Artist Interviews 2022

Trew Love  
By Johnny Otto

Let’s talk about how you got started and who your earliest inspirations were? Why be an artist at all? What's your art education? Formal training or self-taught?

My mom was an artist and an art teacher and had me playing in clay and crayons from as early as I can remember. She nurtured my gifts early but I pushed them aside for years. Truthfully I didn’t want to be an artist at first. I went to school to be an orthodontist but got through Organic Chemistry only to realize that while I love science, I’d had enough. I switched my major to liberal arts and began traveling the world to discover who I was and what I wanted out of life. During this time, I immersed myself into makeup which was my way of expressing my creativity in a relatively risk free and lucrative industry. After 18 years as a professional makeup artist, the urge to become an independent fine artist struck me. In order to transition from makeup into art, I created an illustrated makeup tutorial book called “Trew Basics” that uses Lichtenstein-inspired pop art to relay answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by my clients in the luxury makeup world. I received a lot of feedback from my mom on my art projects, even today. I learned a lot also from the master artists I worked with in makeup that taught me about different brushes, colors and techniques in makeup. I was hugely inspired by the pop art resurgence movement that happened in Los Angeles in 2014. Artists like Plastic Jesus, Skylar Gray, Seen, Risk, Gregory Siff and Banksy have all been huge inspirations. I have reached a new phase of my development as an artist now however. Up until this point, my artwork has been a reflection of how I perceive the world around me, both politically and artistically, but my next move is to incorporate all aspects of myself - music, dance, writing and art all into one style. I don’t know what this looks like just yet but I’m very excited to discover myself as an artist yet again, integrating all of my talents that I’ve come to this world with. So stay tuned! It should be a very exciting process for me and to watch.

In addition to being an artist, you also joined Revolution LA, an activist group in Los Angeles. What sort of trouble do you get into and how does art help to reshape our ideas and bring about change in the world?

In 2016, I was galvanized into action when I saw the battle at Standing Rock and the fight over the land and water. I had been watching alternative media sources that were capturing what was REALLY going on which was much more severe than would be understood from watching mainstream news channels. I understood viscerally that if the oil companies would treat the natives with such blatant disrespect, it was only a matter of time before those same forces are in our own back yards. I dropped art all together to participate in the movement, and in the process, I learned about the power that a small group of organized and passionate individuals can have on our political system. As the movement grew from a Divestment movement to encourage the city to pull out the city’s funds from Wells Fargo into a Public Banking movement to create a socially conscious financial system that works for the people, I realized that it was time to take my activism back into the art world. In 2019, I created a collection called “Sugar Coated” to bring forth the truths that I had learned about by getting involved in Revolution LA- Solitary confinement, prison systems, racism, human trafficking and more. I wanted the collection to touch on the issues that are easy to ignore by those who are unaffected, and do so in a way that would encourage discussion. It was my way of trying to ‘wake up’ those who were unaware of the atrocities that exist in every day life. Now, after Covid and the awakening of so many people to these issues, Sugar Coated is less of a collection to bring awareness, and more of a collection to bring humor to the issues that cause our society the most strife. I see Sugar Coated as being a bittersweet reflection of where we as a collective, and also an avenue to create meaningful conversations that ultimately could inspire solutions.

Your work is pop art that makes fun of pop art or comments on the ridiculous nature of consumer culture. What are you trying to say about the way pop art has invaded our culture and shaped our minds?

I love pop art simply because of the bright colors and the imagery that often brings us back to the characters of our childhoods but with an adult twist. Yet I find myself bored with the repetitive nature of slapping brand logos on things and calling it original. I see that logo art is very marketable and feeds our consumerist tendencies and need for societal validation and that’s exactly the statement I wanted to make with my last collection, “Luxury Adjacent”. I have a sharp take on this topic because I see that on a deep level, it is our need for inclusion and recognition that creates our ’smoke and mirrors’ approach to adorning ourselves in things that many of us can’t actually afford.

Do you dabble in NFTs? What are your thoughts on the future of art and its different incarnations?

I feel NFTs have yet to reveal the groundbreaking nature that they truly are. I love the idea that the artist will always receive some percentage of the resale value, and I also love that it’s a way to collect art without collecting physical works. Physical art buyers and NFT buyers are simply different clientele. There is some overlap of course, but I feel that it’s another way for people to participate in supporting artists and having art they love and can share with their friends. As I integrate dance and music into my artistic creations moving forward, NFTs offer the perfect mechanism to smash together all of my skill sets; the physical art, music, and the video of the creation process all into one and I’m very excited about that opportunity.

Any artists you would love to collaborate with?

Anyone who’s driven, passionate, and has a deep soul. I love graffiti artists and street artists in particular, however I let Spirit bring me my next collaborations. I’ve learned to trust that God knows me and what I enjoy better than I do :)

What will you be doing five years from now, if everything goes according to plan?

If all goes according to plan, I’ll have three adult cartoon shows on air, the LA City Angels Project (a city-wide community art project) will be nearing completion for the 2028 Olympics, What Would Love Say (an LED programmed sanctuary structure) will have been enjoyed immensely by at Burning Man and beyond, I’ll have a completed album and NFT collection that allows me to share my voice and dance with the globe, and Trew Basics will be sold internationally. You know, small stuff :)

Any shows coming up?

Not as of right now. I feel discovering my new mashup expression is my next feat, and when I have enough to show, I’ll be finding a place to do so. In the mean time, I’m in discovery mode of finding out the most authentic expression of myself as an artist that has everything to do with what my heart has to show the world rather than a commentary about my external environment made by (according to my mom) my overthinking mind.

Other than art, what else moves you and makes you smile?

Healing, internal work, and plant medicines. I believe that responsible psychedelic use is the pathway out of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, PTSD, self-hatred, and many other issues that so many of us struggle with. I feel we all long to be loved, seen and included, yet we cannot be until we learn to love, see, and include ourselves with ourselves. Psychedelics and MDMA have been a huge part of my healing and self discovery and I hope I am alive to see the day that all people have access to these medicines and can find a better, more joyful, more peaceful way of living life from the inside out.

Copyright 2022/ Art Squat /