There are tens of thousands of artists chasing their dreams in Los Angeles but very few of them grew up here and can claim childhood memories of the city as the inspiration behind their work. Eduardo Viramontes — or Eddie if you’re lucky enough to be friends with him — knows LA like the back of his hand. He can tell you where the best breakfast spots are and offer critiques of each new brewery that’s popped up over the past decade.
But more importantly, he can tell you how the walls of the city have changed, how seemingly infinite layers of paint, graffiti, wheatpaste posters, and signs have come and gone, marking the memories of LA past. Words and images splashed up and stripped down over the years, worn away by weather and age as the city rattles with constant movement.
These are the memories he holds dear and what ultimately drives his artistic vision, spanning across an array of mediums from painting to sculpture to graffiti to illustration, etc. The funny thing is, if you’ve worn a The Hundreds graphic over the past five years, then you are already a fan of Eddie’s work. He’s our Lead Graphic Designer and absolutely one of the best at his craft in the industry. But designing thousands of graphics beloved all over the world doesn’t satisfy Eddie’s intense urge to create. He’ll tell you that his real artwork is his paintings, his ink work, his graffiti, all of his physical sculptures and 3D installations. Most creatives find it exhausting to keep producing after already doing it for eight hours straight (not just me, right?), but if you ask Eddie, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day. There isn’t one day a week were Eddie goes home to his couch, turns on the TV, and just chills. Instead, he gets right back to work. The crazy part? Unless you know Eddie, and I have had the pleasure of being his cubicle neighbor for the past two years, than you would have no idea what this man gets up to in his free time. You wouldn’t know he paints. You wouldn’t even know he has his first solo show open right now. Unless your an annoying coworker like me who demands to know what everyone is up to every second of the day when they aren’t hanging around HQ, you’d be clueless. Thankfully, you have me to fill you in.
Eddie is a true artist, one who moves in extremely humble silence and creates for the reasons we all should be: to express ourselves, to inspire others, to reclaim our past, and, most importantly, to genuinely be who we are.
When you see his canvas on the wall, you are meeting Eddie. Quiet but impactful. Steady in the pulse. Complicated yet exposed. And layers. Lots of layers. Color, texture, and movement revealing his truth. The real him and the first strokes on the canvas. Through November 27th, Eddie’s solo show Strawberry Fields: A Dedication through Letters and Dramas is on display at Stay Gallery in Los Angeles. Stop by to check it out in person while you can, share the pieces that affect you deeply, and support by bringing something home or telling a friend to go see it.
I dragged Eddie away from his work for a little bit and slipped him some truth serum so he’d actually talk about his art, what moves him, and how it felt to share Strawberry Fields.
ALLISON GRETCHKO: What’s the meaning behind Strawberry Fields?
EDUARDO VIRAMONTES: The works are inspired by a common theme throughout my graphic design, painting, and illustrations. It’s inspired by LA and the memories of growing up in this city as a kid. A lot of paintings, works, colors and textures that I created are from memories. All of these canvases are memories that I’ve had or some type of wall that I passed by. I’m always walking around LA, taking pictures of textures that I like. There’s all these cool textures around the city that are created by nature like the weather, or all these pieces of graffiti that are covered by paint then peeled away. So it’s like a give and take process, and I work similarly on canvases. I’ll take away stuff and add stuff, then go back and forth.
So Strawberry Fields is representative of Los Angeles?
There are different meanings to the title of the show. Strawberry Fields can be LA because it’s kind of the idea and vibe of the show. The actual name came from growing up in LA and being picked on as a kid, especially because of my race. Being Mexican in middle school, some bully would call me a strawberry picker. They’re making fun of me because the strawberry pickers, the farmers, basically the whole Bracero Movement, are Mexicans coming to California to work in the farms. Later on in life, it kind of stayed with me. I remembered that time but now I feel proud of it. I’m proud to be Mexican. That’s me taking back the slur and seeing it as a positive thing. Strawberry pickers are hard workers, they provide for the community. Braceros, in general, are a big part of the community, they pretty much pick all of your food. Everything that we eat comes from somewhere and people’s hard work goes into that.
Really turning around that identity and reclaiming it.
In general, even growing up, I didn’t want people calling me Eduardo. Like no, my name is Eddie, not Eduardo. I was ashamed of it but nowadays I’m Eduardo. I’m proud of that name now. It’s the reason why I chose this name for the show. My friends call me Eddie but Eduardo is what I like to go by in the outside world. Strawberry Fields also means the works are like my strawberries. My hard work of growing these pieces that are going into this show. The show is a literal field of dreams that shows aspirations. The whole Jon Lennon thing, too, I really like his music and ideas. When I was in New York, I went to the actual strawberry field in Central Park.
It’s your first solo show, which is pretty exciting. You’re a multidisciplinary artist — graphic designer, illustrator, everything. Why did you choose painting as your primary medium for this show?
I feel like I’m very multidisciplinary to the point where I can do everything, but for this show I wanted to focus more on my painting and illustration and using ink and acrylic, more hands-on things instead of my computer. I feel like it’s something that helps me get away from design which is a big part of my life and it’s nice to get away from it and actually do analog creative stuff and use brushes, paint, etc. I used plastic bags and other random things to get the right texture to the canvas. I feel like painting is something I’ve become passionate about over the years because the people that inspire me are painters –at least lately. Painters and contemporary artists, they make me want to create things like that. I’ve been reading a lot about art theory and contemporary works and looking at museums and looking at all the classical stuff.
Is that starting to influence your other artworks, graphic design, illustrations and photos?
I wouldn’t say so, I feel like it stayed in its own lane for the most part. I feel various things in my design theory. It’s different worlds, I intend to keep them separate. Its very different methods of creating for me, different outlets.
Do you have an artist routine that you follow? How do you get into the creative mindset?
I feel like painting is more of a build up. For designing, I can just sit down and start on the computer right away. For painting, I have to get into the right mindset. It’s very active, I’m using my body a lot. It’s basically me performing in front of the canvas. There’s no physical preparation but mentally I have to prepare to get into that state of mind, not be influenced by any outside thoughts. Going inside my head and creating these paintings. Sometimes, I put music on but its on and off depending on where I am in the process. In the beginning, I feel like its me, like clearing my head and letting go. That part doesn’t usually involve music because it’s me trying to focus on what’s inside my head and putting it on the canvas. I have to take out the brushes that I want to use, what tools, mix the colors by hand.
Is there one medium you prefer to work with right now?
I really enjoy painting, but working with ink is really cool, too. The black and white ink work. One of the drawings in the show is black and white and that’s fun because I’m using this Japanese brush. It takes a lot of concentration to make sure that the pressure is right for the width of the stroke that your trying to put on the paper.
In your artist statement, you mention the theme of masking in the show. Can you elaborate?Masking is a big part of the theme of the show. Pieces of graffiti are masked underneath layers of paint. So, I use that as an effect on the canvas to show something being masked under layers of paint that I put on top of these gradients.The masking idea is something I have been thinking about lately, like how people mask their emotions with masks that they put on to fit in. Some people have a hard time bringing up stuff they want to talk about but they usually put it away and I feel like that’s what I’m trying to get people to think about. Maybe you should ask more questions or whatever, make sure everyone around you is okay. I like to make sure everybody around me is ok. It’s okay to speak up and to get help from somebody. I feel like that goes the same for me because I feel like I used to do that, I used to be miserable but put on a mask and a happy face. Lately, I have been trying to express my feelings more. Same thing with painting. I’m just putting my feelings onto the paintings.
So is this show a big unmasking for you?
Yeah, exactly. It’s definitely a big unmasking because I feel like it puts me in a vulnerable spot. Super vulnerable. I’ve definitely been trying to get better at that. A big unmasking because it literally shows my feelings on the walls. It’s me putting out my most private moments or private memories onto canvases and drawings. I rarely put out paintings on social media or whatever because I feel like it’s exposing myself. That’s what this show is, me putting everything out there for everybody to see. Hopefully they can see what I’m trying to say.
Is community an important part of your work?
I think so. Community and hopefully giving somebody the inspiration to move forward and be themselves. To be proud of who you are and where you came from. I think that’s what’s cool about the community, like being in a local gallery. I feel like it says something. I feel like that area of LA is very quiet, so it’s cool to hopefully bring something to that area. Get people inspired, I think that’d be cool.
You want to inspire the community, but who inspires you?
A lot of painters that I look up to, like Gerhard Richter, Mark Bradford, and especially Mark Rothko. Growing up, learning about art history in school, you see their names and you get to know them. Then, later on in life, especially now, I’ve been reading more material about that stuff so it makes me think about art in a different way. Then, you see what they were trying to do, because these are artists that are very abstract expressionists. Very abstract, there are no figures to the works. Just color and texture. I love how you can minimize everything to color and texture to achieve something. I think that’s what makes it tricky because you’re relying on pure color and texture and I think that’s what inspires me. You can say so much with that.
It’s interesting that you say all these very classical painters inspire you, because I see your style and work as very contemporary, not classical at all.
For sure. I think a lot of my other inspiration comes from graffiti artists that I grew up looking up to. Artists who would turn into contemporary painters themselves. I think they took the non-traditional route of painting graffiti and then becoming these artists that people are spending money on now. They’re in museums now. It’s pretty cool to see them accomplish that through a different route.
Anything else we should know about the show?
Hopefully you see more of who I am and connect to some of the memories that we might have shared. I hope I inspire somebody to do something cool.
Photos courtesy of Allison Gretchko