We’ve all heard that saying, “put a face to the name”, before. This was our case with Eyeone for many years, except that ‘name’ really meant ‘artwork’. If you live in LA, you may have thought the same. His murals are all over town. You can see them on Temple and Vendome or Melrose and Heliotrope, for example. His imagery is synonymous with Los Angeles – from immigration to bicyclists, from the ghetto birds to the concrete. When we met him during a live art installation for DTLA Art Walk a few months ago, the “Ohhhhh” came instantaneously. We then knew who was responsible for painting the walls we admired.
Fast forward to last weekend, when Eyeone allowed CA a tour of his studio. He was prepping for his newly curated show Rendition2 at Hold Up Art in Little Tokyo, which had its opening reception on Friday, June 25.
You came to LA when you were 6 years old from Mexico City. Why did your family choose Los Angeles as a new home?
My mom's brother lived in L.A. and he motivated my parents to bring us out here.
You explained to us that LA encapsulates your interests, which in turn becomes subjects of your work. I’ve seen your mixed media pieces with bicyclists or helicopters as the focus. What about this city inspires you?
The city represents infinity of experiences which constantly feed my work. It inspires me because it is vastly chaotic and alienating and paradoxically warm and full of life.
How, then, did you come up with the Zapatista character?
The Zapatista characters I designed were created for use by La Otra Campaña, a Zapatista initiative for grass roots organizing and exchange across Mexico and the world. In Los Angeles, I participated with La Otra en el Otro Lado ("The Other Campaign On The Other Side" more or less) and contributed some graphic design work for them.
How are you still tied to movements in your home country? For example the Zapatistas, or your latest trip to the Distrito Federal with fellow LA artist, Cache to paint a mural?
I don't really get hung up on the notion of a "home country." I've always thought there was something fishy about the artificial lines drawn on the world that separate people. The Zapatistas fight for universal human rights that are as relevant in Chiapas as in occupied Palestine, the state of Arizona, or our neighborhoods here in LA.
Recently, Cache and I were invited to paint a collaborative mural in Mexico City for a symposium titled "Revolution and Migration" organized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. The director of the project had been doing research in L.A. and our work caught his attention.
Travelling has made it clear to me that graffiti can be a unifying language which transcends artificial geopolitical lines and can function at the street level. The Zapatistas would call that "desde abajo." The graffiti community, for better or worse, has truly created an international movement.
We get the impression, since we urged you to create a Zapatista vinyl toy and you declined for ethical reasons, that you are truly creating art for art's sake. What keeps you grounded?
I have a day job as a graphic designer.
In regards to art and commerce, I always cite Fugazi as role models. In my opinion, they demonstrated that creative expression (in their case, music) can be a sustainable and ethical way to make a living.
You’re part of the LA crew Seeking Heaven. Can you give us a little background on SH? Did your involvement in the crew serve as a launch pad for your career?
Seeking Heaven was founded in Northeast L.A. by Precise in 1989. I am one of the more recent additions to the crew.
I don't see my involvement in the crew as a "launch pad" to my career. "Launch pad" implies departing and leaving something behind. The work of my fellow SH'ers is always a source of inspiration and motivates me to try to keep up.
Prior to Seeking Heaven, how were you honing your craft? And did you always know you'd be an artist?
My earliest memories are of making visual things. I have always liked to draw and make images as far back as I can remember.
Which one of your works are you most proud of?
That's a tough question. My collaborations with my Grandma would be at the top of that list.
Overall though, I don't really get too proud or comfortable with what I've done. I get critical and that makes me anxious to get the next thing done.
When you were setting up the gallery for Rendition2, I saw your grandma holding a spray can to a wall. What kind of artwork do you do with her?
Mostly installations where she handles the lettering.
Where does the name "Eyeone" come from?
When I was a kid, I nearly poked one of my eyes out with a model boat my parents had lying around. I saw a blinding light and my eye immediately shut. I had to wear an eyepatch for what seemed like an eternity and was way scared, thinking I was only going to have one eye. When the patch came off, my eye worked! It sounds funny but I had to do eye exercises for a while after to get my vision back to normal. Hence, Eyeone.
You have published “Lost” – a book capturing ten years of documenting visual culture on and off the streets of Los Angeles. Juxtapoz, Giant Robot, and Beautiful/Decay gave you accolades. Why did you create the publication?
I'd been involved in the hardcore/ straightedge/ punk scene in L.A. in the early 90s and collected 'zines. I dug the way the participants in that culture documented their own movement and felt the same DIY approach would work for graffiti in L.A.
Were you the one that collected the photos over 10 years?
I take most of the photos in "Lost". I also receive submissions, especially archival material and rarely-seen images from the featured artists themselves.
Who are your favorite artists?
Wow, this question always leads to a long-ass laundry list, but I'll drop some names anyway: Swank, Leon Chavez Teixeiro, Patrick Martinez, Skypager, LeHumanBeing, Tempt, Kathe Kollwitz, Rini Templeton, Leopoldo Mendez, Paula Reynoso, Luna One, Kozem, Precise, Panic, Sizer, Haeler, Gorgs, Ashley Wood, J.Shea, Kofie, Cache, Ozamu Tezuka, Gail Swanlund, Walt Kelly, Bill Watterson, Twist, Der, El Lissitzky, Ian Lynam, Go Nagai, Katsuya Terada, Fucte, Bonks, Michael Alvarez, Slay, David Jien, Ekundayo, Andrew Hem, Lisa Alisa, Herakut, Bates, Joker, Dare, Ragnar, Josh Middleton, Posada, Neo, Krenz, Axis, Hajime Sorayama, Albrecht Dürer, Taller de Gráfica Popular, Kcho, Rene Mederos, Glen Barr, Syd Mead, Ray Harryhausen... I'll stop there for the sake of your readers.
I'm not going to lie, I know like 5 people from your list of favorite artists. So let me rephrase this - what elements make up your favorite art pieces? Theme? Color? Imagery?
I like too many things to pinpoint a favorite, and I couldn't objectively itemize what themes/colors/imagery they have in common that draws me to then. If I tried, the list would be longer than the artist list!
Fair enough. I do know that some of those artists are featured in Rendition2. How did you choose the artists?
The artists in Rendition2 are people whose work I admire. Some were involved in the first one, but I consciously wanted to add new names to the Rendition concept.
You hadn’t curated a show in a while. Why did you decide to come off of your hiatus for Rendition2?
I think Hold Up is a rad project and was stoked when they asked me to curate a show. If I had allowed myself to stay on hiatus, I could easily see that having gone on for a very long time. I forced myself to break that inertia.
Rendition1 was part of the Scion project. How is Rendition2 different from the first one?
Rendition2 presents new work, new artists, is not corporate-backed, and is taking place in the center of our city, Downtown L.A.
Is there a theme to Rendition2 besides all artists being from LA?
The overarching theme of the exhibit is Los Angeles visual culture.
What do you love most about LA?
Most everyone I love is here, and I can get to those who aren't with relative ease.
In your curator quote for Rendition2, you say "Informed by graffiti, printmaking, photography, and punk, I aim to present a vision of the city that is subjective and paradoxically documentary in nature. Inhabiting this vast urban chaos leads me to explore and find humanity amongst the wire, cement, and smog." What is YOUR vision of LA?
Currently it is smog, concrete, helicopters, and lights, but oftentimes it is the river, birds, and people. And bicycles.
What kind of mark would you like to leave on Los Angeles? What kind of mark would you like Rendition2 to leave on its visitors?
I'm not really trying to make a personal mark on Los Angeles. I hope people enjoy Rendition2 and get a glimpse of some of the amazing contemporary art being made in L.A.
Rendition2 runs at Hold Up Art until July 12. We were at the show on Friday and felt very connected to our hometown through the art pieces on the wall. Eyeone did a fantastic job on this one. While at the studio, he gave us copies of "Lost". It's probably one of the best representations of Los Angeles graffiti. I have coffee table books at my home that aren't as real as this one. And that's the kind of impression we got from Eyeone. He's someone genuinely real, doing things for the sake of passion and expression. We can always get hip to that.
If you'd like to keep up with Eyeone and his art, check out his blog, www.eyelost.com, or follow him on Twitter, @eyeonesh.