Interview with illustrator Adam Valmassoi
Section 1: YOU + SEATTLE =
How long have you been living in Seattle, and why?
Hello Miss Dent, very lovely to have this chance to speak with you about myself, it's truly my favorite subject and perhaps the only subject I ever speak on, so aren't you in luck?
I moved to this wonderful city almost three years ago now. Our anniversary falls right on Valentine's Day actually, so while all the lovers are out walking about holding each other in death grips I quite enjoy grabbing myself some roses, taking them down to the waterfront and spending some time thanking my gods for this amazing city. Originally I am from Detroit, a place that is darkness to Seattle's light (except maybe rent prices) and I was very thankfully rescued by a small startup company who found me online and moved me out here. For a year and a half I worked this job, and the WHY of it was the job, leaving little time for me to find what Seattle had to offer.
After leaving however I started working freelance which really freed up my schedule, or at least made it malleable enough that I had the opportunity to become a part of the city, take part in what it had to offer and spend some daytime walking the streets as opposed to staying crammed in an office. The WHY of it now is much deeper, as I have since fallen in love with the city itself. Before landing here I could not imagine a place so full of intelligent, open minded, socially aware individuals. I've really never felt so accepted in my life. Constantly I'm meeting amazing people at random, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, and in general people who have not let go of their passions and their thirst for LIVING. Regularly I fall into political discussions with complete strangers, meet new art colleagues and not once have I felt looked down upon for my interests or aspirations. This is quite the contrast from Detroit, where you're considered a 'faggot' if you dress nice (excuse me) and if you have one bit of criticism to offer against President Obama you're a radical lunatic. It's crazy how elsewhere you can be made to feel like a good wardrobe and a head on your shoulders makes you the odd one out. So, needless to say, this place has quickly become home to me and reinstilled my hope in humanity at large, two beautiful reasons why now I choose to stay here.
Recently I heard a bit of information I thought was absolutely dead on but probably not in any way based on reality, and that is Seattle is 30 years ahead of the rest of the nation in general social awareness and acceptance. How that could ever be measured tangibly I cannot imagine, still I found it very interesting to hear, and was very proud of this place when I heard it. Living here one really does get a sense that everyone is just so much more at peace with themselves.
What’s your favorite local dive bar, and what’s one of your favorites memories of being there?
Easily my favorite bar is Dexter & Hayes, a tiny little multi-level spot near Westlake which as far as I can tell never has anyone in it. They've got a wonderful basement with a pool table I have never once had to wait to play on, some great bar food and the feeling like you're the only person who knows about the place. Since all of my memories of Dexter & Hayes are just really relaxing good nights of pitchers and pool, I'm going to defer to my second choice to provide you with a memory more worth mentioning. That is the beautiful bar-in-an-alley, Bathtub Gin.
The one and only time in my life I've ever been kicked out of a bar happened at that ultra-classy cocktail speakeasy. Skipping over the logistics, I found myself being pulled out of the bar by the bouncer and gently guided into the alley. They were really truly nice about it at first, but my drunken protests quickly escalated the situation to the point where the bouncer felt it necessary to break a wine bottle on the alley wall bar-fight-style and proceed to chase my colleagues and I out of the vicinity. It was easily one of the more frightening yet simultaneously hilarious experiences I've had out drinking. (I don't drink too often obviously.) They're so truly nice there though the next time I went in they were all laughs and apologies and they took me back in their loving arms. Folks, if you go to Bathtub Gin, sit down and behave! Rowdy behavior is for Copper Cart or bars of the sort.
If you could commit one crime in Seattle and get away with it, what would it be?
Well this one is quite quick and easy, and already has happened plenty of times though I would jump at the chance to do it again. That is, construction crane climbing. Seriously, those giant works of machinery are so tantalizing when you're making your drunk way home after 2 in the morning that you just can't say no, and for some reason there is never anyone around to talk some sense into you or just flat out say no.
Section 2: WHAT YOU CREATE
How would you describe your passion in ten words or less?
It's really good that you limited the words here, best keep me from the novella responses. I'd say 'Pure, unadulterated expression of my emotions and interests,' or, if you were looking for something a little more descriptive to hint at WHAT I do, 'line drawing mindfucks of politics, theology, existentialism, and philosophy.'
When did you realize you had to do this?
Honestly, like most artists, I've always had a pen in my hand from as far back as I can remember. I am very fortunate I believe, knowing so surely from the beginning what it was I had to do. Truly there were times when I tried to turn away, either in frustration or because everyone in the fucking world feels the need to tell you artists amount to nothing. The dissuasion was only ever temporary and like a magnet I always snapped back. I even tried to pull a fast one, and channel my skills into a form that could land me a decent office job. That came back to hit me in the face pretty hard though, teaching me very quickly that I am completely under the control of my art which more and more every day feels like expression of something beyond me, through me. I have become a vessel for my art. It's only in the last year, when I've surrendered control that my personal work has completely taken off and I'm really enjoying where it's headed.
Do you consider your art-making a spiritual activity?
Yes, absolutely. More spiritual than anything I have ever experienced in this world save a few very powerful psychedelic substances. My manner of work is such that I'm really not in control of what comes out of me at all. I sit down and just start drawing lines, lines become forms, forms become subjects and it just keeps going until I'm done. Any time I try to consciously control the piece I'm working on I mess everything up, so I really have to just release control and allow it to happen. Sometimes it's really quite eery even for me. Making a piece will feel less like making art and more like observing my body drawing independent from decision. Luckily I still get some say in the whole ordeal, in what I choose to read and take an active interest in during my time away from the drawing board. Time and time again I completely surprise myself while drawing when some new form or idea pops up I couldn't have dreamed of during my off time, I'm constantly drawing new subjects and new ideas. I like to relate the manner of drawing to automatic writing, which became very popular during the Surrealist movement. There's really no other way for me to explain what I do than to call it a 'spiritual activity.' It is surrendering my body to the will of my spirit.
Describe one specific moment when making art changed the rest of your life.
Besides that time my mommy hung my picture up on the fridge? This is actually quite a difficult question because art has always been the catalyst for change in my life, always been my guide. For the sake of giving an answer though, I suppose the fact that it provided me the opportunity to leave my hometown and move to this amazing city has been, SO FAR, the greatest most significant change in my life. Since coming here my world has completely transformed, so much that I find it hard to look back at how I once was and relate in any way to my manner of thinking and behaving. For that I am eternally grateful.
Section 3: SUFFER FOR ART
How do you balance making art and making money?
I have finally reached a point in my life where this question no longer applies. I have very thankfully been able to support myself on my creative abilities alone, though when in need of money I sometimes have to create work I am uninterested in, and that I struggle with. I do freelance projects for a few companies, and make sure that every second I'm not working on that I'm right back into my personal work. There's a struggle in itself associated with doing work you really aren't deeply connected with for sure though, a price to pay. I believe that we all have a set amount of creative energy we can use daily so that after a certain point it really gets very difficult to continue on. After spending 8 hours straight working on someone else's vision it becomes very difficult to have any drive to pick up something else and begin working on it. This was a major frustration I felt while working creatively in an office setting. By the time I left the office at 5pm I was completely burnt out and the last thing I wanted to do was draw more. That really got to me, drove me to the point where I no option but to quit to save my sanity and so I did. Again I can't stress how thankful I am for the fact that everything has worked out for me since, I really went out on a limb for the sake of my art.
What do you think when I say the term “art school”?
I think about getting calls from debt collectors at 5am and being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars which at the moment I do not have. I will get there though. Art school was the single most frustrating period of my entire life. I've never felt so imprisoned, so caged in and deterred from everything I wanted ever. And I paid to do it! HAH. Listen, in my entire experience at one of the finer art schools in the country I only had a handful of teachers that were able to offer anything to me. Art is not something someone should go to school for, really. The internet is a great thing, and at this point you can learn more information faster online that you ever could fighting for the attention of a teacher with 30 other students. YouTube and Google taught me more over the course of my college career than all of my teachers combined. That, and working side by side with my colleagues. The truth about art, is that it is a practice, not something that can be taught. It's muscle memory not data floating in your head. Liken this to a sport, maybe snowboarding. You can take snowboarding instruction classes, and to some extent it may really help, but that help diminishes very quickly and one realizes that the only way to get good at snowboarding is to go out and do it. Practice practice practice, that's all it takes. If you could avoid all the ridiculous unnecessary classes, and the massive amount of debt associated with an art school why wouldn't you?
I constantly felt during my time in school that I was just paying someone to tell me to sit down and draw, all day every day. That, and I was buying the time in loans so that I didn't have to keep a day job while trying to work 12 hours a day on classwork. Art school is disappointing, like high school was disappointing. It's cookie cutter bullshit through and through. If you want to be an artist, learn self discipline and save yourself years of debt and the unlikely chance of ever getting employed. When it comes to employment all that matters is your portfolio, I doubt a company will ever check if you actually went to college or not. If you've got a good portfolio, you're going to get a job regardless of whether or not you have a degree. I have several friends who work professionally in video game concept design, one of the most lucrative creative industries and one requiring the highest skill sets from their workers and they were all self-taught. Discipline yourself, be honest with yourself, and draw all day every single day of your life. That's what it takes. Seriously, no one can tell you how to be an artist, artists are supposed to be individuals. Get it?
What is your definition of “success”?
Being able to face yourself in the mirror every morning. Not compromising and never letting your passions fall away from you. Finding yourself within yourself, that is success. If you do that, those other things associated with success like money and happiness WILL follow.
Section 4: GOSSIP
If someone had to be under the influence of a substance while taking in your art, what would you recommend it should be? What should it definitely NOT be?
Honestly I don't think there's a drug on the planet that would not go well with my work, except maybe those substances that take one so far away from this plane of reality they really couldn't even look at the work in the first place. As for what I might recommend, I can say that I'm stoned as often as I'm not while drawing, and many of the mental breakthroughs I achieved in my work were most definitely inspired by psychedelic substances. I prefer mushrooms, LSD, DMT, these drugs which really destroy the ego for a moment and take an individual outside of themselves. I've never really looked at my work while under the influence of such things however, I tend to prefer nature in those moments.
When is your next show/exhibit/performance/gig?
We've got some time on that, I believe it is March 6th. I'm sure to have some shows during the interim between now and then, but that's the only one I've got written in stone at the moment.
The show is called Ex Libris, curated by another Seattle artist Siolo Thompson and it's going to be a part of the Writers and Publishers Conference, one of the largest literary conventions in the nation. I am one of 100 artists which were chosen to Illustrate a piece based on a book of our own choosing. My choice for the piece was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Expect to see my own personal interpretation on the evolution of man from jungle dweller to modern man to my interpretation of man as we begin to join seamlessly with technology and ascend to the realm of the gods. It's going to be really freaking awesome, especially since I have so much time to put the piece together.
Who should I interview next?
Seattle has a wonderful group of extremely talented artists in its midst, I might recommend names like Chris Sheridan, Redd Walitzki, Siolo Thompson or Joe Vollan. Our mutual friend Matthew Lewis is amazingly talented, though he's run off to Ireland. And I would of course recommend my girlfriend, Michelle Anderst, who is endlessly talented as well. That's all I've got at this point, I AM BURNED OUT. No more words.
Thanks for all your thought-provoking insight, Adam!