Los Angeles-based painter TRAV is showing a new collection of paintings in his exhibit, “Sign of the Times,” which opens this Saturday, June 24th, 2017, at The Seventh Letter Gallery in Los Angeles. Originally a graffiti artist from Visalia, California, TRAV remembers seeing the freeways in Los Angeles as he would run around with his Grandfather and uncle who used to transport vehicles between car dealerships for a living. His mom would send him to stay with his grandparents in L.A. where he could get his hands on graffiti magazines and explore the giant scene in the city. These events impacted his focus on graffiti and eventually led him back into the city to make art.
In this new body of artwork, TRAV discusses the way the changing marketplace has collided with the way we live and his own practice. —Trina Calderon
Trina Calderon: What’s the origin story behind “Sign of the Times” and how does this narrative add to your body of work?
TRAV: “Sign of the Times” can go a number of ways. Generally, it's my perspective on the shift from the industrial to the digital era. Brick and mortar businesses are slowly diminishing as technology moves forward. Physical stores can't compete with direct to consumer sales and online marketing, and it's changing the landscape.
You placed some of your paintings in exterior locations around the city, why? How does that tie into the themes you’re exploring?
The purpose was to tie them into the narrative by placing them where "AVAILABLE" or "FOR LEASE" real estate signs may be. I’m constantly noticing these signs littered around every city I go to. I started painting these words into the paintings, but didn't necessarily want the words to be so literal so they aren't always legible. This is just another way to tie them into the overall idea. It's fun to do, but super stressful for me to have my work out in public. I'm always relieved once we wrap it up.
You told me you’ve been consuming yourself with marketing podcasts and business videos on YouTube, completely obsessing over this shift in the world. How does it affect the artist and your work directly?
This shift affects everyone directly, in every market. Look at cabs and Uber, hotels and Air BNB, Barnes & Noble and Amazon… The list goes on and on. The idea behind the work is not some bitter approach at clinging on to the old ways, either. I'm only documenting what I see through my work. Actually, I really embrace the shift more than despise it, to be honest. How technology affects my work though is 100% positive, in the sense that there has never in the course of existence been a better time for the individual. Especially as an artist.
It also reinforces my decisions at young age to drop out of school and go all in in my craft. The more I search through my device and listen to leading people who have shaped the world and people that really make a difference in the world, the more I realize we have that in common. There has never been a plan B, that shit doesn't exist. And it's far from easy, but it doesn't feel like work because you love doing it. That's the only way you tolerate the failures; it allows you to grow and evolve. Technology has helped me tremendously because I've never been able to comprehend what I read, so I can listen to podcasts and videos and learn a great deal while I make my work. I'm very grateful for technology in that aspect.
How do you balance your own relationship to technology?
As much as I embrace it overall, like anything, there are two sides. Personally, coming from graffiti, there's a side that dislikes how technology turned graffiti more mainstream from an underground subculture. There are times I feel very fortunate that I started in graffiti when I did. I feel the window of time was closing around the late 90's - early 2000's for graffiti writers to come up "correctly." The Internet makes it a little easier, and it's almost become something else completely. Other than that, I'm not mad at it at all. Like I said, I really do embrace it.
In some of the paintings in this show, it feels like you’re reminding us of the personal connection that comes with quality craftsmanship while its experiencing this rejection by modern technological progress. I see eyes and frowns giving an emotional context, why did you choose to use expressions as symbols for this story?
I wanted the overall composition to have some emotion that represented how business owners might have felt as their ship really started sinking. I wanted it to feel emotional as well as tie blame to technology so I would draw the faces digitally on a tablet, and superimpose them onto the composition the way that feels or looks the best. I try to not look at what I'm doing when I do this part of the painting, I try to think of something upsetting and just jot down these scribbly sad faces. These paintings are a lot of fun to create, and I'm really excited about where I will take it next. The idea of pushing the narrative is really exciting to me.
Your work always features an exceptional use of color, how did you approach your palate for this exhibit?
I like to be very minimal in the colors I use, but I also like a wide range of the color. To help drive the narrative I really wanted to use these muted down grayish blues because it pulls from both ends of the narrative. People associate blue with sadness, but also blue is chosen by top websites like Facebook, PayPal, and even My Space in its day, because blue builds trust.
You started painting graffiti in your teens, when and why did you transition to painting on canvas?
I've always admired the idea of making art, but knowing I came from graffiti and had a very clear understanding that graffiti looks terrible on canvas, I never wanted to force the transition. In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Detroit to help my friend Revok out in the studio as he was preparing for a show he had a few months later.
When I got there one of the tasks I eventually was doing was painting these faux signs with 1shot that said basically any outlandish saying that we could come up with in the moment. The signs were to be later chopped into pieces and some of those pieces would make it into his wood assemblages. It was a ton of fun, and at the time I was very inexperienced with a paintbrush and this allowed me to learn with no fear of failing. He gave me a ton of pointers that have remained with me ‘til this day. It was an awesome experience and one month turned into most of 2013. I really got to see things from a whole different perspective from that point on, and I'm extremely grateful for that experience to say the least. One thing that stuck out from that experience was the more I looked into sign painting, the more I found out about it being pushed out by vinyl stickers and graphic designers. That's really where this idea started for me.
TRAV's “Sign of the Times,” which opens this Saturday, June 24th, 2017, at The Seventh Letter Gallery in Los Angeles