Interview with Johnny Quintanilla

Órale Mag: Can you introduce yourself?   

Zurdo: Well, Johnny Quintanilla, I go by the name of Zurdo. And thats just because just growing up they use to call me lefty. I wanted to represent to a more Latino thing, so might as well switch it to something like Zurdo. It came from like being like left out, “oh, you’re lefty”. But it made me unique.

OM: It what ways did it make you different?

Zurdo: A lot of school supplies were all for right-handed people, that was a big thing too. Through art, it saved me throughout my whole life. Art has opened doors, opportunities.

OM: When did you realize you wanted to get into painting?

Zurdo: I was probably seven. My older sister would draw alot, getting random magazines and draw from them. I saw this Superman ‘Got Milk?’ ad and started drawing that. That was one of my first memories of my first drawings. But I became a more serious artist late highschool, post-highschool. I kind of knew this is what I was meant to do.

OM: And you took Art Classes in HS?

Zurdo: Yeah, all four years. And between that I took USC classes for three years with Ryman Arts and a summer class at CSSA (California State Summer School for the Arts).

OM: What is Ryman Arts?

Zurdo: Its for students to experience that college life through art, like if you want to be an art student. USC professors teaching kids, I was there for 3 years. After high school, I went to the art center, but I couldn’t afford it anymore. But I feel like I didn’t really need art school. I always learned through reading about artists, learning about different styles, just on my own. Self-taught. Influenced by the community. Influenced by the different culture in LA. I always been a “vago” – out and about exploring, man.

OM: Any mentors or anyone who pushed to pursue what you are doing now?

Zurdo: I go back to highschool, I was in lunch. I was kind of a trouble maker. The counselor called me during lunch, and I was kind of sweating it. There was this dude wearing red shoes, really bohemian-like artist, and he was one of the first mentors that really took me serious. I think he was ready to represent someone. His name is Monticello Miller. He was one of the dudes who put me on international shows like in Spain. He introduced me to older cats from Mexico, Japan, Korea. He was one of the dudes that pushed me to the next level.

OM: How was that experience? Were you flying out to these places?

 Zurdo: I wasn’t flying out. I couldn’t afford it. I was 19 years old. But my work was traveling, my work was being represented. I didn’t need to be there. 

OM: How would you classify your art?

Zurdo: I’ve been struggling to get out of this title of this “Chicano Art” being put in this box and being expected to certain things like Dia De Los Muertos and all that traditional stuff. I respect that, but its never been me. I never really found a niche, so I wanted to take this Latino work to a different style, a different level. More modern so younger people can relate to it as well.

OM: What do you consider your art to be then?
Zurdo: I consider my work to be story-telling, like Pop Art, subliminal. I like to put hints in my work. I want people to find things in them.

OM: I noticed you use houses in your art work. Can you talk a little about that?

Zurdo: Just growing up, my mom constantly moved around LA. I got to know different communities all over LA. I started in Lincoln heights , Korea town, Leeward area, I moved all over LA. Finally, I’m here in Echo Park. For me, houses have always impacted me because it represents my journey to trying to find where I fit in the world. I never really had a place I called home. That always impacted me as an artist. Even now, its getting harder. You got gentrification, where communities are struggling. You feel misplaced, its kind of weird. So yeah, homes are one of my main symbols.

OM: Any other symbols you add?

Zurdo: I like to put silhouettes of small people. I don’t like to put certain colors. Growing up in different cultures, I wanted everyone to participate by having a silhouette simple bold figure, instead of putting a brown face and saying its a Latino. I like to do clouds a lot. LA sunsets are amazing. And incorporate on how my mom raised me. Certain traditional things, like foods, different fashion or things that remind me of my childhood. I think its important. I think that’s where people get impacted the most. Depending how you were raised.

OM: Any advice, through your career, that you can share to artists that are pursing art?

Zurdo: One of the best things is not to fall into any categories, man. Just do whatever you feel as an artist, as a creator. I feel like its okay to say no to certain projects or events. It’s a tough journey, but stay positive. In the end it pays off, not so much with money, but if it is with money, that’s cool. But i feel like it pays off with your community, your peers, and makes it big impact. As the older I get, I understand how powerful it is. It really impacts people. Through art, so many doors have opened. I got to meet so many people, different walks of life. That’s better for me than money. At the end, thats more important. Money comes and goes, but these relationships you build will last forever. Be humble, man. I feel like a lot artists get cocky, dude. Their egos just go up to the roof and that can really mess you up in the long run. You can be a badass but be humble. Keep it real. Don’t be afraid to produce whatever you want to produce.

Check here for more of Johnny Quintanilla’s work.