A few months ago I had the pleasure of stumbling upon Artillery Apparel Gallery in the Mission district of San Francisco. I was immediately captivated by the T-shirts and sweatshirts decorated with hand-painted, colorful depictions of animals. Even more lucky for me the maker of these shirts happened to be painting another one of his creations in the front of the shop. I’m thrilled to introduce artist Ivan Lopez as this month’s Featured Soul. Check out his views below on Mother Earth, artists’ education, his influences, aesthetic, and more. If you are in the Bay area be sure to stop by his shop, Artillery AG, on December 13, 2014 7-10 pm for a special event, M.E.WE, marking five years of production painting supported by the San Fran and Mission communities.
AmanyaMaloba: How did you discover you were an artist? What made you decide to pursue painting professionally?
IvanLopez: I have always believed in doing what you love. Painting called me ever since I first picked up a brush when I was 13 years old.
AM: What was your goal in establishing Artillery A.G.?
IL: My goal was to create a venue that encourages other creative entrepreneurs to believe that they could make beautiful products and live from their work. I also wanted a space where people could come together and share ideas and create connections.
AM: What’s the greatest challenge in being both an artist and a businessperson?
IL: Every day is a new challenge. There are always new things to learn both in business and in art. Both are very fast-paced industries that require you to self-critique your work. The biggest challenge is enjoying the entire process.
AM: Since your pieces are at the intersection of fashion and art, do you consider yourself more of a designer or painter?
IL: I am both. I apply both skills to every project I work on. I am a creative person, so creating a distinction would just add constraints. It’s the marriage of fashion and art that gives my paintings an edge, brings color to my designs, and breathes life into the functional.
AM: Is there a difference in calling yourself one or the other?
IL: Not for me—both are tools for visual communication. I only make distinctions when people desire context for my work.
AM: What’s the main difference between your type of clothing and the traditional screen-printing T-shirt business in terms of production, customer base, and marketing?
IL: I use T-shirts as my canvas for my art. I always wanted to push painting to the streets and apparel does just that. I screen-printed for many years and still do. I just enjoy the flexibility I get from the purity of taking my artwork one shirt at a time and not producing excess.
AM: Why paint shirts?
IL: I paint shirts because they’re blank canvases that move and breathe with the person that wears them.
AM: A common theme among your work is animals. Why is that?
IL: I love nature and I love creating. Nature produces the most harmonious creatures that are constantly displaced by humanity’s greed. They don’t have a voice in our “civilized world,” and I want to advocate for their existence.
AM: How do you choose which creatures to depict?
IL: I have to choose creatures that are symbolic to people’s subconscious minds. We all value symbols, and certain animals visually awaken those values.
AM: Is your art realistic, optimistic, utopian, or dystopian (or none of the above)?
IL: None. It’s M.E.—Mother Earth.
AM: Who/what are some of your artistic influences?
IL: Cesar Chavez, Ai Weiwei, Alejandro Obregón, indigenous hieroglyphics, and Facundo Cabral.
AM: How did your upbringing and culture influence your aesthetic?
IL: I don’t really know where or how my aesthetic developed. What I can say is when beautiful design comes into my life, I react instinctually and pursue it until I discover its origin. I have always aspired to surround my life with beautiful people, places, and objects. Colombia, San Francisco, and New York (three places I have lived) all definitely carry those characteristics.
AM: Where else in your life besides painting do you feel the most creative?
IL: Creativity applies to every single part of my life, and the best way to describe it is “problem solving.” Creativity is my ability to perceive and react. This allows me to be creative in all areas of my life including food, housing, travel, education, and relationships.
AM: What’s one item of yours that you would never sell?
IL: I designed a giant stamp of the bird I love to draw. I would never sell that piece, but every once in a blue moon I pull it out and make prints for my friends.
AM: What’s your process for painting? (Do you wait for inspiration or set out with a theme/ message?)
IL: I paint to paint. I always turn on some great beats, jam out and paint because I love to do it. Painting is a luxury after managing all my responsibilities, so whenever I can make time for it I feel grateful and inspired.
AM: Noting that you attended Pratt, do you think that it’s imperative for artists to receive formal training or education in their craft?
IL: It definitely helps speed up your development, but what’s the rush? I think finding books about artists that came before you and studying their work can lead you in the right path. School is a business—it’s a financial burden that can definitely weigh heavily on your creative development and push you to sell out, so make your purchase wisely.
AM: How do you continue your artistic education now that you’re no longer affiliated with an institution?
IL: Practice! Never stop practicing. The act of doing is what creates. Also, find people that are doing what you want to do and learn from them because that can definitely speed up your process.
AM: Is there a book that made you question yourself or view something in your world differently?
IL: The Blue Economy by Gunter Pauli.
AM: What’s currently on your bedside table?
IL: My journal, markers, pencils, pocket-size sketchbooks, Modern Hieroglyphics Magazine, and keys.
AM: What’s next for you/ Artillery A.G.?
IL: “M.E. WE. A better ME makes a better WE.”
12-13-14 will be a tribute to five years of production painting supported by the San Francisco / Mission community.
M.E.: Mother Earth M.E. WE:
The foundation of humanity’s success can be entirely attributed to Mother Earth. Our collective “civilized world” would not exist without food, raw materials, and ancient ecosystems—mountains and valleys and rivers.
The better M.E. is created when we empathize and understand Mother Earth.
A world that is educated about how nature soothes our every need and shepherds our ecosystem is possible.
To live in a world reckless with consumption and ignorant about the origin of goods doesn’t need to be our value structure.
WE can dream of creating a new value structure based on cooperation and sharing.
What YOU CAN do:
Planting trees/plants, learning, growing food, understanding where water comes from. Learn about birds, animals, and fish. Learn about Earth’s ecosystems.