When Jilipollo’s illustrations — an amazing blend of japanese and mexican pop culture on crack — surfaced all over the web recently, the architect, illustrator, designer and lecturer was honoured to have his fifteen minutes of fame. We’re pretty sure those fifteen minutes will last a bit longer than the humble artist believes. ACCLAIMmag.com caught up with Pollo to talk work, life, the Internet and different types of moustaches one may find in his native Mexico.
Hello! First of all, what should we call you?
Hello! I have had different aka’s through the phases of my life: some people still know me as “Big Polla” when I started as a scratcher in the late ‘90s. Then I decided to turn my musical ideas into street art, so I started using “Pimp Pollo” (chulo) as my tag name. I had a very bad experience with police and decided to quit it for the moment. Now, as an illustrator, I work under “Jilipollo”, but you can call me just “Pollo”, I feel it’s friendlier!
What do you do? I’ve read that you’re an architect by trade and an illustrator on the side. How would you describe what you do?
I have always loved construction design, that’s why I decided to study architecture, but I can say I LOVE every kind of design. I feel I have so many things in my mind playing around and ideas, but I have to focus on just some of them to develop them properly, so I started illustrating because that’s one of the things I liked most and you can illustrate something without spending so much money and even time in a project. I feel I constantly have the need to create things.
Are you still working as an architect? If not, why not?
Yes, I also work as an architect and feel very passionate about it. One of my plans for this year is to start studying a Masters in Architecture and have the skills to pay the bills and a yacht.
Tell us about how your creative path started. Have you always known you would be an artist?
Even though art could be quite subjective nowadays, I don’t really feel like what many people consider to be an “artist”. I am more into the creative design for specific purposes and necessities.
Just like Andy Warhol said, “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have”. Nevertheless, illustration is not really considered by many people as design or art, so I suppose I must be in some kind of nowhere land.
And it’s not that I see things differently from other people and find “art” in everything as many people think, I’m convinced that everybody is able to do brilliant things. It’s just a matter of finding your own passion in something, then sitting down and working on it, focusing, developing, producing, proposing and evolve.
And never forget to have fun! Just like most productive jobs: if done [productively], you’ll do something amazing. Then I could say you’re a proper artist, whether you’re a plumber, a cabinetmaker or an animal trainer.
I have always considered myself very restless since I was a kid, I’ve always been trying to create things and to be a productive person, not just a consumer or someone who’s just spending time talking about projects all his/her life and then never really doing anything.
I experienced some hard and difficult times in a certain phase of my life, [times which were] motivating events at the same time, that drove me to take the decision to become a proper illustrator, which wasn’t really a long time ago.
You’ve also done a lot of public art and street work. Can you tell us how you approach work outdoors as opposed to, for example, designing an iPhone case?
I like street art because it is so much fun! Curious people can also participate when you’re working on something and I like that. A good thing I find in it is that it’s not elitist, you practically have the total freedom to express your own message and you can play a lot with bigger scales and mediums. That’s why I love it and it’s probably what I enjoy most when I have the opportunity to produce something, but always with the due respect to innocent people’s houses or places where it shouldn’t really be.
Designing something like an iPhone case or anything alike is a lot of fun as well, and I always find it as a new challenge, but still think urban art is one of my tops.
You work with a huge range of mediums, is it difficult to hone your skills when you do work with so many different ‘canvases’ and materials or do all the techniques inform one another?
Trying other mediums is always beneficial, it makes you a more complete illustrator and you can experiment and discover new things all the time. Sometimes when I see some amazing work from somebody and it is made with a specific medium and in a specific way, I try to “discover” the way that person made it by trying to imitate it.
Doing so helps me comprehend the complexity of the technique and what the artist tried to express, and as a consequence I complete and develop my own skills. Then I decide if I can use a bit of this “new skill” for my own benefit and in my own language, just to complement what I’m working on. Some other times I just discard it. I think this is really helpful to improve my skills, and I don’t think this is copying somebody else’s style. At the end, you can decide which mediums complement each other, experimenting with them according to your concepts and designs. Sometimes you can get interesting surprises!
Tell us a bit about your creative process. How do you bring an idea to life? Is it an organic process in the sense it just occurs as you go? Do you spend a lot of time sketching?
I think I should sketch more, but the truth is that I don’t do it very often. Most of the time I just make a rough sketch and that’s normally enough for me to visualise the final result.
My drawings don’t look very nice in pencil, but I think the application of the medium is what gives the great touch to the final work. To come up with an idea I firstly collect as much information as I can related to the topic. Depending on whether the work is a commission or personal, I could have certain freedoms to include other things in the composition, normally some clichés, references to other stuff, popular icons, etc.
And whenever I can, I like to add some fun to the work! When I put all those things together properly, the result seems to appear by itself. I also take good care of the combination of colours; I normally try not to use many, I prefer to have just a few. I do think it catches the attention easier if it’s not too complex.
A few weeks ago, your images were all over the Internet, it must’ve been pretty cool to see your work on some of the biggest blogs around. How has the web impacted your career?
I felt I was finally popular. I guess I had my 15 minutes of fame. Girls even started to ask me out. The web is a magnificent invention; if it weren’t for that, my work wouldn’t have the same viewer impact, I wouldn’t have the same number of commissions and of course I wouldn’t have my Franck Muller watch, my diary meals by my own Michelin three-star chef, my Béchamel or learned the art of sprezzatura.
For many, the Internet allows artists to gain a wider audience that they may not otherwise receive. Others argue the web makes it too easy for anyone to be an artist. What are your own thoughts on that?
It sounds to me like one of those conversations between a couple of frustrated and non-updated old painters in a beatnik cafe. If one doesn’t adapt and doesn’t take advantage of how things are nowadays and just waste time complaining, then that person is screwed. Some things may seem unfair, but that’s how the world works, and one is part of it.
You’ve also done some guest lecturing. Is that a regular gig? Why is teaching important to you? What do you get out of it and what do students get out of it?
Yes, I also teach and have done some lecturing. It’s always pleasant to find motivated and talented students. I wish I had some kind of help and studies, but I had to learn on my own and have made many mistakes, so I hope I could drive and help them develop their skills properly as much as I can. I also learn a lot from them as well!
One of the things I really love about your work is that you are obviously inspired by a huge range of cultures and worlds. Do you find you’re constantly just exploring and learning about other cultures? You must have a lot going on in your head! How do you keep up with it all?
To be honest, I do it arguing and convincing people I have travelled a lot around the world, but all I do is watch NatGeo.
What about your own heritage? What is it about Mexico that inspires you?
Who wouldn’t be inspired by Mexico? It is very surrealist and colourful and you can take pictures of yourself with a donkey painted like a zebra in Tijuana. And nobody cares if your moustache is a Chevron, Pencil, Horseshoe, Pancho Villa or Hungarian one.
What’s the Six Million Dollar Brand? What’s your involvement with that?
The SMDB (Six Million Dollar Brand) is a t-shirt design company founded this year in honour of Lee Majors (Steve Austin from the ‘80s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man). Great, unusual and ahead-of-their-time designs at affordable prices even though these t-shirts are worth six million dollars!
You seem to be one of those dudes who’s always working on something. What do you do when you’re NOT making art?
I really don’t spend all my time illustrating, I also design, teach and sometimes construct. I normally spend all my time on this, but when I have a little gap, I perform as a scratcher and as a DJ along with other parties, using a Vendetta costume. We are music lovers and it’s a way to protest against the overexploitation of well-intentioned, normally non-educated and naïve emergent musicians like Ricardo Arjona, Lucerito, Lila S. de Downs and Paulina Rubio, by some National TV foundations with personal interests.
Finally, can you share some of your upcoming projects with us (or are they top secret)?
Not top secret at all! Still I think it’s prudent not to talk too much in case the plan gets frustrated, hope you understand! My urban art group and I are working on a huge project which will include many other artists to intervene a 4530 feet long wall, which is a very ambitious plan, still we’ll do our best to achieve it. I also will try to get my work exposed in galleries, that’s something I haven’t done properly and would really like to do.