BEYOND THE STREETS on PAPER: 10 Questions with Gustavo Zermeño Jr

Gustavo Zermeño Jr, Jack, 2021 Acrylic on paper 36 x 30 inches
Gustavo Zermeño Jr, Jack, 2021 Acrylic on paper 36 x 30 inches

If there was ever an artist who captures the aesthetic of Los Angeles sports in art it's Gustavo Zermeño Jr. His murals are now iconic with flashes of hyperrealism and airbrush mastery. For BEYOND THE STREETS on PAPER, Zermeño Jr tapped into both the LA and NYC sports iconography with works depicting both the Lakers and Knicks biggest fans and larger-than-life superstars. We sat down with Zermeño Jr to learn how his last 18 months have seen him more focused, how sports has been his entry point into art and how he approaches working on paper.

Has the past year impacted or influenced your work in any way? How so?
I think it has. I feel like I take my time a little more often now. Before I used to try to power through every piece but now I feel myself enjoying the process more.

How has the mood of your most recent work changed or shifted from past work we’ve seen?
I feel like my pieces got more vibrate. I started adding sunsets and other vibrant colors. I think it not only livens up the piece but helps evoke a more positive emotion.

What would you say is the medium that has defined your work as an artist? 
Acrylics for sure, well house paint. I’ve actually been using spray paint for a lot of my current work also.

When was the last time you produced works on paper?
Besides sketching, it’s been 10+ years. The last piece was around 2010 in a color pencil class of the Venice canals.

What does working on paper look like for you?
It’s a lot different for me now. I started focusing on murals these past few years and got used to using my iPad for sketching. So I sometimes catch myself trying to undo a paint stroke in real life. Every time I just laugh, it’s still weird to me that that happens.

It seems like in the past year artists everywhere quite literally went back to the “drawing board.” What was that experience like for you as an artist or an individual?
I think it was tough at first with of course covid but also the death of George Floyd. I felt like it was tough to stay focused with so many things going on but what got me back on track was working on commission projects. It got me back to creating daily and out of that funk.

What does urgency mean to you?
Urgency to me is just something that has to get done in a timely manner. Working on murals I’ve been there plenty times dealing with the elements and deadlines.

Has your relationship with time changed at all in regards to creating.
Definitely, going back to one of the earlier questions. I take my time now. I used to think going faster and painting more was the way to go but I found myself burning out. As I slowed down I noticed I was more relaxed and the quality of my work was improving.

What are some new hobbies or skills you cultivated in the past year that you have continued to keep up? 
I started putting together little scenes with plants, rocks and miniature characters. So far I have a couple Star Wars, X-men, street fighter and other randoms.

Any playlists or podcasts you listened to while making your works on paper?
Mac Miller and Kendrick are always in rotation. Audio books stay on rotation too. Mainly self help, finance and meditation stuff.

BEYOND THE STREETS ON PAPER is on view at the Southampton Arts Center in  Southampton, New York through August 28, 2021