Talks with Tim is a weekly Q&A by Tim Grobaty, who has been a columnist in Long Beach for nearly 50 years. If you’d like to suggest an interesting or influential person in Long Beach for this (unconventional) interview, reach him at [email protected].
Dave Van Patten is an artist, illustrator, muralist, and designer from Long Beach who has done large-scale mural work with Pow! Wow! in 2016 and 2017 and has painted murals around the world, working with clients such as Warner Music Group/ Rhino Records, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Quiksilver, as well as local breweries and coffee houses. This year Van Patten won a Grammy Award for “Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package” design for the Grateful Dead box set “In and Out of the Garden: Madison Square Garden ‘81 ‘82 ‘83.”
Tim Grobaty: As an unapologetic Deadhead, I was happy that you won a Grammy this year for your artwork for the Grateful Dead box set “In and Out of the Garden.” How surprised were you when you won?
Dave Van Patten: I kinda thought the nomination was sufficient enough, being one of five art projects to be nominated in the whole world. I’ve had a blessed life, but you don’t expect something like this. It still feels kinda weird.
Q: Who did you wear at the ceremony?
A: I wanted to look like a Reservoir Dog. I wore a black jacket and pants and a thin black tie.
Q: Are you a Long Beach native?
A: I was born in Orange. I moved to Long Beach in 2000 for Cal State. I was a freshman and Garcia [Robert, not Jerry] was class president. I’d see his face on campus billboards.
Q: Did you come to the university to study art?
A: I started as an art major, but I got bored and said there are other things to learn. I’d been doing art all my life, but I stopped and I studied creative writing. I took classes from Tyler Dilts, Steven Cooper, Gerald Locklin. I wanted to be a writer. And I was playing in bands, doing anything but art. I didn’t do anything with art for seven years, but I still formed all these ideas during the hiatus.
Q: What instrument did you play?
A: Guitar, mostly, and dabbled in other things. I played bass in a punk band that transitioned to freak folk; we toured in 2008, did a lot of house shows. We called ourselves Family Tree.
Q: How did you land the Grateful Dead project?
A: I’ve worked with Rhino [Records] for years. I did a mural in their office—three huge walls. It took me three months to finish it. It was great, because I was there so much I felt like a staff member instead of a freelancer. I’m a social person; I like being around people. And I did the artwork for Rhino’s WAR box set.
Q: How did you approach the artwork for the Dead box?
A: I wanted to have a lot of psychedelics in the illustration, and I decided to stay away from the usual Grateful Dead iconography. I mostly wanted to go against my own comfort zone and also the Grateful Dead’s comfort zone rather than a regurgitation of the tropes, although we did have the rainbow bears.
Q: Did you meet with any of the band members?
A: I didn’t meet any of them, but [drummer] Mickey Hart gave his praises and the [Grateful Dead’s official archivist] Davied Lemieux said “I think that this may be the most beautiful piece to ever appear on a Grateful Dead project.”
Q: You made, or still make, I guess, a pretty famous map of Long Beach with little icons for different parts of the city. What prompted you to do that?
A: It was around 2013 and I was sort of in my beginner-medium phase where I was taking on almost any absurd project. I was hungry to make my mark on Long Beach. I wanted to go all out for the city. So I spent days driving around and did my own research, I just drove around and took photos of cultural icons to use for the city’s neighborhoods.
Q: You drew a buffalo in my neighborhood.
A: Yeah, well some places I just put some random thing.
Q: The map sold pretty well. I see it all over the place. How did you market it?
A: I had a deal with the MADE store Downtown. They would produce them and I’d get a cut of the sales.
Q: Do you take commissions for your work?
A: To be honest I’ve turned down commission work lately. When I was a medium beginner I did way too much work for way too little. I have this Catholic guilt where I want to do things for people. I’m having to admit to myself that I am successful; I just can’t do everything that people want me to do.
Q: Where can people see your work now?
A: I’ve done about 50 murals, many of them in Long Beach like Alex’s Bar, Whole Foods, 2nd & PCH, the Starbucks on Willow and Long Beach Boulevard. [You can purchase Van Patten merch, including prints, posters and apparel at his Etsy site: https://www.etsy.com/shop/davevanpattenart].
Q: Do you have any pets to keep you company?
A: I have Sammy, a little boy that’s half golden retriever and half wiener dog, and a cat named Lucy who’s the cutest cat I’ve ever seen. Just the biggest, meanest cat. Very scrappy, very lively.
Q: Where have you put your Grammy?
A: [At press time] I haven’t received it yet. When you win, you go up on stage and they give you a blank one for the photos. But I’ll probably put it up high because of the pets. I keep all of my important stuff up high.