5 Thoughts About Art from Robert Vargas

3rd of July 2019

LA native artist Robert Vargas knows the right time to go big and the exact time to go small. You may have seen his giant, 60,000 sq ft tall “Angelus” mural in downtown Los Angeles (the largest mural of a Native American in the world), but a lot of people across the globe have also stumbled upon Vargas casually paining striking black-and-white portraits of random people (and sometimes not-so-random – hello, Kate Hudson) on the streets, in the malls and other places. Here’s what he has to say about creating art, working in public and not labeling himself a “street artist”.

Being an Artist

The word ‘artist’ encompasses so much. It’s really a creative: I play a couple of instruments, I was born painting and drawing. But all of it is coming from a creative perspective.

A word of advice to younger artists? When you create, don’t create with a thought of selling an artwork. Create with a thought of showing the artwork to the people.

Portraits of the World

I’m currently painting “Portraits of the World” series. I’m travelling all across the United States and abroad creating this whole series with anonymous people and using their faces to tell a story when I draw their portraits.

Telling a story

When movies are made, there’s usually a storyboard to that. There’s usually an artist required to tell a story by hand and then it goes into film. When I’m drawing someone’s face, their face is the story. It’s similar to filmmaking, except there’s no cut, no break, no time to deliberate or look at different angles, no huge production crew. It’s all very raw, organic, it’s happening in the moment.

Paining in public

When I’m paining in public it’s more like a theater. I’m pretty comfortable painting in that setting, because I’m honestly not thinking about it too much. What I’m doing is really coming from a place of inviting people to be a part of my process as it would be if I was just alone in my studio. People come to see the art being created but they are the subject matter. I’m picking people randomly to be a part of this interaction. You have these connections right in front of everyone. And the rest is actually seeing art being created right in front of their eyes.

Going back to the cave

I don’t call myself a “street artists” but I do make murals. I think the term “street artist” is more of a new term. But the murals have been going on since the days of the cave painting. So I’m kind of a keeper of the flame to that. I like to think of my work as fine art. For me it was never about having 100 murals all over the place. It’s about having the right mural at the right time with the right message. My work is very site-specific. So even if I’m doing a portrait, it’s usually someone from the community, a symbol of the community. So when I leave, these are the people who have to live with that. So I want to create something that they identify with. 

Photo credits: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times, Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly

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