For Isaac Pelayo, the ultimate goal is to put his own distinctly contemporary, personal stamp on the canon of Western painting. He does this by recombining street art and pop culture references with foundations laid in hard core art history. But in order for the statement to work, for the wit to land, the foundation in classical technique has to be perfectly on point — and the willingness to countermand that technique has to be fearless. Pelayo’s never-ending journey toward the autodidactic perfection of his technical skills reached a breakthrough in his version of the Mona Lisa as a lowkey self-portrait, echoing da Vinci’s own inside joke. The quest has continued through to hagiographic contemporary portraits of figures like Kobe and Tupac, citations and subversions of all-star works by Old Masters, and luscious nudes interrupted by cartoon angels.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
ISAAC PELAYO: I found interest in art at a very young age in my career. I would say I knew I’d be an artist as early as five years old. Art was the only thing that spoke to me in a way I could understand and respond to.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is a reflection of who I am internally and all that interests me. It’s a combination of bits and pieces of the very things that make up my personality, good and bad.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Probably buying art because again nothing else seems to hold a conversation with more meaning and passion. I certainly lack the academic and scholastic skills to do or be involved in anything else.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I did go to school briefly at The University of Nevada Las Vegas. It was the only school I was accepted in and I quickly realized it wasn’t for me so I dropped out after two aching years.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I live in Los Angeles not only because I’m born here but because it stands as the art mecca of the United States. Creatively nothing else beats the energy and opportunity which resides here in this city.
When was your first show?
I exhibited for the first time when I was around ten or eleven years old in a group show and contest in Riverside representing my elementary school district. I won first place.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
My most recent show was my solo show titled BIRDS&BEES, January 2020, Gabba Gallery.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I have to listen to music when I work. It is the key ingredient in the process of my art making. Music allows me to submerge myself into a mood much like a method actor. I listen to everything from classical music to hip hop and even theatrical soundtracks.
Website and social media handles, please!