The Intrepid Explorer: The Art of Julian Callos
Haven't heard of Julian Callos? Don't worry, you will soon. This relative newcomer is turning heads with each new painting, and forging a style uniquely his own onto the Los Angeles art scene. I met up with Julian to learn more about the inspiration behind the works for his upcoming show 'Into the Unknown'. Here he gives us a little insight into his artwork and what makes him 'tick'.
Platinum Cheese (PC): What's the concept behind your upcoming show 'Into the Unknown'?
Julian Callos (JC): I wanted to focus on one character going through a journey and exploring the strange and mysterious, represented by outer-space. He eventually travels through an environment reminiscent of viscera, so his adventure also becomes a metaphor for self-discovery. The entire journey represents an attempt to figure out the answers to life's questions by venturing through uncharted territory as well as looking inward and trying to discover how one fits into the larger scheme of the universe. It sounds like pretty heavy stuff, but really I want it to be fun at the same time. Exploration and discovery can be really exciting, so I wanted to have that sense of excitement alongside the general tone of contemplation and introspection.
The set of pieces that I'm showing in May is fairly small, so I'm considering eventually expanding the series even further, especially since the search for such answers to such weighty questions is never-ending. This set is open-ended anyway, with the explorer returning home without the answers he was looking for; instead, he has more questions than we he ventured out in the first place. That's another thing I wanted the series to address: the idea that even if you don't find the answers to whatever questions you have, you're all the better for having taken the journey to find them in the first place.
PC: What questions does the intrepid explorer have?
JC: He doesn't really have any specific questions...I wanted the paintings to be open enough so the viewer can interpret them in his or her own way. I think the journey of self-discovery, or even just a search for answers to one's issues — whatever they are — is a universal thing. Outer-space represents looking outward and maybe venturing outside one's comfort zone to find answers, and inner-space represents a more introspective approach. Actually, I'm sure the intrepid explorer would like to know what's in the hatch (he's only mid-way through the first season of LOST).
PC: Would you tell me a little bit about your background?
JC: I was born in the Philippines in 1987 and moved to Los Angeles at the age of three; I've lived in or around L.A. ever since. I'd been drawing even before I moved here, and I was inspired to keep drawing by the attention I got from family, friends, and teachers, who believed I had talent and encouraged me at an early age to nurture it.
I just recently graduated from Otis College of Art & Design as an Illustration major, and I was lucky enough to have been there with an amazing mix of fellow students and professors before an over-haul of the department. I'm continually inspired by the people I met there, as well as by a wide variety of art forms that range from fine art to to cartoons to comics. PC: Tell me about your creative process.
JC: I start off by sketching and sketching and sketching until I come up with an idea and composition that I like. The sketching stage is actually the longest part of my entire process. Once I have a final sketch down and it's transferred to paper, the actual painting usually doesn't take too long to finish compared to how long all the sketching takes. I work with acrylic inks and washes of acrylic, using watercolor sable brushes for the line-work as well as the washes. PC: Your artwork has transitioned through the years from animal skulls and forest creatures to drawing inspiration from ocean and space imagery. Is there anything specific inspiring this change?
JC: Sometimes the change simply comes from a desire to paint and explore different subject matter; other times the change is sparked by some specific personal events. Recently I've been drawn to both ocean and outer-space imagery; there's especially a great sense of danger, romance, and adventure about the sea that I love. I think I started exploring those vast, mysterious territories through my work as a sort of allegory for new relationships and for my own venture from art student to artist working in the real world.
PC: Have you tried or ever wanted to create sculptures?
JC: I created a sculpture/mixed-media piece for my senior project at Otis. It was really fun, so I'm trying to explore that medium more. I'm hoping I'll have enough time to make a tiny sculpture for the "Into the Unknown" show, so we'll see. PC: When you find yourself with 'artist block', what do you do to find inspiration?
JC: I usually go out for a walk and try to think about other things. A lot of times, inspiration hits when you least expect it, so setting your thoughts on something else for a little while helps. PC: A recurring subject I see in many of your works is birds (Adrift, Afloat, Mine, High Spirits), what is the significance of the birds?
JC: I love incorporating symbolism into my work, and birds can symbolize so many different things depending on the species.
Swallows are often associated with sailors as a mark of bravery and luck. They were also believed to protect the souls of sailors who had died at sea. So in my piece "Adrift," the symbolic meaning of the swallow is twisted around; the dead swallows on the ends of fishing lines represent a sort of "giving up" of the sailor character, who is left vulnerable because the swallows can no longer protect him. But at the same time, the swallows are being used as bait, in hopes of winning back what the sailor once lost.
Its companion piece, "Afloat," is more positive; the sailor and his companion are together rising above a sea of uncertainty, with the swallows guiding and protecting them.
In some legends, kingfishers are associated with calm seas. In "High Spirits," they're keeping the main character happy and tempered as he remains drunkenly oblivious in the flood of alcohol.
Finally, canaries were used by miners as an early-detection system for harmful gases down in the mines. I just love the juxtaposition of something delicate and beautiful like the canary with rugged and worn-down miners and the fact that they're already closely associated with each other, so they're the main characters of my piece "Mine." Someone has interpreted the piece and noted that the escape of the canaries from their cage was a metaphor for the miner's soul leaving his body.
PC: If I were to spend the day with Julian, what could I expect?
JC: A low-key hang-out or a fun-filled adventure. I'm always down for either. PC: What's the one thing you can not live without?
JC: I hate to say it, but: the internet. It has consumed me. I should try going without it for a week... I'd probably spontaneously combust.
PC: The one thing you can't live with?
JC: People with bad attitudes. PC: Which artist, living or dead, has influenced you and your work the most?
JC: I would say the cartoons I used to watch as a kid, especially the Looney Tunes under Chuck Jones, have had the biggest impact on me as an artist. They inspired me to keep drawing throughout my childhood and have definitely influenced my sense of humor and my love of puns!
While in college I was looking at a lot of contemporary illustrators for inspiration, and have admittedly been a little too influenced by them. I've been trying to veer away from being overly-influenced so my work shines in its own way. I've been experimenting with styles and in many ways I'm still trying to find my own voice. I'm constantly building upon all that I've learned in the past and trying to consolidate all my loves and inspirations into something uniquely my own. PC: What's on the horizon for Julian?
JC: I'm working on a couple groups shows with Gallery 1988 in L.A., and I've got a semi-regular visual column in LA Weekly called "LA-LA Land," which explores the eccentricities of Los Angeles and its characters. I'm hoping to participate in more gallery shows and find more illustration work, so if you keep up with my blog, I'll keep you updated about any exciting news!
Thanks Julian! To learn more about Julian and his artwork, visit http://juliancallos.com.