Califari Artist Interview:
Califari is excited to be releasing it’s third original work by the mighty talented Matt Leunig! After dazzling us with his designs for Sour Diesel and Blueberry, Matt’s back with this phenomenal Green Lantern design that is helping us celebrate 4/20/2020 in high style! Matt has answered a few questions for us about his life in Art!
What’s your secret to sanity during these insane times?
Man it's tough. My wife & I both work from the house already so in some ways we were already prepped for being home all the time but adding a toddler home 24/7 really throws things off. He takes up a lot of my time right now,.. Thankfully he's really cute. He also is a nice distraction from overthinking all the craziness going on. Luckily I still have work coming in which also is a nice escape but its just getting done at a slower pace. The gigposter world is pretty much at a stand still now but I have always had my hand in other areas of illustration like packaging (beer, coffee, cannabis, etc.) & art prints that thankfully have been unaffected. If I have free time I have a guitar lying around I am trying to learn but other than that I try to have music playing at all times. Good tunes does wonders.
How did you get your start in Art?
I kinda always drew starting as a kid and was obsessed with cartoons and comics; always gravitating toward "weird" art like Garbage Pail Kids or the stuff you'd see on skateboard decks. I was a mimic and would say mostly self taught. There was a lot of.... "The line-work on that Screaming Hand drawing is way thicker than I usually do... lemme try that" or "I like how Art Adams draws noses in this X-Men comic, I'm gonna draw my noses like that". My parents would throw dinner parties which for a kid were really boring and I eventually learned that drawing was totally a socially acceptable way to be left alone in the corner. I couldn't just sit and read comics but if I was drawing I was left alone and applauded for being creative. Little did they know I was drawing He-Man pummeling Ninjas or a cool barfing werewolf on a skateboard (gotta revisit that image). In high school I discovered the psychedelic posters of 60's San Francisco & the Fillmore around the same time I was getting psychedelic myself and really latched onto that look. The Trippy lettering of Wes Wilson, underground comix of R. Crumb,.. I ate all of it up. I did a little stint at SCAD in Savannah but ended up not going to art school in the end which in a weird way I think helped me. Art school tended to burn out a bunch of folks I knew and by going to a regular school the opposite kinda happened to me. I was thirsty for it and after being stuck doing "computer art" for 4 years I realized I needed to get back to hand drawn illustration and it gave me a focus. When I realized I didn't need to do every kind of art and I chose my lane to get good at that was a game changer.
How did you then start working with rock bands and making “Gig Art?"
After college I moved to San Francisco in 2001 and started to immerse myself in the culture there. I was doing some crappy self-published comics and zines for a while but eventually just started contacting clubs seeing if I could do posters when bands I liked were coming in town and luckily a number of them put me in touch w/ the bands. Most of the time I had to sell them at the show and didn't make much or any money but it got me started. Those bands would hit me up when they came back around as would some new bands under their same management. At that time I was mostly doing large digital prints for about a year but when doing a gig for one of my favorite bands, Ween, they requested a screenprint and after saying "Suuuuure", I immediately had to figure out how to do that. I consider that 1st screenprint as my first real entry into "Gig Art". That was 120+ posters ago and luckily I have had the honor to do work for a slew of amazing bands and Festivals (The Grateful Dead, Foo Fighters, Neil Young, Erykah Badu, Widespread Panic, Soundgarden, etc..), including the SF Opera. Honestly, it kind of was a case of right time & right place. San Francisco has such a long history with concert posters that when I contacted bands, venues, promoters they understood what I was trying to do. If I had tried to get a start in another city it would have been a lot harder. Plus this was 15 years ago and gigposters were still kind of a niche market. Since then there has been a major craft /DIY boom including the resurgence of screen printing and rise in popularity of concert posters. This is good and bad as there are probably more resources out there on how to get started doing Gig Art making entry easier but there is more competition, making it harder to stick out.
Are there any differences in the way you approach a project with a huge band versus a MicroBrewery and now a Cannabis Company?
Not necessarily. What I like about these specific fields is unlike a lot of traditional illustration or packaging, there tends not to be a lot of restrictions or Art direction involved. The Artist most of the time has a lot of creative control and in my experience folks in the music, weed or beer field gravitate toward the weirder the better. Most of these companies contacted me because they really dug my posters and wanted something that looked like that for their product which means I didn't have to change my style or try to be something I am not. The craft beer & cannabis industry is much like the music industry in that with the rise of certain technologies you dont have to be a huge company to partake in it which has created a kind of punk / DIY ethos and led to some interesting individuality and creativity. Partner that with the fact packaging methods have gotten cheaper and it has all lead to some really unique art.
You just produced the first TRPS Fest in Atlanta - can you tell us a little history on that event and your new extension of it?
TRPS (The Rock Poster Society) is a group out of San Francisco who have been around for 20+ years and really are the heart and soul of the old school poster scene. They throw a big poster show every year in Golden Gate Park with a lot of the original 60's poster artists (Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, etc.) as well as a slew of new school Artists like myself. I've been doing that show since 2007 and even when I have moved away I try to make it back every year as they are some really special people. When my wife & I moved to Atlanta 2 years ago I was missing a poster community but knew there were a ton of folks (artists, fans, printers) in the South & on the East Coast looking for something like this but just didn't have anywhere to go. I spoke to TRPS about doing their 1st show outside of the Bay Area which they were into and along with some awesome folks in Atlanta got the ball rolling on TRPS ATL. We found a perfect venue and partner in the very 420-friendly Sweetwater Brewery and in Feb. 2020 we had our inaugural "Atlanta Rock Poster Show". By all accounts it was a big success and all signs point to it being an annual thing.
When we did our first collaboration with you - creating the absolutely iconic Sour Diesel Poster - we had a signing at the Harborside Dispensary in Oakland with the DeAngelo Brothers on hand and I recall that your Dad came and that was interesting moment in time for you personally - getting work with a “Weed Company” - did you break through the "marijuana stigma” with him?
Yeh... that was funny. My folks have always been super supportive of my choice to do art even at times when they probably shouldn't have, Ha. They would show up unannounced to shows I threw at weird underground art spaces or odd trippy gallery events and act like they didn't know me... "Wow, this piece is really cool. Who did this one?". As embarrassing as it was I knew it was all done wth love. When we did the Harborside show, I dont know how they found out about it but it was pre-legalization so they couldn't get in. I just remember one of the bouncers coming up to me saying, "Hey... I think your parents are here" and laughing as he let them in. It was a shock because they were pretty conservative and not exactly 420-friendly and when I was growing up but now I have this great image of my dad chatting with DeAngelo Brothers surrounded by jars of weed. Speaking to him afterwards I think it really was eye-opening and a great introduction for him into what the cannabis industry actually looked like and would it could do. Now they have friends that go to dispensaries for CBD oils or edibles and that stigma has all been normalized.
Are there any projects your excited about and how do we discover more our your art?
With gigposter work being pretty slow these days I have been excited to get back into doing art just for the fun of it & have been messing around with little animations and some larger scale pieces like paintings, woodwork, etc. Stuff I haven't done in forever which I am hoping will spark some new creativity and lead to some fun non-poster related projects in the future. In the mean time I will still have some new funky art prints coming out and hopefully when things start to quite down I can get back to planning the next TRPS ATL show. You can find my work at scrapedknee.com and up on my social media which I tend to update more....
Happy 420 all!!!