The Uncompromising Integrity of Josh Warner and Good Art HLYWD
Josh Warner, of Good Art HLYWD is showing me another unique articulation on a third or fourth piece of jewelry. This one is a key chain, created to optimize the function that might be required from such a tool. It’s clear that if he is allowed to, Warner would go on for hours explaining every single intricacy of each Good Art creation.
“I fucking love this shit,” Warner states in earnest.
Sporting a beard with a wild, long goatee and a shaggy head of hair, it’s easy to get the gist of Warner in the first handful of moments. No one’s surprised that he loves motorcycles, for instance. He loves his dogs. He talks the same way to Average Joe as he does to a public figure. But while you might not know what to expect from first meeting him, he’s articulate and seems to always have something to say.
It’s also clear that Warner is a little nuts, but in the best possible way. He isn’t batshit insane or anything. Rather, Warner holds such an indomitable desire to make the best ring – or wallet chain or bracelet – that it seemingly borders on mania. Integrity is very important to Warner as he’s sought to break down the creation of fine jewelry and engineer it back up to a level that rivals Cartier, Rolex, and Tiffany. Except in his case, his pieces are occasionally flipping you the bird.
Warner started Good Art in humble beginnings, much like many manufacturers around these parts. He wanted a good pair of earrings (it was 1990, don’t hate) and couldn’t find a pair that suited his style, budget, nor level of desired quality. What’s a guy with a heavy DIY streak to do besides make his own? The results of Warner’s initial endeavors caught people’s eyes, and inspired Warner to push on. The next logical step was to peddle his wares, “sitting shirtless at a card table on Venice Beach.” Only in California would this work, but eventually it gave way to his first big sale of $550.
Warner left his restaurant gig soon after and over two decades later Good Art is flourishing. They’ll be moving into a massive new store space and foundry later this year. There’s a big international fan base, and is also privy to a clientele that reaches the rich and famous. He has fans in Miranda Kerr, Morrissey, John Galliano, Jon Bon Jovi and Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone), among others. Warner recounted the tricky but enjoyable challenge of collaborating with Stallone for a ring he would wear in the Expendables movies.
Growing up watching Stallone battle Apollo creed, Warner was a big fan. Turned out that Stallone had become a fan of Warner’s work through another Good Art client. One day, Warner received a call from Stallone’s wife. It was Stallone’s birthday the next day, and she wanted to get him something from Good Art. Warner was in Canada at the time, but luckily he had the exact gold bracelet she wanted available. Stallone was blown away, and Warner had a new client.
When the 2010 film The Expendables came under way, Stallone came to Warner to discuss a custom ring for the movie. Warner made an initial skull ring for Stallone based on their conversation, but the Italian Stallion was not a fan and found the first prototype way off the mark.
Warner remembers, “When he hated the thing I brought, I was like, ‘Well I don’t fucking work for you! This is my skull ring and if you don’t fucking like it you don’t have to buy it.’”
Warner and Stallone would battle back and forth for six weeks. Stallone would come up with something, Warner would say it’s stupid or vice versa and neither would back down. Finally, these two earnest artists had pushed each other with the final product. Stallone would wear version three of four rings sent to the set.
For Warner, this was a rare collaboration, something that he had shied from over the course of his career, but pushed him in ways that he had never been before. The ring still isn’t his style, but he’s really proud of the work as a professional and you can still buy it, straight from the original mold. You can also find Good Art collaborating a little more frequently, like they recently did with 3sixteen.
More than the reputation of having such famous clientele, Warner seems like he’s most proud when his wares are appreciated by masters of their own craft. He beams when discussing the mutual admiration between himself and Iron Heart founder Shinichi Haraki, who sports Good Art regularly. For a big Iron Heart fan, this is the ultimate compliment.
He knows, though, that Good Art’s living in a polarizing stratosphere:
“I’ve lived by this creed of anything worth doing is worth doing as a professional. Anything. If you’re going to take a swing in the backyard, make it a fucking good one (laughs). For me when I make my stuff, there’s a certain irony. I can make a wallet chain that looks very similar to a piece of chain you can go get at the fucking hardware store. And that one, you buy the clips and you crimp it together, believe me I did this when I was young… and you can make a fucking cool wallet chain… For 50 bucks you can go down to Melrose and buy a wallet with a wallet chain. If you’re going to get one like that you’re going to enjoy it, it’ll put a little swagger in your step. But you get to a point in your life when you get to where, as much as you enjoy going fast in a Honda but you can afford or aspire to getting that Porsche… or whatever is next up in that game.”
Going back to a wallet chain, what’s the best one that I can possibly do? That’s actually why I’m here. It may sound a little arrogant, and I don’t intend that, but there may seem like there’s a huge disparity between a 30 dollar wallet and chain and a 4,000 dollar wallet and chain. It’s fucking nuts. I actually don’t specifically live in an economic bracket where I can afford some of the stuff I make. But I choose to make it this way because I find that the first order and mandate is it’s gotta be the best of whatever it is.”
For Warner, this uncompromising resolve towards his goods means that everything is done in house. Everything. Good Art has been slowly building a collection of premier level forges and other tools that are in use by the highest-end jewelers. He pays his dozen or so employees great wages. Working primarily with gold, silver, and brass, they make their own alloys, cut and solder every chain link by hand, and cast every single component of jewelry all within the same workspace. If something goes wrong, they can turn around and ask anyone for help. If there’s a weak point in a metal, they can backtrack and diagnose the exact point of fault. There’s no need to get people on the phone to figure out what went wrong, only to have one business blame the other. And Warner oversees it all while working next to everyone else.
“How involved am I?” He muses, “Fucking balls deep, dude.”
Warner has also been able to engineer technical, unique clasp systems and, yes, optimal articulations for his chains. The designs were of Warner’s making but achieved with the late-night insight of a master carpenter friend. A Model 10 bracelet will bend uniquely to the requirements of being on a wrist. A wallet chain will move in even more directions. But they look almost exactly the same. As with denim or any other fine goods, the devil is truly in the details. It’s a great example of functional art, but it’s hard to understand until you handle it in person. Warner explains:
“Art for me is just communication. You won’t get it all through a computer screen but I guarantee that if you come down here and I put one of my bracelets in front of you and one made by somebody else, there’s a very strong chance that you’re going to sit completely polarized on one side or the other. You’re going to be like, ‘this one’, I got it, but this [other] one really fucking does it. Everybody can do that. We all decide on what we like and what we don’t, and I think that’s where I’m reconciling where a bracelet’s fifteen hundred bucks when you can probably buy one for five hundred, probably made out of the same material.”
But, as Warner also put it, he believes that Good Art is heirloom-level jewelry. When you are on your way out, pass it on to the next little hell-raiser in the family. And if you don’t believe him, head out to LA yourself. Chances are he’ll have you convinced before the third drink he’s got you knocking back.