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Quentin "Shplinton" Thomas: Artist Interview

 

I first stumbled upon Quentin “Shplinton” Thomas’ work on Instagram. As I scrolled through his page, the colors just kept coming off his feed and the subject matter was fun and loose. His brush uses an expression that is both alive and telling. Another huge reason his work is so pleasing to the eye is his command of the watercolors he uses. Being a fan of skate art, I had a feeling that he had some roots in the skate art world. After liking so many of his pics, I introduced myself and said what a fan I was of his work. Looking closer at the clients he has actually done work for, it doesn’t surprise me that he is the definition of a "working artist". Doing things he wants to do and harnessing the creative talents he has worked so hard to master.
Here I sit down with Shplinton and we talk life, skateboarding, influences, style, and of course, his art. He shares a new concept he is working on called 27…enjoy. 
His clients include :
Coca-Cola / BET / Kevin Bacon / RVCA / Lupe Fiasco / Chiddy Bang / Just Chill Beverages / Johnny Schillereff / Bucketfeet /  Sole Bikes / The Standard Hotel /Active Rideshop / Deus Ex Machina 
Where did you grow up? 
Los Angeles, California. When I was like 17 years old, I moved to Rancho Cucamonga, then I moved back when I was 21. So I finished high school out there in Rancho Cucamonga, then went to junior college there, then that is where I actually realized I wanted to do art as a career. I had some really cool influencers teaching me about the art world and about professional graphic designers and stuff like that. Then seeing the lines between fine art and design. Also different methods.
What kind of kid were you? 
I was always drawing. I wasn’t always painting, but drawing. I did it to escape, mostly the places I was bored at. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I like keeping my hands busy. 
What were you drawing? I was drawing bands on stage for some reason..
I was drawing monsters. I was drawing Dragon Ball Z characters; it was one of my favorite shows. The very first thing I actually learned to draw was Bugs Bunny.
A friend of mine in 2nd and 3rd grade was a REALLY good drawer and I was fascinated by how he got things to looks so realistic and I was super into cartoons. So he started breaking things down for me like forms and figures and I felt like he shouldn’t have even known that at such an early age. Creating rib cage textures like in 2nd or 3rd grade and I was like..wtf? Thinking about it now it's a really young age to be self taught learning these things. 
Did music influence you much as you were growing up?
I didn’t listen to too much music that wasn’t gospel or Radio Disney until I was in late middle school and early high school. I had a phone that could play music and it could play MP3’s. So the few songs I could listen to, I listened to them over and over again. It was good to just have music. I was at church a lot and I was in Sunday School, Bible Study. My parents wanted to make sure that I was in a safe environment. My mom is religious, so it was important; but sometimes I’d get bored and that’s where I’d be drawing a lot. 
Did the spirituality go into your work? 
As I got older, I shifted away from the church and I don’t really see myself as religious person per se.  Organized religion has a lot of pot holes. So I definitely feel that there is a “connection” between people and I really don’t know how to explain it, but the closest thing that you can get to a creator or some form of higher power is through creation. Whether it be art or music. Whenever you fall in love with something that you create, that is the higher power. It's our connection to creation. Finding what you love and finding something you can imprint onto something and express yourself. I think everything is art. I feel a chef who makes a kind of food that nobody does is a form of art. People that make furniture that have a certain touch or technique, then that's a form of art. Everybody has their own thing.
So you grew up skating too, what skaters did you like?  
One of my favorites still is Dylan Rieder. He's got tons of style. Transworld's “Time to Shine” is one of my all-time favorite skate videos. It had a huge impact on me and my personal decision in life and career. It made me live more freely. Dylan’s shoe was a fashion forward shoe...he skated in dress shirts and pushed things in new directions for people who wanted to do things in a different way. 
Another huge favorite skater was Rodney Mullen. He has this new part, and at 49 years old, it's super sick. Gozo (Mark Gonzalez) was a huge influence, too. 
Art is cool where you have a lot longer of a lifeline as a career is concerned. It has a similar sports attribute in some ways. 
 
What are some more influences? 
Music is huge, and nature. I feel like when I was in college, I was doing a lot of art on the side. It was stressful, but the stress helps me create dope stuff though. There’s a saying, ”Thanks for the tragedy, I needed that for my art”…. I forget where that was from. I almost feel like I create the best stuff when I’m near a break down or stressed out and that's when the best stuff (art) happens. So I’m trying to find a way to make it so it doesn’t create that inside pressure on me, because it's not good for me. Sometimes a painting will be giving me problems and to the end of that and when I push through that, the other side is like “holy shit..this is amazing”...and then there’s the process working itself out in front of you as you look at the finished piece.  It's almost like sitting down at a desk to work on a piece is like stepping inside of a therapy session when you're done. Instead of paying somebody and talking to someone, you’re getting paid or noticed to make something.
 
Sometimes when I visit someone’s home and I see the piece, I’m like, “Holy…” I made this and they’re happy. It's just forms, figures and shapes, but when I look at it at their home, I think back, “I was going through this and that at that time," and I’m not telling them, but in my mind I know. The kind of relief that I get after is great and I worry about a lot of stuff I shouldn’t worry about. Then things turn out fine, and then that pushes me. People get motivated in different ways. 
 
Did you go to college?  
Otis for a small time, then I went to Chaffey. I feel I wouldn’t have been an artist if I didn’t spend time at that junior college. Everyone else was going off to the 4-year colleges and I felt left behind. Funny thing, I wanted to be a holistic medicine doctor. My goal was to be there for 2 years to get the credits knocked out. I wanted to be in holistic medicine. I realized I wasn’t making that decision based off of the fact I just wanted to do medicine. I was making that decision because I had a fear that I couldn’t do art. I realized I didn’t want to make that large of a choice based on a fear that I couldn’t do something else and regret it. I don’t like looking back. I like to and go through the process and do it without regret.  I feel the “what if” is torture. I’m not gonna give up, it's gonna get done. To be told at 18 years old to decide what you had to pick is a tough thing, because you’re still a kid. If you’ve had a practice something that you love and that you have some skills at an early age and if it's something you keep coming back to, then it should be explored more. Also when I was in an art club at the junior college, someone told me that you can still do fine art in advertising, graphic designs, and children’s books. There are so many things you can do for a “regular job” and have it include art and creativity. You don’t have to drift too far away from what you love. Then I switched to art classes and dropped the pre-med.
Why water color? 
They blend different than other colors. The reason why I’m doing the portraits and the abstract is because I started doing the portraits based off a request to do pop art.  I was getting a lot of requests for athletes and famous people. I started with abstract, but then I’d get these requests for portraits and I began to love doing them. This stuff (portrait paintings) was selling faster than the abstract was. For abstract, the work was a little more “labor intensive". For example, while triangles are soothing, the process takes longer. When I’m doing portraits, I know what the outline looks like and I know where the color needs to be and I blend it. The abstract stuff is based on how I feel and what the music is and what I’m experiencing in life at the time.
I get to work with the water and I let it flow. I let the color dictate to me where they want to go and the small smudges that would normally be a “mistake” would actually add to the painting and I'd work around it. Its almost like an interaction with the universe and how things are. Then taking them as they are, and how to make them more beautiful. 
Your style now is evolving and progressing. 
Yeah..I feel like for awhile I was trying to figure it out. Things slowed down a little bit and so I backed off and have been doing things on my own for awhile. I’ve been going back and forth between having a manager and not having one. It's a lot you know- the gallery process, finding one and booking shows. I feel like if want to do more commercial stuff, or do fine art, I’m doing all that myself now and they’re worlds apart, so it's been a challenge.
 
I grew up skating and I don’t see skate artists at Christie’s. I’m trying to figure out where’s the divide between fine art and commerce, and how do I bridge that? I feel like it's a whole process that have to figure out a way to make it work. So I stepped back for awhile to try to figure out the styles myself and not make it a separation between this and that. 'Cause I’m interested in so many things and there’s a gallery that just does street art…. and there is another that just does fine art. I felt that I hadn’t personally explored all the different avenues yet and I didn’t want to be boxed in. I just want to create. 
Just looking at ways process works, I’m figuring out a way to do it ‘my way,' whatever that means…It's not just about the process of creating the work, but the process of navigating the market. 
 
Tell me about your newest collection and how this all happened?
So I’m 27 years old. This is the 27 Club and there are a lot of varieties of this, but some of these are celebrities that died at 27. My interpretation is rock musicians who died at 27. Robert Johnson died at 27? Yeah, he was one of the first.
 
I turned 27 in February and so much stuff is going on, so as more projects kept popping up, I said to myself, 'You better do this now, because if you don’t, then you’re never going to it.' So I just did it. So I built the whole canvas, stretched all the canvases all myself and cut it all to size, primed it and got to work. 
What about these artists do you want to convey? 
They were all killing it (really popular at the height of their fame). It all really comes down to self-destruction. Heroin, suicide, LSD overdose, eat…I chose these eight for a reason. I’ve been studying the artists, because I really wanted people to see their icons as people, rather than a subject that's sold… And also to know about the tragedy behind them, because there was a lot of pain. I want people to know how that interprets into the process to make things beautiful.
 
Also I wanted people to know about substance abuse. The self-destruction and the back and forth and the love and how it all mixes together to create really strong emotions and you have to get it out or it will tear you apart.
 
Amy Winehouse is my favorite one, so that's why I’m going last with her. Just from what I’ve researched about her where there was joy, but so much tragedy with her as well. Then there’s Jimmy who was all love. He carried that guitar everywhere. There was fear and anxiety, but it was mostly love. Then Basquiat who was a lot stronger than a lot of people realize. He had a strong voice as an artist and making his own decisions. They all have similar traits, but also very different ways of creating. Then Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin died all within a short amount of time of each other. 
 
The very first time I thought of this 27 concept was from an image on Tumblr. It was a picture of a white lighter with the names of the musicians who died at 27. Then there’s a superstition about white lighters and a lot of rock stars died with white lighters in their pockets. 
 
This is going to be the biggest show I’ve done and we’re going to put sculptures and all kinds of art. There is a LOT going on here in this show, to fully explore this concept. I want people to appreciate the face value of these paintings, but also explore how it relates to them personally. 
Is that hard to do?
It is, but after they’re done, I want people to experience them as a whole and really feel the whole other aspect of the pure feeling without the face. 
So it sounds like a lot for one guy how do you discipline your day? 
Ha..that's a struggle. I try do it by days, and by hours, too. Lots of sleeplessness. For example, today I have to put some work up on the website before people get home from work, so I have a deadline and I’m introducing some things at the web store. I want things to get out and figure out what the market's like and figure it out from there. I’m re-booting the store and I wanted to re-shoot all my work, but I’ve been getting a lot of requests for the shop to be up and I have the inventory and as soon as everything is done, I’ll re-release it so people can grab what they want. I’m putting out so much more stuff at the store, so it's good. 
 
It's more liberating to be able to put things out on my own schedule, but it's more difficult because I’m putting things out on my own schedule. So now, the key to anything and everything is consistency. I have to continue to put out things that people like, and at the same time I have to set days aside to send things out. So my days are busy fitting it all in.
 
Sometimes saying no to things helps, but the same people I’m partying with are the same ones I’m doing business with, so I get a lot of opportunity and it's hard to pick and choose certain things. It's kind of crazy because you don’t know if you’re just hanging out, or hanging out and doing work. 
Yeah the business end of art right?
It's a big part of my life now. I want to do everything on my own, or at least delegate some easier tasks to someone who can bang out a list of tasks that I need done that would be great. When I had a manager I was negotiating my own deals, so I was like, 'What am I paying you for?' So, I’m trying to figure out the different avenues and how to make a living and where can I be happy.

27 Quentin Thomas Shplinton


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