Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
Austin, Texas resident, Xavier Schipani, is a drawing machine from the moment he wakes up each day. He’s got big near future goals of completely changing up the art gallery scene in the land of keepin’ it weird. Currently he’s happily busy with commissions, album covers, publishing his own zines, and local mural painting. Xavier is also a MICA 2007 alumni and shares his birthday with Bill Murray.
SW: What are the common themes or ideas you work with, and what are your current muses or obsessions?
XS: A lot of my themes have been queer themes, but just kind of like creating a fantasy world for a lot of those themes that can be super serious. Kind of making it more light hearted. Right now I’m really into Sol LeWitt, I’m going back through a lot. I’ve been working in color, which… I don’t ever work in color. So, that’s something new for me. Kind of been looking back at a lot of abstract paintings from the 50’s and 60’s. Block paintings, just kind of trying to introduce color slowly into my work. I’ve just been using primary colors right now. I’ve been looking at a lot of different things. There’s this one Japanese artist who did all of the posters for The Beatles and he did the Yellow Submarine, he did all the animating and all the illustration. So, I’ve kind of just been looking at as much color as I can.
SW: What specifically are the queer themes, is it imagery, is it more idea heavy? Which hits you more, like ‘Oh I see what he’s trying to say’, or visually, like you just get it. I don’t know if that’s too confusing of a question.
XS: Well, the last show that I had was all pencil drawings. I was on Grindr for about 4 months and I basically went on and had an artist profile. I was looking for people to send me photos that I could work with, that I could draw from… and I got crazy shit. This guy was crouching naked on his dining room table with like a bag over his head. [Laughs] I just got all of these weird photos.
SW: [Laughs] Plastic bag or paper bag? Sorry.
XS: It was a plastic bag. It was pretty interesting. But that was kind of a way for me to explore the gay dating scene and see how aggressive it was and kind of just investigate some of that. So, that was more obvious. The theme there was that I was trying to expose this online dating style. I guess it’s true for straight people now too with Tinder and everything, but Grindr is super aggressive. I have a lot of friends that are on it and it’s just crazy. I was really curious about it. Being in a relationship, I couldn’t participate in any other way besides being curious about it. That was a little bit more obvious and playful. I saved all the headlines from the ads, I went on craigslist a bit too. Every time I got a really good photo from an ad, I would write down the ad title as well. That’s basically how I named each piece. That was more conceptual I guess.
SW: I think I saw those pencil drawings. You posted those right?
XS: Yeah, I posted some of them. I ended up doing about a 150 in four months.
SW: Holy shit. So, that leads me to my next question… What’s your typical process? How big is a piece? How long does it usually take you? Do you do pencil and then ink it? What’s your process like?
XS: I’ve been working kind of in like a 9 x 12 format as a standard and then with some larger pieces as well. Like, that show is mixed between 9 x 12 and then I had some pieces that were 19 x 24 and then 24 x 48. I had some bigger stuff in there as well. I would say, for example I did about 25 drawings last week. They’re all about 9 x 12. Sometimes I sketch on tracing paper if I want it to look really clean, and then I’ll transfer it onto paper and trace the lines back, and then work on top of that.
SW: With a lightbox or?
XS: No I just flip it over and trace right on the back of it and it will just transfer the pencil. I do that a lot, especially if I’m working on something for someone, if I want it to be really clean. Otherwise I just sketch and I usually do a little bit of pencil, at least to block out whatever I’m working on. I’ll go in over with ink and kind of free form the rest of it. So, depending on what it is but that’s usually how I do it.
SW: So, how long does a drawing usually take you?
XS: I would say anywhere from an hour to 4 hours depending on what it is. Sometimes less. 9 x 12, I mean I can really knock something detailed out in 4 hours.
SW: You work fast but that’s still a lot of work, it’s inspiring to hear. As an artist, I’m struggling to maintain that amount of work. What is your routine? How do you stay disciplined in that way?
XS: I watch a lot of really old movies that are kind of just like static noise. I get up pretty early, or I try to, and I just start working. I’ve been doing these color drawings and I’m really into them. I’m working on them a lot and I’m dreaming about them, so it’s crazy, I’ll wake up and I’m like ready to go. I just I don’t know, I don’t really think of it as being disciplined. I guess it is, I just can’t help it. I don’t have any discipline really for anything else. [Laughs] I don’t. I’m horrible.
SW: That sounds exciting.
XS: Yeah, I don’t really go out that much anymore, I don’t really party that much. So, I like drinking at home [Laughs] and working. I feel like now more than ever I don’t really care about anything else. People here are kind of weird. I have friends here but no one’s, like, really inspired to do anything here. This town is super stoner, just whatever, do nothing and that’s totally fine. It’s literally where Slacker was made and is just that. It’s like Peter Pan land, people never have to grow up here. I guess that inspires me to keep working. When I look around, there’s no gallery scene here, which I’m hoping to try and open something this year. Yeah, I don’t know, I’m not really engaged in the nightlife here or really any scene here. I think that’s helped me stay focused, for sure.
SW: That’s interesting, I’ve heard people be in similar situations and be influenced in the opposite way, of like falling into that slacker kind of mentality.
XS: I think it’s really easy to get like that. I think people move here from NY and they get like that. They’re so tired of hustling because they worked so hard they forget how to work. It’s crazy. Happens all the time.
SW: Hmm. [Laughs]
XS: I mean I don’t blame them, when I moved here I was like ‘Damn, people are just chilling in the middle of the day. Does anyone work here?’ You just see people out at all times of the day just chilling. And you’re like, ‘Alright, I guess they’re not going to work. Whatever.’ [Laughs] But yeah I can’t really say anything. I am quitting my job as well.
SW: But you have a goal. [Laughs] You’re not just quitting your job to sit around.
XS: [Laughs] True.
SW: Two more questions. What’s been the most exciting commission job you’ve done?
XS: I’m working on a possible collaboration with Nike, which is cool. There’s this guy I’m meeting later, he has two house boys and he’s married. So he has his house boy’s who are young and another whole dynamic going on. I’m going over to his house later to take photos of them all together so that I can draw their family portrait. I don’t know. [Laughs] That’s fun.
XS: I’ve been working with a lot of bands and that’s been really cool. I just worked with Double Duchess and I’m going to be doing something with Spank Rock possibly this year; this other band that’s really cool.
SW: Does your work circulate or are you friends with any of these people and they’re just like, ‘I want you to do this’?
XS: Yeah, sometimes. Like this guy, Klever, he’s a DJ. He’s on tour with Yellow Wolf. I met him when he came here. I did a portrait of him and by the next day I had like 400 new followers. Just because of that portrait, which is crazy. He’s got like a million followers. He’s actually gotten me a lot of work, because people saw that and were like, ‘Oh! Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I was like ‘yeah, sure’. It’s kind of been constant. I have Jenny, my Fiance, is my manager which is rad because she emails everyone for me. I don’t have to do anything, which is cool, because I suck at that. She does all my invoicing and emails, that’s been great.
SW: That’s awesome. It takes so much effort to do both.
XS: Yeah, it’s great.
SW: Last question, totally unrelated. What’s the tastiest food you’ve eaten in Austin?
XS: I’d probably say… Well, I work at Paul Qui’s restaurant. He’s won Top Chef a couple years ago and the food there is pretty fucking banging. Pretty awesome. It’s Filipino and it’s just all over the place, it’s super good. I also love this little place called Julio’s, it’s owned by a family and is right in my neighborhood. Their chicken is killer, it’s just very traditional Mexican and it’s awesome.
Xavier painting a mural at Qui