Disembodied mannequin heads draped with gold streamers guard one end of the light-filled space, as LaChiusa sits on brightly colored, modular furniture on the other. The room is dominated by paintings -- a life-sized canvas of Batman reading a lifesaving manual while his sidekick, Robin, drowns in the background, and pieces by LaChuisa's mother and father, who met in art school.
Sipping cashew juice, LaChuisa, a graduate of New York's School of Visuals Arts and a former art director with several advertising agencies, spreads out his portfolios and sketchbooks and tells altpick.com how he did the opposite of his parents and ignored fine art at first.
Not at all. It's pretty ironic, actually. My father started out as an artist, but in order to provide for our family became an advertising man. Me, I studied advertising and eventually -- recently, really -- made my way into illustration. After you graduated, you moved home to Detroit and worked for your father as an art director in his advertising firm. How do you think being an art director has helped you as an illustrator?
I figure I've earned my thick skin from advertising. It's a world where you learn quickly that nothing stays, everything changes. On the advertising side, I've seen a lot of brain children meet untimely ends for no real reason. And I know that you have got to put your ego aside and understand that that just happens. It's got nothing to do with you. Also, now, as an illustrator, I feel like I'm better at second-guessing the art directors, in terms of predicting what their bosses want, or the overall vision of the project. So my old experience is really helping.
I did. I got a job with a big firm, art directing. But I also was doing illustrations for them. I remember,the first illustration I did was one of those booklets that you give out to radio announcers. It was for Snapple, and it was a series of cartoons suggesting to announcers how to talk about the product. I did it in a very cartoon-y, scratchy style, an early style for me.
Then I did an annual report for Blimpie that also was very cartoon-y. But this time, I had to close up the lines and fill them in with color. So I immediately developed a tighter style. My work was starting to be seen. I was the "Snapple guy" for a while -- I did some work on their early Web site, and I did drawings that appeared on the underside of their drink caps -- then I was the "Blimpie guy." But it's really how I got excited about drawing, something I'd thought little about before.How did you eventually make the shift and become an full-time illustrator?
The change came when I started to do some painting. It was after my father died, and yet it was such a connection with him, a guy who was such a wonderful painter. I took a class at the Art Student's League on 57th Street, and I started doing these really big pieces, much like the Batman piece. I learned that expressing yourself it's not limited to developing a "style," like they taught me in art school. And I benefited from exploring a side of me that I didn't really know before. So eventually I decided I wanted to spend more time on my own work.
I definitely still freelance for advertising agencies. But it's great now, because I have time to author the ideas. Before, as an art director, it seemed like ninety percent of my time was spent justifying, or selling a project to other people. Now, I consider myself an artist, but I also don't think of my work as something too serious. Mostly, I want to have fun and do something that people enjoy. I want to entertain.
Why do you also call yourself "Alonzo, The Armless Wonder"?
Well, I was looking for a way to set my newer work apart from the rest ... to differentiate between my commercial work and my more creative work. So I came up with this alter-ego. Basically, it's the name of a 1930s film that I've never even seen.
See, I always carry a sketchbook. And I write down snippets of conversation that I hear, everywhere. Phrases like, "Lima, Ohio. The other white meat." Or, "Avenue C is going to be the next Avenue B." Or, "It's great to be born under a lucky star." Then I take these snippets really far out of context and add an illustration. Usually the two are so incongruous that the person who said it wouldn't even recognize the words.
Well, it's totally different from the work I do for corporate clients. So I'm just trying to get it out there. I think there's a little bit of a learning curve for people who first see Alonzo's stuff. Because they could react pretty conservatively to some of it -- they could be afraid it will curl clients' toes. But I don't mind, because I figure you're not doing your job if you're pleasing everybody.
It definitely is kindof raw. But I like that way of approaching things, because I think it's more the way people actually talk to each other. It's more down to earth than the contrived communication you see in print or in advertising. It's stream-of-consciousness, the way things actually occur in life.
-- LaChiusa's work has appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, The New York Press, and The Wall Street Journal. His corporate clients include Nickelodeon, Starbucks, and Citibank. He currently is assembling illustrations for Cosmo Girl and a graphic novel called "Hi."
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