A polymath of process, Blvck Astroknot has spent the better part of three decades studying various art forms. Grounding his growth in the four elements of hip-hop, Astro's process demonstrates balance through diversity. His studies range from illustration, to gouache, to sculpture, to anything he can get his hands on. While other artists subscribe to stylistic monogamy; Astro's expanding arsenal cannot be categorized.
MALCOLM: Where are you from?
ASTRO: I was raised here in Albuquerque. But I was born in Germany. My dad was in the Air Force. When he got out, pretty much both sides of my family moved here. My mom and dad are originally from New York. My mom’s family is from Panama. Both sides of my family I’m pretty sure came out here because New York was a pretty wild place to live at the time.
What is Blvck Astroknot?
I came up with Blvck Astroknot during in the first We Are This City with Max Baptiste. I was doing a lot of different creative things and I realized you can’t really just be good at one or two things, you gotta have mad different skills in your wheelhouse, and if you're black you have to do that twice. Like you can’t just be good at something, you have to constantly prove your skillset. So Blvck Astroknot just made sense. It’s not that deep, it’s pretty literal. It’s all about trying to be a polymath in a place where there’s not a lot of diversity.
Is your creative exploration guided by the hip-hop elements or have you always believed it's necessary to be good at a variety of skills?
My dude it’s crazy… I grew up in what a lot of people call the golden era of hip-hop. I got into it around ’93-’94. My friend’s brother gave me this Das EFX tape, and that shit was crazy. My dad listened to Tribe Called Quest. It was normalized to be a good rapper. Later on, the people who put me on showed me there’s a whole culture. Everything is symbiotic. All the elements are tools you use to subvert oppressive energies. Everything you do has intention and in order to understand one you should try to do the others.
If you’re a dancer and you don’t understand how music works, you’re not going to be that good. But if you start trying to rap or playing an instrument you start recognizing counts and getting into music theory which gives you a much better relationship with music. If you’re a visual artist–you paint, you do graffiti, you draw, whatever–but you don’t have a physical relationship with your body then you may not be as good of an artist. You may not understand composition or relationship with space. I mean, you might... but the whole concept behind the four elements is once you decode it, it’s just practical to know how to do a lot of things because whatever you care about the most is going to get that much better.
Growing up, there was kind of codified nature to hip-hop–you’re into a lot of silly shit growing up, you think so many things are set in stone–but I just kept with it because I realized each element scratches a different itch. It’s not so much like “this is how it has to be!” At this point, I’m into genres outside of hip-hop. I like punk, black metal, experimental, sci-fi, horror… my influences are pretty wide and hard to encapsulate in the four elements of hip-hop. But it was a good stepping stone.
What mediums are you hitting hardest these days?
I try everything I can get my hands on. I’ve tried sculpting, I’ve tried just like gluing shit together, I’ve tried oil… all the basics everyone is introduced to and right now I’m just working with what I got. I did a couple gouache pieces, a couple acrylic. Illustration is home base for me.
I’m more interested in the result over the process. Like, however you choose to get there is more important that saying, “I did all of this in one medium.” I get pigeonholed by that. Right now, it’s just whatever I got available. Primarily I’d say my top three mediums are gouache, acrylic spray paint, and ink. But if I find some other medium that gets the job done more efficiently, I’ll migrate to that.
Do you feel like you’ve accomplished a level of skill to where you can execute multiple mediums or have you been switching gears since your start?
It’s always what I’ve done. I don’t have any kind of formal training. I’ve never had a lot of access to art classes or mentorships that teach fast tracking your workflow. Mixed media isn’t really a clout thing. It’s more like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know that if I get certain results with certain tools, then I can combine them and get the same effect as somebody else who has more training would with one set of tools. It’s completely circumstantial and based in access. But it’s not something I’m bitter about or anything. I’m pretty stoked that I don’t have to conform to an identity based on the tools that I use. That’s an unfortunate situation artists get stuck in.
Which is more important for getting to the next level as an artist: community support or self-discipline?
It’s both, it’s everything. The thing I think artists need to do in order to break past plateaus and achieve objectives is to do the work. Everyone’s wants the magic bullet for becoming more visible, but it’s literally just grinding it out. Different skillsets cross-pollinate each other. Training as a dancer taught me not to just show up and expect to be good if I’m not training to a point to where I’m sick of it. Art is the same way. If I’m not doing studies, if I’m not constantly sketching, or working on the techniques I’m not good at, then I’m not going to get to the next level. If I get comfortable, I’m going to plateau and never get passed it.
Internally I think it’s important to know what you want and be honest about that. A lot of people like to be fake humble, saying “I do this for myself,” or whatever, but if that were true you wouldn’t show your work to anyone. If everyone was upfront about their motivations, we’d get stuck less often trying to maintain a false persona. If you’re creating for validation, there’s nothing wrong with being motivated by that. If you want money, make shit everyone likes. If you want exposure, make art people can relate to. If you want people to get to know your perspective, make art that asks questions. You have a much clearer direction when being upfront with your intentions.
Community is also important. Having a community to compete with, push you, and inspire you is helpful. Or even just knowing there’s people who can relate to you about some weird shit constantly on your mind.
All this is vital components to get me from where I am now to where I would consider the “next level”–for a lack of a better term. I don’t think it’s necessarily a “levels” type of thing, I think it’s more of getting to a certain point where you’re comfortable creating whether people are going to receive it or not. That’s what I would consider a good artist. Someone who can always make shit regardless of if they’re in their studio, or in their zone, they can just always create.
Who are your top illustration inspirations?
Skinner, Pushed, Jodie Herrera, Cloud Face, Phil Noto, Sandi Ray Pierce, Shohei Otomo, Gōtemilk, Sachin Teng, Kevin Ancell, Jimbo Phillips, Flower Head, Tomer Hanuka, Kim Jung Gi, Karl Kopinski, Electric Pick, Randy B, Deseo, Andrew Maclean, Fiona Staples, Ruben Ireland, Thomas Christopher Haag, Nychos, Squid Licker, James Swagerty, Hiroaki Samura, Junji Ito, Todd McFarlane, Creature Skateboards.
Who were your mentors (if any) coming up as an artist?
Hm... Artistically I’ve always kind of been on the outs. I can’t say I’ve tried especially hard to integrate into an artistic community. As a kid I had artists I looked up to, but I was never able to get feedback from them. It was more me watching them work. Like, they gave me a lot to study from their work but we weren’t exchanging. I wasn’t actively asking them questions, you know?
I’m super open to being mentored right now. So many people who are my peers, homies, or people I’ve just known of for years, don’t realize how much I fanboy on them. Just because you’re my boy doesn’t mean I can’t learn from you. I’m down to humble myself to learn from anyone I’m inspired by. In order to grow as an artist, you gotta have the “always a student” mentality. You gotta be open to being knocked down a peg in order to learn what’s what. Like teach me, tell me my shit sucks and help me get better haha.
What is Kinktober?
Haha it’s nothing all that crazy. Jake Parker, who is another amazing artist out of Arizona, started Inktober. Most artists know of it and have a love/hate relationship with it. You have to draw consistently for 30 days straight according to prompts that challenge you to keep drawing different shit.
For me it got to the point where it became like, “oh look what I’m doing, look at all this shit I drew.” And that’s cool but it made me uncomfortable because there’s a lot of pressure to not get better, but to fall back on styles you can execute quickly.
Kinktober was a thing that I did because No. 1, drawing kinky shit isn’t for everybody. It’s not easily accessible. Some people are going to have a problem with it. It makes you confront things about yourself internally during the process. And it forces you to explore a lot of different textures and focus on accurate anatomy. Doing Kinktober allowed me to focus my time toward what I needed, which was studying anatomy, gesture, texture, and working solely with black and white instead of color. Because what do you associate kinky shit with? Black leather. The emphasis on black and white forced me to get crispy with my line work, make my figures heavier, taking up space in a convincing way in the 2D realm. Overall, it was just a weird but effective way for me to channel my illustration training.
What’s your background in culinary arts?
It’s a job, dude. I feel like everyone has to have three hobbies. One to keep you in shape, one to make you money, and another you can pursue with passion. For me I always grew up cooking. My dad is a really good cook and I picked up a lot from him.
There was a point when I was basically only doing art and I came back from a trip to Nebraska and needed a job and got picked up by a kitchen. It ended up being a really good environment just to be myself. No one’s got time to put on weird affectations of an office because there's so much to do.
My relationship with cooking is that it’s a place where I can be myself, and be somewhat artistically engaged because you have to maintain a level of presentation with what you produce. There’s a lot of methodical steps you have to remember. It’s kind of Zen in a way because there’s a lot of time to just think while you’re doing something over and over.
But yeah, it’s a hustle, that’s what it is. I don’t have a deep passion for it. I’m not trying to become a Michelin chef but I enjoy cooking because it allows me to be creative and vibe with people while I’m making money. Plus, I can do it anywhere.
Does cooking influence your artistic process at all or is working in a kitchen more of a break from being creative?
You know what it is? Cooking makes me more driven to make things. It makes me more driven to get out of cooking, to be honest with you. You always have to sacrifice something to get something. I sacrifice time in order to have shelter, food, clothes, and equipment to continue creating, right? But at the end of the day if I had a choice to do whatever I want, it would be creating full-time. Cooking makes me realize how important it is for me to diligently work on creating until art can fully sustain me.
Some people don’t understand what it means to work super hard, pull a double, or spend eight hours on your feet with no break. But that makes me appreciate the luxury of being able to create and gives me a sense of urgency to do it full-time.
To answer your question, cooking doesn’t directly influence my creative capacity at all, but it does give me that hunger to get undeniably good at art to where I can just do this full-time.
You never struck me as someone too enamored with digital art / illustration. Is that accurate?
That’s not true! Haha it’s just expensive. Literally, if I had the tools to do that shit, I would. If I had a grand to throw at an iPad, get Pro Create, Apple Pencil, that would expedite my process so much. I love digital painting. It was one of my biggest influences for a while. I would even try to emulate with pen and paper what people were doing in Photoshop, trying to get the same gradients and lighting effects because I love the way digital art looks. It’s clean.
I probably have a Wacom tablet that I bought years ago somewhere, along with a laptop I got from a pawnshop. I spent maybe 3 weeks learning Sai and it was dope. It actually helped me draw and paint better because there’s a flow of work in terms of layers. I didn’t understand layers in painting until I understood them digitally first. You can’t just paint any color on top of another–you have to work light to dark in a specific order. So yeah, that shit’s tight it’s just not always accessible. If someone wants to give me an iPad, I will gladly take it ha.
Plus, I want to get into making apparel and that definitely takes precision that’s hard to emulate by hand.
What’s on your horizon?
I’m just focusing as much as I can on visual art and making things I’m into all the time. I would like for the next time I get asked to do a show to not have to start from zero, and just have mad work ready.
My homie and I just put out a hip-hop album so I’m writing for that. Not really the same lane but I feel like all these things go together. This will be our second album as well.
Los Chavez-born artist Beedallo explores a trinity of childhood cartoons, the Catholic church, and the expanding complexities of adulthood. Her characters are as heavy as the emotional baggage they carry. Her work highlights American communism featuring cameos from Sesame Street and “the ultimate socialist,” Jesus Christ. Along with her almost daily illustrations, Bee is plotting a full-length comic book, while regularly exploring new mediums such as hand-made embroidery. Her work is sold independently as prints, patches, matchboxes and oddities like the 6,000,000-calorie box of spare heads.
MALCOLM: Bee-dah-low, Beed’low, or Bee-duh-low? How do you pronounce your work title?
BEE: I intended it to be Beedallo [as in Bee-die-yo] because my last name is Sedillo but Bee-dallow is what I’ve been saying. Either one.
Where are you from?
I’m from Los Chavez, NM which is between Los Lunas and Belen.
How long have you lived in Albuquerque?
This is my third year.
Tell me about the character Ross.
Ross is my brother’s middle name, and my dad’s middle name. [Ross the character] is kind of like my depressed self. He doesn’t do anything, he smokes all day. He’s okay with being a service employee instead of pursuing anything. His story revolves around him accepting the end of the world… Which is also kind of what we have to accept. His character is definitely like a janky autobiography.
What’s your association with Sesame Street?
I’m really into things that are communistic, and Sesame Street is like the roots of communism. Like the free education thing. I like to use the characters to tell stories that I need to understand as an adult.
What’s your connection to the Catholic church?
Well I grew up Catholic. I went to catechism. My mom is a Christian so I would go to Christian and Catholic church. I have a fascination with [Catholicism] at this time in my life. And rooting back to communism for a second, Jesus is the ultimate socialist. I also like the [variety] of the Catholic church specifically because you can choose a patron saint and that’s who you pray to. You don’t have to pray to God, you kind of just do what you want to do. I’m actually about to inherit my great-grandma’s patron saint. But yea, I really love all the imagery but… It messed me up too. So now I’m playing with it and not treating it as being so sacred.
Who are your greatest influences right now and how have they inspired your work?
My grandma is half Native and she keeps Kachina dolls and other Native stuff at her house so that’s a big inspiration for me. The simplified forms, the bright colors and patterns.
How did you develop your aesthetic?
I think my current aesthetic–it changes a lot–has a lot to do with traditional church retablo art and cartoons. Chowder, Flapjack, and Adventure Time were definitely big influences.
Are you self-taught or did you develop as an artist under a mentorship/university?
I was self-taught. I’ve been drawing ever since I was a kid. I really wanted to get into art and I figured the only way to do that was to go to art school because that’s what everybody tells you to do. I went to art school. I’m not going to say I learned anything, but that 4 years of having time to just make art put me years ahead of where I would be now.
I reference old French cartoons to study weight because a lot of the new cartoons don’t emphasize that. I try to draw from R. Crumb and Junji ito.
Loaded question… When looking at your work, I imagine the characters’ movements making comic book sound effects like the creaking of a tall man’s joints or a “boing!” after someone leaps. And all your images seem to have an implicit narrative that gives viewers room to fill in the blank. Is creating visual art with an implied narrative something you do intentionally or does it just come about naturally?
I definitely try to make a narrative, I want people to try to make out what is happening.
As a kid, I was really inspired by the Spiderman comics. But when I was making my own, I really hated the [written] sound effects. I think my suggested sound effects are an attempt to find a way not to use written ones. Because when you look at comics, they look so much better without them... Maybe they don’t, but I just can’t do typography. My personal sound effects don’t look good on comics. Visual cues are just my way of getting around type.
Are you going to release a comic book in the near future? Have you released one in the past?
I have started comic books, I have made shorts for comic books. I’ve done like a chapter before but I never like how the stories come out so I kind of just tuck them away. But the one that I’m working on now I’m going to finish. It takes place over the span of 11 days. I can make 11 days work.
Will there be a main character or will the story bounce around between multiple characters?
I’m debating that now because the story will bounce around, but I want the apathetic character to be the main character because that will be the most relatable. But the story will bounce around between classes–the wealthy class, the working poor class. Honestly, it’s all communist propaganda, but I’m never going to be super explicit about it.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
Yea I’m working on one crayon piece that’s a witch and demon. So that one is on the side–I always have things on the side, I never know what will happen but the ideas are always coming.
You’ve had a solo show in the past [Abomination]. Do you do a lot of planning for shows or are you mostly focused on putting out art consistently?
Yes.. Every show that I’ve had I just kind of wing it. I don’t know if I’m afraid to go out but I’m just like, I’m gonna chill in my apartment and do what I want to do and hopefully something will come this way. That’s been my approach so far.