In a booth at a coffee shop on Bowery, artist Tim Platt hunches over a small piece of cardstock and tries to figure out how to turn a collection of near-random shapes and lines he’s made into a finished drawing.
“Oh, I’m going to destroy this one,” he finally decides. Platt, 28, dashes a thick red line over the drawing and, in the corner, writes You’ve failed me by agreeing to look at this. “Yup, I’d give this one a C minus at best.”
Platt then places the drawing in his stack of identically shaped cards. All of these—even the A pluses in the bunch—he will eventually give away to no one. They’re all a part of his Gift Card project, a series of drawings he’s been creating and promptly abandoning every Monday through Thursday since February of 2013.
Platt, who works odd jobs during the day and is a comedian at night, has made hundreds of these improvised 3.5×5 inch drawings filled with abstract shapes, strange figures and absurd messages like All dragons are blue dragons and Agree with me or else I’ll elect everyone.
Once he’s satisfied that a gift card is done, Platt takes a picture for King Bozo’s Giftcards, the blog where, under his nom de plume, he catalogues every single one of his drawings. He then leaves it in some public place in the hope that someone will find it: on park benches, inside a book at the Strand and once on the set of Late Show With David Letterman. He does this knowing full-well that most of these drawings will probably end up in the trash.
“My work owns the dump, and no one can take that away from me,” Platt jokes. That disposable nature—both figurative and literal—is a big part of the series. If someone wants to throw it away, then that’s their right, he says. The point is that he got it out there.
Platt started this project back in 2013 by giving out cards to friends. These early cards were text-only and all awarded or deducted points in a made-up game he was trying to get his friends and roommates to play with him—an early example of this style of card read: your lyre is impossible to tune, minus 15 points. He got the idea from some friends in Chicago, who played a similar game and posted pictures of their cards on social media.
“I started doing them to have friends do it with me, like I wanted it to be a communal activity that we could all do together,” Platt said. “But no one else joined in.”
Once he realized none of his friends were interested, he decided to take the cards he had and started playing with strangers. He began handing them out all over New York City—throwing them on people’s laps as he was getting off the subway, giving them to passers-by, sidling up to people at restaurants and leaving them at their table—turning the cards into gift cards. Eventually, Platt started adding images to the cards and getting more ambitious with the project. Drawing on his time as a cartoonist in college, Platt started making them into what he described as “these little single-panel comics” that featured characters with insane points of view. After a while, he started making them daily, hoping it would help him generate interest in the project.
“I’ll read webcomics that I don’t like because they’re daily, you know what I mean?” Platt said. “So I was like if I just do this consistently, maybe it’ll be easy for people to get into it.”
Platt has done other things to try to get people into it, too. If you search for “King Bozo” on Google, for example, the top result is an article on Gawker called “Have You Seen King Bozo?” which is about his gift cards. It speculates about the real identity of the “street artist” because, at the time, in 2013, Platt was still anonymous on his blog. That story was then reported on by outlets like the Daily Mail, which fixated on the mysterious identity aspect of the story. When I asked Tim about these articles, he paused before admitting, “I wrote the Gawker story.”
Platt says that now he’s less concerned about all that—getting attention and building an audience. He’s also no longer anonymous, as even a cursory internet search for King Bozo or Tim Platt will show you. He does still sign all the cards under his pseudonym, because he wants people to feel like they found something mysterious and fun, instead just of another New York City art person doing something “precious” or dumb.
“[Using a real name] it makes you feel like a part of someone’s project rather than a participant in something cool,” Platt said. “This is what it is, it’s nothing beyond that.”
The other major change that’s happened since Platt started this project is that he no longer hands out cards to people directly. He changed his approach on this because he realized that his cards might carry unintended consequences. Platt remembers one card in particular that he posted to his blog of a “zig-zag creature that said I have body image issues,” that made him reconsider how he distributed cards.
“I gave [that card] to a woman on the subway,” Platt said. “And a friend online was like, ‘As a woman, if you had given me this card it would have like triggered something in me,’ which I think is fair.”
He has since stopped handing them out and instead simply leaves them where people can choose to find them. He also sells a few a year, mostly to friends, and says occasionally that someone will find one of his cards, look him up online and reach out through Tumblr. Mostly, though, he never sees his drawings again. And while he says it used to bother him, he doesn’t really mind it anymore—nor does he care much about how people take them.
“No one needs to think it’s cool or charming or weird,” Platt said. “Originally I was really inspired by the idea that someone could find this and have a really weird moment, like they could find art and go, ‘Who left this? Who was it?’ I was really inspired by that like injecting absurdity into like daily life. But now I’m like that’s silly.”
As a result, he says, the project has become more personal—a way to make something with little or no judgment or pre-planning and then get it “out of my system” by letting it find its own way in the world. However, Platt says that they’re not supposed to be confessional or autobiographical. He doesn’t, in other words, personally believe that eyes have five legs. Instead, the idea is to introduce thoughts that someone supremely dumb—a King Bozo, if you will—might think.
“I like find sentences that sound like someone would say them but that I wouldn’t say,” Platt said. “Like this one says I’ll be prolific tomorrow, which is not something I would say but I like the idea of putting that in someone’s mouth. Like, who would say that?”
Ultimately, he says, the larger goal is simply to make something people will enjoy. But, with more than 600 of his cards somewhere out there in the world, he’s starting to think about doing that in a way that gives him a little more pay off.
“As much as I like making these for free, I would like to be paid a little bit,” Platt said. “I have ambitions to do something bigger or concrete, but I don’t really know how to translate these to that. I don’t know how to translate my current process, because my process is improvising these.”
For now, though, he says he’ll just have to keep doing it for free—even if that means most of them end up in the trash. What a Bozo, right?