In the vast landscape of pop-culture iconography, Wes Lang is the rare creative whose appeal has coolly transitioned from Haight to hip-hop. A professional artist since the ’90s, Lang—imposing in stature, shyly amiable in disposition—made his name two years ago with his stunning illustration, as commissioned by the Grateful Dead, of a stoic human skull donning a technicolour Native American headpiece. After that, he won over a completely different scene by designing merch (featuring yet more palpitating skulls) for Kanye West’s Yeezus tour.

To the art cognoscenti, however, he is a provocateur who mines a high-minded middle ground between earthy Americana and more stylised tattoo culture. To that end, some of his work can be found comfortably ensconced in MoMA’s permanent collection, while others travel the world for his solo shows. And in 2016, his work will hang in London—at the new, breathlessly anticipated museum curated by Damien Hirst, who also collects Lang’s work. Though skeletons appear in many of Lang’s creations high and low, one of his greatest inspirations is, in fact, a dog. Spider, his teacup Chihuahua, can be spotted in bird and buffalo incarnations throughout his work. Four&Sons chatted with Lang about his unusual beginnings and unconventional muse.

Why a Chihuahua? And, yes, I am asking you this because you’re such a tall guy.

Spider is my second one. I just love their personalities and love how tiny they are. They’re absurdly cute. He’s my best friend. I love him so much. I think big dogs are beautiful, and I’ve lived with a couple of big dogs before. But it’s like having another person in a house. I’m, like, 6’ 3” and over 200 pounds—Spider is five pounds. It’s a funny pairing, for sure. But it works.

"The skulls are not morbid. It’s the opposite: a celebration of being alive."

How does Spider fit into your studio life?

My studio is downtown. He comes down there and sits in his cage and watches me—or I just hold him. He’s so small that I can hold him with my left hand and tuck him in, and paint. He goes up and down the ladder with me. He’s so small that it’s easy. He just hates the car. That’s his thing—he cries the whole time.

Does your frequent use of skulls and skeletons represent a fascination with mortality?

I mean, yes. But over the last five to six years, my work has definitely been driven by reading and practicing Taoism—making the most out of your life while you have the opportunity to do so. So the skulls are not morbid. It’s the opposite: a celebration of being alive. That’s what my work is about…

To continue reading, purchase the new issue of Four&Sons here.

This content has been edited and condensed, originally appearing in Four&Sons.