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Antoine TAVA is a Montreal-based pop artist. Renown for his “dripping” visual effects, from-Dubai-to-Brooklyn recognizable “screaming heart” icon, and dope Adidas SS sneakers series, he is an obvious pick for our first artist interview! We sat down with the painter/illustrator to talk cereal, Biggie Smalls and contemporary political issues.
THE FINE PRINT: It appears quite evident that you grew up in a cartoon-filled environment. Which cartoon was your favourite to watch on TV as a kid? Do you still watch them religiously? Would you say there is any particular cartoonist who largely influenced your work?
ANTOINE TAVAGLIONE: Like many kids that grew up in the 80’s, I had a few favorites such as Voltron, He-Man and the Smurfs to name only a few. In my teens, I started collecting comic books and figurines with passion. As far as TV cartoons, I still enjoy watching the oldies very much (it’s hard to beat tried and true classics!), but occasionally I turn on to the Swim channel to see what is new in the cartoon world.
Growing up, I had a great admiration for Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield. I always loved the sharp quality of his work and the character development aspect. He knew exactly how to make a simple image come alive and speak to people (metaphorically speaking). He just had this knack for creating characters that appealed to me immensely. Not only was he insanely talented, he knew how to convey a story. That is what makes a difference between a good and a great cartoon for me, and I try to do the same thing with my work. I believe it is not enough to make something nice to look at, you have to give it substance so that it can reach out to people beyond the paper, or the screen as the case may be.
TFP: How does your Italian background influence your artwork? Can we find any cultural references in your pieces?
AT: I am very much influenced by my origins, whether it be my Italian blood or my Montreal lifestyle. Of course, the Italian culture being so artistically and culturally rich, I draw a lot of inspiration from it. For instance, I am a big fan of Italian cinema and Italian food, and that is reflected in many of my pieces. Also, I create a substantial amount of art for local Italo-Canadian brands. For example, I created some hand painted promo banners for a local Italian bakery in Little Italy. Some projects like this are really exciting to me because it really allows me to show my cultural sense of belonging loud and proud! However, at the end of the day, I am also a Montrealer at heart and this city is extremely important to my artistic identity. Now, I do live in Little Italy so I keep close to my roots in that way. For more specific influence in my work, look out for anything from Nutella jars, plates of pasta, whites-reds-and-greens, my iconic fox character (“My pants are not too short, I’m European”), some scenes from famous Italian movies, etc. Plus, my number one fuel is espresso!
TFP: Your Stan Smith series was a huge hit! What lead you to the brilliant decision of incorporating your renowned art on the iconic sneaker?
AT: For quite some time, I had been wanting to start a customization process such as this one, but I still had not found the perfect medium. One day, a buddy of mine dropped off his Stan smiths at my door and asked me to customize them. His logic made so much sense: he wanted to take my art with him wherever he went! Later that year, I took a trip to Dubai to take part in a sneaker event in which I was exhibiting paintings and creating a live mural. Thanks to Instagram and word of mouth, I got asked over there customize some Stan smiths during the event. Visitors and retailers from the event took notice and this created a chain-reaction. It became a “thing” almost without me realizing it. I got a lot of visibility during that time and started to receive several demands. Since the event, I have been shipping customized sneakers worldwide as far as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Singapore, London, NY, and, of course, Montreal.
TFP: Your “screaming heart” is distinguishable internationally. Could you explain to us what it means to you and why you plaster it on archetypical personalities?
AT: I created Screaming Heart was many years ago, inspired by a difficult period in my life. I wanted to find a way to release all of the emotions inside of me. I knew I was not the only person grappling with this feeling from time to time. I think that all hearts need to scream from time to time and let it all out, whether it be positive or more difficult emotions. This is why I created the Screaming Heart, for people who, like me at the time, feel strong and raw things inside and need to let them out! I have recently added the Screaming Heart on Marilyn Monroe portrait and other famous celebrities, covering their mouths. Even celebrities who “have it all” have emotions that they need to let free. And over the years, it has become something of a logo for me in a sense.
TFP: There are obvious political hints in your artwork. What is your favourite way to “pass the message” on current or past contemporary issues?
AT: Sometimes I like to be very direct and make it obvious to the viewer, but most times I really enjoy being subtle about my opinions and keep them more for myself with only hints that entail political messages. It is left for the viewer to discover the hints and make their own interpretation. For example, the drips that have become a sure-fire way to identify my work are inspired by the European dictators from the old days. They would take everything from them (food, goods, property, etc.). With the milk, when they were done, they would spit out the remainders on the sidewalk to show their domination over the people rather than thinking of giving it back to them. The dripping milk, therefore, became a symbol of oppression and power, and it is as a contestation that I integrate that visual in my work (but also because I’ve really come to like the effect!).
TFP: What is your overall message, or what is your “big picture”?
AT: I just want to create work that speaks to people. I want people to see my art and think: wow, it feels like this guy is in my head, he gets me. I want to recreate things that people already love but processed through my vision. That is why I am a pop artist; pop culture is close to the heart of the masses, and it’s relevant and fun all at once.
TFP: Are you inspired at all by music? What’s playing on your tracklist right now?
AT: My work is very much inspired by early 90’s rap and current music. Although I appear to a typical Montrealer preppy white boy now, you would never believe that I grew up playing b-ball, writing rap songs for and learning all the lyrics of EPMD, Public Enemy, Naughty by Nature, A tribe Called Quest to name a few. This can be seen in my work in a lot of references and also for example with the several Biggie pieces I have created during the last few years. So 90’s rap is always on my playlist, but I also keep myself aware of the current trends; I wouldn’t be a very good pop artist if I didn’t!
Visit TAVA on his website and Instagram @ANTOINETAVA for more artwork!
TFP: Favourite cereal character?
AT: Toucan Sam and Captain Crunch are tied for me.
TFP: Would you be willing to give The Fine Print a lil’ sneak-peak or hint on any of your upcoming projects? Anything international coming up?
AT: A solo exhibition of very quirky and colorful drawing in Copenhagen is in the works. I will also be exhibiting my custom sneakers not only in Canada but in the US and in middle East in the near future. This spring specifically, I am working on a lot of custom order large-scale paintings, which is taking up a lot of my time. Also, I will be in Italy this summer and I hope to be able to cook something up over there. To be continued!
Pictures are a courtesy of Tava.