Anthony Solano was born in Hayward, CA, then spent the majority of his childhood in Guadalajara, Mexico. When he returned to the Bay Area, USA at the age of 13, art became a source of escape and comfort, as he acclimated to his new environment and learned a new language. In high school he was exposed to painting for the first time, sparking what would become his life’s passion. Anthony, a self-taught painter, now resides in Portland, Oregon and credits the local landscape for a major creative shift, from abstract painting to the surreal genre that he currently practices. His work explores today’s environmental conflicts, communicated with vibrant hyper-realistic imagery and thought-provoking storytelling. A sense of optimism and hope within his work allows the viewer to experience a complex, emotional response.
Where are you from? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
I was born in Hayward, CA and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico at the age of three, getting to spend the majority of my childhood in Mexico. I moved back to the Bay Area when I was 13, and in 2015, my wife Nancy and sons River (now 12) and Jade (now 9) moved to Portland, Oregon where we currently reside. Growing up in Mexico made a big impact on me creatively, and yet during that time, I wouldn’t have necessarily believed this to be the case, as I wasn’t surrounded by an obviously creative space. My childhood was vibrant, loud, mischievous, colorful, and spontaneous; an environment that rewarded all of the senses, while simply doing the everyday things. As a child, I recall spending a lot of my time playing outside as well as making and creating alongside my older sister. Imagination played a big role in my childhood entertainment and I loved to make things with whatever materials laid around the house. Making my own coloring books was my favorite. I remember taking it very seriously to finish all of the drawings for the book, before allowing myself to color them in; otherwise, it would just be a sketchbook, I’d think. I also loved making my own toys out of cardboard, tape, aluminum foil--really anything that I found lying around. It wasn’t until high school, however, that I was exposed to painting, sparking what would become my life’s passion.
Who or what has compelled and/or encouraged you to create your art?
Since picking up the paint brush in high school, I’ve always felt a massive energy calling me to paint, one that challenges me to take on more complex concepts and techniques with every new work, and one that offers grand satisfaction when achieved. Outside of this energy, there have been key people throughout my life that have nurtured and/or encouraged me to start or keep painting, people who acted as guides or rails to get on, or stay on this path. Some of the biggest impacts coming from my parents Sergio and Tina, who allowed and encouraged creativity at home and gave us the freedom to be kids, my high school art teacher Mrs. Parker who introduced me to acrylic paint, my wife, best friend, and muse Nancy, who chases this giant dream with me, my buddy Jorge Ayala, who convinced me at a critical point in life that I could in fact be a working full-time artist when I was VERY far from it, and Andrew Hosner, who opened the first creative doors for me a few years back and continues to provide such valuable mentoring through this journey.
What is the key topic or issue that your work addresses?
The overarching topic that my work currently focuses on is the environmental crisis that we as humans have created, and for the most part, continue to ignore. While working on my latest body of work for Antler Gallery here in Portland, this topic more closely explored our world “once we are gone”. “Once we are gone” revolves around the idea of a new prosperous earth full of life, post human existence. With an abundance of wild life in this new human-less world, however, there is an equal amount of human stuff/trash left behind, which this new life now learns to live with and use in its own way. Although it’s easy to think of this post-apocalyptic time as dark, this new life is optimistic, light-hearted and careless, and when seen through the eyes of the characters that get to experience it, pretty damn great, now that we’ve stopped messing things up. I’m excited to continue to explore this new chapter of our world for my next series opening in September of 2022 at Thinkspace Projects in Los Angeles, CA.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
When conceptualizing for new work, I rely on hanging out with my two sons and becoming a child with them for a bit, in whatever form I can, whether that’s adventuring in nature, riding bikes, drawing together, and really any kind of play that they’ll include me in. That time seems to be when new ideas flow more spontaneously for me. I also love looking through wild life photography and documentaries, oftentimes it’s a photograph of a wild animal, or a visually stimulating landscape that leads me to take a deep dive into researching the challenges being experienced by that animal or in that region. This process makes up the beginning of an image coming together for new work. As I explore and play with an idea and work to create that final image to paint, it is super important to me that the wild life images that I use show the animal’s soul or spirit and that the objects that I incorporate make people feel warmly towards them. It is also important that they are made of materials that don’t decompose quickly, to help create a realistic scenario as much as possible. Ultimately, my goal is to provoke the viewer to experience a range of feelings, from being tender, humorous, or innocent on one end of the spectrum, or to making people feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, angry, or even sad on the other end. This will hopefully lead to even a small change in the way that people think of their own impact on our environment. That visual and emotional juxtaposition is currently what fuels my work.
If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?
I love loving people with food, so if I weren’t creating art, maybe I’d open up a vegetarian Mexican food restaurant and cook only with the sustainably grown ingredients that I’d grow myself, on our family’s urban flower farm.