Sunday, December 28, 2008

Art Space Talk: Blaine Fontana

Blaine Fontana was born in Seattle, Washington and raised on Bainbridge Island. He began his interest in art at a young age. During his teens he commuted to two High Schools in order to study graphic design, photography, sculpture and life drawing. After graduating in 1994, he pursued his education of life in the streets of Seattle and Portland as a graffiti artist. After about 4 years of being in and out of towns and community colleges, Fontana chose to attend Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles in 1998.

Four years later Fontana left with a BFA in Communication Art/Design at the top of his class with the “Best in Show” award that is presented upon Graduation in 2002. During School he worked as an Art Director at a design firm, Abound LLC, and also as a Graphic Designer at a Fashion/Lifestyle Magazine, Metro Pop. Fontana has also worked as an Art Director at a young men’s apparel company, Drifter.

In January of 2003 Blaine became self-employed as a fine artist and designer. He spent the next 5 years developing his unique style and becoming well known around the So Cal gallery scene and companies as a rising artist and designer. After pursuing his career and vision in LA for 9 years he has recently returned to his roots on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Honey Barracks, 24" x 24", acrylic on board

Brian Sherwin: Blaine, my understanding is that you lived in both rural and urban settings as a child and teen. Can you discuss the impact those two experiences had on your development as an artist? Philosophically speaking, do you think you would be the same artist you are today had it not been for living in those two very different settings?

Blaine Fontana: My work has always been about juxtaposing 2 worlds, several unlikely mediums, or techniques. This is directly an influence of my upbringing and current interests and inspiration. I couldn't imagine doing my work any different. So to say its been an influence would be an understatement. Lately I've noticed that having an ever changing upbringing and living in different cities across the west coast also steers my obsession to combat challenges and creating new styles that are outside of my comfort zone.

BS: Concerning the urban route of your exploration… in 1994 you hit the streets of Seattle and Portland as a graffiti artist. Can you discuss those early years and how they made an impact on your future work? Perhaps you can describe the mind-set that you had while creating art on the streets?

BF: Like any writer at a young age, you envelope yourself in a state of invincibility and arrogance. The process of graffiti is urgent and on the fly. I approach nearly all my backgrounds in the same way, passionate and a calculated haste to encourage happy accidents.
Obstacle Movers, 12" x 12", mixed media on board

BS: With that in mind, what is your opinion of graffiti art, and street art in general, today? For example, do you think artists should avoid taking that path if they can? I only ask because I was recently reminded of the murder of SOLVE in Chicago. Or would you say that the danger, or possible danger, is just part of the experience?

BF: I would NEVER discourage the medium. Tragedies like SOLVE rarely happen but its part of the territory. No matter how you argue it, graffiti creates a volatile reaction out of anyone. Its not a grey area for opinion. The dangers of injury, jail, dumb ass joeys catching you and beating you to a pulp, and just the simple feeling of getting away with it are all very alluring. I eventually had to quit after being caught 6 times and my college education became in jeopardy. It will always remain in my blood and I still have the itch.

Prayer Telegrams, 24" x 24" acrylic on board. Image 4 of 33

BS: In 1998 you went from the streets to the classroom. You entered the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. At that time did you have doubts? Did you experience any form of conflict? Sometimes graffiti artists, or former graffiti artists if you will, mention that they feel as if they are boxed in when placed in a classroom or gallery setting, did you experience that?

BF: I seemed to flourish there. My education became very serious to me and I deeply applied myself to learn another world. Due to my graffiti nature, I had an attitude problem and lacked any sense of professionalism and discipline. Art school bitch slapped that off my face pretty quickly.

BS: My understanding is that you were very successful at Otis College… having graduated with a BFA at the top of your class in 2002. Can you go into further detail about those years and the influence they had on you? Did you have any influential instructors?

BF: Correction, one of the top in my department. The school nurtured my style(s) unconditionally and overwhelmingly. I did have a lot of friction with the chair of the department at that time. We disagreed on numerous type aesthetics, and contemporary design styles that were emerging out in popular culture that the department seemed to have no interest in. My two most influential instructors were Nathan Ota, and Nick Taggart. Both literally were instrumental fostering my techniques and style.
Guerillas in the Fist -The Fierce Republic -Dining on the Wind, each 36" x 84 ", mixed media on paper and bamboo pole mounts

BS: As a designer you served as an Art Director for several magazines. I understand that you held a few Art Director positions while in college, correct? I assume that you learned a lot about the business aspect of art from those experiences? How did those experiences prepare you for that aspect of your career?

BF: Yes, I suppose thats what created an edgier side to me working already as a professional during school. Having that experienced prepared me to work with a staff and work under people, and realize I still have a lot to learn working with people.

BS: In 2003 you decided to be self-employed as a find artist and designer. Did you stop working as an Art Director at that time? At what point did you realize that you were ready to make that leap, so to speak?

BF: After getting fired the first time in my life, I found myself back into numerous portfolio meetings and having time to explore my own art. One gig lead to another where I was able to sustain myself eventually and began to paint furiously. I've worked as an art director on several projects since then. I've also turned down some very good full time job offers, these days I'm starting to reconsider it now that I've reestablished a balance between the industries and mediums I work in.

The Science of Retirement, 18" x 18", mixed media on board

BS: Concerning you art career I understand that you have expanded your studio in order to offer more design services, correct? Can you discuss what you offer? Do you have a website for that aspect of your career?

BF: We are still in development with most of them, but I am thrilled to see that we'll be launching our design website/company that will have a lot of meat on it from the number of projects I've been doing on the side. Later, we'll be launching a product site/store down the road.
BS: Your art involves visual narratives in that you include aspects of storytelling through the imagery that you include. For example, the faces in some of your work reminds one of tribal masks. There is also the fact that you sometimes call your characters “Templings” due to your interest in myths, shamanism, and the spiritual aspect of creating art. Can you discuss these aspects of your work?

BF: I‘ll answer with this, "Each of Blaine Fontana’s paintings is branded with his unique trademark of twisted and highly stylized figures. Often passive, and somber with a grin, Fontana has labeled these characters “Templings”, a fusion of two words, temple and being. Whether these beings are interpreted as people, gods, demigods, myths, shamans or your own reflection is up for interpretation. Neither male nor female they function as the face of a spiritual currency and ambiguity that heavily relates to the therapeutic intent of Blaine’s paintings. The Templing's also serve as the conduit of people’s emotions and memories around him and the studies he reads. Often these beings are similar, though it’s the richly textured and unique backgrounds that make literal information and colors intriguing juxtapositions free from linear storytelling different in each piece.
Many of the smaller tertiary images and renderings fill in the gaps for the theme and or concept of the work. They are usually graphic landscapes, generic people, numerical coding for actual dates, and dictation of streaming thought during the process of the art. It’s difficult to encapsulate the meaning of Blaine’s work since it is different each time. Each work possesses a microcosm of stories, myths, and beliefs intended only for that piece.
Fontana’s vision is influenced by religious myths, worldly folklore, and current social dynamics. Many cultures used and use art as a form of “medicine”, as a way of illustrating the visions of the shaman to the rest of the community. On the cusp of Blaine’s pursuit of developing his technique, he suffered a very personal & torturous experience. Out of this passage came some profound visions and clarity, which propelled him into a rapidly evolved way of viewing the world. This vision is the source of his eastern influences and spiritual language that can be recognized in his work.
Blaine’s techniques have roots form an array of places. Some of the most pertinent ones are graffiti, photography and graphic design. Having grown up amongst acres of forests surrounding him and also growing up in the urban jungles of Seattle, WA, he got the best of both worlds. He developed an enormous imagination over the paths of two different environments. These are the polar opposites that create a harmonious balance of partnership, the inorganic and organic, the physical and metaphysical, order and chaos."
F8L, 12" x 12", mixed media on board

BS: So should your collective work be considered an ongoing visual narrative, so to speak? As in, do the stories from one piece carry on to the next or is that strictly open to interpretation by the viewer?

BF: Thats up for interpretation from the viewer. I don't try to hold onto to tight to linear storytelling. Usually my work is done in batches of series that relate with each other.

BS: Where do your ideas come from? For example, do you spend time doing research before starting a piece or do you work from intuition? Do you create preliminary drawings to work from based off of dreams? Can you describe how ideas ‘pop’ into your mind, so to speak?

BF: I wish I knew, if I did I would be able to tap into that more frequently. But in general, books, movies, and just sitting deep in thought will trigger something. I rarely use my dreams anymore as influence. I often will do extensive research for a series that needs to portray consistency.

BS: Tell us about your process? For example, the materials that you use.. What attracts you to the certain mediums and surfaces that you utilize? Also, do you work on several pieces at once or do you tend to focus on them one at a time?

BF: I'm usually working on about 3 painting at once. My materials vary. Acrylics, paper, stencils, designer texture brushes for faux finishes in homes, silk screens, spray paint, color pencil, oil sticks, masking tape, and house paint are some of the media I play with frequently, Depending on the theme or individual concept the project will tell me what materials are best suited for the creation.

BS: Can you give our readers some insight into your current work? What are you working on at this time?

BF: I'll let that be a surprise for my first solo show after a 2 year break that will be in LA in October 09'.

BS: Do you have any advice for emerging artists who dream of making a living from creating art as you have been able to do? Any words of wisdom?

BF: At this point I've exhausted myself answering this question so many times, I'll let aspiring artists figure it out the same way I did, on my own.

BS: What do you think about artists being labeled or classified. For example, many people describe you as a lowbrow artist. That said, what do you consider yourself? Do you try to avoid labels and classification or do you acknowledge it?

BF: I dislike labels, but they are a necessary evil to comprehend artwork for some people. If I had to classify myself, I would call it urban-contemporary.
Camper Ghosts, 18" x 18 ", mixed media on board

BS: Concerning the art world as a whole… do you have any concerns about the art world at this time? Any specific issues that you would like to draw attention to?

BF: I'm to young and feel I have not yet earned the right to call out such things in the artworld, get back to me in another 4 years after I've had 10 years under my belt.

BS: Where can our readers see your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

BF: See earlier for upcoming show, as for galleries, see: (los angeles, USA) (montreal, CANADA)

BS: Finally, when all is said and done what do you hope people gain from your art? Is there a specific message that you strive to leave behind as far as your art is concerned?

BF: Its not up to me to steer peoples gains, nor can I control it, I would only hope they would feel closer to humanity, and contribute more to it.
You can learn more about Blaine Fontana by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Great work! I love the synergy of graffiti, photography and graphic design.