Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
Looking at the artwork of Artist Lou Patrou, you almost wouldn’t believe his larger than life images are actually paintings, not Adobe Creative Suite digital masterpieces. He’s also designed an entire Patrou line of products that is not currently on the market, but hopefully will be soon. His kitsch-inspired art is equally sophisticated and bizarre, with killer craftsmanship. Seriously, I can’t believe some of these aren’t done in Illustrator – see for yourself.
SHANON WELTMAN: First question, what and who are your artistic inspirations?
LOU PATROU: I like vintage toys, I like vintage ceramics. I collect a lot of old ceramics like old cookie jars, those kind of things that have a lot of anamorphic shapes to them. I also like old vintage glassware, things that have images printed on them or something. Not just simple glasses. Kitschy, bizarre things I’ve found over the years. I have a whole cabinet filled with that kind of stuff. [Laughs] I guess that has kind of rubbed off on me. If you look at the drawings, Hank and Sylvie, that’s where they kind of sprung from I guess.
SW: Ah yes, that was one of my questions. Who are they?
LP: A lot of the artwork on those old ceramics, the finishes are very, very smooth tones. Very pretty, smooth, rounded out tones. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was kind of [Laughs] really obsessed with a really slow, graduated tone. The black and white tones, which could be in any color. I did those with pencil, black and white. I’m actually doing a lot with Hank and Sylvie. I’m doing something right now, but most of the stuff I’ve done with them now for product applications and other things are all in color, even though the original is in black and white.
SW: How big are the originals?
LP: They’re 50 inches high.
SW: Oh wow.
LP: [Laughs] When I moved here [NY] from LA, I had more space. I lived in a really cramped garage apartment in LA for 20 years. I did a lot of good artwork there, but I couldn’t… the largest sheet artwork I did there on paper, was probably 24” x 30”. That was the biggest table space I could get in my kitchen there. I have a really large space here, I have two long tables put together. I like to draw on that, paint on that, lean over my work. I don’t know why, maybe it’s getting my face close to it. I never work with it straight up. I have a painting that I finished this weekend and I still haven’t seen it in any way but a flat, down position. I guess that would be weird to some artists. [Laughs]
SW: Do you ever find when you do stand it up that it’s warped, or are you so used to working flat that it comes out the right perspective?
LP: I really figure that out well before I do it, I do a lot of practice drawings. I work from modeled parts and a lot of stenciled pieces for all the parts of the drawings and the paintings. I will take those and hang them on the wall and look at them.
SW: Ahh, that was my next question, to walk us through your process. What’s the next thing you do?
LP: Well, it takes a while to get to that. The whole beginning of it for me is just scribbling on a table. Doing spontaneous drawing and painting. That, for me, is when you just let everything go. You kind of act like your dowsing for water. [Laughs] You know, like those guys with the sticks, who thought they could find water. Just kind of empty their mind and walk around like they’re looking for something. I think most creative people that I’ve known do that same thing. Just kind of let your mind and your drawing follow whatever free flow, just to see what happens. You sort of pick up on that, analyze it and see if you like it or don’t like it, but you follow what your hand is doing and try to take after it. After I get a couple good ideas, I’ll try to see if it would work as a good idea for a finished piece of art. Each piece that I do, there’s probably about a 100 small drawings and then one of them you can see is the derivative. The whole thing came from that one idea. I think it’s the same for most people. See what you’re doing, find a way to scale that whole thing up and then polish it, see if you can make it into a finished beautiful piece.
SW: How long does it usually take you once you get to the part where you’ve enlarged it? How long does it take to knock out the piece?
LP: That is really slow. One of the reasons is I like to live with it a little bit. I have to watch out that I don’t live with it too long that I get bored with it as a concept and then get on to the next one or something. This painting I just finished, I started the idea about 6 months ago. It takes a long time, I don’t produce in high quantity.
SW: Do you work in oil?
LP: No, all the painting that I do is either watercolor or acrylic.
SW: Oh wow, it’s so smooth!
LP: Yeah, I like it because it dries fast. I can lean over it and I can lay in some color. It takes around, sometimes up to ten coats, opaque.
SW: Have you ever done any of your images as screenprints or any other kind of printing? It looks like it would translate perfectly for printmaking.
LP: I know! Interesting you picked that out, that’s exactly what I want to do with a lot of this stuff. Did you see the series called the “Raves”? That’s a complete step by step explanation of what I’m trying to say.
SW: Ah, very cool! Did you do any of these faces in Illustrator? Is it really just that clean?
LP: No, they’re all [by hand]. If you scroll down, the third picture down is the final concept sketch, where you see the little green face on the left, and then the big stencil on the right. That’s the scaled up stencil for that. Does that make sense?
LP: That little thing on the left, I messed around with that probably around 40-50 ideas like that. Then I came up with the idea of the side faces, those laughing half faces on the cheeks. That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’
SW: Wow, I am so floored that these are all done in watercolor and acrylic. It’s beyond flat, so amazing!
LP: These are acrylic, the little thing on the left is watercolor. There’s four of them and my whole idea here was… I didn’t know, I was going to do a series when I came up with the first one, but then I said ‘Whoa, there’s too much I want to fool around with’. I wanted to keep the same exact face, but fill it in differently, you know? Like a cool set of barware or something. If you scroll all the way to the bottom you see the four. I can scan those and then punch out the background and then turn these into what you said before. I can turn these into another color process for t-shirts, for huge screen prints or something. Even on glassware, or plates.
LP: My ideas have kind of merged into like secondary applications to the art, after. My first parameter is to make something that will ultimately be in a gallery somewhere, on a wall. That’s why I don’t make Photoshop drawings or something, I make a real painting on paper.
SW: When did you start working like this? So graphically, with patterns, in this style.
LP: It started happening I guess a few years ago, but I’ve always made either tattoos or patterns on faces, I’ve always done it. For like 35 years or something.
SW: Where are you originally from?
LP: I was born in Rochester, NY. A long time ago.
SW: Cool! You just mentioned galleries and I see you’ve been in a few, what kind of advice would you give to other artists breaking into the gallery scene?
LP: I’m still breaking. For the first 30 years, I was never interested in promoting my stuff. I just kept it kind of secret. You know those stories you read about some guy who has done photography for 25 years and then he died, and they open up his apartment and they find 500 boxes of pictures and negatives? That’s me with my artwork. For the first 30 years, I never thought about being in a gallery, I didn’t want to promote myself, I thought I’d end up being a jackass if I tried to say hey look at me, or look at my stuff. [Laughs] I was too passionate about the whole thing.
SW: What was the turning point?
LP: When I moved from LA I just started. I have a lot of age on my face at this point, I don’t know how many decades left I would have, I just want to start. I want to make it as a full-time career and I want as many people to see my stuff as I can. That thing, whatever that bug is where you want to self-promote, it just takes over. You see it on Facebook and Linkedin, people constantly posting their stuff — that’s what I do now. I didn’t even get anything into a show until 2006, so I am way behind these other artists that have been out there for decades. Selling and doing everything just to be able to build their resume. You know these long long resumes, thousands of shows. I don’t have that. I have the work! But I don’t have the shows on the resume.
SW: But it sounds like as soon as you did make the effort you started seeing results. Like you’re saying, it was just what you were putting in, in terms of your output. Because if you’re still making the work…
LP: I’m still doing it. And the weird thing is, or the good thing is, I have all the artwork. All those other artists, they don’t have any of their artwork. They pretty much just sold it off for nothing, in exchange for putting another gallery name on the resume. That’s what a lot of them do. There’s a catch 22 in this business of getting to where you’re an established artist, getting a lot of money. I only know a few living artists that really make enough money to make a living like that. Ron English, people like that, Kenny Sharp, who get $125,000 for a painting. You know, before the gallery takes their cut. Those are the guys that have made it like movie stars make it. I see these other artists out there, I see it everyday. They’re really incredible talents and they’re selling off these things, it just depresses me how low they have to sell them. These galleries, they don’t care, all they want to do is get a big name in there. Get foot traffic in the gallery and then try to make something, which is totally understandable. They have to make something. If the guy comes in there who has work it’s so awful it can’t sell, they don’t want to use that guy. If another guy at the other end of the spectrum, another guy comes in and says I want ‘X’ amount of money for these paintings, the gallery says, ‘We’ll never be able to sell it for that’. You can’t use that guy. That lower ground is where all the artists end up going. It’s really depressing to me. I don’t see a future in it. These galleries, I get calls from them. They want me to work up an incredible piece, but I can’t just whip out quantity like an abstract artist, or spray artist. I can’t just make fast crap and just ship it out. ‘Just give me $500 or $1500.’ I can’t do that. I live with these pieces like this is my family, these are my weekends, these are my best times. I spend months and months on one piece.
SW: That makes sense, that you would want your stuff to also be on products. It seems like the last thing you just said, seems more important to you. Like, things being around, in your home.
LP: Getting the image out there.
LP: What I’ve figured out, in this game of publicity and press is, the artist who makes the most press can win. He can still win, because his name is out there. It’s getting your name out there. I could get my name out there if I had a lot of money, I would just buy a publicist and I would just buy a gallery in every city in every month and just have my own shows. I would just pay people to put my name on stuff. Sooner or later it just sticks, it’s like Angeline out in California. If you put enough billboards of yourself out there, sooner or later you’re famous for that. You’re something.
SW: Right. Your stuff, it makes me think you could be another Marimekko kind of brand.
LP: Everybody tells me those kinds of things. Here’s another idea, here’s some other stuff. Did you ever look at my product ideas?
SW: Yeah! The watches are amazing. I’d love one.
LP: I know, there are a lot of people who want to buy them. They email me, they want to order one.
SW: Do you have access to get those made?
LP: For me, it just comes down to money. Do I want to be a watch company or a t-shirt company? Do I want to have boxes of palates of t-shirts in different sizes in my room?
LP: That’s what it comes down to, when you decide you want to be a manufacturer, then you’ve got to deal with returns, you’re a store. You’ve also got to market and distribute and fulfill that, that’s a whole business too.
SW: Oh I know. [Laughs] We also sell stuff, it sometimes takes a lot away from the artwork itself.
LP: And then you can make yourself look like a small timer too! Like you’re just a guy running an Etsy store too. I don’t want to do that. Plus, I don’t like selling. I like giving stuff away, I don’t like selling. I just don’t like it.
SW: I’ve got two more questions for you, they’re kind of unrelated to everything else. One, I was just wondering, what is your birthday?
LP: I’ll tell you the year, how about that? And month. It’s July, 1954. I keep the date just for identity theft…
SW: Are you a Cancer or a Leo?
SW: You seem like a Leo, from your art. Very fun, loud and colorful. Here’s the last question, on a super random note, also about a fellow Leo artist. What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie?
LP: That’s a difficult question.
LP: The first one that popped in my head was “The Birds”. I don’t know how much it’s a favorite, I’d have to sit there and analyze myself over it. Know what I mean? [Laughs]
SW: I saw that when I was eight and it terrified me.
LP: Those movies! I don’t know how old you are, but when I was growing up and there were only three channels on TV, that stuff was big. Same with the “Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”. You probably don’t remember those shows, right?
SW: I do! I do.
LP: Ah! [Laughs]
SW: I don’t remember them because I wasn’t alive when they were originally on the air, but I know them. I’ve watched them.
LP: “The Outer Limits” and Alfred Hitchcock, they were just pure quality. The whole family would just sit around and say nothing, just watch that stuff. It was good.
SW: Do you think you enjoyed his movies more or his tv show more? Hitchcock.
LP: Well, I think of his films… well they’re history makers. I worked in the film business for 20 years, I worked out in Hollywood. This guy is a history maker.