Before you focused your life in artwork and animation what was in your mind for living… What were you looking for and how imagine this future in that past…
I was in a lot of bands. I owned a record store. I took ski racing pretty seriously. I went to a private ski racing academy in Lake Tahoe for my last two years in high school. Art was always in the back of my mind, though. It’s what I really wanted to do.
Could you explain why you choose drawing in your life and not other activity?
Drawing is pure and direct. It’s where I can most freely express myself. I love being a fine artist because I get to make what I want to make. Very rarely does anyone give me any kind of direction. I’ll discuss things with galleries and I love their input, but they never try to tell me what to do.
How was your childhood?
It was pretty good. My parents loved camping and traveling, so I spent a lot of time in the woods with my two brothers. I was the middle child. I don’t know exactly how that effected me… I was the “emotional” one who got terrible grades and drew all the time.
Were you a skateboarder?
Yeah, my dad was an designer and made us a half-pipe. We were never very good, but we had a great time. I got back into skating in my mid-twenties when I was doing art for skateboard companies. I was way better then. I was always scared of getting hurt when I was a kid. I guess I grew out of that.
How did you start working in skateboarding industry and which companies did you work for?
I was friends with Tom Knox and he asked me to design a deck for him. That was for Santa Cruz. I met Richard Metiver and started doing freelance for People, Union, Earth… All of his lines. I did a bunch of stuff for Gonz’s 60/40 & Kools lines.
How you reached John Kricfalusi to work with him and how you began working on “Ren & Stimpy” cartoon?
I actually never worked on Ren & Stimpy. I met John when he was working on it and I tried out, but I was not good enough. He gave me some pointers and sent me away. I came back a few years later and he hired me to work on the Bjork video that he made. I worked on a few commercials and a tiny bit on the Yogi Bear cartoons.
Tell me what you learned there and why Kricfalusi was like a mentor for you…
He has a million theories about drawing and painting. He would throw them at you constantly. They were really helpful, but he was pretty brutal in the way he delivered them. He’d say “You can’t put texture on top of texture. It looks like crap! Look at that (pointing at my painting). It’s a mess!” I still think about those things when I paint. He’s in the back of my mind yelling at me. Then he would shower you with praise every once in a while. It was totally manic. He made everyone crazy. I love/hate that guy.
What is the difference between thinking in drawings and thinking in art pieces?
I try to ignore my thoughts when I’m drawing. I like conceptual work, but it’s hard to draw and conceptualize at the same time. Some of my work is pure picture making and some of it is very much about an idea or theory. It’s all in-between, actually. I like to switch things up a lot, working on high-concept pieces one day and pretty pictures the next. It keeps me balanced. It probably confuses people and alienates others, but I can’t help it.
You have some iconic characters like Helper, could you tell the story behind its creation and what represents in your life?
Helper started as a simple drawing. For years I didn’t really feel like he had any meaning. When I started to study American History I began to think of him as a symbol of corruption. He’s like the eye on top of the pyramid. I see that eye as a man-made god that some people use to justify horrible behavior. They idea that God approves of whatever America does is really sick and corrupt. I often include the words “Anniut Coeptis” with the image of Helper. It’s taken from the seal that is on the dollar bill. It basically translates to “God approves of our actions”. On a personal level, it makes me think about what I use to justify my actions. It makes me question my motivations. At my worst I am Helper. He’s what man becomes when he believes he knows the will of God.
And what about Alphabeasts toy?
I had an idea about the heirarchy of archetypal symbols. Meaning that there are certain images that we relate to more than others. The chalace, for example… It’s a cup, right? It’s repeated over and over in spiritual imagery to represent all kinds of things; femininity, wealth, faith, etc. I don’t know exactly what it means because it’s meaning is abstract. I created Calli and later realized that he is the chalace. Helper is clearly a phallus. Ghonner is a sort of keyhole shape. That symbol is often used to represent the afterlife or the transition to another world. I apply the name “Alphabeast” when I feel like there is something about the caracter that is partially symbolic. I picture them competing for their place in the heirarchy. Who is the true “Alpha-Beast”?
How began your fascination for vinyl toys and art toys?
I always loved toys when I was a kid. I played with Legos constantly. I loved games and puzzles. When I got older I used toys as visual inspiration. Mostly Japanese kaiju figures. I wanted to make toys because I was inspired by them. When I got the opportunity I jumped at it.
How many vinyl toys do you have in your collection?
I don’t even know, because lots of them are in boxes, these days. Maybe 800? Too many, for sure.
With the passage of time your work has changed, nowadays we can appreciate another kind of techniques of painting that belongs to the classic paintings or formal art paintings in your works…
I can’t help changing. Sometimes I think it would be better if I could stick to one way of working so that I could establish myself more as a brand. I see other people doing that and I’m a bit envious. I could never do it, though. My work is very personal to me. I use it to learn about myself and to grow and change who I am. It makes me a better, more well rounded person. It’s a path to happiness. That’s why it has to change. I change things about myself all the time. I learn things. I get rid of outmoded ways of thinking, etc.
In the same way your work is evolving with another kind of message, more serious maybe…
Yeah. It goes back and forth. It reflects what’s going on in my life. A few years ago I want through a bunch of huge changes in my life. It was heartbreaking and brutally sad. My art was dismally intense at that time, but it was appropriate. Recently, things are much brighter and happy. There’s still intensity and some darkness, but it feels balanced.
Then tell me, what about Operating System show in Paris, i imagine that event changed the way that you came doing expositions in the past.
That show was really the result of all the work I did for The Artist In You. All of the time that I spent trying to figure out what I want from my work and how to make it speak for me… I wanted to make a show that had a clear concept. That spoke the language of conceptual art, but that also spoke in the language of decorative art. I called the sculptures “systems” because they represent the infrastructure of art… Everything but the art itself; galleries, critics, collectors, shipping companies, etc. I wade them out of materials that galleries are made of; Plywood, MDF, screws, nails, white paint. I also used dark grey felt as part of the packaging. That was meant to remind people of Beuys’ felt sculptures. I wanted to make sure that people understood that they were looking at intellectual content. The paintings were perched on top of the sculptures, so they were a system for displaying the art, but they were also shipping containers. Each of the systems breaks down into the shipping crate at the bottom with the painting inside. It’s really a simple metaphor. The question that I wanted people to ask is, “Does that sculpture need to be there?” or maybe “Does that sculpture make this piece better or is it just a distraction?”. Most people asked me, “Aren’t you worried that the sculptures will distract people from the paintings?”. To me that was perfect. The show did exactly what I wanted it to do. In fact, it worked on lots of levels. The gallery had a hard time selling the show because people kept asking if they could have the paintings without the sculptures. The gallerist had to talk the buyers into seeing the validity of the sculptures. How ironic is that!? Ultimately, it was the worst selling show I’ve ever done. It opened the weekend after all those banks started failing, so that was bad. Then, to top it off, the gallery refused to ship the unsold pieces back to me. When they finally sent them, they got held up by the Icelandic Volcano. Now, I guess they are lost in some warehouse! I’m still waiting and It’s been two years since the show opened! I could see this all as a huge disaster but, as a metaphor, it’s a huge success.
Have you been in México before this show?
I went to Tijuana in my twenties, but I knew that was not really giving me a good taste of Mexico. Later on I went to Encanada with some friends. That was beautiful. I went diving in Cozumel a few years ago and loved it. This is my first time in Mexico City, though. I’m really excited!
What do you know about México, and what would you like to do…
I’ve been very inspired by Mexican art for years. I love the modernists and abstract expressionists, but I also love the Mayans. Their dragons and demons are spectacular.
I have some friends in LA that are from Mexico. They are always telling me about different places. So many things that I have to see!
How is a day in your life? Since you wake up and until sleep…
I wake up around 8 and get my daughter ready for school. After I drop her off I check emails, eat breakfast hang out with my girlfriend and run errands. In the afternoon I pick my kid up, take her to tae kwon do or ballet. We go home and eat dinner, watch a little TV. When she goes to sleep I paint or draw or design stuff. I stay up until 2-3am, usually. When my daughter is at her mom’s house we get to be a little more adventurous. We go out with friends, smoke some weed, Drink really good beer, etc. I DJ at a few clubs in LA once in a while. Lots of traveling… that’s when we really let loose.
I imagine your daughter Tigerlily is 8 years old. Does she still draw as her father does?
Even more! She draws all the time. I can’t believe how good she is. It’s shocking.
You have worked on friendly creatures or little monsters most of the time. But tell me what is your biggest fear in real life?
I’m afraid of mental illness. I think everyone is at least a little crazy. I think one of the main goals of my life is to make myself more sane all the time. The problem is that sometimes what appears to be crazy is the most sane and vice-versa.
After the show in México, what will you plan to work on?
I want to finish my Jackson 500 project. I’ve been working on 500 paintings that are the size of a business card. I’ve got less than 100 to go! It’s been almost 7 years since I started.
I’m looking for some really fun design projects. I did a website for an agency in Norway recently. Just the visual part, but it was fun. They let me run wild with it. I’d love to get some opportunities to design public art. Big sculptures, etc. There are lots of possible projects in the works but nothing I can talk about. Sorry!
- – - – Additional, post-trip questions – - – -
And after your trip for Mexico city, what could you express about mexican aesthetic, I mean, in your perception how could you describe the city in that way.
I’ve got lots of images in my head from the trip. The Anthropology Museum was just a flood of inspiration. The pyramids, the crafts, the public sculpture… More than anything I see an unstoppable desire to create art that has gone on for centuries. I’ve never been in a place where there was so much art being made on so many levels and with every imaginable material!
Were you find something that inspired you to create/integrate/improve something in your work?
I really connected with the masks that I saw everywhere. The faces and creatures on everything. The insane colors… I’ll be back.
Best mexican dish?
Flautas con pastor at El Rey. My mouth waters when I think about it.