Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Art Space Talk: Travis Louie

The art of Travis Louie has had a great impact on the pop-surrealism scene. Travis is known for creating detailed drawings that are often mistaken for old photographs that have been manipulated. Travis has concentrated on his career after leaving behind over 10 years of freelance illustration work- since that time he has displayed his art at some of the most respected galleries on the scene today. His work has been exhibited at the Roq La Rue Gallery, Copro Nason Gallery, the Shooting Gallery... and has also been featured at Art Basel. Travis's draftsmanship reveals the determination and passion that he has for his art.

Brian Sherwin: Travis, as a child you were thrilled to watch "atomic age" sci-fi and horror movies. That connection is obvious in the art you do today. Do you create art as a way to stay connected to your youth? Is it a way to keep 'forever young', so to speak?

Travis Louie: That's an interesting conclusion to come to.

You're partly right, . . . I had a great time watching those movies as a child and the imagery has certainly stayed with me, . . .but essentially it's quite universal for artists to be influenced by their environment, . . . their life experiences, . . traumatic or otherwise, . . .that sort of thing.

I'm not so sure I stay connected to my youth through my paintings or that they keep me "forever young", but I do like to try and capture that feeling of wonder I got from those films. If anything, the act of painting keeps me grounded and maybe has a kind of Rip Van Winkle effect. Time seems to stop, when I'm working on my pieces.

Back to those atomic age sci-fi films, . . . these days, a few of those films have taken on another dimension for me. I am more aware of the cultural and political environment that existed, when they were made. Movies like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", Sam Fuller's "Pickup on South Street", and "Godzilla" come to mind. They contain metaphors for fear of a communist invasion and the threat of nuclear destruction.

BS: What other influences do you reveal in your art?

TL: German Expressionist filmmakers like Fritz Lang and F W Murnau, . . . who influenced other filmmakers that I admired, like Orson Welles, Val Lewton, Jacques Tournuer, and basically all the great Film Noir directors as well as the 19th century photography that I collect, . . . have had an enormous impact on the look of my work.

People have said that I paint monsters, but I'd like to think the characters in my paintings have some humanity and kindness in them.

BS: Travis, I understand that you started out as a professional illustrator- you have over 10 years of experience in that field. How did you make the jump from illustration to creating personal artwork for galleries?

TL: I had exhibitions in galleries while I was working for studios and freelancing for a living, . . . but I just wasn't happy with the results, . . .I finally decided I should really make a go at it and concentrated my efforts on improving my work, . . .once I felt comfortable with what I was producing, . . . I started showing my work to more galleries in 2003. I think my artworks just needed a chance to evolve. Not so much in the technical aspects of the work, but rather on the aesthetics . . . I always have to remember, "It's not just how well you paint, it's also what you paint"

BS: Where did you study? Who were your mentors?
TL: I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY I can't say I had any mentors there. They didn't teach people how to paint, . . . they taught them how to think, . . . "artistically". As far as I'm concerned, . . .the jury is still out on whether or not, that was a good way to teach.

As much as I appreciated the lessons in "problem-solving", my skills didn't really get a chance to improve until I'd been out of school for a year, which was probably the "norm" for most of my graduating class. I'll even go as far as saying most of the students from the illustration department weren't prepared, when they left school, . . . when I say this, I mean that a lot of them didn't seem to know what finished work looked like. This became problematic when they graduated, entered the illustration market, and were then put into the same talent pool as the very best in the business, . . . competing for the same jobs.
I even had this feeling during my junior year that our work as a whole wasn't strong enough. Being a year or so away from entering the real art market, I began to think it was unfair to coddle the students into thinking they were better than they were and that they might be prepared to tackle the "real" art world when they graduated. Of the 75 or so students that shared the same illustration dept with me, I couldn't name more than 5, who might still be doing artwork for a living today.

BS: You have had several great exhibitions at top venues for pop-surrealism- Roq La Rue Gallery, Copro Nason Gallery, Fuse Gallery... just to name a few. Can you share some of the experiences you've had exhibiting at these galleries? Do you think you could single out the best exhibit you've had so far? If so, why did it leave such an impression on you?

TL: All the galleries I've been fortunate enough to exhibit in have been good to me, . . .that's my diplomatic answer to that question,. . . next question.

BS: Travis, I've read that you create several thumbnail drawings of your paintings before you start to work on them... you also write short stories about the paintings before they are created. Do you have a story for every character you've painted? Also, why does that process work for you?

TL: My work is created in several stages, . . . the first being the idea and or inspiration which can come at any time at any place. When I'm purposefully trying to come up with something, I make many little thumbnail drawings and write little character descriptions or complete little short stories to accompany the concept of a piece before i even get to the painting, . . . sometimes my process in the writing stage is very "stream of consciousness" kind of creative writing. After I've fleshed out enough information, I make a tight drawing to work from, I prep my board, transfer the drawing, and begin painting.

BS: Some critics have mistaken your paintings for retouched photographs. Could you explain your technique/process so that people will understand why they sometimes appear to be retouched photographs? What is your motive behind working in that manner? Do you study or collect old photographs?

TL: Unfortunately, since it is the "look" of those old photos that I'm trying so hard to emulate, my work is often mistaken on the web to be retouched photos, . . . I work in thin layers of acrylic applied in glazes with very small brushes over a really tight graphite drawing. I learned from looking at Victorian watercolor techniques sans body-color. I looked at a lot of Maxfield Parrish illustrations as a working model.

BS: I've been told that John Merrick, better known as 'The Elephant Man', is one of your heroes. Can you go into detail about why he is one of your influences? It seems that you do not pity the life that he had.... instead you admire his strength, is that true?

TL: Where did you hear that? Well, . . .about John Merrick, . . .my interest in him as a human oddity who was born with unusual circumstances that could not be treated by 19th century medical practices, stems from the photographs and illustrations of him I saw where he was finally being accepted as a human being and treated with some dignity toward the end of his life. The principle image I recall, was of a well-dressed Victorian man with an unsettling physical condition enjoying a night out at the theatre in full public view.

BS: Travis, tell us about your studio space. Where do you work? Do you listen to certain types of music while working? Are you a recluse... or do you openly invite others to your studio? What is it like to be in the studio of Travis Louie?

TL: My studio space is the entire basement of my house, . . .I have a few different work stations with large boards, a place to assemble my frames, a drawing table, and shelves of reference material. It can be very cluttered when I am working (which is often) and I do not have many visitors. I am not a recluse per say, . . . but I don't see the point of having visitors down there. I listen to all kinds of music when I am working, . . .but lately, I've been playing DVD's of old motion pictures, . . . I like the quick dialogue from those old Noir pictures. I also like the old movie soundtracks by composers like Elmer Bernstein, Jerome Moross, and Wolfgang Korngold.
BS: Do you have any suggestions or advice for artists that are just starting out?

TL: Learn to draw first and foremost, . . .there are so many new artists out there with minimal draftsmanship, . . . it's embarrassing really.

First impressions are very important in this business, . . . be aware of what finished work looks like.

Treat every body of work you create as if you were trying to make a big impression, . . . Don't slack. It's a lot easier for people to tell if you are "phoning it in" than you think.

Timing is everything, . . .being persistent creates more opportunities for being in the right place at the right time.
Don't miss deadlines.

Being persistent isn't enough, . . . if you submit to a gallery on a regular basis , . . . make sure the work improves each time and that the work is consistent with the kind of artwork exhibited at the gallery you are trying to submit to, . . . otherwise it is just annoying.

Don't believe everything you hear, . . . hype is not quality, . . . hype is marketing.

Be self-critical and trust your gut, . . .if something looks like it sucks, . . . it probably does.

Did I mention learning to draw?

BS: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
TL: My next show is at the Shooting Gallery in San Francisco opening Oct 13th. I'll be in attendance.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the art world?

TL: I've been very fortunate to be able to make a living with my art and I thank everyone that has supported me along the way.
You can learn more about Travis and his art by visiting his website: www.travislouie.artroof.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews. Travis is involved with the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Travis Louie said...

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