deeper meaning of this brand, because GPA 6.9 is a social-media troll. Trolling the people who are trying to be something they are not, poking fun at the types of people with attitudes we dislike, the overachievers who are doing things for all the wrong reasons. Hence being a grade-point average so high that it’s impossible to achieve. Maybe someday we’ll create spin-offs like GPA 4.20 and GPA 6.66, but for now, we’re just having fun with 6.9. Not sure if this is a conspiracy theory, but the number 69 is literally everywhere in the US. We became obsessed with finding the number in the wild, and now other people have joined in by sending us license plates, receipts and street addresses that feature the number.  

How did you two first come up with the brand concept?

Jae Who doodled the idea on her class notes in college a few years ago while tuning out her professor. Then after being in the advertising world for a few years, she started re-illustrating her doodles in a meme style, which then led to the first content on the GPA 6.9 Instagram account. After a few months, we joined forces to collaborate and create a concept of more of the illustrations and animations together. It was pretty cool because together, we brought a female and male perspective to the work, as well as different styles of humor. Then, in the last three months, we decided to take a different approach to the art direction. We decided to use photography in the existing brand colourway and keep the same troll tone of voice. That’s how things have haphazardly come to be. We’ll eventually merge the two illustration and photography styles for a short period of time in an upcoming series. [*SPOILER ALERT*] We’re also starting to create more photography series within the GPA 6.9 brand, such as Bad Barbies. More to come soon!

I understand that both of you are art directors in advertising agencies in NYC. Does your agency work translate into GPA 6.9?

Being art directors in different advertising agencies for the last six years has given us the ability to quickly conceptualise ideas for our shoots, illustrations and animations. Since we already spend five days a week rattling off ideas and writing scripts for a handful of brands, (Google, Zelle, Il Makiage, Lyft) we are constantly creatively turned on. That also means we have years of stupid thoughts laying around in our brains that either never made it through internal creative rounds or were too risqué for clients to buy. GPA 6.9 is a product of our after-hours conversations and jokes over drinks. It’s more about taking things we see on the internet or on social media that are trending, and quickly twisting them into a visual joke to spit back out. Unlike the internet, we are visual trolls, not verbal ones.

I love how the aim of the work is to portray the oxymorons of modern society. What’s the ultimate goal you’re trying to achieve?

The ultimate brand goal is to make people laugh and then think. Our concepts for each visual aren’t crystallised; they’re meant for the viewers to interpret their own message. Ultimate personal goals: we’d like to eventually collaborate with brands from the other side of things. This time, being commissioned as the artists rather than the art directors. As art directors, although we have full control of orchestrating the campaigns we come up with, we aren’t the ones to execute the shoot, but rather to direct the commissioned artists. It would be interesting to have the roles switched for a change and get our hands dirty with the artistry in making the final deliverables. We’ve recently been asked by different people to create album art in the GPA 6.9 style and are looking forward to that. All that being said, we aren’t trying to place too much pressure on this project, because it’s our one purely creative artistic outlet. It’s our first passion project in NYC together and we’re trying to suck all the creativity we can out of this crazy, dirty and inspiring city.

From an audience perspective, I sense a bit of release in your artwork. Is GPA 6.9 an outlet for you two to express yourselves because your agency-client work boxes you in?

Yes, it allows us to explore more of the art side of art direction. We don’t normally get our hands dirty physically doing prop design, lighting and shooting, because we have teams to handle that on set. So this allows us to do everything ourselves. It gives us complete control; no one telling us no. Nothing is too risqué, insensitive or fucking stupid. If we want to stick a dildo up someone’s nose for a photo, no one’s going to say no. It’s also super-therapeutic to create things without a deadline. Normally on set, you have one or two days to get all of the shots, and the budget is so high for the production that every minute is extremely valuable and stressful. On this project, we can take as much time on a photo as we want, shoot the same thing again a week later because we don’t like how it came out originally, or just redo it completely differently. That being said, we have gotten extremely quick with executing our shots lately. It’s more about how quickly we can come up with topical and stupidly funny ideas to shoot. The only thing that is holding us back now is what Instagram will allow us to say. We get photos flagged by Instagram a lot for not following community guides for a multitude of reasons. We think that’s a good sign that we are pushing the boundaries of expression. Visit www.GPA69.org for work that Instagram blocked.

Who or what are your biggest inspirations? 

Retro advertising, specifically in the ’60s, focused on making everything look too perfect and overly retouched. It looks so painfully fake that you can see through the model’s eyes that they’re dying inside behind their glistening white fake smiles. That’s what we’re going for, because that style accentuates how people on social media nowadays want to be so perfect with their liquify tool and Facetune. And their captions taking themselves so seriously, like everything in their life was planned. But everyone can see through that bullshit. It’s hilarious and that’s why we are mimicking that overly glossy ’60s ad style. Here’s a random list of people that do weird stuff that we like: Stefan Sagmeister, Rihanna, Art Paul, David LaChapelle, FrankNitty3000, Daniel Daniel, Tim and Eric, Friends With You, Plastik, Superchief Gallery, Musketon, Ernest Chang, Adult Swim, Gab Bois, SubwayCreatures, Garbage Pail Kids…

What is the next big plan for the platform?

Printing and distributing four issues a year, with roughly 20 photos in each zine. In early 2020, we’d love to have our first solo exhibition here in NYC. And by 2069, world domination. We’ve also been receiving quite a few messages about making merch. We’ve started making a few hand-screened tests. But ultimately, our focus is on pushing the fine-art photography to keep people laughing.

Who are your legends? 

SaintHoax, Paris Hilton and PabloRochat.

With work that is mostly controversial, the guidelines on Instagram often box people in. For more uncensored content, visit www.gpa69.org

In this Story: #culture / art & design