The streets of Seattle at midnight are an amazing place, teeming with artists roaming the urban landscape. In Seattle, every artist worth paying any attention to is born with wheatpaste, spray paint and a brush in hand. Home to such artistic luminaries as Ego, Ryan Henry Ward and Weirdo—Seattle has an incredible art scene that has been growing exponentially over the past several years. In the thick of it is Xavier Lopez Jr. “Cool,” “Urban,” “Goth,” “Kawaii,” “Pop Surrealist” or whatever definition you might want to come up with, Lopez’ artistic style crosses over many boundaries and unsettles them all. Most recently, Lopez’ work has been described as “gleefully disturbing,” a cross between very old Fleischer cartoons and their animated nightmares, giving us a glimpse into the disquieting world that we all invent for ourselves before we have a chance to make sense of the universe and its vast contradictions.
Lopez’ paintings are a foray into this other world. As if tumbling through a wormhole, the viewer is disoriented and while seeking to make sense of the images before him, emotions quickly override any single interpretation. When I came upon Mr. Lopez, he was setting up an exhibition as part of a group show at the Greenwood Collective. Mr. Lopez’ work is very haunting, but at the same time very playful, even disarming. He actually began as a conceptualist, minimalist sculptor. Graduating from the University of California, Davis, which is well known for such artists as Bruce Nauman, Lynn Herschmann and Robert Arneson, as well as a lot of the Funk artists like Jim Nutt and Bill T. Wiley. Lopez is an affable, almost shy, man, but with a quick smile and a devious gleam in his eyes which speaks to the creative world that he carries within him. “I think I got a lot of my sense of the absurd and playfulness from not only their spirit,” he says, speaking of the Northern California artists, “but also from meeting and getting to know a few of them. I can tell you that Wayne Theibaud has a very, very wicked, naughty sense of humor—which is surprising, because he looks like such an innocent, like your grandfather and then he comes out with the dirtiest jokes you’ve ever heard. You really can never judge a book by its cover.”
Lopez considered himself to be primarily a sculptor until he spent several years living in Europe, where he would often take canvases to the Bordeaux Art Museum and study the painterly styles of the mannerists. He adds, “I hated painters, it seemed to me in grad school that they were trained monkeys and that the real creation was happening from the sculptors—everything else was just craft. Then I moved to Europe and I saw what could actually be done with paint! I saw my first true Rubens, not in a book, but right in front of me and not just one—but many, and constantly, and then more and more artists, Fragonard, Raphael, Tintoretto, all of the artists that had left me cold in art classes, suddenly came alive and I began to paint and paint and paint—again, for the first time since I used to draw my superheroes as a kid—and nothing was ever the same from there.”
Within Lopez’ world there are many landscapes: caves, a vast ocean, snowscapes, living trees, and always the sense that one has crossed over into the deep end. “I want viewers of my work to feel as they do just before going over the cliff at Splash Mountain, or to feel the way they did as a child when they found out that Bambi’s mother was about to die. That moment of extreme consciousness, when everything is so precious and one realizes something very important—which is different for everybody, and which according to Kierkegaard you cannot realize fully and take with you, because to do so would lead to madness.”
It is this madness that one can see in the wild-eyed stare that is such a part of Xavier Lopez’ work and permeates the insane smile that sets it apart and draws so many to it, while scaring the hell out of many others. “That smile,” he adds, “that is the void, that is the power-punch that tells the viewer that there is something else going on here.” It is the smile of the Muse and the multi-armed skeleton and it is the darkness behind the Kawaii. Xavier Lopez’ work is not just cute, there is a darkness to it that is as vast as this thing called life and as complex as its obverse. His dreamscapes are filled with pain and wonder, innocence and perversity, but mostly a sense of fun that keeps drawing more and more viewers to play in the “Deep End” of his imagination.
Continually, growing and evolving, fans of his work never know what to expect from the artist. “I love testing myself, teasing and trying new things, most recently I have been doing a lot of Murals in the Seattle Area with a group of very talented, young artists and I have begun plans to work on a not-so children’s book and even a cartoon based on the Muse and her adventures. This is an amazing time in which it feels as though anything is possible and an artist just needs to put his mind and his imagination into motion to see it through.”
Xavier Lopez’ work can be found at various art galleries in the Seattle area, including the Twilight Collective, as well as on many murals, posters and prints. He is also the author of a blog that covers the Alternative to Alternative Art Scene in Seattle for the online “zombie newspaper,” the Seattle Post Intelligencer.