I am honored to introduce today’s Artist You Should Know, CJ Calvin:
Oak City Hustle: Tell us a little about you and where you came up.
My name is CJ Calvin and I live in Mebane, NC. Smack between Chapel Hill and Burlington. I was an Air Force brat growing up which meant a lot of moving around. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri but I only lived there for the first year of my life and a couple of years as a pre-teen. Once we left Missouri I spent time in Oklahoma, California, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. I definitely think living in California made an impression on me as I lived there from age 4 to 9 and have very vivid memories of life and culture there. San Francisco blew my young mind from the people to the architecture. After we left California we moved to Kansas which was a shocking cultural shift. I missed California a lot, no offense intended to the good people of Kansas.
My earliest memories of art were about when I was 5 or 6. Everything from Renaissance art I saw in the World Book encyclopedias we had at home to the comic books I collected at the time: Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. I loved the dynamic and colorful art in the comics and would spend hours drawing on wide-ruled notebook paper trying to replicate the characters of The Thing and Spider-Man as well as my own characters.
Oak City Hustle: Who were some early influences on you and your artwork? Who influences your art now?
Early influences on me and my artwork is definitely rooted in comics, mostly from the anything goes weirdness and bright color pallette evident in comics, but Star Wars and Jim Henson’s Muppets and Sesame Street were huge and wonderful to me. My early work definitely was more cartoonish and Muppet-ish. My work now is still heavily influenced by Henson, comics, and Star Wars but also lots of influences from computer animated offerings from Pixar and Dreamworks as well as Japanese anime. Hiyao Miyazaki is a big hero of mine and I frequently will re-watch his work to get the creative juices flowing. But my influences come from varied sources as well. People I know, little visual or personality quirks might end up in a painting, or just channel surfing late at night might lead to inspiration for a painting. I work primarily in digital now so my tablet is never far from me to sketch out a quick idea.
Oak City Hustle: If you could collaborate with any living artist who would it be?
I would say right off the bat that it would be Travis Louie. I love that guy’s work! His technique is awesome, how he can make his work look so soft looking, so ethereal. But I would also love to collaborate with Dave Cooper or Jim Woodring. Those guys have such style and imagination. And Yoko d’Holbachie. Her colors and compositions are mesmerizing.
Oak City Hustle: Anyone you’d like to rise from their grave to collaborate with?
Salvador Dali was and is awesome! His stuff is so creative and weird. I love it.
Oak City Hustle: Tell us a little about your creative process and how you were drawn toward the style of your work?
When I was a kid and all the way till graduating high school I loved drawing and painting weird characters and monsters. Everything from Tim Burton-esque creations to mythological characters like Medusa to the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. I mostly did this stuff in pencil and pastels but would work in acrylic and watercolor from time to time. Then, I went “serious”. I started painting in watercolor a lot of landscapes and wildlife type art. I was okay at it but found myself getting bored a lot. And nothing sold. I started back into painting monsters when my son was about 2 years old. I did it primarily to provide decoration for his room, something with bright colors, painted in acrylic on canvas, ready to hang. Those first ones were a bit rough. I was trying to find my style. It came pretty quickly once I embraced that kid inside of me again. I just let the weirdness and fun come out. Several friends and family members loved the work and encouraged me to go nuts with it and I did.
My process always starts off with a biography of sort for the central character in the painting and usually a defining feature. Since they are weird, otherworldly or monstrous I can get really loose with the composition from a biology standpoint but I strive to make them look organic and living. 2 1/2 years ago I switched to primarily digital work and it’s helped a lot. The program I use, Sketchbook Pro, lets me keep a lot of the same mechanics as I would use if painting with acrylics on canvas but minus the mess. I’m still such a newbie to the digital art world and on a limited budget that keeps me from having the best toys but thus far my iPad and Griffin stylus have let me create by butt off.
Oak City Hustle: Do you listen to music while you work?
I listen to music a lot while I work. I’m a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and listen to them while working a lot but I also make The Beatles, George Clinton and P-Funk, The Clash, The Pixies, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, Run DMC, and others part of the creative process often.
Oak City Hustle: Where can people see your work? Do you have any upcoming shows or projects you’d like to share?
My work over the last 4 years has been in different venues across North Carolina but currently I have no shows going. I will have a solo show of about 35 pieces at Alamance Arts in Graham in March through April 2015. I post my art regularly on my Facebook page and on my website www.cjcalvin.com.