Photos (except for the Le Petit Prince images which were found on Google Images) courtesy of Troy Gua.
There are few artists around that are truly masters of many styles. Seattle-based pop artist Troy Gua is one of them. As you will see and read from this Q&A that I did with Troy Gua, be prepared to be impressed by his art. His work even caught the attention of music legend Prince, however, as you will come to learn, that story (as of press time) did not end happily.
Troy was given Seattle Magazine’s 2011 Spotlight Award and with or without Prince’s support, Troy Gua is an artist to be reckoned with. I recently chatted with Troy about life, art, Prince any many more subjects and what you will read below (and in a future post) are the highlights of our conversation. Enjoy and thanks again to Troy for his honesty and of course for rocking my world (and hopefully yours too) with his great art!
According2G: What’s on your iPod / Kindle / Netflix?
Troy Gua: Prince and associated artists are always in heavy rotation, but I’ve also been listening to Frank Ocean, Glen Campbell, Zapp, David Bowie. I’m reading a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Childs (one of my guilty pleasures), and have been watching Six Feet Under damn near daily for a few weeks now. Recently watched Looper and For a Good Time, Call…
A2G: You have a vast body of work that is extremely diverse. What’s your favorite medium to work in?
TG: I wouldn’t be able to say what my favorite medium is – for me, it’s more about the idea than the material. I use whatever I can get my hands on to manifest my concepts physically, whatever makes sense, whatever the party calls for. Of course, the aesthetics are extremely important to me as well, but I generally let the concept dictate the materials.
A2G: When and how did you get into art?
TG: It’s always just been ‘my thing’. From the time I was a small kid, I got the pat on the back for being ‘the artist’ of the class. That part felt really good, and just like a drug addict chasing the dragon of his first high, I’ve been chasing the dragon of that first pat on the back ever since.
A2G: Who are your heroes or influences?
TG: I’ve got many from varied sources: my wife quite literally saved my life when we got sober together 6+ years ago. She helped me find a new path and renewed my dream of ‘making it’ as an artist – pretty heroic. My father was a hero of sorts, in that he always made me feel safe from harm – when he died, that feeling did too, to a certain extent. Prince is my artistic hero, and will always be my biggest influence. David Bowie, Luke Skywalker, Johnny Depp. From the art world, I love Maurizio Cattelan, Marcel Duchamp, Jeff Koons, Yves Klein, Sal Dalí, Xavier Veilhan, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Donald Judd, Robert Indiana, Chuck Close…in no particular order, and I’m sure I’m leaving some important names out.
A2G: You’ve done a series called “Colorbandz” Tell us about the process and how do you decide who makes the cut?
TG: The process starts with a color photograph – a head shot, straight on. I use the subjects features as guides for placement of transferred color samples from the photo, creating horizontal stripes. The idea is that of a portrait ‘at the speed of technology’, and is meant to reference today’s incredibly faced pace world. We see pictures of each other online, we get blips of information, we have short attention spans, we’re doing a million things all at once – we only see each other as we’re flying by at mach speed. That’s what the Colorbandz™ are meant to represent. As for who makes the cut, initially it was my friends and local art colleagues, but then of course, my celebrity obsession leaked into it and I began using famous folks that have iconic looks, that would also assist in delivering the concept to folks that just couldn’t get it. When I used Bert and Ernie, who are about as distilled as you can get as far as representative imagery, a lot of people had the aha moment with the series. I still take commissions for them, although I don’t regularly work on the series much at this point.
A2G: I know you are a big Prince fan. What’s your favorite Prince song and Prince related memory?
TG: Eesh – I’ve been asked this many times, and my answer always wants to change, because it really depends on the mood, but I’m gonna go with Erotic City – followed closely by I could Never Take the Place of Your Man, Anotherloverholenyohead, Adore, Bambi, and She’s Always in My Hair. Favorite Prince songs are like potato chips – I can’t have just one. Best Prince memory? The first time I saw him live – February 15th, 1985 in the Tacoma Dome. Transformative. I have to thank my sister for that.
A2G: Favorite unreleased Prince song/concert?
TG: Lovesexy Dortmund [from 1988], and the song I’ve never heard that will make my head cave in.
A2G: How did the “Le Petit Prince” project come about?
TG: I was really just doing something fun for myself. I’ve been working hard to make a living as an artist in Seattle, and it’s been a tough go. I feel like if I could get my work into other markets, I’d be much more successful, financially. Anyway, I’d had a real busy 2011, which was pretty successful as far as local visibility and recognition goes, but I was frustrated that it wasn’t really yielding anything opportunity-wise or money-wise. So I just wanted to take a small break and make something that wasn’t meant for exhibition or sale. I’ve always been fascinated with Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation work and wanted to make a sculptural doll of my hero that would be in the style of the Thunderbirds and such. I went about making that happen, tried to find someone to sew a ⅙ scale Purple Rain outfit (Purple coat, black pants, ruffled shirt), but couldn’t find anyone that would do it – so my wife convinced me to do it myself. I’d never sewn a thing in my life, so she helped on the first jacket and I took it from there. I posted some pics online, they began to get shared around, I started getting requests to do recreations of other Princely eras, took the requests as challenges, and went for it. It blew up from there. I began fabricating tiny guitars, all the clothes, using different wigs and cutting and styling them, making sets, and basically recreating Prince’s career visually with photography, all in ⅙ scale. I got to the point where I had done so many looks and eras that it just made sense to me to see the project through and complete the visual timeline. I was working towards a beautiful coffee table book and was hoping to exhibit the work at some point, but as you know [and will be addressed further in the second part of this interview], that idea was squelched.
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview. You will not want to miss it. In the meanwhile, check out more of Troy Gua’s art on his official website. (Link will open in a new tab).
You can also purchase some inexpensive works of Troy Gua’s art for a limited time here.