Travis Louie always has something up his sleeve. His imagination is home to an entire community of monsters, and Louie is privy to all their complicated relationships and other personal business. By observing and collecting the curious histories of these individuals, Travis weaves a narrative through each painting that extends far beyond what meets the eye.
This magician will never share his secrets, but we did manage to get a few answers out of him. Read on to find out how his kids add to character development, why he collects the discarded memories of others, and what he wants for Christmas.
What kinds of things did you draw as a kid?
I drew monsters of course, but I managed to draw some unusual things as a kid. I remember drawing Kolchak: the Nightstalker and scenes from the opening credits from Hawaii-Five-O for my grade school art teacher.
What artists inspired you to begin painting yourself?
Originally, it was the painted magazine covers for Eerie, Creepy, and Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. The local newspaper/coffee shop on College Point Blvd in Flushing, Queens always had a well-stocked magazine section with comics and the fantasy/horror/sci-fi zines. Artists like Basil Gogos, Frank Frazetta, Norman Rockwell, NC Wyeth, and James Bama were early inspirations.
If you could choose to receive any painting in the world as a Christmas present, which would it be?
I don’t know where I’d put it, but I often think about Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa.”
What was the best New York moment you experienced this week?
Dinner with Fred Harper.
When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt?
Laughter . . .what’s that? I’m so serious, my shoes hurt.
When did you begin painting strictly in black and white?
About six years ago. That will change back to color at some point.
If you could relate your art to one film, which would it be?
That’s a tough question, in that I’ve been influenced by many films over the years. I’d be like Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly, but I would have to say it’s a toss up between Pan’s Labyrinth and Nosferatu.
Would you ever consider publishing your journal of ideas and stories?
At some point when I feel like revealing most of my secrets- of course we never reveal all of our secrets. That’s the ultimate trick of the magician. I liken myself and the rest of my artist brothers and sisters as magicians with very special skill sets that involve “tricks of the light.”
Are any of your monsters’ physical characteristics inspired by people that you know?
Yes, they are for sure. But never in a malicious way. Aspects of different people’s personalities that I’ve come across over the years have manifested themselves in my works. There is also a lot of myself.
Where do you go to collect time pieces, 19th century antiques, and other trinkets?
Antique shops and such are places for me to collect other people’s discarded memories.
Many of your characters are obvious misfits, but some appear to be almost normal. When you create characters that lack physical “monster qualities,” is there an insinuated monster within?
Only in a few of the paintings. The characters that appear most normal have still been affected by unusual circumstances.
There is a nuptial theme to your new show, “Lifetime Companions.” What inspired this concept?
Actually the Nuptial Theme is kind of misleading. The characters in this series of paintings are more like lifetime companions; only a few of them are “married.” The theme came from the idea of how people come into our lives- not necessarily lovers or kidnappers with plans to take us on roadtrips, bound and gagged in the trunk of a Lincoln- but rather people that we meet who are a catalyst for a transformative experience in our lives.
In your paintings, how do you achieve such a vintage, graphite-like quality with acrylic paint?
The application of the paint comes from my training as a photo retoucher. In the old days we worked on matte prints and I had to match the grain of the photograph. We used very tiny brushes or very large ones to pull the tone across the surface in a gradual way. Mostly transparently, until I make a mistake.
How many hours do you spend on the hair in any given painting?
It depends on the size and amount of details; could be a week to a month. Some of that time is spent brooding over what steps to take on a piece. For instance, the painting of “Henry with his one flat surface and his favorite spider Herbert” took a month even though it is only 16×20in.
Do you ever draw or paint non-figurative subject matter?
I used to do watercolor landscapes plein air. But that was when I was in school.
Do your kids ever give you ideas for characters?
Actually, my daughter has come up with a few ideas, she’s very proud of that. The daughter of one of my closest friends came up with the “Tangle-Fairy.”
Be sure to stop by this Saturday, December 12th from 7-11pm to experience Travis Louie’s Lifetime Companionsin the flesh.