Credits: Story by Tyler Bruett // Photos by John Domine and Courtesy Ramiro Davaro-Comas
I got a chance to sit down with painter, illustrator, and muralist Ramiro Davaro-Comas on a rainy Thursday afternoon in his studio/apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Entering his studio, I saw what one would expect, although it was all uniquely personal to his method and style. Paintings filled the west wall, members of a series he had been working on, drawings scattered about his desk and coffee table, shelves upon shelves stacked with notebooks and sketchbooks – all reminiscent of his development and career as an artist. He had the energy of someone in their most productive environment. I sat down on his couch and we began the interview.
Where’d you grow up? What’s your education like? How did you get into art?
Ramiro: I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I did a lot of back and forth between there and America until we finally landed in Massachusetts, around 1998. I’ve been living in the states ever since. About twenty years.
I’ve always been drawing, always had little sketch books. Since we were moving a lot, it was how I would make friends and get rid of the anxiety of travelling and moving. I remember when my family would be working, and I’d be with my grandma, they’d put big stacks of paper in front of me. That’s where I started drawing, and of course as a kid I was always watching cartoons. Hanna Barbara cartoons, cartoon network channel, Argentina was always showing those cartoons. Then we were introduced to the Simpsons of course, the Simpsons were a huge influence. A lot of comic books too, in Argentina there’s little newsstands everywhere and I remember always going to buy comic books there. So, I’ve been drawing my whole life, but professionally I got into it, years ago showing in North Hampton Massachusetts. I finally moved to New York after a few residency programs in Europe, and I’ve been painting ever since.
Would you say illustration is your main thing?
Ramiro: Yeah, a lot of my influences come from illustrators like Ralph Steadman, who’s the illustrator for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and all the Hunter Thompson books. Early 1930’s cartoons, Fleisher brothers, Hanna Barbara again, Simpsons again, all that kind of stuff.
You mentioned you worked on this book Spraycation. Can you tell us about that?
Ramiro: Oh, sure. It’s a new book I just put out with some illustrations from a series I had done. I enjoy making zines and books, because you can just give it to your friends or pass it to people who are interested. Maybe they can’t buy a two-hundred or three-hundred-dollar drawing, but they can take home a book like this. Plus, I love to trade with other artists, I really enjoy that. I like touching a zine, and opening it, and looking at it live. The internet is cool, but this is one of my favorite things.
So, you show in galleries, you have the Dripped On The Road thing, and you do murals by commission, correct?
Ramiro: Yeah, I think as a working artist these days, you have to diversify what you do. If you’re lucky you can do one thing, but as so many artists I know, including myself, you do have to diversify your funding. I do a variety of things from murals, to public art projects, to private clients, illustration work, shows at galleries, and I also run a travelling artist residency program called Dripped On The Road. With all creative endeavors combined, I can be alive and live in New York and pay my bills, but it’s tough.
I remember the last time we spoke, you mentioned you went to business school. Did that have any influence on your method of diversification?
Ramiro: Yeah. That was something that pushed me to think about what we’re all doing as artists, as a business. Because if we’re trying to pay our bills and live off it, we need to have some kind of business sense. If you don’t, many people don’t, they’re not trained for it, that’s totally fine, you just have to search and get somebody who is able to help you with that part.
We’re competing with millions of people now. It’s not just ‘who is the hottest in New York?’ it’s ‘who is the hottest in the world?’ So, the business school aspect really helped me to think about it that way, and then to think about how to stand out in your market, and how do diversify your work. Anywhere from the kind of drawings and paintings that you can make, to your style, to your lettering, to the kind of creative jobs that you have.Does the creative process or your inspiration ever get lost when you’re thinking about the business aspect? Are you pretty good at keeping your style independent from business?
Ramiro: I think style is the hardest to convey when you’re speaking to a business owner. Because they have their own idea about what they want you to create. Basically, I like to use my own style in almost everything that I do. But if a client is looking for something different, then I’m going to do that job for them, because I’m an artist that is flexible who needs to pay their bills. So, if someone asks me to paint a logo, no problem. This is X amount of money that it costs. No problem, I got you. Being flexible really helps pull in different jobs from different places. But like I said if you can do your own style, have gallery shows, do that stuff, that’s amazing, congratulations.
Can you tell us about your artist residencies in Europe?
Ramiro: Yes. That’s when I quit my job, and decided I wanted to pursue illustration and painting full time. I was working in Massachusetts, managing community gardens, community farms, doing all sorts of agricultural stuff. I applied to a bunch of residency programs in Europe because I had already been doing shows in galleries, and I got in and I moved out there. I was in Berlin for three months, Amsterdam for one month, Barcelona for two, and I had small exhibits in all of them. It was amazing, a life changing experience. To be able to do that, to go to Europe by myself and experience different cultures. It’s the best thing I can recommend to anyone. Get out there and travel. Do something out of your comfort zone. While the world is still here, go do it.
And that kind of ties into the whole concept of Dripped On The Road too, right?
Ramiro: Dripped On The Road is a travelling artists residency program. Where I got the idea is, I had done a trip about ten years ago; a couple of my friends got a school bus and invited random people to apply, interviewed them, and then around fifteen people got onto a yellow school bus, and we went across the country. It was amazing. I had never done anything like that before. It was fucking wild.
I’ve always had that idea in the back of my mind, and after doing my residencies and after managing a residency upstate I got really enamored with the idea of artist’s residency programs. After working for a little bit with Dripped On Productions, they had invited me to do some projects with them, I approached them to do this project, and we haven’t looked back since.
Would you say you take a lot of influence from your environment? Whether you’re in Europe, New York, or anywhere?
Ramiro: That’s an interesting question, since I’m pondering my seventh and maybe last year in New York, well I shouldn’t say last, I just want to try something new real quick. I’ve never lived anywhere for more than seven years. I’m thirty-two now, so that’s a lot of moving. So yeah, the externalities really affect what I’m thinking about and what I’m creating. Even this new series that you brought up, Spraycation, has so much spray paint, and so many hand gestures that I did not have before I moved to New York and painted with graff writers and all kinds of other people who are handling spray paint in different ways.
In Europe, my series were definitely European. When I came back with the works people said: ‘wow, this is very German.’ Because I was there with other artists, checking out German museums, getting influenced by that. I think that’s just what you do as an artist, get influenced. It’s never ripping off a style, you just get influenced until finally you have your style. And that takes a lot of drawing, a lot of sketching, a lot of producing, until you land where you are happy.
Earlier you mentioned you have all these sketchbooks that you want to do something with. Do you want them to kind of be like Spraycation?
Ramiro: My sketchbooks are my gold; this is what I love. I strongly suggest that everyone keep one of these, creative or not. You must draw every single day; you have to have a hot hand. For me, I don’t know what these will be in the end, I like that I can flip through them and look at all of them together, I don’t know how I would feel if I cut them out and put them on a wall, unless I can look at all of them together. It might be something I’d like to do in the future, but right now I just want to collect as many of these as I can until I run out of these of sketchbooks. Who knows what they can be? It’s just characters. There’s about thirty books in there, so that’s three thousand different characters, that’s crazy.
Branching away from the books, you’ve shown in galleries before. Do you show in galleries a lot?
Ramiro: I’ve slowed down a lot trying to show at galleries. I think it’s the natural progression of an artist, when you’re young, you’re excited, you want to show everything you’ve been making, and you want to be part of every single show, and I did a lot of that when I first came New York. Especially when I was both working and trying to show art. But right now, I’m slowing down. I don’t want to be showing my work all the time. I want to show certain series in certain places. And that’s not to say other people shouldn’t show all the time or shouldn’t want to do that, I’m just doing my thing like this. Because it’s weird, the art market has changed so much, and sales from galleries and from these spaces, it’s just different. The galleries that I moved to New York City for are all gone. They all disappeared. They were illustration galleries that had much more of a community feel to them over anything else. The number one was the Cotton Candy Machine. Because the market has really changed a lot, and technology as well. Once that all started happening, I just really wanted to find the right place to do it.
So for each series there is a new formula or does it depend on the medium?
Ramiro: I don’t want to sound pretentious when I use the word formula, I guess it’s another way of saying style. You can tell Shepherd Fairey’s formula, you can tell JR’s formula, you can tell who’s who. You can tell how these are different from this series, this is all different pieces of canvas that are sewn together. I think as an artist it’s important to think about how your hand is seen through different series, and that’s your style. How can you do something in your style, and still do different things like that.
And you’ve done several different series throughout your career?
Ramiro: I have, and I have all of them here. This is the first zine I ever did called Unemployed Rats and Mice. I did it in 2009, ten years ago, holy shit. This is an exhibit that I had, around 2011. I keep them all here. It’s about the 2008 recession, so it’s all these rats and mice just dead and bugging out, and it’s really different then what I’m doing now but you can still see my fingerprint on these.
I saw on your Instagram you did a benefit to help families at the border, was it Buscando a Mama?
Ramiro: Yeah, oh yes, that was with Sugarlift. They’re really good people. That’s another thing that I think artists should do, is at least donate $5000 worth of paintings a year, to nonprofits or organizations that you like. I’m just saying, because we have this skill and ability that can bring an idea to people through an image that can be relatable, and I think that’s almost our duty to do that, to donate and to fundraise every year for causes like that. It’s just an illustration, it’s just a painting, come on, stop being selfish.
That leads into another question, how do you price your work?
Ramiro: That’s a great question. I think everyone prices their things out differently. It really depends on what part of your career you’re in, and how many galleries and what kind of galleries you’ve shown in, all that stuff.
At the end of the day, a person is just putting a number up that they like. For me, it just has to do with all the years I’ve been painting and selling artwork, like what price points I’ve hit, and staying consistent with those price points. For example certain paintings are being sold at a gallery a few years ago for let’s say, each work was three hundred bucks. The next year those works can’t be a hundred and fifty bucks, you can’t be like doing sales and deals to people because you just had all these collectors buy your work for a certain amount of money, now you’re depreciating your work. So, it’s really, really important, to find a base price range for your works on canvas, your works on paper, and maintain that as long as you can. You really can’t go down with your pricing; you can always go up. Because you’re depreciating your collectors’ value.
Is there anything else you want to say about yourself or your work?
Ramiro: There’s definitely something I want to say. It’s about the environment, and artist responsibility, because it’s fucking bullshit. I think now that we’ve travelled and painted murals, that I’ve almost come to the conclusion that, if artists just stayed home instead of painting murals, and painting big productions in different communities, they would do better for the community.
I have a huge interest in creating all these projects and having them become carbon neutral. Like acknowledging the supply chain, where are we getting the paint from, what are we doing with the paint after, if you’re producing so much co2 by spray painting and travelling there, doing all these things. For example: for an art festival, how much pollution is an art festival creating instead of how much inspiration and change are they creating in their own environment? Where is the balance between all this? I think that there is a balance and I think that we can definitely manage it and control it but it’s going to take people studying, going to school and being professional to figure this out. So a big goal of mine is that I would like to make these projects carbon neutral, and figure out how us as artists not take and consume so much even when we’re painting one small mural.
Awesome man, that’s going to wrap up nicely. Thank you.
Ramiro: Thank you, and thank you to Third Rail.