A Conversation with Antoine Tavaglione
Last month, before going back to Buenos Aires to spend the holidays with family, I did a one-week stopover in Montreal to visit friends and enjoy some days out of the routine. While I was there, I was fortunate enough to get in contact with artist Antoine Tavaglione, who had just recently arrived from some travels of his own. Antoine is a pop artist whose signature style features iconic cartoon characters and a bright, blink-and-you miss it criticism of politics and culture in society. We met up for coffee with Antoine on an extremely cold morning and had an excellent conversation about art, aesthetics, symbolism and entering the worlds of animation and fashion.
What’s your first memory related to art?
My first drawings. I used to draw a lot; doodle in comic books my dad bought me, fill out the characters and scribble over them. That was very young, when I was around two or three years old. A little bit later I started drawing my own characters on paper and other books such as my grandmother’s encyclopedias.
Would you already invent your own characters at that age?
Yes! I had a clown, a shark, and a cat that looked a bit like Sylvester the Cat. It’s kind of cool because if you look back, each page would have the same characters but in different situations: you could tell from the drawings that I was already making my own little stories and comic books.
Did you watch many cartoons as a child?
I think we all did. I used to have guitar lessons on Saturday mornings that I would want to skip so I could watch cartoons (laughs).
Do you think comics and cartoons have changed since then?
Yeah, they’ve changed a lot. I look back at the old Warner Bros stuff, Bugs Bunny and such, and cartoons just aren’t created like that anymore. I think older ones might have been a little more clever due to script writing and rawness of the animation. I've studied and worked in animation for many years, and I like being able to sense both a profession and a fluidity in the drawings.
How did you get started in art and animation?
I studied Creative Arts at Dawson College and film later on at Concordia University. Any class that had to do with cinema and animation, I went to. There was one particular teacher I found really inspiring, who focused not so much on how to animate but on the actual raw content: what’s behind it all. Content driven, I would doodle all the time. Just being in the metro and seeing something inspiring and sketching it out, I did things like that often. It opened my mind to a lot of scenarios. I like to tell a story, so even when I make a painting, which is a still image, I like to create a little something behind it that can lead to other paintings.
Is there a specific character that you’ve created that you relate to the most?
Probably the Screaming Heart, which is more of a symbol than a character in itself. It’s become like a trademark for me because I use it in many different contexts. It means so much and it can also just be a fun aesthetic at the same time, depending on how you look at it.
What’s the symbolism behind it?
I created it about five years ago after having been in Italy. When I came back I painted this big piece that said “oggi sei qui, Roma” (“today you are here, Rome”) with this screaming heart, a character walking through life while staying in Rome during a period that I had lots going on. It was sort of like a representation of me, you know. Almost like the birth of an emotion. Just scream it all out, get it out.
You have an Italian background then. Have you done much work in Italy?
I’m very much influenced by my cultural background. I go visit at least once a year. Rome especially: everything is art there. Italian history and traditions have always been a huge inspiration for me ever since the beginning of my art career. But as much as I love the culture, the design and fashion orientation, I feel Italy sometimes doesn’t always keep up with certain waves. The modern wave of street art and my specific style of pop art does not always really merge with the scene there. As much as I’d like to work in Rome, you can’t touch the walls there. If I visit, I can give myself time to relax, eat, walk, turn off my phone and take it all in.
Being based in Montreal, what’s that like?
There is a lot of talent in this city. People have been around for a long time and art is everywhere: in galleries, in shows, on the street. Back in university, I had art classes and when teachers saw my paintings they would react, asking me what they were and stating that they were just illustrations. Being here, I’m surrounded by people that I can relate to and keep me motivated to keep going. I’m looking to travel a lot more this year, explore the world.
Are there any particular artists whose style you admire especially?
I have so many inspirations. I can be super cliche and say Keith Haring, then I can go and say Ron English. I’ve always been a big fan of Ron, his approach towards pop culture and pop art is as inspired me to do what I do. I was actually introduced to him in Miami, which was pretty cool.
How was your first experience at Miami’s Art Basel this year?
I just went to check out the scene, without knowing what to expect. It was a great experience overall, all of the best artists on an international scale were there and it felt to good to be part of it, surrounded by people like that. I went with my project manager Melissa and got around to speaking to galleries about my work as well. It was fun because some people recognized my stuff, I saw a couple wearing my t-shirts. A really good experience. Ill be going back for sure!
Tell us about your clothing line!
My father worked in textiles, so I grew up surrounded by fashion. I remember he had three closets of pants just to himself, a hundred pairs of shoes, that kind of thing. I’ve always appreciated good style, and it’s possible for me now to understand the business of merging art and fashion. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly fun to make art and adapt it to stuff that is more tangible to people. I’m not a brand though, I’m not strict in my ways. I like every platform, both for the sake of commerce and for the sake of art. I just want to get my hands on it and be able to make a career out of what I love every day.
Have you ever animated your illustrations?
Not yet, animation is very time consuming. I have created TV shows for a pitch, though, and I’m actually currently working on a cartoon show based on three retailers in the mid 20’s. I’ve worked in retail in the past and as I’ve said, fashion will always be a strong influence for my work and myself. I would love to create a show that’s specifically orientated to my aesthetic and animate my own drawings. I’d like to create something that has content, that goes beyond the animation.
What are your plans this 2014?
I have no predictions, I’m really just going to go with the flow, travel for the sake of creating art, paint tons...
What advice would you give to artists who are looking to maintain their inspiration and work?
I would just say create as much work as you can, be experimental and go for it. See what happens. It’s worth the shot and people need to see your stuff, you need to get it exposed. Don’t be scared to jump right in.