David Van Patten has been quietly taking the local art scene by storm. I've seen his work on coffeehouse walls, in galleries, on posters and CD covers, and even in the Long Beach Post. As I write this, he's got four exhibitions up: One in 4th Street Vine, one in L.A., and two in Sacramento. An exhibition of brand new works will be up for one night in the North Gallery of the Expo Arts Building as part of Art_Ober's First Fridays Long Beach in Bixby Knolls.
Although he explores a variety of media and styles, Dave's work is immediately identifiable. His illustrative work uses simplified forms which often stand in contrast to the subtle wit and insight he brings to the narratives he creates.
Sander: How did you get started?
Dave: I began making comics when I was in second grade. Nothing really led me to it or inspired me toward it. It just kind of happened. I filled notebooks with them. In third grade I wrote an amateur graphic novel about a germ that attacked people and battled white blood cells. The success of that book in my class led to more comics. In sixth grade I did a book about a chainsaw murderer with a skull face, and the gore was the greatest thing that could ever happen to a pre teen boy but, unfortunately, the book was banned from the school. I kept up with the comics until high school, then took a seven year break in college
SRW: Were you selling these books in school?
DVP: Yeah. The teacher set up a fake store in the classroom and all the kids of the school could come by with fake money and buy our little homemade products. We were supposed to showcase the project to different classrooms, so when I showed my comic book to the 4th graders, the teacher ended my fun and it became a "banned" book
SRW: Did that feel like a badge of honor, at the time?
DVP: No. I wasn't mature enough to realize the coolness of the situation. Instead it was a bunch of cursing the name of Mrs Gadberry
SRW: The graphic novel is a balance of visual art and story telling. can you talk a bit about that balance, and how you maintain it?
DVP: I focus on allowing each particular art form to shine in its individual way, and express the best of what it is capable of. The visual images to need to express the emotion, humor and aesthetic perfection that only visual images can. The art alone should be humorous and mind bending. If the image is weak, but the writing is strong, it can still work, but I won't be too pleased with it. In the same way, the writing needs to stand alone. The cool thing about mixing the medias, though, is that when one part is kind of lagging, I can use the other part to save it, so the piece doesn't end up in the garbage.
SRW: One of the things I love about your work is that it feels really personal, even when you're addressing larger issues. How do you approach the process of finding, and writing about, topics or issues?
DVP: The majority of my ideas come from conversations with people. There is always magic when two people come together with ideas and one quirky weirdo builds off the comment of the last quirky weirdo. A lot of times when I am talking to people someone will say something that is nothing more than a tiny spark, and then they'll keep jabbering on about who knows what, and the whole time I'll be thinking about the tiny spark, which has grown, in my mind, into an apocalyptic bomb of ideas. Other than in conversations, I would say most of my ideas come out of the blue, out of the sky, and are usually related to some form of personal dissatisfaction with the storm cloud of bullshit surrounding everything.
SRW: Why do you think there's a storm cloud of bullshit surrounding everything?
DVP: I don't mean to be a pessimist. Love, beauty, and so many amazing reasons to be grateful about life are overwhelmingly surrounding the entire universe. But the Bullshit Cloud still exists within that, and it poisons everything. It is always connected to wanting money - more money than one could ever spend - then it is masked by an image of wholesomeness, an image of not really caring about money: "We care about the environment, and we care about You." Then the Bullshitters end up harming lots of people in order to make more money, they end up getting away with it, and the average Joes have no way of getting even with them! That is what angers me and makes me want to do social commentary comics. There is simply no way to overtake this huge Bullshit Beast and we all feel powerless, but if I do a comic, at least I gave it a shot. Comics and protest art seems to be singing to the choir, though.
SRW: You have an immediately identifiable style, one that's become known quite widely in Long Beach, but that's not the only work you do. Can you talk a bit about your other work?
DVP: I just like to experiment with media and styles to keep it continually fresh for me. If you have a style that is identifiable, a lot of artists end up being one-trick ponies. It's some marketing bullshit where artists are trying to be like "Obey" and get people to like their art by pushing the same image in their faces. I obviously do this also, but for my own satisfaction I like to play with other styles, even though sometimes people are displeased with my new work. I've experimented with extremely colorful acrylic stuff lately, and it's fun for me to paint on found, alley garbage objects, like scrap wood. I recently painted something on my friend's old computer board. No one's said anything positive about the piece and, quite possibly, it is a dumb piece, but I still like it just because it's new to me. I actually am trying to bust out a new scrapwood piece every day because, to be honest, I don't really have much art to show! When it rains it pours and floods, and as it is I have 4 art shows happening right now. Since I realized I was short on work for this upcoming show I started busting out pieces pretty efficiently! They're not as perfect as my normal illustrations, but they're a lot more fun!
SRW: Can you talk about how your work has been used, and some of the commissions you've received.
DVP: I've done everything from family portraits to gig posters, album covers, book covers, tote bag designs, murals, company branding, and music videos. The most recent commission, and what I'm most proud of, is the album cover drawing for the band Rainman. It is my favorite band in Long Beach, so I wanted to make the drawing epic. I worked on the cover on and off for months! Also, I recently did the cover for the new Wild Pack of Canaries album. The other commissions I'm most proud of are the children's book about divorce I did with Angelica Nunez, called "Plenty of Love to Go Around," and the stop motion music video I did for Alyssandra Nighswonger, called "Watch Out Nosferatu." It was 2 weeks of complete madness. There was so little time to get it done, and I was so obsessed that at one point I stayed up for 2 days straight with no breaks other than coffee, then I went home and slept 16 straight hours, then I stayed up another 24 hours and worked straight through. It felt like an achievement! Lastly, I am very proud of the branding and design work I did for Portola Coffee. Jeff Duggan liked my weird drawings, and I liked his amazing coffee, which led to a basketful of coffee art ideas. Jeff ended up using them for Portola t-shirts and coffee mugs. I am proud of that because, in my opinion, Portola has the best coffee I've ever tasted and I think my art fits it well.
SRW: Can you speak to the role that living in Long Beach plays in your creative live?
DVP: It has provided me with the most perfect people to receive and inspire my art. I have lived in Santa Cruz, I work in LA, I grew up in Arrowhead, I've traveled a ton, but of all those places I find Long Beach people to have the best sense of humor and best sense of balance. They're not overly serious and stressed like LA, and they're not floating on a rainbow crystal through the clouds like Santa Cruz. Long Beach culture has a good middle ground. The racial diversity, the art community, the spiritual community, and the small town comradery make Long Beach unique. The people inspire my art more than anything. I think the main people causing problems are the politicians because they're thinking like dinosaurs and they're standing in the way of a fresh art community that wants to grow. Anytime someone wants to put on a concert or art event they need to crawl through a spiderweb of red tape. It's not like that as much in LA. Long Beach politicians are treating Long Beach like a small town and seem to be afraid of growth, but they need to catch up with other flourishing art scenes if they want the artists to actually stay here. Murals and street art should be EVERYWHERE. That is how you build up a town. Every city that is booming now had a booming art scene at the beginning that brought in the money.
SRW: What are your personal metrics for success?
DVP: My personal standard toward judging my work is: 1) How entertaining my art is (whether it's funny or astoundingly weird versus dull and overdone), 2) How well executed the art is (because some of my stuff is sloppy and I know it), 3) How much my style seems to be growing (because I DO NOT want to be a one- trick pony artist and, sadly, I do often retreat to drawing images I have already drawn a million times simply to fill space), and 4) How efficiently and prolifically I am working. In a career sense, success to me would be making a decent living, to be able to travel, live in different cities or countrysides and still do my art. A huge goal is to be able to publish dark humor comics regularly, as a job- to just wake up in the morning and think of extremely weird concepts that hopefully cross the line, and then make a comic of it- and just do this every day. A larger goal than this would be animation but, at this point, it is thinking too far ahead. My ultimate goal is to use art to "change the world," as cliche as that sounds. I'd like to do a piece that inspires someone to kidnap all the top execs of Monsanto and drop them in a swimming pool full of shit, and then when they reach the point of utter humiliation and degradation, someone can fish them out, wash them off, and give them a big hug and say, "You're a human being and I love you! Please just stop fucking up the rest of the world!" Justice and retribution, followed by love and mercy, are the things I want to inspire through my art. Success, in a financial sense, a creative sense, and an ethical/spiritual sense is the balanced success I'm going for.
SRW: Tell me about the exhibitions you've got up right now.
DVP: I have a couple of shows in northern California because I have family up there who are extremely helpful. One show, in Sacramento, is at Insight coffee roasters. It has a collection of most of my larger paintings- some coffee related and some just surreal. Another show I have in Sacramento is at Magpie Cafe, a foodie paradise. This show has a collection of all black and white drawings, some surreal and some political. I have a show in the LA art district, at Novel Cafe. This is a mish-mash of old and new work. Some of my best early work and best later stuff. It's LA, so I wanted to give them my best shit, because they're kinda full of shit already, ya know. The Long Beach exhibit is probably the best show, right now. It's at 4th Street Vine on Retro Row. It's got some of my bigger size psychedelic blob paintings and paper cutout collages. It also displays some of the new band album art covers I've been doing, like the Rainman album cover, which I think is one of the best things I've ever drawn, and the Wild Pack of Canaries cover. The upcoming exhibit at the Expo will be somewhat of a mish-mash, but a unified one. The mish mash aspect comes from the fact that most of the work is drawn on different, less than typical, surfaces. There are colorful paintings on wood, detailed drawings on paper, a painting on burlap, a painting on a computer board, sharpie drawings on scrap wood, drawings on mirrors, etc. I don't believe this upcoming exhibit is showing my most "mind-blowing" work, but I'm pleased with the work that is coming, as a whole, because all of it is fairly new! When you need to bust out a bunch of pieces in a short time, a lot of creativity surfaces, and this has been putting me in an extremely good mood.
The Expo Arts Center is located at 4321 Atlantic Avenue. The First Fridays Long Beach art walk takes place on Atlantic Avenue between San Antonio on the North, and Bixby Avenue on the South. The event runs from 6:30 - 9:30 PM, and is family friendly.
Watch a video interview I did with David several years ago.