Interview: Michael "Monstrinho" Amorillo
Tue, 19 Nov 2013 10:07:39
Michael "Monstrinho" Amorillo captures a whimsical rhythm in his artwork. The San Diego-based and New York-born artist launches his 68 Inches Above Sea Level exhibit Thursday November 21 at the Wooster Street Social Club, and there's an inherent motion to each piece. Threading together a narrative of Monstro and The Kelp Kids, Amorillo's pieces utilize color and texture to conjure childlike wonder with various "characters". These creatures live and breathe in each piece, and the exhibit serves as the perfect introduction to one of the most creative artists working today. You'll feel like a kid again...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Michael "Monstrinho" Amorillo discusses 68 Inches Above Sea Level, his characters, how music influences him, and so much more.
He also continues to give back to kids in need at the Miami Children's Hospital, using heart for healing. Check out his charity work here!
For tickets to the exhibit click here!
Watch a video below!
Your style is both endearing and intricate. The monsters are extremely dynamic.
Thank you! It's part of a creative world I've been working on for a long period of time. I'm from New York, and I started there. I was heavily influenced by street art. At that time in the earlier nineties, it wasn't as much of a movement as we're seeing now in the public space with characters. It was more letters. I liked to draw, but it all started with a love for that. I really loved characters because I was always into Sesame Street, cartoons, and comic books. Throughout the period of time I've been drawing and painting, I was adding a story to everything. As time went on, the technique developed. I learned to use different textures and practiced with various mediums. I tried to make everything look a bit like fabric. The newer body of work I've been working on is loose style, but it's calculated loose style. It's similar to what you see in the streets with the hand style in graffiti. How I work now is I use wash, spray paint, India Ink, pencil, and micron. I find from the repetition of doing it multiple times and layering it, it has a loose style, but yet it's very detailed because I like to do detail work. I want people to experience that. I want them to feel positive almost as if they were children again. It's similar to what I feel when I look at a Dr. Seuss book or a Keith Haring work. I feel positive, I feel energy, and I feel good movement and flow. I try to encapsulate all of these inspirations and put them into my body of work. I'm heavily influenced by the ocean and by what we see in the street. It's a good combination of the environment in which I live, San Diego, CA near the ocean, and also paying homage to the artists who have paid their dues in working on the street medium and interacting with the public. I find it extraordinary. It's my passion. I love it.
What's the story for 68 Inches Above Sea Level?
The reason I named the show 68 Inches Above Sea Level is I wanted to integrate a component of the ocean into the city. I came up with that line because I listen to quite a bit of classic New York hip-hop as well as other music. I'm a bit stuck in the nineties though [Laughs]. There's a classic line from Lady Bug Mecca of Digable Planets. She says, "68 inches above sea level". I heard that and thought, "Instead of integrating my name, I want to integrate a line from a timeless New York song and see if people can recognize it". I wanted them to think about it. That's why I chose that line. The body of work is relevant to a children's book I've written. It's called Monstro and the Kelp Kids. It's about a sea monster named Monstro, who is basically my alter ego. He cannot swim. He's a part of a community that tells him he won't be able to explore his personal dream of exploring the world and being able to swim. He's lucky enough to come in contact with a group of kids from around the world. They're not necessarily human children as you'll see in the show. They're a different group of characters from all over the world who believe in diversity, acceptance, and the concept of being a family. Those are the Kelp Kids. I came up with the idea because I surf all the time, and there's a beautiful kelp bed near where I surf. Every I time I'm in the water, I feel rejuvenated and as if I'm a child. The ocean is like that for a lot of people. So, I thought we should call them, "The Kelp Kids". I want everyone to feel happy or love when they look at my work. The story is about The Kelp Kids. In this body of work, there are a lot of portrait-type paintings. I wanted to focus on, not only the vibrancy and color orientated around one individual, but also give them a bold statement. When someone looks at the character, it's almost like looking at themselves. That's how the story is written as well. Each character is described as a member of your own family or a friend—or even within yourself.
How would you describe the characters?
Monstro is very big, large, and unassuming, but he's extremely empathetic. It's almost like the individual you see on the train in the city or on the bus in the subway, and people draw assumptions based on first look. I wanted a character who wasn't ugly but big and awkward. At the same time, he has a beautiful old soul feeling. Little King is vanity. Olivia the Octopus is like the female energy that often binds a group together. Luis is the cultured individual. Instead of talking, he sings when he speaks. It's like going to an opera for the first time as a kid. That's the cast. They all have unique personalities. The personality comes out not only in the story but in the color palette I like to use in each one. There's a color explosion around each character. To me, that symbolizes aura. I believe in aura and energy given off by people. I try to use that. In a lot of the characters, there's a weird symbol on their foreheads. I try to use that as a third eye or self-awareness. It's a symbol for anybody looking at my work to take the time to reflect on themselves and identify what they're looking at.
It also feels quite personal.
There are sea wolves. Then, there's the moon. The moon interacts with the whale. I like to make everything symbolic to things that have happened in my life and people I meet. I try to reflect. It's almost like a visual meditation. That's what it feels like. I feel a lot of joy when I create these things. My goal is for everyone to feel happiness when they look at my work.
How much of the art is improvised and how much is planned out?
It's a combination of both. If you look at my older works on the public wall space, they're very technical and line-oriented. They're super illustrative. I found I didn't have as much fun with that. I just enjoyed the colors. When I go to the canvas or the paper, I like to play with the color. Sometimes, you'll look up at the clouds as a kid and think, "That cloud could be a giant elephant or a giant turtle". When I'm creating a new character, I find they come via the color and landscape. As I'm going, I create an inner dialogue. It's an improvised poetry that goes along with the painting.
What else do you listen to?
I'm a hybrid. I listen to a lot of classic hip-hop from the nineties, and I like to listen to a lot of older classic rock like Led Zeppelin and things of that nature. Then, I'll listen to punk something like Minor Threat or a new band from New York, Japanther. I'm a huge fan of theirs. Music like that will inspire me. I need to listen to music while I paint. Otherwise, I can't paint [Laughs]. It's fun!
Will you be checking out the exhibit?