LA-based artist Souther Salazar got his start making zines out of his childhood bedroom in Oakdale, CA; these days he exhibits his work in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Tokyo. His collages, paintings, drawings, and sculptures — which delicately toe the twee line without crossing over to the dark side — remind us of Shel Silverstein mixed with The Little Prince and a dash of Eugene Mirman. Which is to say, he’s kind of a big kid who’s obsessed with robots and space.
Salazar’s new solo show at Jonathan Levine Gallery (which runs through June 13th) explores a brave new world inhabited by quirky, cartoonish characters created to draw in and charm the pants off the viewer. Below he chats with us about where he fits in the art world, how LA plays into his work, and which zines you need to add to your collection, stat.
Flavorpill: How would you characterize your work?
Souther Salazar: It’s like a dream about a bum’s wallet exploding inside an Easter Egg factory during an electrical storm while wild animals howl at the moon.
FP: Do you ever feel discriminated against in the art world because your style and media are so unconventional?
SS: I don’t know. I feel like just a zine kid who happens to have art shows sometimes. I’m not even sure if I’m officially in the art world yet or not. I just love to be creative and make art. If I think about that stuff too much I’ll go crazy. I have to live in the moment and find joy in the process rather than the evaluation.
FP: Where do you draw inspiration from?
SS: Everywhere. Walking around, looking, imagining. Other artists who I love. Old things I find. Things I grew up with like The Littles and Ed Emberley. A lot of times from music, the stories and emotions and even researching the creative processes and paths of musicians. Conversations and snippets of random things people say or do or show me… I write a lot of things down. Sometimes a phrase somebody says… I write it down and then work backwards and imagine what the drawing would be for that title.
FP: What most influenced your whimsical view of the natural world?
SS: Probably books. Children’s books, story books, fiction I grew up reading. I feel like I can’t remember a time when it didn’t make sense to start a drawing of something that exists in the real world and then to mix it with elements from my imagination and other worlds.
FP: Is that view affected by living in a big urban center?
SS: Well I grew up in a very rural small town surrounded by nature. Even living in LA, there are mountains and deserts and forests and the ocean and huge parks. There’s never one truth about the place you are — it’s always a mix if you really look at it. You can see an ant at your feet and trees in the distance and buildings beyond that and clouds and stars and space above and beyond that. It just makes sense to me to mix things up even more. Let the current reality swirl together with past realities and distant memories and dreams.
FP: You do a lot of collaborations that seem really positive and successful. Do you ever face conflicts?
SS: I’m pretty laidback. If a collaboration fails, you still learn from it, about yourself and the other person.
FP: Your work often seems narrative with recurring characters. Is this intentional?
SS: Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I finish something and look at it and suddenly see very clear stories that I didn’t realize were being created. It’s kind of a subconscious thing I think. And the characters… some are defined to me, others are just more like stand-ins for ideas or gestures, or they are just exploring this invented world like I’d imagine I would if I could go inside. Sometimes I think of an object like a building or a machine or a tree as a character and I think of them as having personalities or emotions, like this building is happy and lost and this tree is old and forgotten. It’s a weird world that builds on itself with each new piece I make. If I reuse a house or a character or a type of tree, there’s a nice familiar quality that I like about it, that it’s expanding and contracting, breathing and alive.
FP: What can we expect from the show at Jonathan Levine?
SS: I made my largest painting, 5′ x 10′. It was a struggle but I think it turned out to be one of the things I’m happiest with in the show. I looked around when I was done and realized some of the larger work turned out more melancholy than usual. But then it’s all balanced by a very happy room full of drawings of tiny colorful worlds and flying balloons made from light bulbs and apple juice bottles. There’s a stop-motion animation short made by my friend and filmmaker Karla Carnewal, that I think adds to the life of the sculptures by showing scenes of their journeys and lives before they ended up quietly hanging in the gallery. I’m also happy with how my four big crayon drawings turned out. You can read them together in a series like a huge comic strip.
FP: Does everyone always ask you if you’re planning a children’s book?
FP: Are you?
SS: I’m thinking of ideas. I’d love to.
FP: Where can we find your zines? Are there zines of other artists that you want to let us know about?
SS: I tend to play with printing techniques and make things in small runs, so right now everything is out of print except for my new one, called laze away the day. You can find it in Los Angeles at Family Bookstore on Fairfax or at Oooga Booga in Chinatown. I would recommend my favorite all time zine, and huge inspiration, King-Cat by John Porcellino. Also the zines by various artists at Buenaventura Press and funchicken by my friends Mark Todd and Esther Watson. They all have websites with links to more good zine people.
Images courtesy of Jonathan Levine Gallery.