ONE OF THE “PROBLEMS” of being consumers of art is that we sometimes appreciate the final product without remembering to take into account the creative process that births it. We stand in awe of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, but do we remember, when witnessing it, that the artist dedicated four entire years of his life to bringing that masterpiece into existence? Probably not, because we’re too busy drinking in its sublime beauty. The same can probably be said for artists themselves. After they’ve reached a certain status, it somehow seems like they’ve always preternaturally been the geniuses the rest of the world recognizes them to be. Except, like their art, artists develop and mature. After all, before he was painting God on chapel ceilings, Michelangelo was taking commissions for snowmen (true story).
This past week, I got a little insight into the creative process that brings both artists and their art into being by interviewing local artist and designer Carlitos Velasquez — or Curly-V, as he is better known. Hailed just last year by H&M as one of Los Angeles’ rising designers, Curly-V trained at LA’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and then earned his chops working under noted designer Jeremy Scott and photographer David LaChapelle. Under their tutelage, their young protégé quickly developed a reputation for innovative designs when it came to women’s clothing; nothing pushes the envelope more than revamping a classic pattern like houndstooth by making the broken checks actual, individually-drawn human teeth. While his passion for design is as strong as ever, the past year or so, Curly-V has branched out from designing women’s clothing by signing on to collaborate with Interscope Records. The project he’s devoted most of his time and energy to since is directing the music video for LA-based alt-rock/pop band BLEAUX’s single “All Messed Up,” which was released last week.
The results of this collaboration are impressive; the music video, comprised of 2000 photographs animated to the beat of the catchy single, definitely showcases Curly-V’s strengths as an artist, in terms of both the actual artwork featured in the video and the concepts he envisions. I was able to ask him a few questions about working on the project, the creative process he goes through and his aesthetics as an artist.
What was it like collaborating with artists who probably had their own aesthetic visions in terms of the direction the music video would take?
CV: It’s always an odd thing for me, because people come in wanting what they want, of course. At the same time, if you hire me, and you know my artwork, and you know my aesthetic, what you see is what you get. I don’t usually draw Gothic things- I draw smiley faces on everything, I put hearts on everything. So if you’re coming to collaborate with me on something darker, sure, I can do it- but I already have my own aesthetic. It’s kind of like a tug-of-war at some points, because I envision something while they’re thinking of something else. With this video in particular they gave me a lot of creative liberty; there was definitely a lot of back-and-forth on ideas and lots of meetings, but for the most part it was just “do your thing.”
So what we see in the video — that’s your vision?
CV: Definitely. What happens is that, in video, most producers like what they call a “treatment,” where we let them know what’s going to happen at each point in the video. As far as my creative process goes though, I think of it as a faucet and I just turn it on, and whatever flows through flows through, but I can’t predict what’ll come. Had you asked me in the first meeting if I was going to include donuts in it, I would have said “Uh, I don’t know.” But when it came down to it, I said “I feel like I’m gonna draw some donuts. And then I’m gonna draw some ants, and then I’m gonna draw this and then this” and so on. And then I would begin to test myself: Can I include leopards running? That’s gonna be extra work, but can I do it? And the answer was “F**k yeah, I’m not gonna not be meticulous.” And it ended up that the five frames for each leopard made for a much smoother transition overall in that particular segment.
The detail that went in to creating each of those frames must have demanded a lot of attention and work. Did you find that the process for creating this video differed from your past experiences designing clothing for the female body?
CV: I don’t think it was very different because, first and foremost, before I’m a designer, before I’m anything, I consider myself an artist. Even though I feel like it’s almost a faux pas to call yourself an artist, because who doesn’t call themselves an artist these days? As an artist or designer, you should be able to design a doorknob, or a cell phone, or anything, but with your own unique twist on it. That’s your job. So for the most part, I think that when it comes to designing something for a woman versus something that’s generally visually appealing, it comes from the same place in that you want to create a visual experience for the viewer. You want them to have that moment when they say “I get it!” Like my croc dress. When the model’s standing up, it just looks like a bunch of shapes on a dress, but when she lays down, you’re like, “Oh, it’s a cartoon crocodile!” Or like in the video- at one point the lead singer becomes the eyes of one of the leopards.
So those bold, colorful prints and cartoons that feature in the video so prominently- would you say that’s your overall aesthetic?
CV: Not necessarily. If you look back at my past collections, you’ll notice that I don’t work with color much. One of my collections has pastels, another features like this deep royal blue, but the rest are mostly black and white. As far as my cartoons go for this video, I wanted to experiment with a little bit of color. You’ll notice that the video starts off in black and white; I really had to force myself to add more color, because the way my brain works is very black and white. It’s definitely me; I’m forever drawing hearts and smiley faces all over everything- that’s my aesthetic. It’s always gonna be pop-py, it’s always gonna be fun, and humorous, but when it comes to the color thing, I really have to push myself.
Was there ever a time when you pushed yourself and found you had nothing to give? Did you find yourself facing roadblocks that made you want to throw in the towel?
CV: Definitely. After I came back from London, I was super broke. I was pouring all my money into putting out whatever collections I could, and I was gaining notice, but at the end of the day it was like, “Hey, do you want to go for a drink?” and I’d have to say “No, I can’t afford it.” And that was my point when I thought “F**k, did I make the right choice?” And I went through that with fashion. I mean, I knew I could be good, and I knew I had a voice, and I knew I had to work my ass off to be at the front of the pack, to be someone who could create something truly beautiful. But to do that I knew I had to evolve, to move forward in the way I was thinking or just stop, and so I did. That’s when I landed the full-time gig at the company I work for now, and then I did the video for Lookbook, which helped me gain Interscope’s interest. The rest has just kind of started falling into place from there.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who are thinking about embarking on careers in the fashion world?
CV: Pray a lot and drink a lot, and the rest will come. But on a more serious note, fashion is definitely not something to get into on a whim. It’s really hard. If you’re willing to work your ass off, which you should be willing to do for anything you want in life, then, yes, it’s for you. You work your ass off, you hustle it, you get your stuff to the right people, you don’t take no for an answer. But if you’re just doing it because it sounds fun, then, unless you’ve got a ton of money, it’s not gonna happen. — LC