There's just no so such thing as getting enough of Ivan Camarena's paintings and illustrations, which draw inspiration from pop culture, his experiences growing up in the border region between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, CA, and pulp comics and movies from the mid-20th century. His paintings are humorous, joyous, vintage-influenced takes on Mexican and American 1950s imagery, sci-fi films, and comic book characters, all rolled up into one fun and often hilarious universe of his own making. Excited to chat with him about his work and where his fantastical ideas spring from!
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Hi Ivan! First, I'd love to know a bit more about you. Where are you from originally, and where are you based right now?
I’m originally from the west coast. I was raised in the border region of Tijuana and San Diego. For the last three years, I’ve been residing and working out of Houston, Texas.
What first interested you in making art?
I drew from an early age and had amazing encouragement from my parents. As my drawings developed, I went from tracing or copying cartoons to creating my own things. This is when it started getting real fun.
You're influenced by illustration as well as a formal education in art. What has your art education been like, formally or informally? Where do you gather your inspiration from?
The university I attended was a very traditional school in the sense that it focused on painting, sculpture, photography, etc. School was great and I enjoyed every moment. It was one of my first introductions to the art world besides the community college I attended before. A lot of the processes and techniques I use now came from these schools. More recently, though, I’ve been investigating new techniques and approaches used by illustrators and graphic artists that I find incredibly useful in creating artworks. Learning about these new tools and techniques inspires more experimentation, which, I feel, keeps the artwork vibrant and exciting.
There's also a diverse range of characters and titles, as from books, films, or posters. Can you explain a bit about your subject matter?
Having grown up constantly commuting from Tijuana to San Diego for school all my life, my artwork was heavily influenced by that environment and was the source of my subjects and themes. After moving away from that environment in 2010, I felt uneasy to use it as my own anymore. It was around the time I moved to Texas in 2013 where graphic aesthetics and illustration were grabbing my attention. More specifically, I was attracted to the aesthetics of covers from movies and pulp comics from the 50s. As a kid, I would get stoked on movie posters, but was a bit disillusioned when the image in the poster never appeared in the movie. It purpose was make people want to see the movie and it was the first thing people saw. I enjoy presenting personal experiences in the same way. Giving people highlights of my ideas in an exaggerated manner while creating an aesthetically exciting image.
How do you begin a new piece? Do you work from any sort of source material, or sketch things out in advance?
It doesn’t always play out the same way, which is something I embrace. In recent works though, an initial idea sparks in my head and the first thing I do is write it down or sketch it out. This is mainly so that I don’t forget about it. I’ll leave the drawing alone for a while to see if it still interests me later and if it does, I’ll play with the composition either by redrawing or by doing a Photoshop collage. Using Photoshop is one of those techniques that I adopted from looking at illustrators. From there it’s painting as usual. Depending on the imagery, I’ll look for reference images or create my own through photographs or still lives.
What is your studio or workspace like?
I work where I live so everything I need is at hand, but there are downsides to this. There isn’t a lot of room for the studio to look like a regular living space and that can make you go a little nuts. I share the space with another artist who’s a long time friend and colleague, so there’s constant rearranging and changing of spaces. I think a necessary next step is to upgrade studio size.
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut or standstill?
This is tricky, but as of lately I’ve learned to take steps to help myself out of these situations. Always keep busy is probably the most important though. This means always keep drawing no matter what comes out. Everyday. Aside from that, if I’m in a big rut, Houston offers plenty of distractions to recharge the mind.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about pursuing art, creatively or professionally? What is the most rewarding aspect of doing what you do?
Pursuing art is not an overnight situation and requires constant investment and belief in oneself, which is hard to always keep in mind. I think about all that stuff whenever someone stops to appreciate my work or purchases something. I remember everyone who I’ve ever spoken to about my artwork and I appreciate them. It’s cheesy as hell, but whatever, its true.
I’m also owner and only instructor of an after-school art education company. I get to go around schools and expose students of all ages to what it’s like being an artist and guide them through semester long art projects. Exposing these kids to art in a manner that I wasn’t has been a great experience. It’s nice to give back through education.
How would you define "success?"
The Ivan from five years ago would be pumped on the level I’m at currently. Right now I have other goals that I would like to achieve so I guess I’m not successful at those yet. Personally, if I can continue to create through any artistic medium for the rest of my life, I could call that success.
Do you have any exhibitions or projects you're currently working toward?
2016 is winding down, but I’ve recently partnered up with a long time friend and colleague to do murals around Houston. I’m super stoked on that team up and what may come of it. We work great together and produce imagery that combines our strengths. 2017 should be interesting.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to go to Japan next. I’m not completely sure where in Japan or why, but I thought I’d throw that in there in order to make myself work towards that. Maybe do a mural over there or something.
Find more at ivancamarena.com!
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