Artist Interviews 2022

By Johnny Otto

You are originally from the Detroit area, and now live in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s large financial center. How are the two cities different in the ways that they influence your art and how are they similar?

The most significant difference is scale. And I am speaking both of the size of the artwork and of the cities themselves. In comparison with Detroit, São Paulo is massive. Detroit is a city of about 1 million and São Paulo is a city of 18 million, so already I think the brain just begins to understand the world at a larger scale. Before I moved to São Paulo I had never considered painting murals.  Although there is so much excellent street art in Detroit, there are far fewer canvases, read, large buildings in Detroit than there is in São Paulo. Detroit is a city with so many residential single family home neighborhoods which just equates to less wall space. São Paulo is basically a vast sea of concrete canvases, replete with tall apartment buildings and large walls around most properties, residential and commercial. Street art and graffiti are omnipresent, really, in every street corner you turn there is art and there is simply more opportunity.

How would you describe your style and when did you start creating art and murals?

My subject matter varies from wall to wall, but in all I am focusing on creating figures that feel voluminous. I try to create an almost bulbous and rotund effect giving the paintings a sculptural feel. My style is still developing really; I began focusing on murals about two and a half years ago so we’ll see how I evolve.

Large murals can be challenging but also freeing in a way. How do you approach a new project? And how do you find walls to paint on? Is it easier in Brazil to create on public walls? Less red tape?

Large walls are quite challenging, which is really suiting as I thrive on challenge. For me it is quite a beautiful experience of connecting to a place, thinking about the wall itself, the neighborhood, the people that live there and the particular aim of a project. To wrap all of these things together into a meaningful work of art is also a means for me to learn and grow as a person. I can’t comment on whether or not it is easier to create murals in Brazil, as I have not YET painted in the U.S. But I can definitely say that there is much more public funding for these types of projects here in Brazil. There is state and federal funding for artists to write projects and a large array of editors particularly aimed at street art.

Which artist would you love to collaborate with, if you could?

I would love to collaborate with Paula Rego. She is a Portuguese artist who creates large scaled soft pastel figures on paper. I became acquainted with her work at a museum in São Paulo and she became one of the most significant influences in my work before I moved to street art. Before I began with murals I worked in soft pastel and now those techniques really inform the way I use and look at the materials for large scale painting. The spray paint has kind of become my stick of soft pastel.

You painted a large mural of one of my favorite people, Katie Oliver. How do you know her and why did you decide to paint her? And how do you choose you subjects in general?

Katie and I actually went to high school together! And for the longest time she has been game for my kooky ideas to paint and photograph her. She is such an amazing model, and actress of course! She once let me wrap her whole face up in Christmas lights for a photography project. I prefer to work from reference and whenever I need some specific pose or scene Katie always goes 200% and has fun with it and really empowers me to be able to paint this fantastical little world in my head. How I choose my subject matter varies from project to project, but the process is usually quite similar. Generally starting from a single point or image of inspiration and then building from there, twisting or manipulating the reality of the starting point until I arrive at a dreamlike composition.

What other creative endeavors do you enjoy?

I like to put creative energy into cooking; I am particularly in love with Mexican and Thai flavors. I love experimenting and trying to see what I can come up with using spices and combinations that aren’t really familiar. and recently I have been delving into mask making.

Do you also paint on canvas? If so, do you show in galleries? Anything we should look out for?

I am painting on canvas more and more these days, but in the past my focus was always with soft pastel on paper. I haven’t put anything in a gallery since I left Detroit. I think my last exhibition was a collective exhibition called “Crotch” at the Whitdel Arts in Detroit. It would definitely be fun to explore those spaces again.

Music is a big inspiration for a lot of visual artists. What do you like to listen to when you work or what music inspires you?

Music is of utmost importance and I could honestly spend hours going on about bands and artists that move me. The playlist has to be spot on especially when starting a large mural. Probably the most frequently played are indie and psychedelia from the states. I do like to have a very eclectic mix. There’s a lot of Motown, soul, rock, Brazilian Popular Music (MBP) and other world music in my mixed tape. Wherever I travel to paint a make sure to learn from the locals about their own regional music influences. I have discovered so much excellent music that I might never have been exposed to had I not traveled to different countries. There is always music playing and I am almost always lip synching and dancing horribly to it.

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