Friday, March 25, 2005

Self Serving Inner View

The following is an edited (some topics expanded for this forum to make myself look good, some grammar fixed to the best of my limited bilingual ability -my native tongue is spanish- and profanity added to make it real, like Evander Holifield, I like profanity) part of an interview given a month and a half ago to One2One Magazine for the "Creativity" issue , I don't know when or IF will be published or how much will be edited, so here's a good chunk of it for curiosity's sake.

Note: The links are in dark blue.

Subject: Re: Musings From The Wrong Side Of The Brain
Date: February 10, 2005 10:12:30 AM EST


What's your passion?
Women & drawing.

When and how did you get started?
I really didn't draw much as a toddler, as a matter of fact I didn't draw at all until I was a teenager, which makes a lot of sense to me now. I was a weird kid, what I did do was to manipulate images and objects and to experiment with any type of creative (destructive) process.

In first grade I grabbed a pair of scissors and butchered my entire text book, page for page, I carefully and selectively cut out all the illustrations that appealed to me, for no particular reason, I didn't do anything with the images afterwards but I do recall experiencing a great deal of enjoyment while vandalizing the book, I get that same exact feeling every time I do something of any artistic consequence as an adult.

Needless to say, that early exercise in self expression ended abruptly with a severe beating at the hands of my mother, who did not find it amusing at all. I remember the illustrations in the book as being stylish and iconic representations of common things, "C" is for cat and that sort of thing. I had a real cat but the cartoons seemed more interesting.

I became interested in producing art, in earnest, at 8, I can say that with certainty because at that age I watched an older cousin draw some dead president or other and was mesmerized by what I saw, what amazed me the most was not the drawing itself but the look on his face as he drew; he seemed as if he was in a trance of some sort, making all kinds of faces, totally oblivious to his surroundings, as far as he was concerned, it was just him and the paper. I stood there, quiet as a mouse for the duration. I've been infatuated and down right obsessed with the creative process ever since.

Another motivating factor for me to become a cartoonist was animation, where I lived at the time, one of the local TV stations used to broadcast really old cartoon shows, one of them was "The Woody Woodpecker Show", at some point during the program Walter Lantz (the creator) would come on and I would freeze in astonishment as he proceeded to show us kids a bit of the animation process, the first time I saw this it blew my mind, I knew right then and there what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Professionally, my first "real" paying job was drawing political cartoons for a communist paper, I wanted to become a political cartoonist, politicians and their ilk seemed like easy targets at the time.

What inspires you?
Everything inspires me, I was never bored as a kid, always found something "creative" (not necessarily constructive) to do, A.D.D. is a fine artistic quality, one which landed me in constant trouble.

My biggest source of inspiration has always been women, such a never-ending supply of artistic and emotional stimulation, otherwise I find inspiration in even the most ridiculously simple things.

What do you do for fun?
Besides sketching and occasional sex, riding my bike around NYC is a lot of fun, I'm an avid "Home Star Runner" fan, Strong Bad rules! I'm addicted to those silly web flash games, right now I'm playing Peasant's Quest. Music is terribly important to me as well.

Role playing games are hard on my brain and X-treme sports/fighting/shoot 'em up adult video games are too hideous to look at, I hate those polygons and the airbrushed characters. Bring back the Coleco-Vision console.

What are some of your influences in popular culture?
I dislike the term influence, is too strong a word to toss around, I prefer inspiration. Many artists would disagree with this because it's in our nature to cling to our objects of worship and either consciously or subconsciously mirror in our work what we consider great. Comic book artists in particular love citing this and that person as influences while mimicking their heroes' style and arresting their own development in the process, it drives me insane!. The result: most comics look like the same guy drew them.

I'd love to think that I get affected positively by a lot of the art I see, I think of my brain as a blender running on the highest setting, none of it sticks long enough to make me want to adopt a particular style or school of thought, style is the least of my concerns, self expression and problem solving, those are the main ideas. All unique styles are born out of the personal necessity to solve design problems within the artist's limited resources, knowledge and capabilities.

Here's a random list of pop culture heroes that come to mind as I write this: (Edit: Links added) A major inspiration is the great argentinian cartoonist Guillermo Divito, Tex Avery, Kurosawa, Le Corbusier, Richard Saul Wurman, Raymond Lowey, Moebius, Yves Chaland, Herge, and a slew of french comics. Egon Schiele, "The Golden Age" of american illustrators: Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, etc. and a whole bunch of american Illustrators from the turn of the century to the fifties (including John LaGatta, Herb Paus, JC Leyendecker, Enoch Bolles, George Petty & Gil Elvgren), Hitchcock's films, Paolo Garretto, Mary Blair, Aurelius Battaglia, Al Hirschfeld, Jack Kirby, Julian García, Jorge Carreño, Rafael Freyre, the first 7 full-feature animated Disney flicks, Akira, Astro Boy, Marine Boy (my favorite), UltraMan, Speed Racer and lots of old japanese cartoons are very inspiring, the movies of Pedro Almodovar, UPA cartoons, Rivera, Siqueiros, Guayasamin, Khalo, Graffiti, Tattoos, vintage illustrated movie posters, suicide girls, swiss graphic design, the Coca-Cola glass bottle, phew! I'm exhausted!.

Le Corbusier

Oswaldo Guayasamín

Rafael Freyre

Guillermo Divito

Jorge Carreño

(Please talk about specifics of some of the work that you've done for other companies)
As a whole, I have to say that I don't really like half of the "approved" work I've done for other companies, some was enjoyable, some was challenging, in particular the projects in which I was given a great deal of artistic freedom, but the majority of that work was watered down and rarely reflected my personal taste, for the most part those things were somebody else's ideas on how to separate the targeted consumer from his money, no redeeming artistic value whatsoever.

At major companies most art directors play to the lowest common denominator, hit all demographics at the same time. I'm not proud of the ton of crap I did commercially to pay my bills, but I don't regret any of it, I paid my dues ten fold, did what I was told, cashed the late check and went home and worked on my own stuff.

How would you sum up your life?
An HBO original series (with subtitles).

How did your upbringing allow you the freedom to become who you are today?
My upbringing was pretty shitty but fun, running the streets as a kid in a third world country without parents ( my father bailed out when I was 2 and my mother left her native Ecuador to find work in NYC when I turned 8) can not possibly be good for a shy and sensitive child of the artistic kind but it was perfect for a hyper-active freak with attention deficit disorder. Fending for yourself in a hostile environment forces you think outside the box and to wear many hats.
The positive results from such an upbringing: I have the passion and the work ethic of a turn of the century immigrant, I seek independence at all costs, I appreciate life and live every day as if it were my last, no job is below me, nothing is too difficult and I have zero tolerance for laziness.

The negative: I don't trust anyone except my wife and kids, I am not a team player whatsoever, I dislike working for others, I have no respect for money, I have no respect for authority, I isolate myself and my family from the rest of the world in order to protect them, I'm a stubborn fool, I use lots of comas, I always know what's best, even when I don't have a clue, wait, let me re-phrase that: particularly when I don't have a clue, I could go on you know.

How has your art evolved over time?
What I did last year doesn't resemble what I'm doing today.

How do you define art and culture? Is our generation cultured?
I don't feel qualified to answer that question, my views on what constitutes art and culture are so warped, it's not even funny. Everything is gut feeling for me.

Can you give our readers a crash course in how to get into art? For someone who has never
been to a museum or art gallery, it can be quite intimidating; how do they get started?
I'm sure there are plenty of self-help books for the art-challenged out there, I have no advice for your readers.
I know what I like and what makes ME happy, I truly have no idea as to what others like, or perhaps I do but I don't care.

What do they need to know to be an art collector not just for what melts the heart, but also what could fetch them some dough down the line?
I don't collect art for the sake of collecting. While I think I understand the concept of collecting to make money, I don't subscribe to that notion, collectors are scary people, they place value on crap for the most stupid reasons, makes no sense to me whatsoever. A lot of collectors who have bought Frazetta's original artwork, are counting the days until the old man kicks the bucket just so they can make a few extra bucks, ain't that nice?!. I have given people shitty preliminary sketches as gifts and later I found them in "collections". I'm not a businessman, I surround myself with art so I can touch it, feel it, be inspired and motivated by it; I take my toys out of the boxes and my comics out of the plastic bags and I play with them until they look like shit, "mint condition" is a foreign term to me.

What do you say to those traditionalists who believe that Van Gogh etc is
the only type of art that should be taught in schools or in museums? How the
old and new should be put in perspective?
I'm not concerned with what is taught or what is shown, art to me is a very personal journey, what melts MY heart -as you put it- is the only thing that matters to me. If an object or a performance elicits an emotional or aesthetic response from my brain (or both), whether is Rembrandt or graffiti in a public bathroom, THAT is art. Traditionalist thinking equates to narrow-mindedness, Van Gogh and his art were regarded as garbage by the traditionalists of the times. Art appreciation class for artists is a waste of time in my opinion, if you're an artist and need to be taught to appreciate art, you have problems.

What is creativity? If so how can someone tap into that aspect of themselves?
I honestly don't know what creativity is, but I wholeheartedly believe that every human being has been given a gift, this endowment is an entity all to itself, it may manifest immediately after we are born or it may lie dormant for years, as in my case and many others who tap into it later in life, a particular event or realization can wake it from its slumber, some people may never get to discover what's inside of them.

Artistic talent can not be acquired. Skills can be mastered by anyone with determination and a good memory, but true artistic talent is not skill, it's the vision to project a clear path to the understanding of what is beautiful and what makes it so, the sensitivity to perceive what is not apparent to others, a regular human being sees a red apple, no less, no more, depending on his/her state of being or the time of day, an artist sees yellows, greens, purples, blues, sin, desire, hunger, god, youth, decay, death and an infinite amount of possibilities. Talent is also the intuitiveness to recognize the sublime in the mundane and the grotesque in the majestic, the insight to apply acquired skills to achieve self realization through self expression.

Most human beings are quite capable of reacting emotionally to and be moved by art but that is not artistic talent, it's appreciation.

Are artists born or can they be made?
Artisans as well as technicians can be made, since the execution of a formulaic task merely requires skill, artists are born, if artistic talent is there you can tap into it, if not, you're wasting your time, go drive a truck or something.

How much is your most expensive piece? What is the most that you've been paid for your art? Where can we buy your work?
I don't sell my original drawings to the public, maybe in the future. If you invite me over and buy me dinner I might draw something for you :).

Have you ever altered your style for commercial gain? You mentioned that Disney Studios etc have the tendency to ask artists to change their signature to fit their mold
I've altered my "style" for commercial gain most of my life, I've made a living as a corporate graphic designer not as a fine artist, meaning I created logos, graphics and product illustrations for companies and services, that's where my money came from, style is important in corporate art but more often than not you must be willing to sacrifice your individuality for the sake of a unified look, I think I understood that concept and performed accordingly, I just don't want to do that anymore.

Studios such as Disney have to have everyone drawn their characters in the same style, it's understandable as they have certain standards they need to maintain, consistency is paramount in character recognition.

Figure drawing for me is not a financial necessity, it is a choice. I started drawing women in earnest 4 years ago, and with very few exceptions, that's all I do today, it's my passion and since I don't get paid to do it, I don't have to alter anything, it's what I've always wanted to do but didn't have the knowledge nor the time to pursue it with vigor, -and I didn't, precisely because I knew it wasn't going to pay my bills- not unlike most struggling artists out there, I couldn't afford to do "my thing" full time and on my terms. It's that simple.

Your art is fleshy and celebrates the human form, would you make your figures skinner or pornographic for profit?
The way I see it, a woman is a woman, it goes beyond the physical aspect, even Sarah Jessica Parker (who looks like a guy in drag with the voice of a 5 year old girl) has an air of femininity about her :), some artists prefer to draw asian girls, some rather draw and paint really fat women and so forth, I have no particular fetishes and I don't classify women. I do draw all body types but for the most part, I stay away from the "starving model" and the "morbidly obese" types, the 2 main physical differences between a man and a woman are: a wider pelvis and fatty tissue, drawing girls that look like 14 year old boys is not my thing, I like fat. Depicting pornographic acts does not interest me one bit, I don't care how much it pays.

Why do you refuse to sell your work in bookstores?
What I do does not appeal to the masses. On the low-end of the spectrum, there are no predictable stories to read, no random acts of sex and violence are depicted in gruesome Photoshop airbrushed detail and no muscle-clad super heroes prancing around in their colorful lycra underwear saving the world from impending doom. On the "intellectual" high-end, there are no stories recounting intricate tales of the human condition, the artwork is not poorly-drawn enough, nor vague and fuzzy enough to qualify as abstract, no pictures of empty rooms with say... rotten fruit in the middle or cow droppings, like we find in modern museums, no implied symbolism or hidden messages left to the interpretation of the educated viewer and no clever social/political commentary being made, just a bunch of socially irresponsible pencil drawings.

Just to clarify: I don't have anything against money, in fact, I like money. I wouldn't mind selling my stuff in a national bookstore chain, but it must be on my terms, I'm not going to draw bimbos with their legs wide open touching themselves, looking like they want to get fucked just because they sell better, I may do that if that is what I feel like doing. As my friend Bret Blevins puts it: "You can't adopt the undiscerning public's uninformed standards as the order of the universe--you've got to make your own order if you want to fully reach the privilege of being yourself--being the artist ONLY you can be".

I'm not taking a moral stand at all, I like porn as much as the next guy but that's not what interests me artistically. I don't draw girls for money and I most certainly don't draw for the fans, I do it to please myself, if all I ever wanted was to make money I would either go work at McDonald's or back to drawing corporate logos, same difference (except of course the amount on the "Mickey D's" check is way smaller ).

My personal work in book form is still very personal, even if half the world buys it (which is not the case), when you buy my books you're paying me to share my vision with you, I'd like to believe that you support my endeavors because you enjoy the work I do and quite possibly you would like me to continue doing more work for you to enjoy, you don't get to tell me what to draw, that is also why I rarely do commissions and I don't sell my artwork on e-bay, my sketchbooks are mainly bought by fellow artists and like-minded folks, that's just fine with me.

That may be called integrity in other cultures, in ours it's called financial suicide.

How has technology, proliferation of porn, 911, racism and today's culture affected your art?
Technology has been a blessing for me, it has made it possible for a lot of us artists to express ourselves without censorship while taking control of our own destinies, we expose our art to the world, research, promote, publish and sell our own work and more. Artistic and financial independence seldom go together, so I'm extremely happy to be able to maintain a certain level of both artistic and financial autonomy for the past few years.

Porn and technology however, do go hand in hand, is a well documented fact that porn is responsible for most major innovations in technology today: web browsers, search engines, still image and video compression, live web broadcasting, wireless billing systems, insanely huge servers, faster computers, logistics, and mass distribution systems, thank god for porn, huh?

Porn is also the cornerstone of a free society (heh, heh, I've always wanted to say that) porn itself is not the problem since sexuality and eroticism and any aberrations derived from them are human nature issues, porn has been around since day one and it will be here long after we're gone, you can't legislate it away, but the money that it generates makes people do stupid things.

I have always wanted to draw women, porn does not affect the intrinsic nature of my personal work, I 'd be doing the same thing I do now regardless of porn pouring into the mainstream, although it may affect your perception of what I do.

Having said that, today's easy availability of pornographic images has provided me with tons of reference material, as not all porn depicts hardcore sexual acts, thousands of naked and half naked models in a myriad of poses is a dream come true for me, if I had to pay a professional model to pose for me every time I draw a girl holding a gun I'd be broke.

America is still far from breaking free from racism. Prejudice and bigotry are very much alive and well, but it's also one of the most progressive countries in advancing the "melting pot" cause, since most people living here are from somewhere else. Racism does affect me personally but the subject matter I chose to depict is a different story, I don't mix politics with figure drawing.

Creative men tend to be more sensitive and in tune with their emotions, how does today's narcissistic/macho culture affect men in art?
The effects? younger males growing ever more disrespectful and abusive to women and girls reaching sexual maturity way faster than their brains are able to keep up, developing a total lack of understanding and respect for their own bodies and for themselves as human beings, this attitude is prominently displayed in pop music, music videos, comics and video games. No surprise "Girls Gone Wild" is a runaway best seller. There's a new kind of celebrity being emulated by the masses: "The Dumb Slut" with Paris Hilton as the ring leader.

How can one use art to create a romantic mood?
I don't know, I haven't dated since I was 16, I used to whisper custom made love poems in the ear of the victim, err, I mean the current object of my affections in those days, that used to work like a charm. My fantasy of an artistic/romantic moment is to draw a naked woman while listening to Cayetano Veloso's "Luna Llena Menguante".

Why do women love artists?
A male artist is the closest thing to a woman, heh, heh! just kidding. Heightened sensitivity and a disproportionate sense of idealism perhaps, I don't know.

What is the weirdest thing that's happened to you as a result of your art?
Weird things you say? many pages do I have? This may not be the weirdest but it's a pretty cool example of life immitating art:

When I was younger I had a paper route to supplement my income as an in-house production artist for a local silkscreen company, I delivered the NY Times to a few apartment buildings along 34th Street on the East Side of Manhattan early in the a.m. My wife and I had gone through an excruciatingly painful year, financially, with an infant to provide for and a gloomy outlook, I couldn't wait for it to end. I was determined to quit art altogether and move my family to California in search for better paying jobs.

A week before Xmas I drew a cartoon self portrait and made photocopies to leave with my clients, as sort of a poor man's xmas card, hoping to entice my subscribers to tip heavy. Two days later at around 3 a.m. as I was about to drop a heavy Sunday paper at one of the apartments, an older woman opened the door from across the hallway and handed me an envelope, she said nothing, nodded, smiled and closed the door. I didn't make much of it at first since I had received tips in envelopes from subscribers the day before, I went on to finish my route, when I got home I opened the envelope to find a hand written note, explaining to me that she had been so impressed with the cartoon that she had written to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who was the publisher of the NY Times asking him for a job on my behalf, the publisher wrote back to her a few days later saying that they weren't ready to commit to hiring any artists at that point in time, promising of course to keep an eye on this young new talent, whether he was just refusing politely or being candidly honest made no difference to me, her beautiful gesture touched me in more ways than I could have imagined and renewed my faith in humankind (at least for the holiday season) at a particularly low point in my life, in which I questioned my own commitment and desire to do the "art thing".
I went on with my plans and moved to California nonetheless, I failed miserably and returned to New York 2 years later with bankrupcy papers to file and an additional mouth to feed, but I was never the same after that episode.



ivan brandon said...

this guy is great. he should do pinups for nycmech.

Process Junkie said...

hah, hah!
He should and he will!

You made my day man.

manucha said...

Hummmm. . .? "My fantasy of an artistic/romantic moment is to draw a naked woman while listening to Cayetano Veloso's "Luna Llena Menguante"." Are you sure it's not Chavela Vargas "Tomada de Luna Llena" con tequila?? 8)

Well. . . you know, this sounds painfully attainable. Anything in life is almost possible. :)

I enjoyed the interview. Engageing.

Thanks for sharing.

Process Junkie said...

Chavela Vargas makes me want to go slit my a good way :)

Mike M said...

I know you told me the story before, but seeing the card is great! And a great interview...funny to think all of this amazing insightful opinions comec from a guy who was playing air guitar in our Florida hotel with his hair hanging down like Slash! :-)

Jill said...

i found the interview extremely interesting. Thanks for the reminder to read it!!

Natalie said...

This was super entertaining! I was in love with his art already, but this interview made me fall in love with the artist behind it.