Art contains an element of risk. Creating something from nothing is impossible — there needs to be something there to begin with, either an external or internal reference. The artist uses their own experiences, their own opinions and ideals to inform the concept on the canvas. That’s the risk — each piece reveals the artist as they truly are.
From his brush strokes, tools, composition, and color, the work of Los Angeles-based artist Ken Garduno is in constant evolution. The only stable element to Garduno’s art is his willingness to take risks. His work speaks of love and beauty, the grotesque and absurdity of man. Garduno’s art shows the landscape as he sees it, frightening yet beautiful — the realist constructs blurred by an overwhelming love of nonsense.
Garduno is an artist in the classic sense. His is art for art’s sake, creating for the creator’s sake. His risk, that reveal of the true-self, is of benefit to audience and to artist. Scattered throughout his body of work are characters from pop culture, but Garduno’s use of someone like Batman is not a cheap attempt to sell a piece — Garduno turns the insight reserved for self-analysis onto the Caped Crusader and beneath the armour, the manic terror creeping through Bruce Wayne bubbles to the surface. As an interpreter of the life around him Garduno is unafraid, and even less so of those characters created to act as the generic ‘societal whole,’ to give his truth to the page in sketch, drawing, or painting.
CJ: Your work and approach is very much in the fine artist mold, yet I found your work through the world of illustration and pop culture. You’ve been a fixture in Mondo events – you’ve have pieces in good many of their shows plus booths at both conventions. How did you get involved with Mondo and the pop culture poster scene?
KG: I’m pretty sure I owe my Mondo connection to Mike Mitchell. He showed my work to the Mondo crew. He’s a nice guy. Mike, if you ever read this, you’re a nice guy. The rest is Mondo magic. That crew has been so welcoming. They’re great too.
How do you know Mike Mitchell? In LA everybody really does knows each other?
I met him through mutual friends. He came out to Sketchparty a few times when he was living in LA. We’ve been talking about going to a ballgame this year.
The network of artists here in LA is pretty expansive. I have a studio inside of Static Medium print/photography studio. So many artists come through here which has helped to expand my LA art network.
Outside of MondoCon you and Tom Haubrick are also regulars at San Diego Comic-Con. Is it strange to have a booth there next to Pokemon plush toys and all of that? Is the audience receptive to your work?
Tom and I went to Comic-Con one year as attendees. We ran into a friend that was exhibiting at a table and we asked him if we could join his table the following year. So we crammed three artists into a small 8′ table. That friend stopped exhibiting and we were lucky that he generously let us have the table. That was maybe 8 years ago now.
I love Comic-Con, Pokemon plush and all. I don’t get that sort of social outlet very often. I love seeing people that I only see once a year, and making new friends and connections. I’m always concerned about the audience being receptive, but I’ve had an overall positive experience. Our table tends to attract people that weren’t expecting to find work like ours at the convention. Artists of a similar aesthetic are starting to show up and exhibit more than ever before, so that helps.
It’s interesting to see your gouache work and your mixed media paintings – you don’t seem to bother using media for their specific attributes. I tend to think of gouache paintings to look like Mary Blair work – richly and deeply color, textured. You use it more like watercolor. It’s as if you approach each tool, pen, paint, or tablet, as if it’s your first time, so you’re constantly discovering new ways to use them. Do you see your style in constant evolution?
I remember trying to use gouache the other way. I was never happy with the results. I gave up and switched over to primarily acrylic-inks, and was stuck there for a few years. I learned a bunch during that period, but felt very limited. I finally decided to open up to other mediums, and I returned to gouache. I wasn’t as intimidated this time. I was also opening up to pretty much anything I could make marks with.
I do like to think my work is in constant evolution. I don’t like to get too attached to a style. I somehow found myself in this flow of constant exploration and experimentation. I’m not nearly as open to risks in my life, but I’m more than willing to take all of the risks with my work.
You are constantly sketching and creating, always something new and always more. Is there a fear of getting in a rut that keeps you creating in new ways? Is there a difference between a finished sketch and a finished ‘piece’ in your head?
I’m definitely fearful of hitting that creative rut. I love making art, and I hope to never reach a point where I somehow lose interest. Anything new that I try is mostly to keep myself entertained. I’ll think of something at night, and can’t wait to get to the studio to execute it. Unfortunately, sometimes those ideas happen when I wake up in the middle of the night and I forget about them the next day. I’ve lost some good ideas along the way.
You host Sketchparty in Los Angeles, where a group of artists gather and draw, This event takes an incredibly solitary act and makes it public performance. Does the setting change the outcome? Is there a benefit to that feeling of each stroke being watched?
Even though it may seem like a public performance at Sketchparty, everyone is usually too busy chatting or drawing on their own to pay too much attention. We’re all tuning in to each other’s drawing performances for a short period of time, but I still feel like we’re mostly sharing conversations and good times.
When people that don’t usually draw show up, they’re surprised to find out how laid back it actually is. For some reason, there’s this misconception about it being intimidating to hang out and draw there, but it’s very easy.
That being said, I actually don’t mind if I’m being watched while I’m drawing. I don’t feel any different if being watched while drawing than if I were drawing alone.
Sketchparty aligns with your own sense of restless creativity, that concept of putting new mediums, or in this case new surroundings, in your process. From an outsider’s viewpoint it feels like you’re constantly searching for something in your work – does that make sense? Is that something that is there, or am I looking at it all wrong?
I am searching. I don’t know what it is that I’m looking for, and maybe I’ll never find it. I’m okay with that. Maybe it’s just a form of art therapy.
You did ‘Long Distance La Dubla’ in 2012, a show with fellow artists Tom Haubrick and Travis Jackson. That name, ‘La Dubla,’ shows up alongside your name in books and even your convention banner. Is that a collective between you and Tom Haubrick? What does La Dubla consist of?
Yes, the three of us are La Dubla. Travis and Tom lived together in Pasadena, so we were drawing and hanging out together pretty often. We were originally called the Fun Machine, named after an old organ that they had in their apartment.
I’m not sure what our intentions were at the time other than having fun, but we’ve had a few shows together and hope to continue exhibiting our work as a collective.
Trying to find information on you online is a bit difficult – you don’t have an official site and your Facebook and Instagram show your work, but is more personal that business. Your Etsy store only has a handful of things in it at a time. Is an online presence something you shy away from on purpose or is it out of (sorry being rude!) laziness?
So rude! So correct! It’s like 70% laziness, unfortunately. I took down an old site about a year ago with every intention of making a new one right away. Here we are a year later, and I haven’t even thought of it until I read this. My previous site was up for a couple years, and I dreaded going back to it because everything looked so old.
I make so much content these days that I can’t imagine wanting to select certain works that would represent me for a site. I would need to update it daily, and that seems like a big pain. That’s why I love using instagram. It’s perfect for an artist that is trying to evolve.
With information on you being so low out in the digital world, I have to ask – is there a day job? Is art keeping you employed full-time?
I do freelance illustration, commissions, and make art for fun and I’m lucky people are interested in purchasing them. I do miss having stability, but every time I consider doing something else, I think about all the great opportunities and life experiences that I might miss out on. Maybe I’ll find my way to stability eventually, but for now, I’m going to keep enjoying the bumpy ride.
Do you consider yourself a fine artist? Illustrator? Does it change each time you sit at a blank page?
I like to ride that line, and let someone else make the decision. I go back in forth in my head when trying to define what I’m doing. I’d rather not pick. I feel comfortable with both.
You draw women with the greatest of tenderness and care, but your male figures are disfigured monsters. Is this a conscious effort on your part? Is it sexuality coming through — women are attractive and men are just…there?
A friend asked me the same question recently. It’s something I never thought about until then. I guess I never imagined them existing in the world, but maybe there’s something hidden in there that I’m not aware of. I’m always split in my mind about what I feel like drawing, and I don’t really plan out most of those grotesque male creatures. They just happen.
But you’re probably right. Maybe I’m trying to make men more interesting for me to draw because drawing women with more care seems natural and that probably ties into sexuality.
It’s interesting because at the same time it’s not like you’re drawing big breasted women in bikinis like Frank Frazetta, it’s not done for the attention or the obvious erotic factor — your women are absolutely feminine and tender, it’s just the men who are grotesque, unless that’s the point — masculinity is a grotesque feature of man.
Are you born and raised in Los Angeles? I think of LA has Hollywood – every artist out to make it in the mainstream, whether it be in music, film, or television. With your work mainly being fine art, is Los Angeles supportive of that as well? Is it a good place to be?
I am born and raised in LA. I’m curious to know how my life as an artist would have turned out if I wasn’t here. I think it’s been a very supportive city. The networking (that I don’t do nearly as much anymore) in this city is invaluable.
Social media makes it possible for creatives to be recognized pretty much anywhere, but there’s something special about being able to meet people in person. I’m lucky. I have very talented friends and I hope that keeps expanding.
Being in Los Angeles, were you ever tempted by Hollywood into going into advertising or film / television design work? Does that fit into your personal aesthetic, or career goals?
Yes, of course. I did a couple character design jobs last year, and that was great. I’ve been asking questions lately. I don’t know what will come of this, but I have a curiosity about how I might fit into those worlds.
I know you’re a baseball fan — I am too. It’s interesting that sports and visual art (music gets a pass) never really connect – sports tend to sell gaudy design if they use art at all. Outside of a few classic logos (Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, ‘80s Brewers, Indians, etc.) the visual identity of the sport hasn’t translated well off of the field. Could you see yourself doing baseball illustrations in a way that could portray how you feel about the sport? Is there a way to create baseball inspired art that would make you the artist and you the fan happy?
I’m fairly new to being a sports fan. I thought that sports fans and art fans were in two separate worlds without any crossover, and I was on team art. I was wrong. I can love both. And if you can’t tell, I have maybe an unhealthy obsession baseball. I’ve made up for all my years not being a sports fan in the last 5 years. That was maybe a bit off topic, but I had to share.
I’ve been trying in my own way to combine my two loves. I worked on a really cool freelance project recently for a top sports website, and look forward to more opportunities like that. If anyone from the Dodgers organization is reading this, they should hire me right away. In the meantime, I’ll keep making my own baseball fan art.