Not being as hip to the local art scene as I would like to be, I have followed the work of artists who have the ability to speak volumes outside the intimidating settings of your traditional art gallery. I first met Bryan Odiamar aka Peabe (a surname he adopted through his love for peanut butter) three years ago while spinning at the Elbo Room, and I was immediately drawn to his unconventional take on character representation. Whether it's walking down the street or riding the L, Peabe has managed to display the beauty that surrounds urban life, and show how oblivious we all can be while it fades into the background of our day-to-day grind (an idea expressed in the vacant eyes of his characters). Looking at his work is the same as peering into a comic-book interpretation of someone about to undergo a life-changing experience. It's transformation on canvas, but done in a way that's not nearly as serious as I'm making it seem. To clarify the matter Centerstage caught up with Peabe for a brief 101 on how things got started for him and his take on the current artistic trends.
How long have you been painting?
Been painting on and off since high school. Didn't really get focused until about 4 or 5 years ago. My grandfather was an artist and as a kid drawing time was the fun time. I'd have to get all my homework done and then I'd get to sketch with my lolo [grandfather]. Been drawing since I can remember.
Where there any mentors along the way?
Definitely my grandfather was a big influence on me as a kid. I mean, he got me into drawing and art so he was huge. Other than that, no real mentors.
Did you ever get into traditional graffiti?
Yeah but I fuckin' sucked. I used to write with a couple crews back in the day, but I only did throw-ups and fill-ins. I was, still kinda am, garbagio with a can.
I'm wondering if you can clarify the relationship that modern-day urban art has with the traditional train tagging styles of yesteryear.
There's definitely an influence. I mean I did graff 'cause I never thought characters were a cool thing to do on a wall. Then I quit graff and stuck to canvas. Even then I thought doing characters on canvas was weird but I said whatever and took a stab at it. The color, lines, flow, imagery is an influence and I wanna say it's vice versa now. With any art the main purpose, in my eyes, is to evolve and I get upset when I see an artist I dig becoming complacent with their style and not evolving. I think that's what differentiates the old with the new. Old-school artists not evolving, but making bank off their style from the past, that is just...blah.
Do you have a personal philosophy with your art?
I think it's more of an organic process. I sometimes have a loose idea of what I want to feel from the piece, but I can never definitively sketch what I'm going to do. That's why I have a hard time with commission pieces. People always want to know what they're paying for, but I try to make everything come out of the moment. Luckily people have dug what I've done, but I think it's pretty nerve-wracking for them until it's done and they see it.
Do you see your art as part of any particular type of movement?
So many weird names for it. Pop surrealism. Low brow. Character art. Post pop. I like new brow. There are so many influences in this movement, it's so hard to pinpoint one, so why not just name it something new?
Why the vacant eyes on your characters?
My characters were originally influenced by riding the L every day from when I was 13 until I moved last August. Everyone generally looks sad/empty on the way to and from work. You even see the same people once you get into a routine. It always upset me because there was always such beautiful scenery all around. I used to love staring out the train throughout the '90s, and look out for new pieces on the walls. The CTA competitions were awesome. I always wondered how people could be so melancholy when there's all this beautiful scenery flying past them. So the vacant eyes came from watching people staring out aimlessly while all this beauty flew by. Almost like they were hollow, and in the stage right before they discovered the colors surrounding them.
Now I know you relocated, but I can tell your heart is still in Chicago. Where do you remember finding sources of inspiration?
Dude, everywhere. The lake, my old neighborhood growing up, the neighborhoods I lived in, my family, my friends, the artists there, the people, the haters, the L-I miss everything about Chicago. I always have random details from back home pop in my head to make me miss it all the more. I used to love when I was on the L and it would rain. It would be dark outside while the inside would be lit. Outside looked gloomy, but you still felt good. The rain beading on the glass, looking at buildings with graff whizz by with the reflection of the passengers looking like they're flying through the air. Lightning striking in the background illuminating the rooftops of the buildings close to it. The smell of rain in the city. I still know how Chicago feels, if that makes sense. I feel it right now as I type this and it makes me miss home so bad.