Pixel's superb ‘Mexican Patriot’ series saw him give American comic book icons a Mexican twist; discover more about the series and artist in our interview...
We love your ‘Mexican Patriot’ series, how has Mexico inspired you?
It actually started with an interest that quickly spiralled into an obsession with sugar skulls, marigolds and all the morbidly elative celebrations around the 'Day of the Dead' festival. This, as it turns out was a bit of a gateway drug and has led to a bit of a hook on Mexican culture. I’m actually planning to head there pretty soon, which will be the first time bar the odd accidental tequila-induced astral travelling episode…Don’t think those count though?
Who’s your favourite comic book superhero?
I grew up on the fringe comics, so my favourite characters were usually losers and/or scantily clad misfits. But in a conventional superhero context I’ve always been a sucker for Batman, must be the throwing stars.
Who’s your favourite wrestler?
Hmmm, well I always loved the Undertaker despite his long face. They just can’t kill that guy, no matter how many stories you find circling around Google. If he hadn’t aged so badly, I’d swear he really is a dark warrior of the undead legions.
Are you interested in the relationship between American and Mexican culture?
I’m really interested in the way that American culture seems to lay such claim everything. Exhibit A: The candid American flag flying in the streets of Gotham. It’s all just a bit too culturally convenient and takes away some of the magic of an invented universe. I like the idea of taking a piece of that plastic culture and reinterpreting it with something a bit more colourful, dangerous and well I suppose… Mexican.
What is your new print about?
The series I’m working on right now is of British icons and the way they are interpreted in the public eye versus who they really are when the doors close. Case in point, Her mighty majesty the Queen, always smiling, waving, polite and majestic…But she too was just a girl once, thinking about boys and experiencing embarrassing body changes. It’s all just perception. People are just people, some just live in castles.
Where did you grow up? Were you a creative child?
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’m pretty sure I’m still a child, but have had the same need to create for as far back as I can remember. We were pretty isolated from international culture, but my mother worked as a graphic designer and was a great artist, so I was always exposed to art and encouraged to create throughout my childhood. My mom still has the first illustrated book of dragon stories I wrote when I was 8 years old. She’s my biggest fan.
What made you become an artist?
It wasn’t really a choice, it’s just something I’ve always done. Draw, sketch, write, smudge. I suppose you can’t really argue with DNA, although my dad was a chartered accountant, so I’m not too sure how that works, maybe I started this ironically.
Where did you train? What did training teach you and what do you wish it had taught you?
I graduated from the Design Center in Johannesburg in 2004. There was a great initial focus on finding your creative process through live drawing and abstract interpretation, but as the degree specialised in graphic design the focus shifted to simple, easy, approachable design. Although I love the simplicity in pure design, I kind of wish we had been given a bit more freedom in exploring our own personal style and finding a signature in our work.
How did you get started?
I started sketching superheroes as a kid and was pretty sure I was going to be a world famous comic artist by 18. Seems I wasn’t the only kid with that dream. For a while I somehow managed to convince my naïve little brain that a real job was a good idea. Luckily that was just a phase and in 2010 myself and a friend started an independent gallery called NewClr in the city we grew up in. This served as a studio and gallery for our work. This was my first conscious step to pursue art as a career and now, based in the UK, I’m just trying to build the momentum.
Where and what is your studio?
Up till 2 years ago my studio was a tiny little corrugated iron box in the heart of the city. I lived, worked and sold from that space. I recently moved to London following a year in Milan and at the moment all my creation is split between my 1 bedroom apartment and an office in Clerkenwell.
How do you approach the actual making of your work?
I’m always concepting and playing with ideas. When something sticks I sketch it up. I’ll then come back to it and if I think it feels right, I’ll recreate the shapes and compositions digitally. Then I’ll figure out my colour palette, choose my stock and setup for screens. For the hand-done pieces it really depends what medium I have available to me. I enjoy working with a combination of matte and gloss material.
Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly out in the country. I gain tons of inspiration from the hot-blooded, incredible artists in the city tearing things up! But I have to get away from everything, probably just out of my own head! I need to go somewhere quiet and real for the ideas to start coagulating. Music always serves as an effective substitute trigger to squeeze some clarity out of the confusion.
What are you currently working on?
I’m busy on the ‘Mexican Foes’ series, which are the inverse of their heroic ‘Mexican Patriots’ counterparts. I’m also working on the king, which will be in the same vain as 'Windsor Woman'…Watch this space!
Do you care whether people like your work?
Yeah for sure, I think on some level everyone craves some recognition that reinforces what you’re doing is making a mark in this flash-in-the-pan life. I don’t create art for other people, I create what I think is cool and what I feel like doing, but if people relate and appreciate what I produce... Well that’s a pretty awesome feeling.
What’s the biggest myth about artists?
That art is the language of a tortured soul. In my opinion it’s just an outlet to whatever’s going on inside and often what I produce is a reflection of the good stuff I’m feeling. I think artist’s get typecast as these melodramatic convoluted nutcases. Which may be true. But I have a couple good friends who are artists and they’re the most positive, down to earth guys I know.
What is the greatest threat to art today?
Digital. For all the incredible things the internet age has bought, it’s also bought a million shortcuts and easy options. Every piece of inspiration is just a click away and between the design packages and stock images, laziness is far too easy an option. I’ve been as guilty as anyone.
What have you sacrificed for your art?
Compared to the real adversity out there, I’d say very little. But I suppose quite a lot of time and money. I’m always working evenings and weekends, when maybe I’d rather be doing something else or wishing I had some spare cash for things I want. It’s quite easy to lose motivation, especially when I’m doing the admin side of it. But for that feeling of irritation, there are 10 feelings of absolute satisfaction when that first print comes off the table.
Which artists do you most admire?
Anyone who is out there doing something. There are millions of potentially great artists out there, but only a relative handful pick up the pen.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
Wishing I was an artist.
Describe an average day in the life of Pixel...
There are no average days, but they all involve coffee and a healthy splash of colour.