On My Wish List: P. Calavara
It’s a chilly Thursday night. I arrive to Burial Grounds early to meet up with Rick, creator of P. Calavara and the assortment of character’s associated with Olympia’s favorite Panda Bunny. Perhaps a hyphen should be carefully placed betwixt the words “Panda” and “Bunny” I’m not quite sure – but I am sure that the characters’ creator is an artistic multi-hyphenate. Artist, illustrator, writer, comic-book maker – Rick is serious about his passion for this particular style of art. “To be an expert at something, you have to do it for 10,000 hours. For instance, there are musicians that are just good, but to be great – that’s about how much practice it takes. I think I got my 10,000 hours by doing comic books“, says Rick. Growing up in a house where animation cells shared wall space with family photos, Rick is part of an entire generation of American artists that have been influenced by cartoons, both Japanese and American. The spawn between these two (often copied between one another) artistic styles has created a movement in which comic book fantasy is fast becoming a high brow art form. Rick explains the differences between American and Euro-Asian comic influence like this, “The biggest difference between Japanese and European comics versus American comics is that they are taken seriously as mediums. You can do a cartoon that’s not for children, but for adults and its almost equivalent to a novel. Some of the best selling films in Japan are cartoons. There’s a higher class of artist making these types of cartoons now, so it gives you something to aspire to”. Aspire indeed, Rick has created an entire line of P. Calavara inspired works that are sure to bring the merry this holiday season.
For me, the draw is Rick’s use of pop culture influenced characters and deliberate comic-book like two-dimensional motion. And though Rick says that he has never done graffiti, its hard not to appreciate the subtle nuances of urban flavor in his work. Two words – wall ready. Rick, like me, is a transplant from California. In the early 90’s California became famous in the urban art world due to its booming underground graffiti buzz. When asked if California graffiti-art had any influence on his work Rick replies, “I have never done graffiti. Now I’m too old for it. I’m too smart or too stupid now to go running around in the middle of the night with spray-paint. But there is a part of me that really regrets having never done it because of the skill-set that some of these guys have that I just don’t. One of the things I’m doing as a member of the Olympia Arts Commission is putting together an urban arts program for Olympia. We want to put artists in contact with building owners to talk about making walls into more like murals or pieces. There’s no reason why we can’t do it. Right now the idea is in front of the City Council, we’ll have to see what happens.” Rick’s urban art proposal is being considered for next year’s commission schedule but he is optimistic that the project will be approved and local artists will be able to create larger than life works of art in our city.
We sit and talk as the symphony of clanging coffee mugs and teaspoons drowns out our discussion. We raise our voice louder over the swoons of metal on ceramic – sharing ideas about “the artist” persona, his work, the origin of P. Calavara, and our shared appreciation for words. We talk about his line of P. Calavara t-shirts, figurines and books and how he has turned his basement into a workshop of sorts for all things P. Calavara. Rick’s Alphabet books are inspired by similar works by Edward Gorey with P. Calavara’s sophisticated, yet aloof style. Suddenly the orchestra retreats – as it always seems to when you’re talking or laughing your loudest. Rick and I finish our conversation with an agreement that he will share his next exhibition, location, dates and time with us – and we will share it with you. Right here – Living in Olympia.