Mixed media artist Gianni Arone talked with me about his process & about whether creativity lies in the concept or the tools.
We worked together at a digital agency in town. Seeing your artwork, away from the commercial nature of our work, really blew me away. When did you first get the artist’s itch?
I’ve always had it from a young age, though it manifested through writing, which is where I could really let my imagination fly. I would write and read often as a child. From the visual side, I got a later start. I doodled in high school when I was at my desk, but my interest and confidence really took off while working at a coffee shop after I graduated high school. I had a friend who was a comic book artist and he would get together with bunch of other illustrators and animators and have these big drawing jams. When I would get off work, they let me sit with them and draw. They were really inviting and encouraging. I felt really inspired by being around all these talented creators and was left with a sense of “I can do this!.” I kept drawing and never looked back. Since then I’ve continued to expand my creative explorations into a wide variety of mediums and outlets.
I was going to say: You’re entirely self-taught. Can you tell us about a moment you’ve had as an artist where you struggled initially with a medium or how to achieve a specific concept?
Yep, entirely self taught in most all things I do. The biggest struggle is starting in on something. Once that hurdle is cleared, the sky’s the limit. I’m a process based artist, so I am more intrigued and satiated by the actual process of creating, than the end result. I usually don’t concept an idea too much before starting. Oftentimes the end result is solely based on the myriad of choices that were made leading up to pausing. The second biggest struggle, is knowing when to stop, or pause. When physically creating versus digitally, there are moments when you can intuitively feel this point is meeting these abstract criteria and needs and perhaps now is a good place to pause. I sometimes leave paintings or works for years before revisiting them. They are technically still in motion. They only cease to be still in process when they leave my hands to a collector. I’ve marked on paintings in collector’s home because I saw something and it felt right.
You work in a variety of mediums including ink illustration, enamel, pencil, acrylics, and aerosol; your canvas also shifts and changes, running the gambit from wood to cloth to pages from a book. Do the tools inspire the work or is it usually the other way around?
I had a line a in a poem I wrote that said “till there is nothing left to make a mark on, make a mark with…” I adore different substrates. I collect tons of vintage paper and weathered materials because I love that they are older than me, and have been through years of situations that have brought them to their current state. A state that I, as an artist, can’t replicate with the same integrity that goes with aging. When I’m doing assemblage or collage, the materials really dictate the flow, as they have imagery or words, anchors of identity, attached to them. It’s like a puzzle that unravels itself. When I’m painting, I’m such a madman with the process at times, that I find guidance in errant marks, bleeding of watercolor, or the violence in which paint recklessly applied presents itself. They in turn provide a new unexpected form, and color the conversation I’m having with the work in a new direction. Every bit of physical essence, whether it is from the tools or the canvas, is contributing to the conversation and story being told. I try to be a mediator of the message, and a vessel of the greater vision.
Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.
I’m not gonna lie, I had to look up the Upanishads. I had no idea what they were. How does religion influence your work?
That work in particular is one of my favorites. I’m still not certain on how that work came about or even where I found that old polaroid. On the polaroid is the word “Language” and it is tacked against a book cover of an old dictionary. Humans utilize the logos, the sigil, the letter (A-Z), and the number (0-9) to architect their perception of what the nature of reality is. We have these senses which are purely abstract observations if they are not married in the mind with some concrete arbiters of form.
For me the idea of God is the formless form. If we take away the letters and numbers, colors, and sounds, we try and use to define God with, we’ve made a start. It is beyond all definition and explanation because it is beyond definition and explanation. Humans have done their best with the tools they have, to try (and in the most beautiful ways) explain and channel God through religious texts, through scientific theory, through sacred poems, dances, paintings, film, you name it.However, since Humans are operating in this reality, this world, which is inherently imperfect and an illusion, they will always fall short, for their tools are broken and imperfect. Which is not to say that they are unlovable. My work is completely a reflection of my life. Nothing is separate, the work is just an extension of this imperfect narrative, that is my life, and it’s a sort of call and response. I channel and go into the zone, unknowing of the message that is going to come out, and consistently – a message is returned. It’s a way for me to have a conversation, albeit a crude one, with what humans, call God. It inspires everything I do. I’m not religious, at least not at the moment. I find God in all things and certainly the creative process.
I’m currently reading “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. Have you read it?
Not yet but I shall add to my ever growing list! I love the title.
It’s really wonderful. He goes through mythology throughout human existence, breaking each mythology down into what he calls “The Hero’s Journey”, which is a story retold throughout the ages. Very similar to what you’re saying: humans describing that power in a variety of ways.
Yeah! It’s truly marvelous all the ways that humans describe it. It’s absolutely limitless. Constant inspiration. Constant innovation. Constant discovery. I am really excited about what the future holds with creative processes and ways of endeavoring to express.
That’s something that’s really struck me about your artwork. There’s an underlying positivity that’s so refreshing throughout. Often it feels like we’re in this time of turmoil, with the apocalypse looming in front of us (the last two art shows I’ve been to have centered on that theme). Is that joyous energy something you purpose your work toward? Or is it a natural inclination?
I believe our default state in a divine way, is Joy. I go into some simple gratitude when I’m creating and maybe it leaks out. I am grateful that I have my senses. I have my eyes which allow me to see my works and others. I have my hands and limbs which allow me to hold a brush, pen, pencil, or to play the piano. I can speak and do spoken word. Some people haven’t these senses. I think gratitude for the ability to create is key for me. Should I ever go blind I’ve already created a system of painting that will allow me to still create works. I at one time, thought of doing it as an empathy series and painting with my eyes blindfolded or sealed. To feel what it feels like to paint blind.
I love that idea. It reminds me of that female artist who paints with her feet. She had an accident where she was paralyzed.
That is beautiful that she found a way to express herself and not let her circumstance get the best of her spirit.
Your poetry and artwork cover a wide swath of subject matter. On your website you say: “I am fascinated by concepts such as the Technological Singularity, The Occult, Etymological Linguistics, and God and Human.” Do you find that your art is usually comprised of ideas rather than feelings? Or is it a mixture of the two?
Definitely a mixture of the two. I have the word FEEL tatted on my knuckles, so I’m definitely about the abstract. The ideas, or topics – themes, help me materialize series of works that have a narrative to them. They play well together.
I follow your Instagram account religiously. It’s incredible the amount of work you produce, even in a day you sometimes post up to three original pieces. You let me know that you have Schizo-Affective disorder and have said that it plays a part in your work. Does the disorder create highs and lows in terms of production?
I make a point to make something every day. ABC, Always Be Creating. Having that disorder, in the past, has been very disruptive, oppressive to my life, when left unmedicated. For a long time I was in denial about my diagnoses and denied medication. It left me reeling in the worst way. I used to be addicted to the mania, the Manic states of that disorder, and would find myself creating in 12-14 hour chunks or longer. Just, non-stop, reckless and wild. I also dealt with voices that might at times dictate decisions I would make creatively. Which is, in hindsight, a bit funny. I don’t view the disorder as a detriment or a stigma. I’m a big advocate now, of getting the help that one needs and being on medication. I’m currently on a medication that has revolutionized my life, but also made the creative process a new thing for me to ease into. I used to create solely without medication, and now I’m getting used to creating on medication. It’s different. I’m still getting used to it. I find it to be a lot more peaceful. A lot more patient. A lot more paying attention and enjoying the process instead of just letting it zoom by.
Chris Gethard, a comedian I know from NY, just talked about that on an HBO special he did. That for him, he had this idea that medication would take away his funny. Which he now says is the opposite of the truth, that he’s MORE funny now that his subject matter can be outside of his depression.
Yeah! Man, when I first started the meds, I was coming off a particularly bad episode and I thought I wouldn’t be able to ever create again. I felt like I had creative lock-jaw and couldn’t speak. Kinda bewildered and confused. I’ve been going through sort of a rebirth and really rediscovering all the parts of creating that I was missing while I was in manic states. It’s been pretty cool. I definitely prefer my life this way just from a stance of health but to be honest there are certainly times I miss my old ways. I can’t pick and choose, so I’m going with what is working
Question lightning round! Is there a medium you’ve never worked in that you’d like to explore?
Oil Paints! I never have worked in oil, which still kinda blows my mind.
Favorite song on rotation in your studio.
An Instagram artist you’d recommend.
@JeremyIsPainting – an out of this world hyper realistic oil painter. One of my favorite artists.
A street artist you’d love to collaborate with.
What are you currently reading?
LOVE. I gotta get up in the Upanishads now
You’ve also contributed murals to the city of Los Angeles. Tell us a little bit about the street art scene in L.A. How does that process work? Are most of these pieces commissioned or do you find the locations yourself?
I have! Although to be honest, I haven’t been as active as I used to be. Los Angeles has an international street art scene. We have some of the best murals and muralists from around the world participating in the culture of public art. When I was more active, the majority of my works would be from spots I found myself. I would look for walls that looked like they needed some paint. Sometimes I would go in and seek the owner out, and other times I would just go at it. Finding walls that are run down or blow out were always prime targets.
You’re currently working on a short story for film. Have you worked in film before?
This is my first venture into film, or writing for film. I’m really enjoying it.
Can you give us a little inside scoop on subject matter?
Sure! It’s like a Punk Rock “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Takes place in 1982 London, about a heroin addicted punk rocker named C, who has a near death experience, has the nature of reality revealed to him in a psychedelic fashion and is able to get second shot at redeeming his experience here on Earth.
ERMAGOD. I’m so glad I asked that question. That sounds kickass. Are there any other projects coming up that we should be on the lookout for?
Thanks ! I hope to be doing a show with my father some time this year and showing some work with a gallery I used to be with, Gallery Brown based in Los Angeles. Other than that, taking it slow, creating daily, and having a blast doing it.
When someone comes across your Instagram feed, what do you hope they take away from your work?
An unexpected something personal.
What advice would you give a young person trying to find their artistic outlet?
Michael Jordan Art School. Put on your Jordans and Just Do It.