Photos via Instagram
California-based Michael Gump is an eccentric family man. He works in art direction and prop mastering for BananaBee Lab (Yo Gabba Gabba! and Ellen Degeneres have both been clients) and co-owns a stilt walking company with his wife called, “Gumple Stiltskin.”
On the side, he’s written and produced a couple of no-budget short films with friends, created a few animated Halloween pieces with his two kids for Gothtober and currently manages a criminally overlooked Instagram account, where he posts daily portraits as part of an ongoing “Master of Disguise” art project.
Contrary to Instagram culture, Gump’s portraits are far more involved than your average selfie. The Master never looks the same, some days covering his body entirely in tennis balls and other days shaping his head to look exactly like a human heart.
Gump’s portraits have been dark, they’ve been expensive, they’ve been humorous, they’ve been trashy, they’ve been gender-bending, they’ve been festive and they’ve been fashionable. They’re all tied together with a signature campy, childlike finish that recalls the Master’s line of work and life at home.
We caught up the brain behind this innovative Instagram to talk about the origins of his account, coming up with fresh ideas everyday and sticking his head in a condom.
What’s the backstory behind your account?
“One day at work, my friend Joal Fox asked for my cellphone. He installed Instagram and asked me what I wanted my username to be. I told him ‘Bobbugs’ because my nickname is Bob and I like bugs. I was pretty much a social media Luddite, mostly posting pictures of my kids [and] sometimes pictures from my work, but most of the time that stuff is top secret and I’m forbidden to share until after an episode airs. The account was pretty typical, [but] then on January first, I started my ‘Master Of Disguise’ project [and] since then, my account has been mainly dedicated to that.”
What inspired your Master Of Disguise project?
“One evening in December 1996, I posed with a group of friends for a photograph taken by a guy named Dave Surf. Dave explain he was finishing up a project where he had taken a photograph every day for the entire year and was putting them in a scrapbook. This ignited a spark in me [and] I was really inspired by the idea of starting my own New Year’s resolution daily art practice diary, to create a structure from start [to] finish—an art piece every day for a year. So on the first day of 1997 I completed a painting every day and by the end of the year, I bound them all into a great big book.
The next year, I did paintings and collages on a dollar every day, which cost me $365 [for the full year]. Every year after, I picked a new project and every day I fulfilled the challenge of completing an art piece. In 2005 I did a project that was a mask a day, [but] then life took over and I stopped with my daily art diaries. I was still making art, but not so much; it’s hard to find the time, but I mostly get stuff done when I’m working with a deadline. I decided to revisit my daily deadline process [using Instagram]; I asked my wife if it was cool and she said, ‘Go for it.’ I think if she knew then what she knows now, she might’ve answered different.”
Where do you pull ideas for your disguises?
“Everywhere, I have a little notebook that I write ideas I plan to do, but I hardly ever tap into most of those. Ideas take some extra planning and set-up, but every once in a while one of those dreams comes true. Sometimes I have an idea cooking in the back of my head for a day or two, but most of the time, I decide what I’m going to do during the course of the day. I’ll be going about my business and see some pile of something and think, ‘Should I stick that on my face?’ Say I’m working on this kids’ show where we have lots of dogs and I’m propping them with tennis balls. I’ll think, ‘How can I put these tennis balls to work?’ Or sometimes I go to the store that sells things for a dollar on my way home; sometimes I like things that people can really relate to and sometimes I like things nobody can relate to. I’m sort of flying by the seat of my pants.”
Is it difficult to think of new concepts every day?
“That’s what it’s all about. Honestly, there have been a few days that were incredibly painful, but for the most part it’s a lot of fun. What’s difficult is the limited amount of time I have to do it. I live a really busy life; my work is incredibly demanding; I work a minimum of a 12-hour day and that often runs longer. Plus, I’m a family man [and] I like to spend time with my wife and kids. That’s why my post usually comes out in the middle of the night. I do this work when I should be sleeping. I don’t have any other hobbies—I don’t watch movies or shows, I don’t read books. This is my way of winding down.”
What’s your favorite look thus far from the series?
“I like the upside down characters I’ve done—I’d like to do some more of those. I’ve used the shape of my head to turn it into a planet or heart—I’d like to do more of that, as well. But if I had to pick one as my favorite, it might be May 20 ‘Mr. Green T.’ I think that piece works on several levels.”
Which look has been the most difficult to execute?
“Some of the looks are pretty claustrophobic or painful, like sticking my head in a condom or pinching my face with clothes pins. Surprisingly none of that’s really bothered me. If I had to pick the most challenging thing, I’d have to say marshmallow smells and peeps are cystic; you think it’d be a no-brainer, but somehow I have yet to unlock the secret to this nauseating convection. When you’re halfway through setting up and things start falling off your face faster than you can put them back on, it’s lame.”