INTERVIEW with artist Phil Guy – Burrito Breath is Back!

philguyInterview by Rob Lehr

Don’t let Phil Guy’s quiet demeanor and gentle giant appearance fool you. Phil is actually partial to antagonizing your conservative relatives. We all have them in our lives. Whether it is the Aunt Mary Lou who dines at the Cathedral Buffet on Friday night for bread pudding or Uncle Bob who grooves to ABBA on repeat in his parked minivan. Let’s just say that Phil makes art for those bred in the 1980s and 1990s. He is the brain behind the Burrito Breath product empire. Phil is currently in transit back to live in the Rubber City from a 5-year stay in San Francisco, California. When I got wind that he was returning to Ohio, I thought it would be fitting to welcome him home with an exclusive on Curatorial Collective’s website.


df0169fd5a4ee8a59062bcec47722c13RL: For as long as I’ve known you, I don’t believe we’ve had the ‘art talk’ . Usually, we have a habit of eating Mexican food and laughing at each other. I know your formal training is from Art Institute of Pittsburgh. How has your artwork evolved since leaving academia?

PG: Ahhh… the blessed days of art school! As you know, but others may not, I did study Graphic Design in Pittsburgh. It was a really wonderful experience for me. I developed the digital side of creating art, but I felt unsatisfied only using my computer. I really prefer to draw with my hands. I also had a desire to create weirder artwork than my homework. Don’t get me wrong; graphic design was a perfect way to be creative while still cashing a nice paycheck. The Art Institute gave me the foundations necessary for the drawings I make today.

Since leaving school, and a few graphic design jobs, I’m finally using all the skills I’ve accumulated and I’ve begun to develop my own methodology. Now, I primarily draw everything by hand first, but I do lean on software for the final product. I know artists often work either with ink or with the computer. For me, I get the best results by integrating them. I just toss it all in a giant pile and wait to see what pops out of the other end. Hopefully, its not a giant turd… but sometimes it is. (laughter)

10593420_1445242662430937_1998081605_nRL: When did you start making stickers and t-shirts? Do you prefer to sell multiples or original drawings? I know I am blessed with a limited edition Phil Guy printed canvas in my collection.

PG: Graphic design really lends itself to creating stickers, t-shirts, and buttons. For the most part, I prefer multiples compared to single pieces. The idea of creating art that is affordable and accessible really matches the content of my work. Every so often I’ll release limited edition stuff. Usually those things are so rad that it is totally worth it! But ideally, I want people to cover their cars with my stickers or wear my drawings on their t-shirts. It is way more fun and fulfilling for me. If I only sold originals, I would always wonder if that person just hung it up in their bathroom. (laughter)

That being said, when I return to Ohio, I actually do plan on spending time on more laborious and all hand drawn pieces. It would be really cool to draw something “special” for those who want to own an original. I know for me owning original artwork from other illustrators is great. I love being able to see the mistakes and intricacies that make up the initial creation. Maybe this will be a whole new chapter in the burrito breath history.

10499241_659783277436727_1058058558_nRL: As a teen, I was a big fan of the humor found in Ren & Stimpy, Garbage Pail Kids, and Eightball comics. I’ve noticed a lot of satire in contemporary art that is reminiscent of that era in our adolescence. Why do you gravitate to this genre?

PG: I have learned that life is miserable without a sense of humor. We all know the world can be a hard place. If you can just find a small fraction of humor in your situation then you’re sure to find your way back to a more favorable life. I also like to push the limits of what has been created in our conservative past. I think its pretty cool when my grandma can declare my art as “offensive” but she also can’t deny that it made her laugh in the process. It is certainly not my goal to truly anger anyone but sometimes it does happen. I think those specific people may need my art for that very reason. It doesn’t hurt for people to question such a ridged position on life. Come on, laugh-a-little. Life is too short to be so stubborn. Hell, it’s only going to get shorter if you don’t loosen up a bit! Overall, if those are the people I’m bumming out, maybe it’s not such a negative thing after all. So, yes, my art is corrupt with a bad-ass sense of humor. The purpose is to encourage people to smile, laugh, and just have fun.

d1cb9379051e718596223f8d6fbb7b60RL: Pop culture is obviously a big influence on the content of your work but how did you come up with your specific drawing style? Are there other artists who have influenced your swagger?

PG: I always gravitated towards the inking style of old comics. One of my favorite books as a child was “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way”. The text itself was actually pretty boring. The real challenge for me was to see how things were drawn and learn the process in which the great comic artists had manifested. Basically, I just wanted to rip them off. (big laugh)

For years, I struggled with pens and markers, and it wasn’t until I picked up a brush that I felt like my “style” started to materialize. I’m still not completely satisfied but if you break down the work you can certainly see Phil Guy chunks in the stew. I’ve actually borrowed style elements from all of my favorites: Giant, Roth, Williams, and Wolverton. They are definitely all in my work. Sometimes people try to criticize the similarities between my art and other artists, but I don’t mind. At the end of the day what matters to me is the final piece. I find a little more of myself with every drawing. Ultimately, I want to make something I’d want to hang on my own wall.

10513770_832635110089509_930587507_nRL: Your illustrations were featured on Juxtapoz’s website and you became friends with Mike Giant while living in San Francisco. How have your connections helped you grow Burrito Breath into the stink that it is today?

PG: I did learn a lot about line drawing from watching Mike Giant in his studio. He honestly has been a huge influence on me. I can’t thank him enough for his guidance. I only hope one day I can make him proud. (laughter)

I believe meeting all the really amazing people during my time in San Francisco has made me more confident as an artist. For so long, I felt like I had to hide what I really wanted to create. With my current social media presence I do sort of conceal my identity because I want people to focus on my artwork. I’m sure people could find me if they really wanted to dig. I don’t mind keeping my personal life as a separate entity because I want the work to speak for itself. Not to mention, I am honestly a weirdo who spends most of my time hunched over a desk drawing farts and skulls. Often, when people meet me they might be expecting someone else.

SorryMomActually, funny fact: I recently met legendary artist Frank Kozik. He was willing to lend an ear to some of my art questions, and the first thing out of his mouth was “I didn’t expect you to look this way.” I still laugh about that comment. Anonymity helps me create without boundaries and I can draw images that sincerely interest me without concerning myself with expectations.

I’ve also learned over the years that if you have a question for someone in the art world, you might as well ask it. For the most part, everyone I’ve ever met has been really open about their careers, and more than willing to share the trials and tribulations of being a creative. I think people often get caught up in separatism when it comes to their art. They feel as though their artwork is so different that they must project themselves as “different”. Essentially if you are putting your art in public, it is more about engaging others than it is about yourself. We are all searching for our own kind. All in all, we’re just a bunch of weirdos who spend our free time drawing and I think we aspire to bring like-minded people together with art.

phil_guyRL: I know you have exhibited art in several of my curatorial projects. I’m always thankful when you make time to participate in my exhibits. What have been some of your favorite projects outside of Ohio? I know I saw one of your designs on a pizza box in Portland.

PG: I have you to thank for really being one of the first people to encourage me to show my artwork! In fact, my first art sale was a drawing of a Frankenstein riding a tricycle for an exhibit you organized.  Outside of Ohio, I have done some really fun projects. Some of my favorite shows have definitely been with Sizzle Pie pizza shop in Portland. Mikey, the owner of SP, is a really great guy who happens to love weird art. I’ve been in two exhibits doing custom pizza peels (wooden pizza oven sliders) for the Sizzle Pie’s gallery space. As you had mentioned, I did design custom pizza boxes too. Recently, I was invited to participate in a London gallery show, which will be on display at Halloween. The exhibit is based on Sci-fi and horror movies, which were randomly assigned to each artist. I was given the theme “Mars Attacks” and it was great to re-watch the Tim Burton movie with the idea of it influencing my own artwork. I’m really excited to debut the Mars Attack piece in the UK.

10311311_315627015257534_1850620139_nRL: I really appreciate you taking the time to chat. I have one last question: Are there any ideas or projects that you have experienced in San Francisco that could be recycled in Akron?

PG: Well, it has been years since I lived in Akron. I’d hate to jump the gun on things that are already going on but I’d love to see more themed shows based on one common idea. I know this was your method when curating Clever Little Devils last November because you contacted me to participate with the Children & Advertising theme. Akron could use more of that vibe. In California, I really preferred a multiple person show with several works.

10246085_641791025892646_418511592_nThere is one event I’d love to rip off from San Francisco. It was called “Sketch Tuesdays”. There were these long banquet tables erected in a bar and around 30+ artists would draw together. Everyone else in the space would gather to just hang out and chill. Plenty of drinks were served and usually there was a DJ or two. The drawings were smaller and done fairly quickly. Then at the end of the event, the artwork was sold for whatever the artist deemed fair. I had picked up great drawings for less than $20 and even traded a beer for one! That “beer trade” hung for years in my SF living room until I just packed it up for Ohio.

I really just want to see young Akron artists have a cool place to come together. I also love the idea of more affordable art that people can appreciate without a massive investment. For the cost of a crappy reproduction print at Wal-Mart, you could purchase an original drawing from a local artist during those events in San Francisco. Often those people who buy the artwork care about it as much as the artist.

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