Raised on a steady diet of classic animation, mall culture, and arcade games deep within the urbanized valley of Southern California, Cristina Paulos grew up with a compulsion to playfully communicate with the world around her. Finding her muse early on in cartoons like the Fleischer Brothers, Ub Iwerks, and Astroboy, Cristina's figurative paintings most often depict unconventionally styled characters rather than the retail ready icons typical of Disney animation. Loose interpretations of the female form created within several layers of graphite dust, wine, ink, and dye have recently evolved from girly cartoon figures to seductive female nudes as Cristina returns to her drawing roots. In many of Cristina's works, it's the 'mirror twin' imagery that captivates the viewer- a haunting approach that can both evoke a narrative and visually seduce the viewer in one glance. This duality, originally created as an animation experiment, renders impressions of motion and furthermore explores her unique bi-racial background (half Japanese, half Portuguese). Here I chat with Cristina about her childhood in the valley, the artwork that inspired an alluring transition depicting the female ideal, and why she along with a generation of artists have embraced the animation genre. Platinum Cheese (PC): For starters, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Cristina Paulos (CP): I grew up in sunny San Fernando Valley, CA. I have a BFA from CALARTS where I studied Cartoons. I draw obsessively, often keeping sketchbooks with me. I think as artists our mission is to create to communicate the world we see. I become so obsessed with creating and making work, because no matter how much artwork is made it still doesn’t seem to link completely with what I see or my vision. I have to make more and more until I’m satisfied; sketching, painting, drawing, cartoons and comics.
PC: Studying animation doesn't naturally lend itself to using mix-media. Most animation artists making the transition to fine art tend to go a more traditional route of say, cel vinyl or acrylics. What was the appeal and what led you to using multi-media?
CP: I love uncontrollable mediums such as graphite dust, wine, inks and dyes, how they feel on paper, fabric and cardboard. I’m in love with the process of art-making and animation, and I found by changing mediums as often as I do, the process becomes more visible and the experiences are constantly changing. I create for this reason, my visions are moving and changing. When I finish a piece, I can forget where I started from, the pieces have no beginning or end. There is an infinity about making art.
PC: You've mentioned a fascination with twins which has taken center stage in your work. What is it about twins that captivates you? Are you exploring and possibly paying homage to your ancestral background being half Portuguese and Half Japanese? CP: I’m not sure if the twin imagery has to do with my bi-racial identities or something Freudian. I was raised in Southern California, the cultures of Portuguese and Japanese are the cultures my parents were raised in. Because I was not raised within the cultures my parents were raised in, I was exposed to traditions often without an understanding of their meaning. Memories as a child often have a mixture of things I’ve seen from Hollywood pop culture and cartoons, Catholicism and Japanese manners and traditions. In my work you might see a few Japanese elements in my work: my twins will often sit in seiza, Japanese style of sitting. Though this idea of seiza in my own life is not of traditional Japanese. I never did a traditional Japanese tea ceremony (I still get lectures from my mom that I should have had to perform the ceremony, but never did). I find seiza way of sitting painful and my experience with this siting is through memorial services, "Hoji", as a child, where the Buddhist monk will chants for a long time.
PC: Tell us the story behind the BIG eye?
CP: I’m not sure there is a story. I always doodled one Big eye, it always seemed to me that it created balance. The Balance is made with the perceptions of both right and left. With one eye closed you will notice something you might have not noticed with both eyes opened. Though if there was never one big eye, there would never be the creation of my twins characters, as the big eye was why they were separated.
PC: Animation art is considered by some to be a quintessential American art form in that it's a fixture in our collective childhood experience. Why do you think a generation of artists is so captivated and influence by this genre, but more importantly, why are you?
CP: The latch-key kids from the 80’s hung out at malls, arcades and watched cartoons at home alone. The cartoons at the time were basically commercials for toys. I think most of us didn’t get the toys we wanted, creating an obsession early. Growing up in this, makes sense we love and relate to toys and we want toys and characters. I think my generation has a need for “play”, and thus a whole culture was created. As for myself, cartoon characters have an anything goes quality, I love early cartoons such the Fleischer Brothers.
PC: "School Girls (Rollin's Requiem of a Vampire/Caged Virgins)" was created for a themed group show and is a departure from your known work as it depicts the adult female form rather than young cartoon girls. What was the inspiration behind "School Girls" and are you exploring seductive female figures in future work?
CP: I always enjoyed drawing nudes often centering women, starting in the late 90’s before studying animation. I just haven’t had much opportunity to show work of this nature, but it has caught the eye of discerning collectors (like yourself! haha). Coming out of animation school in 2006, my work was centered on a character (mirror twin) and character design. It’s funny, after leaving a heavy program of character animation at CalArts, I’m trying to unlearn a lot and get back to the roots of my passion.
Drawing female over male forms is a longer and slower process, creating line work that is tantalizing. My goal is not to be to literal showing seductiveness. There are a lot of layers in trying to create work that is emotional, showing fear and arousal. I was excited to be part of the WWA Gallery’s Horrorwood theme show since horror movies play off the stereotype of the women as a victim. The female characters in Jean Rollin’s film, “Requiem of a Vampire”, show vulnerability, sexuality and heroism. There is a strength to his female characters. So, taking all these elements that Rollin’s already explored through the film, my goal was for the work to have a dream quality and to center on the two female school girl characters. To do this, I worked very slow, made the handgun almost invisible and used a lot of layers of white paint removing lines. As for now and the future, I have returned to my roots of drawing. My goal is creating new work centering on a female archetype.
PC: Was anyone else in your family an artist and did they encourage your artistic talent?
CP: My mother is a web and graphic designer. Her mother played shamisen and wrote poetry. My great uncle did pottery and sumi watercolours.
PC: Which contemporary artists do you most admire and/or are inspired by?
CP: The first work of art I responded to when I was young was a Portrait by Amedeo Modigliani’s Young Women of the People. I like to visit the woman in the painting at LACMA every so often. I think her face resembled she’s wearing two masks. I admire many work of artists. To list a few: the work of illustrators and animators like David O'Reilly, Jim Woodring (FRANK), Japanese 60’s underground illustrator Aquirax Uno, and Corny Cole (who created the ending animation from Heavy Metal, which was later cut). I enjoy the sense of humor of Yoshitomo Nara and Edward Gory. I’m very inspired by artists and painters of the 40’s like, de Koonings, and Alberto Giacometti.
PC: What's next for Cristina?
CP: I just put a web-shop together. (http://cristinapaulos.myshopify.com/) I’m using it to catalog and hopefully get my drawings through out the last ten years into the hands of people that can enjoy them.
I’m currently working on a portrait show. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and thankfully, I received a grant from Nevada Art Council to do just that. The Portrait show, is focusing on Las Vegas. I grew up in Los Angeles and have lived in Las Vegas and New York City. Las Vegas has been good to me, but it’s always a space I have never really understood. It has faster movement than other cities I have lived in, which I find interesting. I wanted to do a show focusing on the people who make up this space, thinking through this, I would understand the city better.
My “mirror twin” work will be in a few big group shows this year in the LA area. Keep an eye on my site for announcements.
Thanks Cristina! For more info about Cristina Paulos and her artwork, visit cristinapaulos.com.