‘Aggresive, angry and dangerous to the touch’ - a conversation with local artist Optimus Volts
The San Diego artist has a solo show at Sparks Gallery running Aug. 25 through Oct. 13
Searing through our visual space with vibrant colors, sharp-edged upcycled material and an undeniable force of energy, Optimus Volts channels his life experiences through his latest exhibition, “We Are the Dreamer of Dreams.”
Opening at Sparks Gallery this weekend, the show pulls viewers into Volts’ childhood, his heroes and his Chicano culture. PACIFIC spoke with Optimus Volts about his struggles as an artist, his method of creating and his alter-ego:
Have you always been an artist?
VOLTS: Yes, since my early childhood. In first grade, I felt different. My classmates seemed to pick up the class material quickly and follow the teacher’s instructions without much assistance, but I had difficulty reading and writing. My teachers told my parents that I have a learning disability. I was also extremely tall, overweight and suffered from a genetic skin condition. My classmates would make fun of me everyday. As a defense mechanism, I was always found in the back of the classroom doodling and sketching, away from the others. Since I was well-behaved and quiet, teachers left me alone. Since then, I’ve buried myself in my imaginative inner world. I would express my feelings through my art.
When did you begin working in your current medium? Tell us about your use of upcycled/recycled materials?
VOLTS: I’ve been using my current medium for the past decade. I receive empty spray paint cans used by local muralists. I cut the cans into small pieces with sharp edges. I transform the entire can including the ball found inside the can, with the lid and tip to create wall sculptures.
How has being a Chicano artist and the local Chicano art movement influenced your work?
VOLTS: My Hispanic culture and heritage have had a huge impact on my art. The history of the Chicano art movement led me to incorporate skulls in my pieces. In my culture, we respect and honor the dead. I keep the spirit of the dead alive through the use of skulls throughout my artwork.
Your pieces seem aggressive, and literally come out of the frame at the viewer with sharp edges. What’s the underlying message to the viewer?
VOLTS: My art seems aggressive, edgy and dangerous to the touch. However, the sharp objects can also be seen as something beautiful. It’s like when you see fire for the first time. People are immediately drawn to it, despite the danger and violent flames associated with it. In and of itself, fire can be beautiful. In fact, you want to touch it right away, even though it burns.
You use “bitches” a lot in your titles. What’s the reason there?
VOLTS: The term “bitches” is used to describe my style of art. Basically, the style called “bitches” was born as a result of anger I experienced in my personal life over a decade ago. Even though, the word has a negative connotation in our culture, I’m not referring to the literal meaning of the word. I actually use the term in a positive manner. When I look at my art, it reminds me of the dark emotions I once felt. But, I didn’t allow my rage to consume me. Instead, I created an art style called “bitches.”
Tell us about your videos and alter ego with the mask?
VOLTS: As an artist, I also have to spend time marketing and promoting my events through social media. I create videos to serve as advertisement. I wear the mask and take on an alter-ego, because all superhero’s hide their faces, disguise their voices and change their personalities.
Did you go to art school or are you self-taught?
VOLTS: I attended art school for a brief time in San Diego. However, due to insufficient funds, I was unable to complete my degree. Fortunately, one of my professors recognized my talent and suggested I apply to the prestigious Art Academy in San Francisco. I was accepted into the program, including a full-ride scholarship. Nevertheless I couldn’t attend because I could not afford the high cost of living in San Francisco.
With that, I taught myself to paint and draw using all mediums, even my mother’s old makeup. From an early age, I learned to use discarded material, since I couldn’t afford art supplies. I used my childhood toys, specifically my action figures in my recent art collection. At the time, my toys helped me escape from reality.
What artist(s) do you most admire?
VOLTS: Alex Haynes serves as an inspiration because of his fascinating 3-D wall sculptures and the use of his colors in his work.
I also admire artists like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. I like Andy Warhol because of his contributions to color theory and his fearless nature. Pollock uses multiple layers of paint to create a 3-dimensional effect. Pollock’s artwork reflects his struggle with alcoholism, similar to my anger spilling into my artwork.
The Optimus Volts opening reception happens from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25. It’s free to the public but requires an RSVP, which includes one drink ticket. “We Are the Dreamer of Dreams” runs through Oct. 13 at Sparks Gallery, 530 Sixth Ave., (619) 696-1416, sparksgallery.com
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.