Born in the Philippines, raised in California and now based in Chicago. Angelo is an editorial and commercial illustrator, originally from the restaurant industry, made the leap to the illustration world. He creates organic and gestural life drawings that portrays the movement and characteristics of his subjects. He characters exist in a world of colourful lines, textures and shapes.
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- 2021 | American Illustration 40 Selected Winner
Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
I always drew as a kid, I would win the school art fairs in elementary school, always carried a sketchbook in high school, kind of took it seriously in college but slept through too many art history classes. Then I got a job waiting tables, spent many years learning many roles in the restaurant industry making a living doing that but having art in my back pocket. A few years ago, I took a trip to Rotterdam with my husband for a holiday, and we stayed with two of his best friends, and now two of my favorite people, Phil Proctor who is a furniture and product designer and his partner Rachel Sender who is a ceramicist and an illustrator. Staying in their home, I got a glimpse of this life existing in this space that was a product of these two artists, doing what they love to do and creating, inspiring each other and the community of other artists around them and that was just their life. They were just doing it. This thing that was a fantasy in my back pocket and It made me think of what was possible.
Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
I think my dad. It’s kind of funny and heavy at the same time now that I’m looking back at it. He had a hand drawn sketch of Jesus Christ held in a plastic sheet pinned up in their bedroom, in the house where we first lived in the Philippines. He liked to draw back then, not sure about now. I remember him with portrait sketches using pencil just as a hobby on the weekends. He taught me how to sharpen my pencil with a knife which at the time blew my mind. That’s what started it all. A piece of paper and a pencil then became my space. Then onto early influences, primarily from the cartoons and books I found interesting like Sailor Moon, Archie Comics, Hey Arnold, the X-Men series. I loved drawing characters. I was always intrigued by them, how they can stand alone and together with other characters, how their clothing says so much about them or the way they stood. I would just draw characters, all in a line, pages and pages of it.
Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
I remember it was a drawing of the Power Rangers. I don’t have it anymore but its quite vivid in my memory. Our house in the Philippines was very interesting. There was a wall that divided the dining room/ kitchen area and the living room where our TV was. In the middle of that wall was a framed glass window that you can see through but couldn’t open. So when I had to eat in the dining room table, I would sit on my knees so I can would watch TV through the glass but without hearing the audio. And I have this memory of me eating a plate of rice with sliced hot dogs and ketchup, next to my paper and crayons, drawing these triangular figures, with circle heads and stick arms, holding hands that were the Power Rangers.
Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
I’m a very emotive person, I’m attracted to feelings whether good or bad that a person carries. How this emotion is expressed through the way person appears, moves, and exist in their environment I find very interesting. I think the source of ideas is mainly from observation, partly what I’m currently looking at and how it connects to something that I’ve looked at in the past. And using the two to understand the emotions that there is to understand, is the impulse that leads me to drawing whatever that is.
How would you describe the process of creating art?
My process is a bit hectic. My best analogy is borrowed from my years of being a restaurant manager. I used to work at a very busy brunch spot. Saturday morning, the restaurant is ready with empty tables and chairs, minutes before we open, a line of guests awaits and when the door opens right at 9:00 am, they rush in filling up every single space. My job is to make sure everyone is seated and every table filled at a timely manner. That is about ten minutes of high adrenaline chaotic blur. Then I take a step back and look at the livery lively scene of people settling into the spaces we’ve put them in. I will then make rounds throughout the floor, making sure that all is in order, that there is a spoon with a coffee, every child with a set of crayons, enough napkins for the table, smiles from everyone. So into my process, the concept, the idea of what I want to create is I think that line of customers. Doors opening is when pick up my pen. The restaurant is my paper, the rush of people are ideas forming into lines and shapes, and after a chaotic blur of sketching, I step back, then I make my rounds that assuring that every line is it’s place, every color choice makes sense, every shape is seated.
Do you have a favourite artist? What is it about that artist’s work you like?
I’m inspired by very many artists, too many to have a favourite. The emotions of Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, Egon Schiele, the poise of Tamara De Lempicka, the spirit of Hockney, the lines of Peggy Bacon, the figures of Yannis Tsarouchis, the movements of Rene Grau, the shapes of Paul Iribe, the stories of Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, the edges of Ezra Jack Keats, the hope in such important work by Amy Sherald, Jordan Casteel and Kadir Nelson, the color play of John Baldessari, expressions caught by Peter Hujar. The pride in colors and textures of Pacita Abad.
Do you have a favourite artist supply, a favourite method, or favourite location, where you like to create artwork?
Favorite artist supply store was this shop actually called “The Artist Supply Store.” Its closed now but I used to live a few steps from it when I first moved to Chicago. It was the most unorganized, discombobulated maze made out of aisles and colors. The thrift store of all art stores. I absolutely loved everything about it. My favorite method is loose sketches with graphite pencil or a Pilot ink pen. Favourite location, a busy cafe, a crowded library, a park where all the benches are taken, the train, basically anywhere with people in it moving about their lives.
If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
I found my voice in art quite recently. When the pandemic started, I was laid off from the restaurant I was working in which was stressful but in retrospect it’s exactly what I needed to start my journey in illustration. During this time, I found myself missing the lively setting of a busy restaurant, so I was back to drawing a lot characters, a lot of faces referenced from regulars and customers that I think took space in my brain and maybe it was my way of filtering through that. At the same time, I was very emotional from the murder of George Floyd and the number of heartbreaking stories of all the victims of police injustice. For months, I drew the faces of all these victims and learned their stories. My husband and I participated the protest in the city and it filled me with inspiration that so many people, from different backgrounds were standing together. I was also very inspired by Jane Elliot’s work and her viewpoint of how there is only one race, the human race which I think depicted this gray palette that I now use for every face I draw, surrounded by colorful lines, shapes and textures that creates their clothes, their personalities, their environment all very loosely, which brings the focus to the faces of the people, as it should generally in life, I think. And as for the color choices, I just like more muted, introverted colors. I think that’s maybe my personality. Why I love a gloomy day in fall or winter, the colors are less saturated which probably also explains why I left the vivid and loud colors of California for the cold and softer colors of Chicago.
Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
It matters to me because its the best way, if not the only way, that I can properly communicate my story. I think it matters to the world because as humans we want to understand but sometimes we just need the stories to be said in different ways and some stories to be given the chance to be said.
Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
I think we live in a very visual world, more so now with social media and daily interaction with screens. I think we kind of depend on visuals and images, maybe even need it without realizing but hopefully this will make us more selective of what we look at and stop and think and find ourselves in it, or others in it or acknowledge it we can’t. So an illustration, or any piece of visual art, should exist for a reason, for a purpose, to help someone understand, or to help someone remember, or make someone laugh, cry or angry, to inspire, to change, to represent, to diversify and to include. Vision is what’s needed for change, so if that’s making the public aware, one illustration at a time, that’s what we shall do.
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