- Words and Photos by The Echo Parker
Tricks and Triumphs: The Pastey Whyte Story
Pastey Whyte 2019 Gabba Gallery Alley Project
The Echo Parker: Hi Pastey Whyte! I am thrilled to interview you for Sold Magazine, I have been an admirer of yours from afar having a great appreciation of your “un-commissioned work” (stole that from you!) and in gallery shows at Gabba Gallery.
We met through Little Ricky as I was working on the Sold series “Little By Little, Learn About Little Ricky”. Ricky was planning the 7575 Melrose Street Art Wall installation of his Anna Wintour Sheep series and he told me you would be there. Truth be told, I was secretly excited to meet you. I always enjoy seeing the street art in my daily life, as it never fails to make me smile. Your art has sold in many galleries though out the country. The use of multi-media combined with nostalgia is touching and remains with the person who experiences it. I was dying to get a glimpse of your collection firsthand and honored to have a tour of your studio.
Gabba Alley Project 2019
But first, how are you and your family doing this strange new reality we are in amidst COVID19?
The Family and I are doing fine. However, an important note here. My wife and I have been separated for over 5 years now. We are still friends but the separation has been for the better. We are pretty good co-parents together. We are still a family and it is working out pretty well for all three of us.
While I have remained in Los Angeles because I work in the entertainment industry and always have for over 30 years now. They have moved to San Diego where we feel it is a better experience for my daughter and my wife. My wife has family in San Diego which is helpful for our family. I drive to San Diego almost every Sunday and stay with them and visit my daughter. I love my daughter so so very much.
Portrait of Toni” My daughter at 7 years old 13 5/8”X20”X1”
She and I are pretty tight and my wife and I get along just fine considering the circumstances. We are friends still for sure and we care a great deal for each other. My wife does the hard day to day parenting of our daughter which I so greatly appreciate. I am pretty lucky and fortunate to be connected to these two great women, my wife and my daughter.
Now this COVID 19 thing is just fucking our little family plan up. We are all fine and nobody has gotten sick. However it makes it hard on us all because we are all in self-quarantine which means I haven’t seen my daughter in a month. Also my daughter isn’t in school so this has put a stress on my wife and my daughter. They are together most of the time. Nobody can be locked in a house with anybody that long and not need a little alone time. Home schooling is definitely a challenge for my wife. My wife has been doing her best with the tutoring which “god love her” is difficult but she is doing her best. Fortunately my wife is able to work at home and take care of our daughter and I am still receiving a reduced paycheck from my work. So we are doing ok. Probably better than most but it is stressful and hard when I don’t get to see them.
"Beautiful Los Angeles"
“Mary Super Ego” 12”X24”X1” 2018
TEP: Being a street artist in the shadows of COVID-19, has social distancing affected your creative process?
It has affected my creative process but not really. It has actually helped my creative process because I have been able to really work and concentrate in my studio. I work long and irregular hours normally at my “real” job and I am always in San Diego on Sundays. So this pandemic has given me a nice break of time to knock out some work in the studio.
I kinda mix my processes up a lot and make gallery artwork and street artwork at the same time. What that means is my street work is a form of playful expression while my gallery works are more of a cerebral act of expression. So if I feel lost or at a dead end in one style I leave it and start working in the other. The street pieces are simpler and really about their interaction with the street. The gallery work is about expressing my deeper thoughts and how it relates to being human.
However, like I said at the beginning the COVID-19 is messing with me on the streets because it’s a lot
harder to not be noticed by the authorities applying the street trade. There isn’t much street life to cover the installation of “un-commissioned” public art works during a pandemic. You stand out during the day or night when you’re working the streets because no one else is out on the street. I do not need any trouble with the law right now. So I have been making some really nice gallery pieces in the studio and building up a backlog of street work for future installation.
“Est Sinistra Manus” (The Left Hand) 22” X 28” 2018
TEP: I had the pleasure of meeting you through our mutual friend, Little Ricky, during the 2019 Gabba Alley Mural Art Project – a multi-artists mural event. I photographed you as you were stenciling an images of your daughter. The image was retro and groovy with the nostalgia of vintage magazine advertisements of the a late 50’s. That was fun weekend, what is it like creating a mural for the Gabba Alley Mural Art Project and being around so many creative artists as they created their own murals?
Well first of all let me Thank Gabba Gallery and their support of me and my work. I have been associated with Gabba for 6 or 7 years now. They have always included me in their group shows, given me a solo show, sold and promoted my artwork and best of all let me paint in their Alley Mural Project. Jason Ostro, Elena Jacobson and Jaq Frost are the force behind Gabba Gallery. They have done so much for so many artists here in Los Angeles. I have the deepest respect for them and the gallery.
TEP: I reached out of JASON OSTRO, Director / Curator of Gabba Gallery for a interview on this story.
"Pastey Whyte is a very intricate contemporary artist, his ability to tell a story with multiple layers of information is very profound. His street pieces just tell great stories. His mixed media pieces are so deep, precise in chaos and extremely thought out. Pastey is an incredible artist, not to mention one of the kindest people in the LA Street Art Scene. We’re (Gabba Gallery) thrilled to have such a long and solid relationship with Pastey, and look forward to many future projects together."
Gabba Galley group show, Remix - The Art of Music
Proceeds benefited Adopt the Arts
Opening in 2012, Gabba Gallery is a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles showcasing work by emerging and established artists from around the world.
Gabba Gallery is located at 3126 Beverly Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90057
Gabba Gallery Alley Project 2019
I am humbled to be included in the Alley Mural project. It was great that I got to use my daughters stencil image for my mural. There are so many better muralists than I included in the project. The energy and creativity that is expelled on those weekends is awe inspiring. I am always so inspired and awestruck when I am able to break away from my own painting to explore the alley and the amazing artwork being created. Not to mention all of the old friends and new friends I meet on those weekends. It’s like a who’s who of Los Angeles Street Art all in one place. The feeling is just incredible. I am so filled with life and creativity and friendship on those weekends. I advise anyone from Los Angeles or visiting to check out Gabba Gallery and The Alley Mural project.
TEP: Your signature, “Pastey is the King of Fools” art piece is a hand drawn quasi self-portrait. The images change very little, the hair, eye glasses, hat and crown may change, but at it’s core it is the same image. What was your influence for this image and what is the significance of the crown?
I have one word SMEAR. My street art Mentor. I miss Smear. I think everyone on the scene misses “Scum Nasty”. He is the godfather of Los Angeles street art. Not Graffiti. Street Art. He wasn’t really a graffiti guy although he hung out in and was well respected in that scene. He made it possible for a lot of us to do what we do as Street Artists today. He fought the law and the law won. He blasted that door open for all of us and suffered for it. The law, meaning the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD. The city really tried to shut him down. It was in all the papers if you wanna check it out. He went through a lot to make Street Art in LA maybe not legal but acceptable. Smear is one of the most interesting, creative, inspiring and down right nasty artists I know. There really isn’t any other artist from the Streets like him.
Gabba Gallery Remix - The Art of Music Show
He got tired of the scene down here and retreated to San Francisco. He got married and I think he has a couple kids now. He doesn’t do much street work these days. However I am sure he is still making art. He’s probably blazing trails miles ahead of us all making work that we only wish we could have thought of or done.
I met him early in my street art career which was very fortunate. We were both associated with a now defunct art gallery in Highland Park, Ca. It was probably around 2012 or so. We became friends and I and another friend would drag him out to hit the town up. A few beers. A little paste and a fistful of Streakers (streakers: solid paint markers) During this time is when I saw him draw/tag his “Scum Nasty” character. Over the next few years I definitely learned a lot from him about street art and street art techniques.
So when Smear sequestered himself up North I started drawing my own character totally based on what I had seen him do over the last few years. Many hardcore LA artists see his “Scum Nasty” character in my character and that’s because it is based on his. However there are quite a few differences in the style and demeanor of what has become a signature character for me as well.
“Future Girl #2” 18” X 24” 2018
Smear is “Scum Nasty”. It is a self portrait. The quality of line and the drugged and drunken attitude of his character are well known. My character is Pastey. A self-portrait too that’s why my character has glasses. However my interpretation has none of that “Scum Nasty” quality. I draw a goofy, silly bespectacled white boy. I dress it up with hats, glasses and crowns. I even sometimes anthropomorphize the character into a rabbit, a cat, or a dog. Yes. I have based the character on Smears work but I feel I have made it my own by bringing a wholly different thematic quality to the drawing.
I have actually spoken with Smear about this and he’s cool with it. He has given me his blessing. He knows it’s based on his work but he doesn’t mind. I am eternally grateful to him for this and I cannot thank him enough for his generosity and how much I learned from him. I love the guy.
Now to answer your last question about my use of a crown with the Pastey character. The crown is used by many street artist as an indication of royalty or greatness. It is also a direct reference to the crown Basquiat, the patron saint of Street Art, drew frequently in his work. I use the crown as a goof. An indication that I am not the greatest. I am the king of nothing. It’s funny. I am poking fun and actually bringing into question what the crown symbolizes. I cannot compare myself to Basquiat. I am not greater than any other artist. I am the King of Fools. That is why I draw the crown on Pastey.
REBEL/REBEL” 28 1/4”X 26” X 2 1/2” 2016 “Rock-N-Roll”24” X 36 3/4” X 1 1/2”2014 “Watts,1966”18 1/4” X 30 1/8” X 1 1/2”2014
"Ed was one of the first artists I met when when I came onto the scene. We've developed a cool friendships over the years. He's been supportive of my shows/ projects. In 2018, we even got to collaborate on a show together. Running into him is always a treat. There's always something to learn and chat about."
TEP: Your use of authentic pop culture advertisement from the 40’s and 50’s is evident in your art. Your transformation of the image using emulsion transfer, screen print and often re-drawing it is a creative process that is multi-layered literally and visually. What inspired you to use these nostalgic images and what is your favorite decade of advertisement to use and transform?
Melrose Boulevard Street Art
Yes. I do a lot of layering of imagery and mixing of techniques. I like to mix the techniques with the vintage imagery. It makes the piece have more depth and character. Also because I use different techniques and layering the pieces will look different under different lighting conditions. The layering of images and techniques will make the different elements of a piece change as the lighting changes in a room. This quality will make different elements of a piece come forward or sit back almost changing the overall composition and meaning of the work. I surprise myself many times as I watch a piece change throughout a day. I will have forgotten a certain theme or image in the work and when the light changes it pops out at me. This quality of how light effects my work is very important to me. I want the viewer to never get bored with the work. In this way the piece is always changing in texture and meaning. It is not a static image but an ever developing piece of work that can be enjoyed for many years.
I like to use images from the early 50’s mostly but I will appropriate any image that has that vintage quality. I like this era of advertising images because it is the beginning of the Age of Consumerism. World War II had just ended. There are millions of new homes being built. Television is taking over and the companies need a psychological edge to sell their products. The early 50’s I believe is when they figured out what images and words really worked to sell their products. I consider the images I use to be “old folk songs”. Today we see a complicated mélange of these images and words flash by in seconds. During that era the images came much slower and more naively.
“No Rubbing” 17”X18”X1” 2015
The advertisers were trying to figure us out psychologically. What images helped sell hair cream and canned goods were very different from what helped sell cars and cigarettes. I believe that’s why people are attracted to the images I use. They are recognizable today in the same way an “old folk song” can still be heard in a contemporary piece of music. We see the image poke at our subconscious but aren’t quite sure why we recognize the tune we are hearing.
I have a large collection of vintage Time and Look magazines from the late 40’s through the early 70’s. These magazines are from the golden age of advertising and are an excellent source for imagery and ideas. I can just sit for hours thumbing through them. I get lost in them sometimes while doing research.
“Dick’s Gun” 14 1/2”X15 1/8”X2 1/4” 2015
TEP: I notice your hands-on approach to creating art stems from your life growing up on a farm. Farm life is challenging and forces on the spot creativity that I see in your art.
I grew up on a small family farm in Upstate New York. We had about 50 acres, a couple of tractors and a lot of farm machinery. We grew mostly hay for our animals but we did have a 5 acre plot that we grew vegetables for our family. We also raised animals hogs, steers, chickens and turkeys. We raised them for our families consumption. I know a lot about raising animals and growing plants.
Having been raised on a farm really taught me a lot about working hard and using your hands. My father, brother, myself and other extended family members built the barn behind my parents house. I learned how to fix machinery, diagnose and work on cars and generally how to do a lot of hands-on projects. My father was a tool and die maker so if you needed to fix something or ask about how to fix something he was the guy to ask. It is a lifestyle not many people experience these days.
All that being said I didn’t really enjoy my life on the farm. I was a creative person. An introverted kid who was involved in theatre with all the other geeks. I always wanted to live in a city. I have lived my whole adult life in cities New York, Chicago and now Los Angeles.
My guidance counselor in high school told me not to go to the arty theatre college I ended up going to. My bedroom at my parents house had day-glo orange walls that glowed under black light. I didn’t really fit in where I grew up. I wasn’t persecuted so much as tolerated. I had friends and I was active in school but I was a little odd for Upstate New York. I was appreciated by some but not all. I was not your typical farm boy but I grew up on a farm and many of those qualities have become very useful in my creative life. I definitely know the meaning of “a long row to hoe” actually and creatively. I had to really get my shit together when I got to art school. My knowledge of art and technique was greatly lacking but my work ethic and basic creativity got me through.
“Dirty Thoughts” 18” X 24” (on metal sign) 2016
So as I grew into being an artist. One of the things I really liked doing was showing the viewer “my hand”. I really enjoy making my work look simple and uncomplicated with some of the “happy mistakes” and blemishes visible. I like my artworks to be perfectly imperfect. I like my artwork to appear as if the viewer themselves could have brought the idea and technique together. I do this because I would really love others to enter into the creative life and devote some of themselves to creativity and see it is not just a hobby. It is a disciplined skill that requires many hours of practice and sacrifice. I would like everyone to use their hands and knowledge to create something of themselves outside of our media addicted culture.
“Portrait of Beck Hansen” 24”X36” Solvent transfer with pencil on cold press 2008
TEP: Tell me a little more about your street art and process.
As for my “un-commissioned” artworks for the street I make it all by hand. One piece at a time. Even my stickers. I am not a serial paster hitting every spot with the same mass produced image. I don’t have an issue with that style of working the streets. I actually like a lot of that work. It’s just doesn’t work for me personally. I want to put blood, sweat and sacrifice out on the street. So when it gets buffed, capped or torn down it hurts. It’s a jungle out there and its all part of the game. Also I really get a thrill when something I made by hand lasts several months or even a year. It is a great feeling. I want my street work to be unique and immediately recognized by its style and placement. I am always looking for the best spots to place my works for overall visibility and context within the street. I have a very hands on and almost artisanal aesthetic about my “un-commissioned “ public works.
TEP: How does your life experience influence your wheat pasting and stencil art and why did this process make such a lasting impact on your art?
The pasting and stencils started for me back in about 2011. At that time it was the start of a movement or a scene of Street Art in Los Angeles. Banksy’s “Exit through the Gift Shop” had been released around that time and there were several prominent pieces of his work on the streets here. Also at that time Shepard Fairey’s work was getting some notice too. There was an explosion of Street Art here in Los Angeles and I wanted in. I have been making art since I had gotten out of college in 1988. I felt that with my hands on farm knowledge and my can-do theatre attitude I might get some more exposure for my art. I had had a small amount of success over the years in galleries but watching other artists gain sales and notoriety on the streets made me want to get involved.
So just like any other art practice it takes awhile to find your voice and perfect your technique. First I adopted my nom de guerre Pastey Whyte. I chose this moniker for its easy to remember colloquial reference and its direct reference to the pasting itself. I also made sure I spelled White with a “Y”. I did not want anyone to think I was some sort of supremacist. I wanted my moniker to be fun and memorable.
“Under the Gun” 18”X24” 2018
In the early days I did a lot of pasting but I wasn’t totally satisfied with the results. I was using stock cartoon characters, reproductions of artworks I had made previously and hand painted cityscapes with messages written in the billboards of the painting. I attribute this early doldrum to bad placement and composition, lack of bold expression and not having a clear perspective yet.
TEP: What were some of the unforeseen obstacles in getting your work noticed and how did you overcome them?
One of the main problems I found was here in Los Angeles most people are viewing your work from their cars. They are able to view your work for 5 maybe 10 seconds. You need to go big or go home. The image needs to be immediately recognizable and your message needs to be perceived almost instantly. This is what gains recognition and admiration of your work on the street.
So to achieve these qualities I started researching through my vintage magazines looking for recognizable and socially relevant imagery. I found many useful images there. It was like listening to “old folk music”. I saw these early advertising images and characters in the edges and back pages of the magazines. I knew I had found what I needed. These images were instantly recognizable and packed with underlying meaning. The images were also relevant because I felt like they were “still lives” of our over saturated advertising culture.
So I began pulling out the images that I liked and felt were the most recognizable and relevant. At first I drew large images with black marker on white paper using my opaque projector. Then I would use these “Template Drawings” on my large light table to draw reproductions of these characters. In this way I was able to reproduce these images by hand again and again. After I made copies I would hand paint them, add props or change their body language to suite my needs. This process became very time consuming and tedious. So that’s what lead me to stenciling.
“Covid Nurse” 24”X26” on paper. (actual street paster) 2020
TEP: Your stenciling is unique and has a great sense of character and seeing them in use by you and in your studio is a piece of art in itself. Holding the paint from previous installments and maintaining their shape. How do you feel that stenciling changed your approach and what is it like to work with stencils?
Pastey Whyte: I felt that stenciling would be a much quicker way to reproduce the images and be able to arrange and color the resulting pieces in anyway I wanted. It would also allow me to take my stencils where ever I needed and create the images on the spot. I also felt by using spray paint, it would give my work more of a Street Art edge. I still enhance these stencil images with backgrounds or hair color or lip color just to show the viewer the hand made quality of the piece. In this way the image might be the same but each one is a unique piece. Also because I use oil board for my stencils they last a long time. I am able to have a resource of stencil images and I do not have to rely on just one image. I can mix it up and keep things interesting.
Pastey Whyte's Studio - Stencils
Stenciling was a hard process to learn. I do not use the “window screen” technique of creating a stencil. I draw and cut a true stencil using my opaque projector. This process can be very difficult and mind bending trying to get all the details correct and keep the stencil as one contiguous piece. I know it’s a harder process then the other technique of creating a stencil but I like the quality of the stencils I create. Of course the cutting out of the stencil is an arduous process which ever technique is used but it’s worth it.
As I got better at creating stencils I also was able to create stencil portraits of my friends and family. This portrait process requires a little more work. I need to choose a photograph that I can manipulate with photo editing. Then in the editing I tweak the levels of the photos to highlight the details and shadows on a persons face. I then use this image to project and create the portrait stencil.
TEP: How does the street art creation influence your gallery art pieces?