Featured Artist – Alex Pardee
On a dark night, I picture this man at the far end of a dirty alley, on a skateboard, with a glowing Cheshire cat grin. Alex Pardee is a young and talented artist with a macabre sense of humor and some damn good line work. His artwork embodies horror and amusement, in the same uncomfortable way a clown can. An obsession with technique and comics has inspired him to create characters that are almost huggable â€“ if it was not for their tentacles or the occasional knife behind the back. This No Cal painter is a do-it-yourself entrepreneur, who pushed himself on the world. Now he has a worldwide audience for his paintings, toys, books, and upcoming animated movie. Alex is not scared off by much, but you might be if left alone in a dark, dirty alley with one of his deviant characters. I met up with him in the back room at Suru in Los Angeles while he was in town putting up his last show and talked a bit about his life and art.
NB: You have a connection with comics â€“ what was your relationship with comics when you were younger and what led you into doing comic book art?
AP: Iâ€™ve been into comics since I was pretty young. I didnâ€™t get into the traditional comics until later on. My Dad got me into Tales of the Crypt reprints when I was young, 3rd or 4th grade. After that was when I got into the whole Marvel universe thing. Thatâ€™s what I wanted to do. When I was really young I used to draw Saturday morning cartoons, The Far Side, hang art. Then I was like no, fuck that, I want to be a comic book artist. I tried to draw and I realized I wasnâ€™t that good, and I thought, maybe I donâ€™t want to do this. I was already way too critical, but I was still into the stories and into the comics. I still wanted to do that. I knew that I wasnâ€™t that interested in the traditional style of comics that came out. Iâ€™ll give you a weird little brief history because it has a lot to do with comics.
When I was 14, I got diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression and I got put in a mental hospital for a few months. During that time, I had kind of stopped doing anything because I was sick all the time. But, during that time in the hospital, I started drawing again and that was the only thing that made me take my mind off of feeling sick and horrible. When I got out of the hospital, while they were figuring out my medication and what was working, I was having all these side effects from different medications, and I was just sick, and the only constant was drawing. I knew at that time that this was what I was going to do because it takes my mind off of everything. I decided at that time that I am going to learn how to draw.
NB: So, you taught yourself how to draw?
AP: This is totally retarded â€“ did you ever watch a show called â€œ3D Planetâ€ with Commander Mark Kissler? It was this guy that wore this weird commander outfit with crayons all over it. He had a 70â€™s mustache and he would break down drawing in the simplest ways. I was like, you know what, Iâ€™m swallowing my pride and watching this kidâ€™s show and learning how to draw. I did the most retarded things – drew birthday cakes and gingerbread men, but in the process I understood it.
During that time was when Image Comics came out, and Spawn and ShadowHawk and The Maxx came out. The Maxx was the first comic that was non-traditional that I had seen, that dealt with teenage angst issues and emotional problems and parents dying and all this weird spiritual stuff. At that time it was something that I was blown away by. Thereâ€™s a comic book with superheroes and weird art and itâ€™s not like the traditional one, and it blew me away. At that point I thought, â€˜okay, so I can do non-traditional stuff and still kind of do the art that I like and figure everything out.â€™ I didnâ€™t want to do traditional comics, so I continued to try to hone my craft and in the meantime I simultaneously got attracted to graffiti.
For about 10 years I was pretty much 100 percent into graffiti, or Iâ€™d say 90 percent into graffiti. 10 percent into still reading comic books. I made sure not to cross them, I donâ€™t know why at the time. Comic books are comic books, graffiti is graffiti, so Iâ€™m not going to mess around with them. Over that time, I kind of absorbed a bunch of stuff. I kinda started doing my own thing.
NB: What attracted you to do graffiti?
AP: One of the reasons I got into graffiti was because it was a way I could express myself and publicly practice my art and have it not be associated with who I am. I didnâ€™t have to go walk into an editorâ€™s office and say, â€˜this is my art, itâ€™s really good, right, you like it?â€™ I think I was afraid of rejection at that time, so Iâ€™d go out and do it and I didnâ€™t care if anybody liked it because I didnâ€™t know.
NB: But you did end up going back to comics?
AP: Yeah, I started publishing my own comics. Iâ€™d go to Kinkoâ€™s and drop the key behind the thing and make 10 copies. I started doing that and I didnâ€™t put my name on it. I would just leave â€˜em places, schools, bathrooms. It wasnâ€™t something that I took seriously, it was just another way to get my art out there even if I didnâ€™t know if anyone ever saw it. It was just the act of doing it, and finally my friends were like, â€˜you should pay to get one of these printed.â€™ So, I saved up some money, and had it printed, and I didnâ€™t know what to with it.
This is another milestone. I was told, by my friend, Susan Farrell (from Art Crimes), to send the comics over to Tower Records. She knew the guy that buys the magazines, and as soon as I sent it over there, the guy that she knew wasnâ€™t there anymore. She called me back and was like â€˜why donâ€™t you call them?â€™ This was like 7 months later, and at this time they were buying anything graffiti related, anything.
NB: What year was this?
AP: This was like 1997 or so. My comic books werenâ€™t really good, but they were graffiti inspired, because I was into that still heavily at the time. They were all character based and I wrote little stories. So, I called Tower and managed to talk to someone. I was like, â€˜hey, I sent this book over there and I havenâ€™t heard anything from you.â€™ He goes, â€˜oh, yeah, right here, we donâ€™t take comics.â€™ I go, â€˜itâ€™s not a comic, itâ€™s a graffiti coloring book, and he goes, â€˜really?â€™
NB: Did you just make that up?
AP: Yeah. (laughing) Iâ€™m all, â€˜Iâ€™m a graffiti artistâ€™ and he goes â€˜yeah, thatâ€™s interesting, Iâ€™ll take 100 of them.â€™ Then he calls me back a week later and he says â€˜we sold out of those comic books, can you make some more?â€™ All of a sudden, I bypassed comic book stores completely and I had been too scared to even try and get stuff into them! I got in a music store, so I had worldwide distributing all of a sudden when I didnâ€™t know what I was doing.
When I look back I see all these weird things that line up that I never intended but I just ran with them. When I first did those dumb little comics at Kinkoâ€™s, I never sent them to publishers. Well, actually I did, out of encouragements, and I just got, â€˜your art sucks.â€™ But, I did send my very first one to Sam Keith (The Maxx) because he was like the person that made me. Six months later I got a postcard from him, and it was like, â€˜your artwork is amazing. Iâ€™m sorry I donâ€™t have any jobs to offer you, but keep it up.â€™ Just that one little letter kept me going and then a few years later when I started doing more of my own stuff and taking my books to Comic Con, and self-publishing, I get there and Iâ€™m at a table, and this guy comes over and he was like, â€˜hey are you Alex? Iâ€™m Sam Keith, I wanted to come say hi.â€™ At the time, we both lived in Sacramento and we started hanging out and eventually worked together, which was the coolest thing in the world.
NB: What was it like working with him?
AP: It was rad. Heâ€™s an interesting dude. He has so many stories, which is weird because heâ€™s really introverted. Heâ€™s lived an awkward life, it obviously reflects in al his weird stories. Heâ€™s gone from making millions selling The Maxx to Mtv, to them raping him, to moving to the forest and not talking to anybody. A lot of it was a feeling of him living vicariously through me at the time because of our age difference, and because heâ€™s interested in peopleâ€™s experiences. Heâ€™s had his experiences, but heâ€™s settled in life. Heâ€™s really interested in other peopleâ€™s turmoil. We had this relationship and I would call him and ask him professional advice, almost like a therapist.
NB: I love your obvious infatuation with horror. I like to say it has a really uncomfortable feeling, which I think is awesome. Whatâ€™s your inspiration for so much of the darkness?
AP: I may be unaware of where itâ€™s coming from. A lot of it is just strictly visual. I play around with shit. I never know what Iâ€™m going to do. Iâ€™ll kind of make shapes and figure out something. I think that the main thing I think about my art is I have the ability to use my imagination to make something that I like out of anything. If you gave me two paper clips and something, I could picture the shape of that into something that I would like. Itâ€™s always been basically about playing around with shapes and making something that I visually like. The actual elements of the pieces, well, I think I go through phases. Iâ€™ve been in a tentacle stage for 20 years. Things have constantly come and gone, and elements, and then I think the good thing is that the more my technical skill evolves I can reinvent those elements into different weird form. I look at the guy that does Cannibal Corpse artwork, and to me, thatâ€™s more visceral. But, I get a lot of people that are grossed out. I rarely draw blood, I rarely draw guts and skeletons. But I get like, â€˜youâ€™re a fucked up dude.â€™ Itâ€™s hard for me to put myself in those outside shoes. Iâ€™m like, no, Iâ€™m not. How many smiley faces are in that? Itâ€™s cute. Iâ€™m really fascinated with organic shapes, and yeah, horror definitely has a huge influence on me from when I was little.
NB: People might expect your work to be very dark by the way you describe your influences, but it actually has a lot of bright colors in it. I love the way you use those happier tones in such menacing images.
AP: Yeah, I like that too. For instance, I just did the album direction for In Flames, a Swedish metal band, and they are really big and really heavy, and theyâ€™re really awesome and all their artwork has been really, really visceral. I donâ€™t want to say typical metal art, but more of that vein. When they approached me, they were like â€˜we like that you do dark stuff with bright colors, so do you want to do something like that for us?â€™ I was like, well, youâ€™re a metal band, is that all right, and they were like â€˜thatâ€™s what we want.â€™ I did this whole 12 page booklet for them and it all had a lot of bright stuff. The concept was this guy that doesnâ€™t really know where he is, that heâ€™s starting inside this wooden labyrinth at the beginning of his life and getting around all his obstacles and finding his purpose at the end of it. It was this really weird, deep concept that they had, and the first thing that people said when they saw the album cover was, â€˜I donâ€™t think I like it, I donâ€™t like all the bright colors, I donâ€™t get it.â€™ It was really cool because it caused this weird stir, enough to where MTV did an interview with the band. Of course, once they realized the band defended it, the fans were like, â€˜yeah, thatâ€™s what I meant, itâ€™s cool.â€™
NB: Thatâ€™s cool though, it promoted people talking about art.
AP: Yeah. I donâ€™t know what attracts me to different colors. I definitely go thru different stages. I went thru painting all blacks and reds and playing around with all that and browns and I still like that. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with that. I am trying to experiment with as many different things as I can because I know that Iâ€™m going to be doing art forever. In 20 years from now, I could be like, okay, I played around with browns, I know how to do that and I can do that and that, what can I do now? I can draw from that. I donâ€™t ever want to be so repetitive in my own stuff that I just hate it.
NB: Itâ€™s all about experience. One last question, what are your five favorite horror movies?
AP: I have like twenty #1â€™s! I can tell you my favorite. My favorite really is â€œCreepshow.â€ Thatâ€™s my favorite horror movie of all-time.