Interview with Artist Ernest Doty at Sticks + Stones

by admin on December 9, 2011

Oakland Art Beat met up with artist Ernest Doty at Old Oakland’s Sticks + Stones Gallery, where he’s currently having a solo show of multi-media artworks throughout the month of December. Originally from New Mexico, Ernest discusses the art scene in Oakland, his new politically-motivated art works, his journey as an artist and artistic practice, and much more…

Oakland Art Beat: Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, how’d you come to be here in Oakland?

Ernest Doty: I’ve a lot of friends out here, made a lot of friends out here through travels and stuff. I’ve always been attracted to Oakland because it reminds me of home, but it’s new. so I feel comfortable here, the way people are here, the community is, it’s just home away from home, essentially.

What has your journey as an artist been like?

I’m a high-school dropout, 10th grade was my last year, and I’ve always been an artist, that’s what I always wanted to be when I was a kid. I guess I forgot it for awhile when I was in my early 20s. I was an alcoholic, and once I gave up alcohol I got back into art and making it a career. I made a whole life switch, stop eating the bad foods, stopped that 9-5 job, got back into making art, making it a full time job. Art helped me focus in a lot of ways. Before it just seemed I would wake up most days, hung over, doing a job that I hated, only wanting to go home and relax; I was completely unhappy with every aspect of my life, but art helped me find focus, helped me find myself again.

I’ve been working in and out of the gallery scene in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albany New York, China. I’ve shown all around the US. In New Mexico, I’d sell paintings regularly and do shows. I love the people out there, they’re very supportive of me. That creative outlet is all you have there, it’s second poorest state in the nation, there’s an issue with police brutality. They have a really positive street art scene out there. A lot of the street art out there is politically motivated.

How would you typically describe your art? What interests you and inspires you to create?

I would say, surreal pop art in a sense. It’s always politically, environmentally motivated. I always try to say something with my art. I feel like art is truly the last form of the freedom of expression. Every other medium, they can cover it up and hide it, but with art it’s an emotional response. Nobody can take that away. The iconic images that I choose to use, I take it and make it reverse advertisement. We see these images over and over again, and they try to brand us, brainwash us, make us think these are positive things, and part of the American Way, The Dream but really they aren’t. They are the exact opposite. So I use their tool against them. I show the true nature of the company. My paintings are a healing element even if they seem dark on the surface. Sometimes you have to remind people, get them talking about things again. Everyone knows, but all too often people stop talking about it. People start talking about it until someone feels the need to do something about it, creating the change. Using my art is a good way to get people to talk about it again.

You were recently labeled in some sense in the Bay Guardian as The Artist archetype of the Occupy movement. Would you agree with that? What was it like as an artist to be a part of that movement?

It’s cool that the Bay Guardian labeled me as the Artist of the Occupy movement, but I think there are a lot of great artists part of the Occupy movement. I’ve always been involved politically anywhere I go because I remain open-minded and if there’s something going on I’ll at least go check it out. I want to know for myself. From state to state the movement will have different main focuses within the big themes like the banks, financial issue, and the economy. But, I was there at the wrong place at the right time when that whole Scott Olsen thing went down and helped Scott out; I was able to help pull Scott out. It changed my whole perspective on the thing and I became more involved. It was the catalyst. I was more or less inspired by the people and the movement in general . I think it’s time we all came back and shared our knowledge collectively, especially though this digital age. The people motivate my art because I’m trying to speak up for the people through my art. I’m using my art and the momentum of the movement to help spread that message. It’s a pivotal moment; people are open to these ideas, now. People see it’s happening so they are listening. They want to learn about it, what it is about? That’s pushing my art. More artists should come out, I perhaps didn’t see as much as I thought I’d see. Musicians, street perofrmers, too it’s an important part of the community.

Tell us about your current show at Sticks + Stones. How’d you come to be familiar with the gallery? What do you think about the Oakland art scene?

I think the neighborhood Sticks and Stones is in, I like the juxtaposition of the space and the neighborhood. You get this crossroads of really poor and well-off, I really like that. We seem to want to separate ourselves economically, yet we cross paths all the time. You create an environment for dialogue. It’s up to them to talk, and they find they have more in common, and break down some barriers. I’ve seen a lot of really great art and artists in the galleries and in the streets. Some galleries are doing something very ”the same”; Sticks + Stones I see are very risqué with their shows– younger art, fresher art, raw expression, kind of, “I’m saying this because I can’t hold it in anymore.”

Is there any direction you’d like to see your art going in the future? Do you perhaps see what you’d like to become in other artists?

The only way I would ever allow another artist to influence me is in the sense that, if I see somebody really pushing themselves I want to push myself, it’s all about evolution and progression let your art take you to where it’ll take you, to the next level. I want to remain ultimately original… unless maybe, I see some guy with his lighting really down, maybe I’ll think I got to work on my lighting this week– I need to step my game up. It’s a reminder that there are a lot of people out there that are continually pushing themselves and trying to do better, and do more. I don’t want to become comfortable.

What are some of the more memorable projects you’ve been of a part?

The last mural I did in New Mexico was really memorable; I got to do it with two friends Jaque Fragua, Ryan Montoya who I hadn’t painted with before. We did a really political mural part of Bomb the Canvas, a graffiti arts show that happens once a year in Albuquerque and artists from all around the world that come in. The mural dealt directly with police brutality, issues happening on reservations, all that. We didn’t know how they were going to take it, we knew we were going to be pushing it, really in your face, no sugar coating at all and I thought maybe 40% would like it the others would hate it– and it couldn’t have been opposite to what we thought. We got a great response. I got a lot of feedback that was essentially, “It’s about time somebody painted it what was really going on.” I still get emails about it, thanking me and their reflections on it. It gives me hope for others; it gives me that push to create more.

Does your work vary much from your murals and your work in the galleries?

I do the same thing for murals as I do in the galleries. Of course I have different styles depending on what I’m painting on, or what I’m painting with, but the ideas behind the paintings are always still the same; that same political message. There’s always a message behind everything I paint. From medium to medium it’ll change. I really love doing collage, that’s my most favorite thing right now, and I’m doing oil painting more regularly, I like to mash those things together. Because I have these legal issues right now I can’t really go out and paint, have to talk to my lawyers all the time even when I’ve been given permission to paint murals and do public art, so I’ve been trying to do certain mediums on canvas which is really difficult, it loses something, so I try to combine oil, acrylics, and collage and spray paint and put them all on canvas and get that raw kind of feel and image you’d get from the streets and what that’s all about: Like it, love it, hate it you’ll remember you saw it! I also use a lot of recycled objects because I love old, rusted things and living in New Mexico you see that around a lot in the desert and you see what it was and what it becomes. I like that idea in people and in cities. I’m fascinated with this whole apocalyptic idea. We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone and graffiti, trash and all that reminds me of that. Things only last for so long.