When an artist is able to penetrate the tight-knit contemporary art establishment in the United States, said individual must be well rounded, multi-talented, and remain relevant to both youth culture and the fine art markets. Carly Ivan Garcia fulfills all of the above criteria and then some, having firmly established himself in critical circles with his dynamic, neo-modern abstract style. Still in his thirties, he has already achieved more in his short career than most artists do in a lifetime – etching his name into history and the cheque books of high-profile gallery owners and private collectors world-wide.
Garcia’s work leaps enthusiastically off the brush and onto the canvas, then ricochets back at the speed of colour straight into the psyche of anyone lucky enough to be standing in front of one of his paintings. Hyper-experimental, irreverent and powerful; his art simply exudes confidence.
It’s one thing to refine a narrow competence over years of practice, and then replicate the same approach over multiple pieces in order to produce a body of work with much the same result. It’s an entirely different kettle of petals to throw yourself blindfolded, naked, and exposed into a void of unadulterated, improvised, gestural creation.
We’re talking about a painter who knows when to paint, when to put the brush down and most importantly – when to walk away.
Carly Ivan Garcia creates without fear. His striking portfolio is evidence of a painter who will be able to look at himself squarely in the mirror at the end of his career and legitimately know he gave it everything. Constantly pushing the boundaries and evolving his own aesthetic, Garcia’s work acts as a sounding board between his imagination, his inner monologue and our troubled modern world.
Abstract art can sometimes suffer from the “I-could-have-done-that” (but you didn’t) syndrome. Garcia’s work occupies a particularly obscure area of art, one where the uninformed and inexperienced can look upon his style of painting as unskilled or immature. Conversely, esteemed painters with developed skillsets gaze longingly upon Garcia’s multi-coloured footprints across distant galaxies with envy, via a telescope which only serves to magnify their own inability to disconnect from their conscious minds.
One could argue that only those who know the cerebral challenge of staring at an empty canvas with nothing but their physical and creative wherewithal, paint, and a brush, can fully appreciate the bravado and physical recklessness that Garcia has such a command over. His accomplished hand (guided by the spirits of de Kooning and Pollock) coerces liberal helpings of paint on experimental whims; scraping, splattering, pulling, pushing, swiping, dripping and smearing willing pigments across his canvasses. Each painting is a poetic visual expedition towards the meaning of life; a journey illuminating thousands of intuitive micro-decisions, childlike playfulness, and completely unapologetic abstractions of shape, colour and form – revealing glimpses into calm hysterias and Piccasso-esque wonderlands of liberation and productivity.
Garcia is waking us from our eternal slumber. He is pleading with us to step into our own potential, and to recognize ourselves as energized, sentient beings on this planet that have been armed with the ability to create and make a difference. His poignant legacy will teach generations of appreciators the art of letting go. Empowering them with the self-belief to step away from the anxieties and insecurities burdened onto individuals by a society that fuels fear and breeds conditioned responses.
Most importantly, Carly Ivan Garcia’s work ignites courage. The courage to express ourselves with vindication and the reassurance that each one of our own artistic visions has merit – an innate gift no-one can ever take away from us.
Introduction: James Watkins | Interview: Geoff Darrow.
‘A Is For Apples’
Fresh off his show atTinca Artin New York, we asked Carly a few questions in relation to his artistic sensibilities and career as a patriarch of the abstract contemporary art movement in the United States:
At what point did you come to the realisation that you’re a legitimate and talented artist?
There were a few life-changing events that led me in the direction of being a fulltime artist. The first one was having my artwork on display in the movie ‘Touching Home’ starring actor Ed Harris. Fresh off that film (where my art was used as the title character’s work in the movie) I went on to participate in two shows in the Art Basel Miami at the end of 2009 where I sold all my paintings, rather quickly for a newcomer in the Art Basel Miami scene.
While in Miami a chance encounter with Catinca Tabacuru led me into a long standing business friendship and relationship with Fountain, which continues to this day. I owe a lot of my successes to Catinca, David Kesting, Johnny Leo, and Beth Tully – I have always said that without a few specific people and a little luck I would not be where I am today as an artist. They introduced me to the right people at the right time, which moulded me into the artist I am today.
"The Famous" Let’s Make A Deal Bear
Why is art important? What do you love about being an artist? What opportunities has being an artist allowed you?
Art is very important in my life. Like the title quote says above, I have to absorb all I can as not only a painter, but also as a lover of all kinds of art forms. Being an artist and being associated with the arts led me into curating shows with the biggest names in street art. Shepard Fairey, G.I.L.F and Travis Sommerville are all artists I respect a lot and our strengths compensate our weaknesses. All these connections have allowed me to cross over into the street art scene, which I feel has seen a dramatic push in last few years.
Coming from Oakland you see art everywhere on buildings, under bridges – the city is a street artist’s gallery. I love being given opportunities to collaborate with street artists because we really have made some amazing art installations and I have made a lot of great life-long friends in the street art world.
‘Navy Seal Shredding Through Water’
How do you feel when a celebrity or high-profile art collector purchases a painting of yours? Does it provide different feelings of recognition or validation for you personally?
I really feel no differently whether someone is a celebrity or not. I have sold many paintings and to just see that the person appreciates my work and will give it a good home is enough for me. I am not easily star-struck, I got used to that a long time ago.
‘Floating Bears in New York’
During Carly’s interview I could really feel the passion emanate through his voice. He stopped briefly to mention that Carlos Santana was walking right by him on the streets of Northern California. His voice never wavered or gave any indication that he was passing by a legendary musician.
The energy in his words were like electricity. No matter which direction our conversation went, as long as it was art related, it was super-charged.
What does the term Neo-Abstract-Modern Artist mean to you?
The term Neo to me, is a connection with the time we are in. With everything moving quickly, keeping art relevant is important, as is allowing the imagination of the artist to shine light on a dark time. I don’t believe we have seen the full potential of abstract art yet.
A lot of street art I see can easily fall under Neo-Abstract-Modern. The Modernism in my work allows me to connect with people of any age, race and creed. I want my art to have relevance in many different people’s lives. I want the colours I use to reflect the vibrancy of life and humanity and to break the chains that confine us to one specific way of thinking.
What do you think about people who think of abstract work as childish or naive? The "I could have done that" phenomenon. Are they missing the point?
To be an artist you must be willing to break a few barriers. You must believe in your art and feel that it has a purpose and the power to change lives. I have constantly had personal struggles that some would consider a burden. On the other hand, it made me get involved in a lot of art classes and learn that I may have a future with painting. I encourage anyone who thinks they can do what I do, to go ahead and do it.
What are you trying to achieve visually and thematically with your works?
Each show I do generally has a theme to it. My show last weekend with Tinca Art NYC was ‘Visions Did Appear’. I produced a piece a lot larger than I normally do. You can look at it one way and it looks like a futuristic lush landscape and if you turn the painting it looks like a ghoulish green beast. So I leave it up to the buyer to decide how they would like to see it in their home.
Depending on the theme of the show I try to use bright, vibrant colors and multiple layered shapes to create what I feel would fit into what is expected of me, but also staying true to myself as an artist.
‘Slip and Slide’
‘It’s Like An Angel Above’
From your very first art show to your latest, what has changed in you, if anything? How have you developed as a person and how do you think your art has progressed?
The life of an artist has definitely been a learning and growing experience. Friends always ask me if I can believe what I have achieved. I honestly felt the same way about showing my work in the Driftwood Art Salon in San Francisco, as I did showing in Facebook’s Headquarters. The only thing that has changed is the prices of my paintings keep going up, and in this business I don’t consider that a bad problem to have.
During the course of this interview I realise that two hours had flown by and it felt like twenty minutes. With brief glimpses he described what his eyes saw as he depicted a storefront that could be painted into a cool face with a few brush strokes here and there.
His sensitivity to detail in everything he walks by while talking to me and his effortless ability to communicate, allows the pictures to form vividly in my head. The constant creative process in which he absorbs himself in is incredible.
What are some of your influences that you channel when you paint? Other artists, music etc?
When I paint I’m usually online at the same time. I can paint for hours straight if I have the Internet and music available. I am not very particular about the music I listen to, however I really like to talk to my friends via Facebook during my painting. They ask me if I spend all my time online and I tell them no, I spend all my time painting.
‘Genius Juggling Apples’
Do you consider yourself a role model to other artists? What pearls of wisdom have you taken on board from other artists you respect?
I see myself as an artist first, but also a representative of artists. I have no problems helping other artists by giving them my personal advice if asked and will happily share some of my ‘secrets’ to success . A few of my established artist friends have given me some tips I have incorporated into my creative process. I understood that being an artist is a competitive sport early on.
I try to surround myself with good friends and family. I have been blessed to have amazing friends who are really talented artists in arts of all kinds.
‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High Bear’
‘Let’s Make A Deal Bear III’
How did the discipline/ practice/ focus in your BMX career influence and prepare you for your life as an artist? What parallels can you draw between the two mind sets?
The creative process I channeled when doing BMX freestyle is very similar to the creative process channeled when I paint. Both BMX and painting were what I excelled at. I utilise the same focus and ‘never quit’ frame of mind I used to push myself for BMX, on a daily basis as an artist. Once I could not do BMX anymore because of a career ending injury, I focused primarily on my painting as a way to sustain a living.
‘On Top Of The World’
What do you enjoy most about collaborating with other artists?
I really like the creative process involved. Seeing how others prepare and learning from that. I never want to quit learning as an artist because it allows me to keep stepping my game up. When collaborating it also forces me into a group atmosphere, which makes me work even harder to pull my own weight as a part of a superstar team.
How does it feel to walk into a room full of your own paintings?
I feel like I am wearing my heart and soul on my sleeve. I am not just looking at my dreams; I am also facing some of my nightmares. I feel an extreme sense of fulfillment when there is a room full of people and all the walls filled with my paintings. I am just glad that today the rooms that are filled are galleries instead of a one bedroom apartment.
‘Lazy Eye On The Table’
When you look back at your body of work, are there a few paintings that really stand out for you? Personal favorites? Breakthrough works?
A few personal pieces that really stood out are ‘A Cup Of Facebook’ that I actually sketched in a car and used a lot of different painting techniques I don’t usually use. That piece was highlighted at my Citizen Garcia show at the Driftwood Art Salon in San Francisco also ‘Van gogh Van Gogh Van No’. Another was for ‘The International Beethoven Project Presents – The Beethoven Festival in Chicago’. A friend of mine gave me a canvas, it sold for several thousand dollars and was used as the Chicago Tribune’s picture for the show’s story.
Can you tell us a bit about the experience of exhibiting at the Facebook head offices, and when you had your work hanging in the same gallery as Picasso and Renoir?
The show at Facebook HQ was a great opportunity to work side by side with the brand. My good friend Ian Ross who already had a mural painted inside the Headquarters got to curate the show. It was really cool to be able to introduce my art to the Facebook culture.
It was very surreal to see my paintings hanging next to such past and future legends in art history and was just confirmation that I must be doing something right. I am a very avid believer in if something isn’t broken do not try and fix it. As long as I keep doing what I am doing and remain true to myself, and true to my vision as an artist or curator, good things will continue happening.
‘A Cup Of Facebook’
‘Ring Around The Rosie’
Who are your all time favourite painters? Whose work blows your mind and motivates and inspires you to keep pushing, keep painting, keep visually exploring?
There are a few that come to mind. Jackson Pollock is one, I really believe we haven’t seen the true potential of abstract art yet and there is going to be a very large break in this area. Another inspiration is Frieda Kahlo. Her strength in time of physical injury I can relate to in my own life. I have had times where I cannot afford to be hurt and used my physical pain as a motivator to get up, get out, and make something. Willem de Kooning’s painting style very much shows in my work too.
You have achieved critial and commerical success in numerous major cities, art hubs and fairs across the USA. Where would you like to go next? What do you still want to achieve with your work and career?
I have been very fortunate to have so much personal success. I want to just continue moving up, as I feel I have a lot more to show the world. There are major changes going on around the world these days and I would love to introduce my artwork to every major city and country around the globe. I want to keep moving forward in my learning process and evolve as an artist. Growth is very important to me and continuing to introduce the world to the name, Citizen Garcia, is my game.