Gustavo Zermeño Jr. on Growing up in Venice
Off the heels of our sold out print with Estevan Oriol, we're pleased to announce our second limited edition print drop of the year, this time alongside LA's Gustavo Zermeño Jr. Mixing his love for community and art by offering to paint murals on local businesses around his home in Venice, California, Zermeño's larger-than-life portraits of sports heroes, celebrities and iconic musicians, quickly became a mainstay throughout Los Angeles, peered at by passersby from walls far beyond his own neighborhood. Zermeño's work over the last several years has led to collaborations with the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams, UCLA and Nike, among others, while working with nonprofits and underserved communities to uplift and inspire the next generation of artists. Zermeño has been featured in local and national media and created social media buzz with his hyper-realistic painted cutouts, left in unlikely places throughout LA. We caught up with the multi-disciplinary artist to about how his artistic journey and hows its shaped his approach to art.
How was Venice growing up?
It was definitely a lot different than it is today. I'd say the biggest shift was when Google moved in. A lot of the rent just skyrocketed. Not just the residential stuff, but the businesses. So a lot of our favorite places went out of business, and a lot of our friends got relocated, or were displaced. Outside of some friends who are still there through assisted living, I feel like everyone's gone. The neighborhood became a little bit more separated with new buildings and new houses. They built these high fences so eventually neighbors stopped saying hi to each other. Little things like that.
That's what was cool about Venice growing up, was that it was just a melting pot of everything. You had the musicians, you had artists, you had gang members, you had surfers, and you had millionaires, all literally piled into one little neighborhood. It’s become more tech and bougie since.
When did Google move in?
I can't remember the exact year, but I do remember Snapchat ended up moving in and they started coining the area "Silicon Beach.” That’s when we started seeing these billboards for Silicon Beach. "Welcome to Silicon Beach." I guess from Venice, all the way to Playa del Rey, where the Ballona Wetlands are, they considered all that Silicon Beach. And they still have a lot of tech companies out there, many moved towards Playa. I think YouTube is out there and all those guys, but again, when all this happened, it shifted what Venice represented, especially from the outside looking in.
These days, Venice could be perceived as just another one of LA’s many beach towns from an outsider’s perspective, but what does it represent to you?
Venice means so much to me. Having grown up there, obviously it's always going to hold a special place in my heart and I think it also made me the artist that I am today. Venice was so eccentric. There were murals everywhere. You go down to the boardwalk, you see musicians, you see performers, you see everybody just being themselves.
You would see people move to Venice from many different places, and a few months down the line, you see who they really were. It just brings out the real version of you, if that makes any sense? Everyone there just seemed very comfortable in their own skin and able to be themselves. It helped people be creative and more open to being who they actually were.Do you miss Venice?
Yeah, I do. Venice has changed so much, so I don't really do too much over there. My parents still own their house there, so we'll go out to eat and I'll hang out with them, but I don't go to Abbot Kinney anymore. I don't really do a lot of the Venice stuff anymore, just because again, it doesn't feel like home as much as it did when I was younger. A lot of my friends either moved away or passed away. So outside of my family, a lot of my friends aren't there anymore. And that's kind of what made it the most home for me.
Gustavo Zermeño Jr. signing prints at BEYOND THE STREETS Los Angeles
Is there something that's come out of Venice that you never anticipated becoming widespread?
Spanto's movement with Born x Raised, although I think we all saw the potential in the brand from the very beginning. We never thought it would be as big as it was. I wouldn’t say it was a surprise either, since we’ve seen the growth over the years. I think once we saw them collaborating with some of our favorite brands and sports teams we knew their vision was something else.
We grew up in the same neighborhood. Spanto was a little bit older and he lived a few blocks away, but I didn't really know him too well outside of just saying hi whenever I’d see him. He knew a lot of my friends, so I'd see him around. But after I really got into my art, that's when we started working together on a lot of projects. He would just hit me up from time to time and be like, “Hey man, I'm going to do this thing with the Kings. I'm throwing your name out there, seeing if you'd be interested.” And it was always a "yeah" for me because we'd seen him from the beginning of his journey and I always wanted to be a part of what he was doing.
So for him to include me through my art, it made me feel really good, especially since he was someone I looked up to. He was always super charismatic and always doing stuff in the neighborhood. He was just that guy. So to have his approval and for him to want to bring me on board to be a part of what he was doing, I think that was my biggest co-sign. It made me feel like I was on his level.
I know Spanto made a cameo in your painting, tell me about the rest of the people you’ve included?
I worked at the local rec center for 16 years until I finally decided to become a full-time artist, so everyone that I included in that painting, they are from Venice, but also people I’d always see down at the beach. I used to go to the little coffee shop right there on the corner. So the angle that the photo is shot at is from the corner of Pacific and Windward, which I used to always go to that little cafe and the market next door. Windward Market, it was one of my favorites. I literally waited at that light thousands of times just looking at that view. Everyone that I included in the painting is somebody that I would either see out there painting or walking down to the skate park or walking down to the breakwater to go surf.
How do you choose how you're going to do your cameo, does it come naturally as you're doing the painting?
I paint myself in all my paintings. So I guess each piece is a self-portrait in a sense. I want it to be the way I envision the city, but also, again, in a sense, just manifesting that for myself, like me painting these specific walls, usually by either landmarks or other murals or places that inspired me in some way. I think it's more focused on that versus the specific wall. I guess just being near something that inspires me is more important than where I paint myself in the painting, if that makes sense?
How long ago did you decide to become a full-time artist?
Two years ago, or something like that. I was working at the rec center part-time, but I ended up buying a house in Gardena, so the drive became a bit too much and I decided it was time to go full force into art. Prior to that I was working at Whole Food, Best Buy, you name the retail job, I worked it.
Venice, 2024, by Gustavo Zermeño Jr.
What’s your creative process like when it comes to technique? How does a painting come to life from a sketch to the walls of a gallery?
For this series, I chose specific spots that I either want to paint in or have painted in before. In that sense, it was easy to narrow down. After a few more paintings, I'm sure it's going to become a bit more difficult. From the initial idea I usually go into sketching it first and photoshopping it together. From there, I’ll do the area and after I have that in, I'll go in and add the people, add the cars, and I just try to add all that stuff last just because I want it to be what resonates most to me in the moment.
Because these paintings do take a while to put together, a painting can change from when I start it to when I end it. So I like to add those figures and the details at the very end. Because those can vary or change throughout the process.
What's something you wish you knew when you first started painting murals that you know now?
Something I wish I knew? To use spray paint. From the very beginning, I would always get graffiti guys or just people that were used to painting murals, and they would tell me, “hey, you should use spray paint, try out spray paint.” It took me, probably five years, before I finally felt comfortable enough to start using spray paint. It's not only helped my work look more how I want it to look but it's also sped up the time.I feel like I already paint fast, even with a brush, but with spray paint it literally cuts the time by half. I don't want to say I pride myself on painting fast because I think being efficient is more important, but I love the idea of just getting in and out. Someone driving to work will see the mural starting, and then they're driving back home after work and you're like, “oh man, this guy already knocked out half of the mural.”
Do you think LA has the best sunsets?
I do. I definitely think LA has the best sunsets. It's difficult for me to gauge because I spend 99% of my time in LA, but I've been around the country and I have seen some nice sunsets. I don't know, maybe it's like the smog in the air or something that gives it these really vibrant pinks and purples. I think that's the coolest part. It looks cool when there's clouds in the sky or this and that, but I like those wild colors. I've stepped outside and the world is purple. The sky is so purple that it reflects off all the cars, it reflects off the ground, and everything just looks pink and purple, and I think it's sick. I love it.
Obviously sports have a huge influence in your work. So if artists were given nicknames like athletes receive, what would yours be?
Growing up, all my homies called me Easy, just because I loved Eazy-E, and I would call myself Easy-G. I think that fits really well for me because I feel like I’m very easy going and easy to get along with.
If you could have dinner with five LA icons for a day, gone or still with us, who would they be?
Well, I already know right off the bat I'm going to miss a lot of people, but of course, Kobe. Kobe would be there. I'm very old school. I would love to talk to Chick Hearn, Vin Sculley and Kobe. I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don't think they're from LA, but I guess they would be considered LA. Yeah, I'd like to sit down and talk to Flea and Spanto again. We didn't really have a close relationship, but before he passed, we were working on a Nike project together, so I got to spend time with him and he took me to his grandparents' house and literally the night before he left on his trip, we were together finalizing the stuff on the project. I'm not a big celebrity guy, even though I paint a lot of celebrities and stuff because they inspire me, but I feel like I have more in common with normal people.
What about dogs? There’s always dogs in your paintings!
I love dogs. My childhood friend, Nick, had a little bulldog named Winston who made it into the painting. Winston passed away about a year ago. He was the homie. I love animals in general. Cats are whatever, but animals, I really like.
Venice releases on Thursday, January 18 at 9AM PST, exclusively through our online store. The 26.75" x 17.75" print is printed on Entrada cotton rag 290 gsm paper, with deckled edges. It is signed and numbered by the artist. The print will only be available for 72 hours starting at 9AM PT on Thursday, January 18th and closing at 9AM January 21st, 2024. The edition is limited to the number of prints sold during this release window.