Robert Vargas: Home is Where the Art Is

DTLA's Favorite Artist Opens Up.

7612.475410_3580549866581_1573658575_oGrowing up in Boyle Heights, artist Robert Vargas grew up on a street named City View Avenue where the view of the Downtown Los Angeles skyline from his Victorian-era home served as both inspiration and a destination point.  He would dream big and draw big, eventually attending the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and then the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York. Now, Vargas is an ambassador of DTLA art & culture and is leading the way by painting the city that has long inspired him.

Once a month Robert Vargas turns the corner of Sixth and Spring into his studio. His infamous drawing sessions are a feature attraction at the Downtown Art Walk. Large crowds gather around him as he intensely works, rapidly churning out large portraits of members in the audience whom he intuitively picks to paint. In addition to his studio work and public mural work, this prolific artist has painted about ten thousand portraits in the past decade of the the people of Los Angeles as a personal side project which he affectionately calls “Portraits of Los Angeles”. Robert Vargas is well traveled, in demand and creating art around the world, but what keeps him connected to this city? The artist, human and Angeleno exposes his soul for just a moment to tell us why…
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Why do you continue to dedicate yourself to Art Walk?

Robert: It’s home. It’s a great platform to celebrate why we love and live in DTLA and once a month I’m able to give back to my community and make my art accessible. By opening up my creative process, I’m able to share in something that is powerful with the everyday person that may not always have access to that kind of experience. It’s not commerce based, It’s my dialogue with the city. I travel often and this also allows me to stay connected with my city and hometown community. The next day I could be off to Australia or Europe and I connect with people in those cities too, but wherever I go I bring a slice of DTLA with me.

Q: How do you stay grounded?

Robert: I come from humble beginnings and I’m blessed to be able to do what I love and share it with the world. At the same time, I’m beyond driven. So that hunger doesn’t allow me to rest on any laurels. My favorite painting is always my next one.

img_8023Q: Why do you paint portraits so quickly?

Robert: There isn’t enough time. The portraits of Los Angeles is a side project actually. I create public works, studio work and often collaborate with global brands. But in addition to that, I’ve done about 10,000 portraits of the people of LA in the last decade. I’m literally trying to paint the city of LA.

Q: What’s the portrait painting experience like for you?

Robert: Powerful, honest, intimate… It’s a shared experience but it differs with each person. Each person’s face dictates my approach to the portrait. Each face has a vastly different story to tell and through the process we walk that journey together. The live setting in particular is unique onto it’s own because of the people watching. Sometimes they too develop a relationship to the drawing created of someone else just because they were there to witness the journey. There is plenty of emotion to go around because it’s honest. This isn’t a painting performance where I’m painting a celebrity from memory or picture, or some formulated choreography, it’s about the human connection. Recognizing the beauty in everyone I draw.. It’s a powerful exchange and a great reward to be able to connect with people like that. If you can’t afford the piece, it doesn’t matter because the experience is free, and thats a mutual gift.

img_2527Q: How did you learn how to paint and create art?

Robert: I can’t remember when I wasn’t painting. My earliest recollection of creating was when I was three years old.  No one can really show you. The whole art making process is like language. The difference between a teacher and a student is not necessarily ability, but experience. Experience is what separates us. You can only get to that place by doing it over and over, inventing symbols, exploring medium, making marks that pull from experience. Drawing is everything you were and everything you are.

See Robert Vargas’ amazing talent painting live this Thursday while you still can! He’ll be painting underneath his iconic mural “Our Lady of DTLA” at the corner of 6th and Spring Streets.  DTLA Art Walk. second Thursday of each month which means it’s happening tomorrow Thursday, October 8th! What’s next for Robert Vargas? Nothing less than painting the biggest mural in the world in our very own DTLA. Follow @therobertvargas if you want to know more about this upcoming project or just want a glimpse into this artist’s world…see you at Art Walk @downtownartwalk!

Contributing Writer

I make out with tacos in my spare time. Also, I work on my personal blog ww.aprilcarpenaphotos.com and am quietly, desperately in love with books.