Sacred Stitch X Paul St. Savage Exclusive Interview
SACRED STITCH: We want to start out by saying thanks for taking the time to sit down with us and taking this interview. We are big fans of your work and know how busy you are.
ST. SAVAGE: Of course, thanks for asking. This is great.
SACRED STITCH: How long have you been creating art?
ST. SAVAGE: Pretty much since I was born I guess….my parents still have drawings I did from when I was 3 years old and onwards. Some poster size and elaborate. My father would staple and tape that rectangular art paper together end to end across the wall so I could draw long freight trains. This was in the 70’s. In the 80’s I drew cartoons constantly in class and stuff. Usually of my teachers or kids in the class that were shitheads and I wanted to make fun of. Then of course the classic dirty drawings that make you laugh hysterically when you’re 13 or whatever. I remember me and two or three other guys doing that in Jr. High and getting caught. We all had to see the vice principal and when they unfolded the drawings and revealed all the genitals and gross stuff we drew it was so funny we all just fell out laughing hysterically. I think we got like a weeks detention. I also liked to draw band logos and skateboard and BMX logos. I’d draw all the time, but it wasn’t focused like nowadays. It was just a natural thing I did.
SACRED STITCH: How do you think you got into doing art?
ST. SAVAGE: Mainly my parents and grandparents influence. My mother sat and drew with me a lot. She encouraged it and we read lots of books together, like Dr. Seuss stuff and all those colorful, detailed kids books. My grandfather was a sign painter, lettering guy and he did canvases and other stuff for side work. I come from a musical and creative household and family. It was all around me. I’ve always loved colors, characters, surreal scenes, cartoons, lettering and expressing what I thought or felt, so art was a great outlet. Seeing album covers, art books, childrens books, comics, Saturday morning cartoons, my grandfathers artwork and having a freedom to make a mess and get loose in my home was what I think fostered my interests. Plus, its probably what was in my genetic make up. I don’t think I was put here to play ball for the NBA or be a surgeon. I feel some people just know what it is that they are destined to do and it flows. You do have to manage it though and focus. Work ethic is key. Many peoples talents go to waste.
SACRED STITCH: You definitely have a distinct painting style, what are some of your daily influences for your pieces?
ST. SAVAGE: Wow…so many and so much influences me…I have a vast list of influences artistically from Ren and Stimpy to Salvador Dali to Hieronymus Bosch. Love Picasso. I’m a longtime fan of Raymond Pettibon. He’s a big influence. I like R. Crumb, Jim Phillips (did the Santa Cruz skateboard artwork) Basil Wolverton, MAD magazine guys like Don Martin, Spy vs. Spy, old Richard Scaries books. Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry were major influences too. I love surreal and cartoonish stuff because anything goes. Floating eyeballs, stretched out arms, hybrid characters of any mixture or form, whatever comes into my mind. I also really found graffiti appealing when I was younger. Especially on subway trains. I was really impressed and mesmerized by that as a kid. The colors, the customized lettering, the mystique, the characters. Plus it was on a train and I was a train fan. The graffiti mentality for exposure is great also. Much like a campaign for a politician or a new product, except cooler and done by one person. That’s something I embrace still. Be prolific and get your stuff seen.
As far as other influences or “daily influences” like you said, I’m inspired by the streets of NYC, current events, the people I see around me, the state of the union, however mad, sad or glad I feel and the daydreams I constantly have. Nightmares too LOL 🙂
SACRED STITCH: We know that you are not only an artist, but also a musician. What instruments do you play?
ST. SAVAGE: I’m a guitarist, but I can play bass also and a little drums. I don’t have access to drums so I’m not able to get better, but I can do some beats and have fun. I wouldn’t try out for a group or anything. It’s just fun to make noise. Guitar however, I’ve been playing for over 25 years. I used to play the tennis racket as a little kid to Beatles and Stones albums, then I took my other grandfathers electric guitar and held it while looking in the mirror and then finally I attempted to learn it. It was around that time I stopped watching television forever. My father knew a few chords and had a chord chart he saved from when he was in high school. My grandfather showed me a few chords too and I just focused and went all out on the obsessed mission to learn to play guitar. Many, many, many hours and days in my room playing to tapes on my boombox.
SACRED STITCH: Have you ever been involved with any big bands?
ST. SAVAGE: The most well known band I was in was called INDK (pronounced “in decay”) which was a punk band from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Two guys that were in this popular band, Choking Victim, started a new band and a friend of mine from Pratt Institute, where I went to college, was in that new band. He asked me to draw a logo and when I went to show it to the group, we jammed and it was cool. At a show they played at CBGB’s they asked me to join as lead guitarist. I joined and we played lots of great, wild shows around the NYC area. A few in the infamous C-Squat building on Avenue C. Those shows were crazy. Dogs running around, heavy partying, chaos. No cops! Well, the cops actually would come to the door and ask questions, but the shows always continued.
SACRED STITCH: I’m sure touring across the country must have been sick. Care to share any interesting stories?
ST. SAVAGE: Oh man, so many! Yeah, touring is a lot of fun. There’s low points too, especially being crammed in a van for long periods, but seeing all these different towns and cities is awesome. Playing to kids in Oklahoma City or in Wisconsin or New Orleans and having them go bananas is really rewarding and exciting. These tours were with American Distress, my band after INDK. The music we played was hardcore punk rock style, so it was music to go nuts to. We constantly had a cooler full of beer, just screaming and yelling jokes, music blasting, local kids hanging and offering things to do. Lots of fun.
There was one time we were at some strip joint, in I think Virginia…and we were drunk and laughing, having a good time and I grabbed this strippers leg. The music stopped, but the lights were still flashing and moving. She leaned down and in a tough voice said, “if you touch me again I’ll break your fuckin nose”…LOLOLLLL….I was a little stunned. Major buzzkill. A big goon bouncer appeared instantly also that looked like Hellboy, so I decided to flee the scene. HA! That was retarded! I’ve grabbed strippers before and they laughed and smiled! What the hell was wrong with that girl? LOL
Much cooler than that dumb stuff, was when we’d get a show canceled and be somewhere awesome like Big Sur and the Redwood Forest in California. We’d go exploring and wandering around. I’d do that on my own in all the cities anyways, but it was great in those scenic, nature places with the whole crew falling into creeks and down mini cliffs. Ha! A random funny moment was being pulled over on the side of a highway at night somewhere in the midwest looking at the map to see where something was. We were all drinking beer (for a change) and going nuts. Well, not the driver, but still open beers is a no no in motor vehicles. So a cop rolls up on us and comes to the window. I stuff my beer up my pant leg and play it cool eating a beef jerky and looking calm. Everyone in the back of the van is silent. The driver asks about some route and directions and the cop keeps flashing his light on me and looking at me weird. He’s cool and explains the directions, but keeps kinda peeping me and looking suspicious. I just smiled. Finally he leaves and everyone starts laughing. It was then that I realized I was wearing a shower cap on my head the whole time! I grabbed it at the hotel and was clowning around wearing it. Totally forgot. Oh well…
Another funny memory was playing at Louisiana State University and some kid at the show was drinking his face off. There’s always that dude in college that’s fresh out of his folks house and drinks like a fool. Anyways, I watched him doing shots and staggering around all night. After we played and loaded the gear in the van, I was sitting in the front seat and our bass player Chris was in the driver seat. I said, “that kid’s been getting stewed all night, he’s a mess”. My man Chris says, “I know that dude was doing tons of shots, he’s wasted”. I then notice a few guys smoking a joint like 15 feet in front of the van. The hammered kid rolls up to them all floundering around and asks for some. They pass it to him and walk away. Now this dummy is standing perfectly still and taking a deep puff on the joint. I said, “watch this kid puke, he’s about to be a wrap”. No lie, in about 30 seconds he violently jolted and staggered around for a moment and then threw up exactly like that pie eating fat kid in the movie “Stand By Me”….LOLOLLLL… man it was insane! It was like a firehose! Straight outward and like 10 feet or more! I never seen someone do that. He staggered away and collapsed on a picnic table. Needless to say we were laughing hysterically.
SACRED STITCH: We know you recently dropped your first solo music debut. Care to share how that came about?
ST. SAVAGE: The main point of that was me wanting to do a music project of my own and having a bunch of songs I wrote in A.D. but never recorded. Plus some new stuff I’d written. I liked the idea of the entire thing being my lyrics, my music, my artwork, etc. Even though I did that in the other bands too, this was 100% me. Plus, being a lifelong music lover, it was a statement and a tribute to all that inspired me. My friend owns and runs 20/20 Audio Labs in Brooklyn and my man The Horse is a excellent drummer, so I started the project that way, since they were into it. Many arguments and obstacles later, it was completed. I made a cool video for a song off of it as well. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoZwcNhtBq0&feature=g-upl
SACRED STITCH: Music plays a huge part in our creative process. What are some of things that you listen to while you paint and draw?
ST. SAVAGE: These days I listen to WKCR a lot. That’s Columbia Universities radio station. They play tons of jazz and classical, amongst all kinds of other great and obscure music. You can learn from that station. No commercials either! I tend to paint to jazz and classical. I like ambient,bizarre, soundscape stuff also. Of course, my old favorites in the rock, punk and hardcore realms like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, The Melvins and tons of underground classics. Old classic rock bands like The Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who…..ummmm….The Stooges, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, Dead Boys, etc. I like so much stuff. Love The Mars Volta, Mastodon and High on Fire for current bands. I’m always engulfed in music. It’s been a constant in my life since I was like 3 years old, along with artwork…and mischief.
SACRED STITCH: Did you study art in college?
ST. SAVAGE: Yes. I went to Pratt Institute and studied graphic design and illustration. I was able to double major because I had transfer credits from a community college, so I had room to take more courses. I even took a few art direction classes like copy writing, which was fun. Luckily, I got to learn from some really talented professors, some of whom have since passed away. I think art school is really key if you want to pursue a creative career, because you get a freedom and also an audience to embrace. The feedback and discussions are helpful. I remember people acting like it was unnecessary to go to school. Like, that you could teach yourself. Maybe so, but I’m really happy I went and I miss the community element and the projects we were assigned were fun to do and have the class discuss. It was exercises for your mind and it stirred up the creative vibe. Luckily I’m still motivated to create. I strongly advise art school to anyone that has the passion and talent.
SACRED STITCH: How did the transition from art being a hobby to being your profession come about? Since then, do you enjoy it as much?
ST. SAVAGE: Probably started in school at first, when I would make artwork and designs for bands. Also, when people requested stuff. But, like I said I wasn’t focused on it like I am now. These days it’s top priority. Getting exposure, continuously making a body of work,doing commissions, getting better at the craft, pushing myself, aiming for higher levels, having a professional work ethic. All of that stuff. It’s what I sincerely want to do full time every day. I think it’s more enjoyable than ever because I really like what I’m doing and I surprise myself at times. I see progress. It feels good to have years of experience at something. I feel like a seasoned illustrator. An artist for life.
SACRED STITCH: Do you normally work from reference or just create from the top of your head?
ST. SAVAGE: Much of it is off the top of my head. I’ll start with an eyeball or a nose or a window and it grows from there just adding things. A lot of time with my black and white ink stuff, I have a concept or a phrase that I wrote in my notes. I’ll illustrate the words. It’s fun to see what comes out. I’ll also draw stuff and throw words with it that come to me once I see the final result. It kinda varies. I do much of my work on impulse and feeling. The color stuff, especially canvas or walls, I usually sketch on paper first, but I’ve freestyled many of them too.
SACRED STITCH: What is your favorite medium to work with?
ST. SAVAGE: Acrylic paints for canvas and watercolor for paper. Black illustrator ink for paper pieces. Though I’ll sometimes mix it all together.
SACRED STITCH: We really like the way you mix the sort of textural elements in the background of your art with the clean characters that you lay on top of them. Would care to elaborate on your painting process?
ST. SAVAGE: Me and a friend were discussing old animation where the background is painted separately and they would lay a clear animation cell over it with the characters and objects on it so that they can move, hence animation. So based on that concept we started painting backgrounds as crazy as possible or in whatever way we wanted and then the characters painted over that when it was dry. The background fills in the negative space automatically and the result looks really interesting. There’s so many possibilities doing that and you can be as busy or subtle as you like. Especially for myself, when I do color I usually like loud and bold effects as well as motion. So it’s an added effect.
SACRED STITCH: A lot of artists we know always struggle with what they create. They are constantly looking to perfect what they do which becomes a large motivation for the things they create. Most when asked what their favorite piece is their response is “their next one”. Do you in fact have a favorite piece of all time?
ST. SAVAGE: Not really an all time favorite, but definitely a few that I was really pleased with the result. Like I was psyched it came out just as I envisioned it or better. It’s great when I surprise myself with a piece. To totally nail it and be satisfied is a great feeling. Sometimes they are sub par or complete flops. Not too often though, because I usually mess with it and transform it to become something I like. With my way of painting, since so much of it is spontaneous and freestyle, it develops into something as it goes. There is definitely a struggle at times or a frustration that it just isn’t turning out the way I want. Most artists will agree, that you feel it or you don’t, because it’s your vision and an extension of yourself. It’s odd that someone will see it and love it, but you’re ready to toss it in the incinerator. So it’s the artist that needs to be satisfied. I look at older pieces and see the progression, which makes me happy. I’m usually really happy with my black and white work. I crank those out daily. A canvas is a slower process, but it’s awesome when you finish one that is a success across the board.
SACRED STITCH: What is the significance of the name “angry eel” ?
ST. SAVAGE: The angry eel is an extension of my character and an alter ego. He’s slithering on the low (and the high) in the streets of NYC and throughout the world, observing people, places and things with a little bit of contempt, scrutiny, curiosity and ambivalence. He’s keeping an eye on things. Big brother watches us. The eel watches him back.
SACRED STITCH: When was Angryeel.Com established?
ST. SAVAGE: The website was officially put into effect in 2008. For the original one, I drew up a basic plan and my man Shane Pilster built it. It had a floating eel done in Flash that you’d click to get inside the site. As things rapidly change with iPhones and all that, I wanted it more professional and concise. So I used a WordPress template and took it from there. I can do the updates myself. The eel character has existed since the late 90’s. Those that I hung with back then remember his origins. He was one of many reoccurring characters I drew. I wanted a logo that represented my work and activities like The Rolling Stones “tongue” or the Black Flag “bars”. Something that you identify and recognize without words accompanying it. I like the mystique of things. I don’t like advertising or art that is all descriptive right away. Just seeing a logo stirs up curiosity. The eel was perfect, because it was simple, powerful, he was going somewhere, he had an attitude and I’ve always loved the color green. The site was a forum for me to show my work and update my activities. A web presence is important for a business and it’s a part of life today. It’s great how far you can reach out with it. I’ve gotten letters from people all over the world.
SACRED STITCH: We checked out your site and noticed you are selling a book of drawings called “Laughing Hyenas at the Window of Loneliness”. What exactly is the book comprised of?
ST. SAVAGE: That book is my second release of many to come. It’s basically a volume of black and white ink drawings. I did it in that format because I grew up really liking independent “zines” that people made for underground music, BMX, skateboarding, graffiti or whatever they wanted to showcase. It’s simple and effective. I thought the medium was semi lost and overshadowed by the internet and all the digital stuff, which I find impersonal even though it has it’s own merits. A zine is tangible, like a record album or a photograph. You hold it in your hand. You can collect them. It’s real. I’ve always loved these things, so I wanted to pay homage and keep it alive.
SACRED STITCH: What shows have you been involved with?
ST. SAVAGE: I’ve had solo shows at Genuine Motorworks and The Emerson bar in Brooklyn, as well as taking part in the 4th Annual Bushwick Open Studios. Most recently I was in a fund raiser with many great artists at Wooster Social Club in Soho, NYC.
SACRED STITCH: Any up coming projects or events happening soon?
ST. SAVAGE: I’m working on a few commissioned canvases right now for clients. A few have X-Mas deadlines, so I’m busy with that. My next zine booklet will be out this month also and available through my site and at various book stores in NYC, Massachusetts, California, Seattle and elsewhere. All info will be posted on my site: WWW.ANGRYEEL.COM <http://WWW.ANGRYEEL.COM>
SACRED STITCH: Where can your fans see more of your creations?
ST. SAVAGE: Always on my website, on Flikr, Tumblr, Twitter, in the streets, Don Pedro bar in Bushwick has some pieces, Red Lantern Bikes in Fort Greene, Luigi’s Pizza by Pratt, ummmmm….stuff will pop up or roll by. Keep your eyes open!
SACRED STITCH: Any shout outs before we wrap things up?
ST. SAVAGE: Big thanks to Bobby and Elisa Seeger from Genuine Motorworks for giving me my first show and showing interest and support. Thanks to Gina at The Emerson for the show she hooked up and the nights she let me spin records. Thanks to Don Pedro bar for hanging up a huge wooden eel in there, asking me to draw show fliers and letting me film a video on their stage. Special thanks to my parents for letting me be me and all the support and encouragment they provided. Thanks to all that have shown interest and purchased things from me and a big thanks Sacred Stitch for this opportunity and little piece of limelight.