4 – 27 – 2017 
Los Angeles, CA 
Written by Baha Danesh
Featuring Tony Pinto  

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Pinto, the newest artist in residence at Shoebox Projects located within the Brewery Art Colony. 

Now through April 30th join Tony Pinto and the Shoebox Projects team to view Tony’s “ArtistSeen” portraiture project.  Stop by and view his people, his tribe, his community — where he has photographed and painted the individuals who make up a small portion of the Los Angeles art community. 

According to Tony creating this body of work reinforces his sense of connection and belonging to the art community. This is his way of documenting the relationships he has with artists, gallerists, curators, critics, and writers. Along with the photographs, Tony has created seven bigger than life paintings. The paintings are oil on wood, treated with gesso. Each painting is dynamically drawn onto the plywood which creates a sense of liveliness and zest.

The We Choose Art team was curious to know more about Tony Pinto and in order to tame our curiosity we asked the following questions: 

Baha Danesh: How do you feel most connected to the Los Angeles Art Community?

Tony Pinto: I feel most connected when I go to openings and shows and see artists I know. Many of them I first knew from Facebook, and then met in real life. Occasionally I will just go up to someone I don’t know, but I recognize from online or seeing them at other openings and introduce myself (I recall doing this with Mike Street at CB1). Shy, bashful, teenage me would never believe it!

I think going to see people’s shows is very important. I want to feel like I am supporting the artists that I know, and the arts in L.A. in general. Unfortunately, there are always far more shows than I am able to get to.

One thing I love about the L.A. art scene is that it’s not homogeneous; the diversity in the work is astonishing – as is the diversity of the artists themselves. Our community is all ages, ethnicities, genders, education level, you name it. And they create all kinds of artwork. I’m saying this because in the past there tended to be movements or trends where everyone was an abstract expressionist, or a pop artist, or a minimalist, etc. Right now, it seems like anything goes – which I think is very healthy.

Baha Danesh: Tell me a little about your artistic process. Do you have any rituals or artistic habits you must hone in on before you start drawing?

Tony Pinto: I probably have too many! Which is a form of procrastination. I come up with elaborate processes that I try to follow when I make my paintings; but for the last three that I just completed for this show (Kristine, Alex, and Jennifer), I wound up throwing part of my process out the window and it was fine, and really shortened the time it took to do the work.

My general process to create the heads is like this:

– I take pictures of art world people that I am interested in possibly painting.

– If I like an image, I have an enlargement made that I use as my reference. In the past I would usually have a grayscale (black and white) photo print made, and also one where I selected the colors and created color charts in Photoshop; in retrospect I realized those steps were unnecessary.

– Once I have my source image, I prepare the ground – usually high-quality 5/8 birch plywood. This involves gessoing and sanding several layers – 3 or 4 on average. I try to get the surface as smooth as possible.

– Then I draw the image on the wood panel, making sure that it’s as accurate as possible in terms of placement and size – i.e., the eyes are where they are supposed to be, the nose is the right width and height, etc.

– Finally, I cut the shape of the head out of the plywood panel using a jigsaw. I do this myself. I break a lot of blades.

– After the head shape is cut out, I put the backing on it – the substructure that holds the head off the wall and has a wire to hang it.

– I lightly sand the edges and then tape them up with painter’s tape. I want the edges to be pristine, with no paint on them. You can see the layers of the plywood.

– Then, and finally then, I paint! Painting is really the last step. I usually do a monochromatic underpainting in acrylics and then go to oils. Once the painting is done, I just let it dry and pull off the tape on the edges.

Baha Danesh: How does photography impact your paintings?

Tony Pinto:  All of my paintings are based on photos that I have taken. I couldn’t imagine asking someone to pose for me while I painted, like they did in the old days. I don’t have the time (or patience) for that.

So I have to work from photos, that gives me greater control.

First I shoot the reference photo the way I want, then I can pick the right shot, adjust the contrast and colors in Photoshop, and wind up with a quality image to work from.

I’m not a photorealist, but I try to get the paintings to look as much like the person as possible. I don’t have any issue with photorealism, that’s just not what I’m going for.

The photo portion of the “Artist Seen” exhibition sprang from doing reference photos for paintings. The paintings of Kristine Schomaker and Jennifer Gunlock are based on photos I took of them in December. The conditions were very controlled; I actually shot them in the Shoebox Projects space, using an overhead flash, and a certain lens on my Nikon DSLR. I wanted the images to look dramatic and interesting. I was very pleased with how the photos turned out.

Once I did that first photo shoot, I decided that for my residency at Shoebox, I should shoot photos of anyone from the art world who comes in and wants their picture taken. The lighting conditions are exactly the same for every shot; the only thing that varies is the person I am photographing. This gives the series a cohesiveness and ties them in with the paintings as well.

Baha Danesh: When did you realize you had chosen to be in today’s modern art world and what makes you want to continue? in other words, why do you choose art?

I came back to art after about a 15-year hiatus. I was working in advertising and design, and raising a family, and there was no time or mental bandwidth to make art. In fact, I hadn’t painted since I got my MFA. In 2008, I realized that I really missed making art and seeing art, so I made a conscious decision to re-engage. And I started doing paintings, portraits; first of my family, then friends.

Regarding choosing to be in today’s modern art world, I have Mat Gleason partially to thank. He had written something once that I liked and taped on my studio wall – “All art career advice summed up” – one of his guidelines was “Socialize in art circles.” At some point, I had also read the book, “Inside the Painter’s Studio,” by Joe Fig, and in that book, Eric Fischl said much the same thing; several other artists did as well. I now think that being part of an art community is an important aspect of being an artist.

So, I tried to get out and see as many shows and meet as many artists as possible. Most of my Facebook friends and many of the people that I follow on Instagram are in the art community. And as I met people and developed friendships, I realized very quickly that “these are my people”. I feel very at home with artists and the art world. Even if we have nothing else in common, the fact that we have “chosen art” brings us together and keeps us intertwined. Kind of like sharing the same religion – or being in the same cult.

Tony Pinto’s  “Artists Seen” project will be available for viewing during the Spring 2017 Brewery Artwalk taking place on April 29th and 30th at Shoebox Projects unit #3. For more info visit OR 

Baha Danesh
Baha Danesh
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with creative energy, love, grace, and gratitude. For Baha Danesh - ART is Happiness.
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