Emil Gatone is a talented artist who lives between New York City and Philadelphia in beautiful Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His paintings http://www.nationmagoo.com/ are very distinct, fresh and fun to look at. We had a very interesting chat about his process, his work and his life near Philly.
“…Contemporary artists are creating the art of “Now…” They’re simply capturing the individual as well as the global moments in human history … Our styles will develop into categories and labeled as such as art history dictates it ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Emil, We've got lots to chat about, but let's start with your website. It's called, "Nation Magoo." Nation Magoo? What brought that about?
EMIL: My nickname was Magoo from the day I was born. Amongst family and friends, it was almost my proper name. Magoo was a very free-willed individual and it was recognized by myself, my parents, peers, teachers and any form of authority when I was growing up. I was unable to edit or suppress any part of my personality or being because of core freedoms. Growing up in Philadelphia, I was educated about the Constitution and the freedom it provides us as citizens as well as our civil rights. I didn’t have to edit myself in any way.
MICHAEL: That sounds pretty cool.
EMIL: In my early twenties, I started showing my work out of my working studio – Magoo’s Monkey Zoo, which was named in tribute to the 23 primates that were killed in the tragic fire in the primate house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I spent a lot of time amongst those cages when I was a child and I started to question human evolution and my own existence. I had the recognition that I was nothing more than a primal being.
As a child, I travelled extensively throughout the United States. I continued to travel as an adult. I discovered the different pockets of subcultures that the United States is and enjoyed them freely. With the recognition of my civil rights that are protected by our country, I started to refer to the United States as Nation Magoo, realizing the freedoms that this nation has to offer me. Taking it to a personal level, the name of my working studio evolved from Magoo’s Monkey Zoo to Nation Magoo.
MICHAEL: And there we have it. What is Philly like as an art city? We never hear much about what goes on in Philadelphia. Does it remain in New York's shadow?
EMIL: Philadelphia's main art district is located off 2nd street in a historical section of the city called Old City. Old City is filled with historical sites such as the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin's house, and Independence Hall, being that it is the birthplace of our nation. It is a very tourist friendly atmosphere (galleries, parks, historic sites, restaurants, and jewelers). Philadelphia has a very interesting and long running First Friday. Galleries have van guard shows every first Friday of the month. These open gallery shows generate a large crowd of artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts. First Friday is an enhancement to the already historical tourist area. If planning on observing the Philadelphia art scene attending First Friday is a must because the city is alive with art during this time. It is a contemporary art scene of local artists. We have numerous other art districts in the city including the Avenue of the Arts which houses our theatre district. There are many small pockets of galleries in other parts of the city and outlying suburban communities.
MICHAEL: Does it all hold up to New York?
EMIL: Of course Philadelphia is overshadowed by the New York art scene due to the proximity and magnitude of the New York art scene. It absorbs most of the art and artists of the northeast corridor, but Philadelphia does stand on its own and much contemporary and modern art is being produced in Philadelphia today.
My working studio gallery is conveniently located between the two cities in beautiful Bucks County which is an outlying suburb of Philadelphia. It’s less than an hour from Philly and just over an hour from NYC. I am a born and bred Philadelphia artist, inspired by the City of Brotherly LovE.
MICHAEL: Your work is very distinctive; very graphic with bold colors and it almost has an animation quality ... sort of a Japanese, Anime vibe. I don't know. How do you see your work?
EMIL: Yes, I do believe my work is distinctive as I intentionally set out to create and develop a unique style, distinctive to me. I am greatly inspired by Surrealism and Pop Art as well as Abstract Expressionism with a great appreciation for Street Art too. I feel my work is a surreal-based style due to the constant lucid dreaming and meditative state I intentionally live in. As far as abstract, I feel it influences my work, but due to the timeframes it takes for me to complete my pieces, it is not an abstract thought in any way. I also appreciate Cubism but don't feel I am influenced by it. However, I do break down many of my paintings with a twelve inch and seven inch circle representative of my desire to be a musician. The circles and spheres that appear throughout my work are symbolic of my primal influences as well. Much like primitive man was influenced by the moon and sun, resulting in spheres that are found throughout primitive art. I often refer to my art as nothing more than refined cave art because of the amount of my time that it consumes.
MICHAEL: I see repetition of themes too.
EMIL: As far as other symbolic and repetitive patterns showing up in my work, this further supports a surrealistic element of my art. The bright colors and large span of colors I personally feel are due to the influence of Pop Art on me. I achieve the bright saturated colors by applying layer upon layer of pure pigment, sometimes ten or more coats to achieve the vibrant colors and images you are seeing in the finished piece. I work in a distinctive retentive brush stoke resulting in details that need to be viewed in person to fully appreciate the depth of color, pigment and time that I put into my work.
MICHAEL: You also have cool works that look like landscapes.
EMIL: My landscapes are influenced by the red rock deserts of Sedona and the southwestern United States, though I intentionally don't put any vegetation into them as they are from a long ongoing series of pen and ink drawings and oil paintings that I started to create after the NASA Mars rover mission started sending images back to Earth. They are my interpretation of these images. And as far as animation influencing my art, I do love my cartoons.
MICHAEL: I'm noticing more artists like you who are using elements of various genres in their work rather than trying to master a single one. What do you think about this?
EMIL: Speaking for myself, I am not trying to master a genre or particular style of art. More like trying to master particular mediums as all artists are. Contemporary artists are creating the art of “Now.” They’re simply capturing the individual as well as the global moments in human history collectively and singularly through art as it is happening “in the now.”
We are all greatly influenced by the past masters as well as their already labeled styles or “isms.” Be it painting, sculpture, theater, film, the written or spoken word or even now, present day mediums like digital. This has been the progression of art history since the beginning of human existence. Beginning with the first images that started to appear on cave walls labeled as “Parietal Art.” Present day art as well as the artists who create it just haven’t been labeled or categorized as of yet. As we are all contemporary artist for now. Our styles will develop into categories and labeled as such as art history dictates it.
MICHAEL: Well, I guess you’ve described one of the benefits of having the Old Masters come before you.
EMIL: That is why artists of the past are referred to as the “masters” or their bodies of works are referred to as “masterpieces.” I personally create the images that I do regardless of the past masters or their bodies of work. I feel I am developing and have created a style unique to myself that has simple not been labeled as of yet. I create my art out of my own, personal life inspirations and diaries to be immortalized forever into art history - not because of a past style or other masters works. I have intentionally kept my art as pure to my own inspirations as well as style for that very reason.
MICHAEL: Emil, What do you think can or should be done to try to get more people to embrace contemporary art? I mean, kids are encouraged to like sports at a young age. How about art?
EMIL: I have one word for you... cartoons ...cartoons ...cartoons. In particular, the new computer-animated cartoons and feature length films. These just may be our only hope. As this is where the next generation of artists are being exposed to the new - their now - the next step for contemporary art as art evolves once again with this new medium.
It’s sad but true that with this new technology comes new art, “the new now.” This new art form is digital art. But with this new art form unfortunately for the world, out goes the fine arts. Not the contemporary artist, just the mediums the contemporary artist is using. I’ve got one word for you again … fresco.
As an artist, I personally feel good about working clay with your hands, sculpting a beautiful piece of art out of a chunk of stone with a hammer and chisel, blowing a piece of glass or painting a picture with pure pigment that is made from the metals, minerals, various life forms and pigments found in nature. Through practice, technique and time, that’s what the fine arts require. I also feel that I might not be the only one that is not ready for this change, but change is necessary as art is a progression through our history. Not that I don't embrace this new art form that is digital art with enthusiasm and excitement as well as new found inspirations.
This next generation of artists has already started to create their masterpieces with all the advantages of technology to help them express themselves and create. With this new digital medium, they create music and sound, video and award-winning film and spectacular imagery for your mind to look upon and stir your imagination and emotions.
MICHAEL: Indeed. I’ve interviewed artists who are doing it now.
EMIL: Another saving grace for this next generation of artists is again digital, in the form of the digital camera. We all have one at all times in some form or another, be it as simple as the camera in your phone or a beautiful professional Nikon D5 DLSR. What we as a civilization can and are capturing with digital photography is amazing on so many levels. The beauty that even the most novice photographer can capture, the personal memories, the human milestones in our history, and the timeline of our own personal lives as well as a global community … even at times, the truths that would otherwise be obscured. It’s all done without the cost or time of traditional photography, as it is instantaneous which is so important in this instant gratification society we all live in. Who even remembers going and getting a roll of film developed, waiting to see the pictures you just took? Or the excitement of the dark room as your images emerged on the paper in front of your eyes? I’m talking about this ability to take shot after shot after shot without hesitation or limitation due to film or the process of developing your photos.
MICHAEL: Yes, I remember the trials and waiting involved in developing film.
EMIL: I am the son of a professional photographer, so again I'm recognizing another art form, traditional photography, go the way of the fresco. It is that different an art form with the images digitally-created instantaneously with the assistance of technology. There truly is nothing more beautiful than a black and white picture taken with a 35mm camera when you need to make that shot count because you only have one shot left on the roll of film. But boy oh boy oh boy do I love digital photography. With that said, carry on and keep on shooting.
MICHAEL: Yes, I totally understand. Did you have support as an artist early on? How did this all begin for you?
EMIL: I am the product of a professional photographer and sculptor, so my inspirations were nurtured and supported as a child through encouragement as well as all the supplies I needed to create my art work. My talents were recognized from a very young age by my parents and my art teachers in elementary as well as high school. It is primarily the responsibility of the parent to recognize and nurture artistic talents in their child through exposure to the arts and culture. I also strongly feel the responsibility lies with the school system through the arts and music programs. Then, when the situation arises that a child’s talents are going unrecognized or not supported in the home, the child can have the proper encouragement and supplies to develop their artistic abilities.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. Not much of that these days.
EMIL: I was lucky enough to have a Doctor of the Arts teach and mentor me. So as budgets and funding for the arts and music programs are being cut from our schools, we are seeing growing ignorance of the arts or so it would appear on the surface. We all go through life with our blinders on mindlessly looking at our little glowing screens, as our minds are stimulated and entertained by this so very important new art form digital art. This next generation of artists is already producing masterpieces as the fine artists are showcasing their works and making their mark in art history. They’re doing it with the ability to expose their work to millions and millions of people at any given time via the internet, as opposed to the limited number of people through more traditional ways of showing fine art such as brick and mortar art galleries, one man shows, art exhibitions or a stroll through an art district. They’re all still very important for the human population to have, so the artist and the art enthusiast can interact on a social level or one to one personal level with their work, as a piece of art needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
MICHAEL: And so, the art world is changing.
EMIL: The art world is evolving to fit this new medium, as well as the artists who create it. I as an artist am also changing as I sit down to create my art with mediums made with pigments from such things as titanium, copper and manganese phosphate to mention a few or even the bones of small charred animals just to make some parts black, mixed with oils and solvents as I spread them about. I create images that only exist inside my psyche. This next generation of artists creates with zeros and ones, pixels and dots all aglow providing sensory stimulation. They’re manipulating their digital images until they feel they have created something worthy enough to simply hit “print,” or to send out to the world on their little glowing screens. However, there is one key element that differs and cannot be forgotten …
MICHAEL: What’s that?
EMIL: As a fine artist, when I sit down to create my art, I had to use my hands rather than my precious opposable thumbs. So as I sit here and ponder this new digital art form, as pretty as it may be with computer generated colors and shapes all shiny and bright, crisp clean lines and piercing crisp sound, I often worry about this one thing ... what if, just what if the power really ever does go out or someone simply forgets to hit save, would we be losing it all? With one electromagnetic pulse or solar flare from our beautiful sun erasing it all, taking us back to the cave wall. That is what I and we should all be worried about. As this next generation of artists is already hard at work making its mark in art history, they will go as the new come in. This is their “now.”
MICHAEL: When did you become an artist? Why did you choose to be an artist? Why didn’t you choose another career? Being an artist is a tough road! It's hard to make a living at it when so many people don't "get" the value of original art.
EMIL: As a young child, I would say around three or four years of age, my mother got me coloring books. The first thing I would do was to go to the back of the coloring book and draw all over the inside of the back covers, still being blank pages. I was trying to draw or recreate the previous pictures in the book instead of coloring in the pages almost with no interest at all in coloring in the pre-drawn pictures. So my mother started to give me sketch books instead of coloring books, replacing crayons with color pencils, pastels, and pens. So from the time I was five years of age, I had already started to draw into a sketch book as if it were a journal. As it was explained to me that you only want to draw or write in these journals material that you would not mind others to view or read and not to treat them as if they were a diary, but something you would want to share with others. This I feel was a very important step in my art because I still always produce my art with that philosophy and mindset… that someone else is going to view it.
As I went into elementary school, again with an emphasis on the importance of the arts and music programs in the public schools, we had what they referred to as an advanced art program in my school district. By the time I was in third grade, so around the age of eight, the school had been in contact with my parents telling them that there was a wall mural program at my elementary school and recommended I stay after school and paint the walls inside the school with a handful of other students selected for this program. After school turned into certain times during the school day, till it turned into basically any time I was having attention issues. Long story short, I pretty much painted the hallways from the front door to the last exit out the back, basically from head to toe.
EMIL: Then at the age of fifteen, after constantly reading the Smithsonian magazine and any other art publication I could get my hands on, I started to paint with acrylic paint on starched canvas. So to answer your question, I would say I was fifteen when I personally felt I was an artist because that is when I recognized that I was creating true pieces of art. I changed over to only painting in oils at the age of eighteen because of the permanency of the medium. I described these paintings as modern art at that time, as I was unaware that I was a contemporary artist at that point.
As far as choosing art as a career, that stemmed from those said wall murals because as I started to paint on stretched canvas, I also started to paint on walls as well. As I have stated, I have a great appreciation for street art and my weapon of choice was the air brush. That led to me custom painting almost anything for a buck, giving me the realization that there is money in art. Then I produced a couple of logos for some local small business owners at the time and made some cash, but I quickly realized I did not like the commercial end of art. Not one bit at all. I don't mind constructive criticism as it is so important in the learning process, but to produce work that was not inspired was not appealing to me. I personally feel it is a complete waste of an artist’s time, as I only create art that is inspired by me. I began producing what I wanted from that point on, simply not producing anything without the intention of it being a recognized piece of art and with some expectation of it being a permanent fixture on planet earth in some way or another. That is why I switched from acrylic paints to only painting in oils because in the right conditions to optimal conditions, it is a very permanent medium on planet earth.
I only work in pen and ink as a way to fill my time in between paintings or in situations where I can’t paint due to time restrictions. My pen and ink drawings are producing a collection, a body of work that is not as consuming of my time, whereas a typical oil painting takes me a minimum of three months to several years to complete from beginning to end. Encompassing large moments of my time where I will only spend a few days on a pen and ink drawing, any more time than that and I feel I am not giving my oil paintings the proper respect and I am wasting my inspiration and time on a lesser medium.
MICHAEL: Like the rest of us, I guess artists have to keep track of time spent so they can build a body of work … and hopefully sell it at some point.
EMIL: I have intentionally worked in certain elements to make my work collectable, little tricks I learned from being a comic book collector like producing my work in series be it numbered or unlimited. I usually work in series of eleven in some way or another. For instance, my series of drawings entitled “33 and a 3rd” - there are 33 drawings in this particular series containing multiple smaller series that go together. Or some series that are open ended as there is no end in sight. For example, my M.A.L series; you can find these elements in my oil paintings as well. I am working on an ongoing series of landscapes with sub-series encompassed within it.
I paint my landscapes in series of four paintings, for the most part. Individually, they are oriented in the portrait position, but when you combine three of them together they make a continuous landscape oriented in the landscape format with a satellite piece to continue the series on from. I will part with any one of these three paintings, breaking up the original body of work automatically giving the remaining pieces some form of collectability, as if someone wants the image to be complete to its original form, they would have to acquire the other remaining pieces from someone, be it me or a third party, forcing it to be a desired painting. I use methods like this to put an almost guaranteed collectability on them, because for some reason people just like to collect stuff and have it complete. That’s in our nature as human beings.
MICHAEL: Believe me. I know. And so, it’s a tough road being an artist?
EMIL: I tell anyone who wants to make a living as an artist, it is a hard road. But I also tell them if you’re only creating your art for some cash then please don't call yourself an artist. I have created my art out of a compulsion, an obsession, out of the necessity to create. Producing it out of the desire to be forever and immortalized as such, as I work in permanent mediums only, intentionally. On that note as well, when someone claims to me they are an artist and says they just don't have the time create, I say please don't make claim to being an artist because that is what gives all art its true value; the simple fact that you as an artist used your time, your precious - so very precious - time that is so limited here on planet earth as a human being. That you created something that’s a permanent fixture to this planet in our human existence, you made a mark in history and didn't just sit there wasting your life watching the T.V., or even worse, watching your life go by as a static-like test pattern as you waste your days away with nothing to show for your own personal existence … no mark into our history as a civilization.
MICHAEL: That sounds very sad. Finally Emil, what about people who don’t understand the value of art?
EMIL: As far as people not understanding the true value of an original piece of art, that comes from their own personal ignorance of culture, the arts, and their own personal existence. I feel that most people just are not in the financial position to purchase art, as art is to most people perceived as a useless object that just hangs on the wall... what, it does not even get Channels 6, 3 or 10? Again, personal ignorance.
I feel a collector is purchasing art with the intent of it only going up in value and the preservation of the culture it was produced in, be it locally or on a global level, as there is no right or wrong, no good or bad piece art. That is all subjective to the beholder. I feel that the true value comes from it being from a true and complete body of work, not a set number of pieces or certain level of talent, but a collection – a collection of inspired art that has been produced out of the necessity to create it by the artist. An artist can only produce his or her work in their lifetime. So I feel the only limitation to the artist is time. Might I add I feel I have created such a collection of art in my life time, already worthy of collecting and will continue to produce my art with the same devotion and inspiration as I always have. I am developing it and perfecting the mediums I work in and evolving with the new mediums that human technology is presenting me and my fellow artists, desiring to show and expose my work to as many people as I can throughout our global community.
MICHAEL: Thanks Emil. This has been an enlightening chat.
EMIL: No problem, it was my pleasure. I take any opportunity to help others understand my art, myself and my inspirations.
Check out Emil Gatone http://www.nationmagoo.com/.