Interview with Ramiro Davaro-Comas, Graffiti Artist and Entrepreneur
In 2020, CULTA planned a pop-up event to celebrate the official launch of our much anticipated apparel line. An integral part of that celebration was the art auction, which featured skateboard decks that were hand-painted by popular artists across the country. Unfortunately, COVID had other plans, the event was cancelled, and the skateboards are currently showcased at our corporate office. Renier Fee sat down with Ramiro Davaro-Comas, one of the artists who was hand selected by us to hand paint a deck, to discuss his art.
Ramiro, thank you for joining us. Let's start from the very beginning. What's your name, and where were you born?
My name is Ramiro Gonzalo Davaro-Comas, but it's Ramiro, and I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
What was it like growing up in Argentina?
I grew up there till I was five, moved to Massachusetts till I was eight, and moved back to Argentina and then moved back to Massachusetts again when I was 11 or 12. So it was great, we just have a lot of family there, grew up going to soccer games, eating a lot of meat.
I have dual citizenship. I clearly can speak English without an accent. I've lived in the United States for longer than Argentina, but I have gone through the immigrant experience. I did have to learn this culture, I did have to learn this language, and I did have to help my mom translate a lot of things, when I was younger. Both my parents speak English now, but I think through that experience it makes me just have a wider scope of immigration. And it makes me understand, as a presenting white male, the struggles and the hardships that immigrants go through, to come to this country, and the amount of effort that it takes and the amount of love that all the people, including myself, have for this country. If not, we wouldn't be here, we'd go to Canada.
How did you get introduced to art? Was that in America or Argentina?
My uncle drew a lot. I have family members that are artists, in Argentina. And, actually, I was just looking through some old things and this is one of my great-grandparent's or great-uncle's, Emilio Saraco is a famous artist in Argentina. He's passed away now. For me, as an anxious kid, who's always moving around and who was moving from new kid group to kid group, drawing always helped me make new friends and kind of start conversations with the kids.
Were your parents supportive of your art?
My mom was always supportive. She was always working, as well as my dad, so they would just put a stack of paper next to me and that's just all I would do, would draw. They were supportive, but as all immigrants know, when you come to this country, you're either going to be a doctor, a lawyer or business person. There really isn't anything else, because that's why we came to America. I actually studied business and they've been supportive since, although as every parent, you're always worried about your child, are they making enough money? Are they making the right decisions? And I'm sure all those thoughts have gone through their head and continue to go through their heads.
You never studied art formally?
I did not. I studied hospitality and tourism management, with a focus on event management, and I was always creating art as well. And my business degree and my other business experiences that I've had throughout my life helped me present my art in a business fashion. So really be able to market myself, speak well about myself and my art, and be able to sell it in a high-pressure situation. And that's what art is, if you're representing yourself like everybody is, these days, trying to sell stickers, pins, and all that kind of stuff, you're your own marketer and representative.
At what age did you have the confidence to say, "I'm going to transition from a normal 9-to-5 job to become a full-time artist?"
I didn't study art, I didn't know that for me, my passion was illustration. I didn't really know or have an example or have a mentor that showed me that you can have a job through illustration, and that through my illustrations, of course with a lot more practice and everything, you could start a career. My real first insight to that was a friend of mine, who became my friend, his name is Marcelo Zissu. He was an illustrator and now is a tattoo artist in Brazil, and he just showed me how he was traveling around the world and illustrating for magazines in Brazil and getting paid. And then he showed me how to use Photoshop, he introduced me to Juxtapose and all of these things that as a non-art student I wasn't exposed to before. That really showed me that there could be a career in this, and that I needed to do more work myself to figure out how to do it and kind of mature into an artist like that.
What is your process for art? Where do the ideas come from and how do you translate that vision to canvas?
A lot of my inspiration comes from illustration, things that are around me. I like to work with series, so I will make 10 similar paintings or illustrations in the same series, in the same style, and I have my own style of illustration. For example, I have a series called Familias, which means families, and it's about families and animals immigrating into the United States, and in a very illustrative accessible style.
That whole concept first starts off as the idea of what I want to do, then I sketch everything out on pieces of paper, so every painting is a different sketch. And then step three, would be to get one of those sketches, get the canvas, and then start transferring it from the sketch to the canvas, and then painting it and trying to work, if I'm working in a series with a certain palette of colors, so that they all complement each other. I usually have a message, lately, my message has been global warming, climate change, protecting the oceans, especially with the oceans, I've been painting a lot of sharks, and a lot of animals, where you can see their bones, almost as if they're deteriorating. It's really to try to bring awareness to what's going on in the world right now.
When I asked you to design a board for CULTA, your first designs were animals. Is that where your mind immediately went to, the animal series, for CULTA?
Originally, I had a whole bunch of different ideas and usually, when an artist works with a client, the artist, myself, I try to ask you as many questions as possible, so that I can really hone in on what you guys want. I had presented a few animal ideas and then quickly realized that while the animal was great, it might not really be saying much about either the brand or about a community or things like that, and what I really wanted to build, was community. I veered off from the animals and I went into these other series of illustrations that I do, where it's just a whole bunch of different characters of animals wearing suits, all kinds of stuff, that is really based on community. Once I had that idea in my head, I started sketching out different types of communities and used some of the different characters that I've used in these illustrations, into the board. And on top of that, I also want to put in different kinds of words and some graffiti a little bit, in there, just so that people can also see words and characters combined together, and it's kind of like a pretty intense impact, but the style of the illustration makes it so people really have to look at the board for a long time, and they might select their favorite character, they might find a little secret that I wrote down somewhere, so I really try to make them intricate, so that people don't just look at them and walk away, they look at it and really want to engage in what's happening in the board.
Besides animals and climate change, there's also politics in your art.
I think that as artists we have superpowers, the skill to make an idea relatable without having to read. That's happened throughout millennia of human evolution. I think that we have the power to do that, and it is our responsibility to use that power to educate, inspire and somewhat engage in “artivism,” where we can display these ideas through images. The reason why I do it is because it's a therapeutic process for me to illustrate. For example, the disastrous Presidential debate, or illustrate the 2016 presidential election was just a total shit-show. I saw that a lot in Argentina. There's a lot of dark humor about politics.
We can't forget that you also skate. Skateboarding has to influence your art. I know, for me it does in art, fashion, music, lifestyle. All my tastes came from those first skateboard videos I watched. Is skateboarding an inspiration for your art too?
I was exposed to skateboarding in Argentina. When I was younger, my uncles actually brought in some skateboards, they were 18 years old, and I was four. I remember riding my friend's skateboard to the comic book shop there, but it wasn't really until I moved to the United States, when I was about 12-ish, that I started skating. I would say that skateboarding has certainly influenced my life. Skateboarding is one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life. It has not only taught me self-discipline, but it's taught me motivation, it's taught me how to do things myself.
The DIY movement in the skateboard community is really incredible and educates a lot of people as to how to use those raw materials and build what you want to build. Like you, I was also influenced heavily, by the 1999 to 2010 skateboard video decade, they were some of the best ever made, the music was unbelievable, and I was introduced to a variety of different music and music styles that I would have never been introduced to, if I didn't watch those videos, and if I wasn't watching them seven times a day.
I've been skateboarding for 21 years now and I try to skate almost every day. You and I both know that, if you don't try something a thousand times on a skateboard, you're never going to land it. It's that repetition thing, and it's really what I've found about skateboarding, in so many things that have to do with creativity, is that the underlying formula for it is based on math. In math and pattern recognition.
I play music as well, and I paint, and I skateboard, and all three of those things, to me, have a high level of math and pattern recognition, whether it's strumming a certain chord and finding the pattern, which you can then equate it to an equation, or finding the same pattern that your foot and body have to be in, to do a kick flip or any one of those tricks, as well as finding the formula for me, making a series of paintings. They have similar colors, they have similar line structure, they have similar character feel. I think all three of them have mathematical formulas that are the underlying roots to the tree.
I couldn't agree more. Rodney Mullen talks about skateboarding in a similar way, the math of foot placement and the physics of tricks.
I would highly suggest also listening to what this other skateboarder, Andy Anderson. He's a very smart person and he brings in the idea of, "Is it a game? Is it a hobby? Is it a sport?" and then he'll describe all three of them and really mesh all three of them together into what skateboarding is. Really incredible and fascinating.
The biggest challenge I see artists face is commerce. They create a product but don't know how to sell it. For our readers, how do you make a living off your art? Who are your clients? Is it galleries, collectors, brands?
Art is a business, so before you ask, "Is my painting good?" you have to find your market and you have to find your 30-second business pitch to anyone who would come into a gallery. I have perfected that throughout the years. Remember, I studied business, so I have these underlying tactics that I've used before. There's a variety of ways that I stay alive. I've been showing in galleries for about 10-ish years, which means that I've built up a collector base of people who are interested in my artwork and supported the creative endeavors that I developed.
Working with different galleries, I was able to build that up and learn also how to sell artwork to, maybe, a passer-by or people who are just coming in, who may not be interested in buying art. So that's one aspect. And I would have to say that for me, the biggest goal when I moved to New York City was to show artwork at the Cotton Candy Machine, which was my favorite gallery of all time. It was an illustration-based gallery, and it was managed under Sean Leonard, and it was Tara McPherson's gallery. But anyways, Cotton Candy Machine is what you need to know. Working with Sean and Tara and that gallery was what really showed me how to sell artwork, and that led me to where I am today.
I have clients that I work with and that I do commissions for. I have some galleries that I work with right now, although I'm not so interested in that pursuit lately, and I also do a lot of public art and muralism. The public art space is really where I'm able to hone in all of my practices and all of my training. That's the most important part of my creative aspects right now, because it is so wide-reaching and it is kind of democratic. You can be anybody on the street. If you want to be exposed to my artwork, you can go to a wall and you can look at it, but if you are trying to get into a gallery that looks a certain way, a gallery that has a VIP list, and if you're not on that list, you can't, you have to wait outside. When you're talking about those things, the circle becomes a lot smaller. Your viewership becomes a lot smaller, and you're now kind of creating these pieces of art, or whatever it is, for a very small select group of people. While I still love to do that, and I continue to do that, my real focus has been on public art projects.
Where can people find or buy your art?
People can find me on Instagram, it is @ramirostudios. They can go to my website, which is at www.RamiroStudios.com. And that is where you can see my personal work and you can reach out to me and look through my selection of work and things that I have, and just begin a conversation. That's really how I like to make relationships with people that buy my artwork. I'm not trying to just be a salesperson, "Here you go, give me a $1,000," because I think those relationships can really foster positivity for both of us. You never know when your client might need a different artist, and then maybe I can point them in the right direction. Or maybe they want logos for their restaurant or whatever, but I'd like to foster those relationships. I also direct a traveling artist residency program, which is really based on public art, and they can find that at www.DoTheRoad.com, or on Instagram @dotheroad.
What's next for you?
I moved out of the city. I was living in Brooklyn for eight years and I moved to upstate New York, with my partner, Grace. I am back at school at UMass Amherst, doing a Leadership and Arts Management certificate, through the arts extension program. I am consulting with a variety of different groups about public art projects. I am directing Dripped on the Road, which will be going on the road, October 5th, through the 19th. We are bringing four artists to a town called Indiana, in Pennsylvania. Not only are we bringing artists to paint murals in a town that only has three murals, but we also launched a new part of our project, called Creative Sustainability, where we are now trying to be carbon neutral, as much as we can. We have fundraised to plant 100 trees when we are in town, as well as partnered up with a company called Smog Armor, which creates paint that purifies the air using an element to call Zeolite, which NASA and Honeywell uses in the International Space Station to sequester and take carbon out of the air so that the astronauts don't choke on their own breath.
My focus is to continue to create public art, to continue to create art and things for different clients, but to move into an extremely sustainable practice for our public art. I'm studying and partnering with these different organizations so that I can better provide answers to anyone who asks. And I don't want this to be a private thing. I want this to be a replicable project, because it is so important for the earth right now, and for people to pay attention because if you're educated on this stuff, things are dire.