Dave Van Patten blends politics and humor in captivating works of art
By AMANDA DEL CID
In downtown Long Beach, where there is street art on almost every corner, one artist stands out.
Dave Van Patten is an up-and-coming artist that’s revolutionizing the Long Beach art scene and, according to colleagues, is also just a great guy.
Van Patten’s art journey started when he was young, growing up in Lake Arrowhead, drawing comics, which led him to his path in art, when his classmates loved a comic that he did for a sixth grade school project.
Although his peers and family supported his artwork, Van Patten took a seven-year break from visual art, deciding to study creative writing in college.
“I was jaded by art, I grew up on the mountain … so I didn’t really know what cool art was. So when I moved down to Long Beach I studied art just for my first year, then I changed majors,” Van Patten says.
During his seven-year hiatus, Van Patten earned a creative writing degree, while playing in a couple of bands and living in a hippie-commune in an attic with 10 other people.
“I feel like because I didn’t study fine art and illustration in college that I’m behind the curve compared to a lot of artists who went through the training,” he says. “But in some ways I think it was beneficial to establish my voice through my life experiences.”
Van Patten feels as his return to art was organic, so his artistic voice was saved from the high society way of art.
“I feel like art is for the people, I prefer to make something that the masses can understand, bring it down to the human level,” he says.
Van Patten describes his own art as weird, surrealist and that most of it “is attempting to be humorous or at least in a way perplex people.”
He says his greatest influences are ‘60s surrealist illustrators, like Seymour Chwast, Peter Max and “the old timey weirdo illustrators like Edward Gorey.” Van Patten is also largely influenced by the aesthetic of the Beatles and Monty Python.
Others have described Van Patten’s work a bit different.
Christina Elaine Vasquez, a local artist and Van Patten fan, says his art has three main points, calling it: “the dirty trilogy of Dave Van Patten – the politics, the weird and the humor.”
Vasquez finds great solace in Van Patten’s work because it helped her through a difficult time in her life. She first encountered a piece called “Black Candy” at a Long Beach book store.
“I was in a deep depression and reading [Black Candy], it spoke to me and it sounds cheesy but it’s completely true. I’ve been a huge fan ever since,” Vasquez says.
When she first moved from Orange County to Long Beach, Vasquez felt a bit lost.
“Dave’s work really jump-started me and just inspired me,” she recalls. “I’m always grateful for him doing what he loves because it definitely inspired me. I know all the other artists around him have been inspired as well.”
Rachel Salzman, head of social media at MADE, a local business helping artists produce and sell pieces, has felt the effect of Van Patten’s art and creativity.
“When we see him working, I really like the fact that he is there almost everyday working on something. Being creative and making art even if he is stressed,” she says.
“Just to have somebody creative and always creating, just seeing a person like that makes me want to go home and work on my [art].”
“[His art] reminds me of a mix of street art, tattoo style done in lithograph. When you look at it it’s one of those things where you think, why didn’t I think of that? But in a million years you never would have.”
Van Patten has seen the impact his art has on people. Once, while working at a coffee shop in Long Beach, a homeless man read one of his comics at the shop.
“He told me that it made his day,” he says. “And to see my art [impact people] that way is really my dream.”
For a time, Van Patten made art that was generally whimsical for himself. He realized that he wanted to put more messages and meaning into his pieces while he was working on a farm in 2012.
“About four years ago, I was working on a farm and on my off-time I would draw things on pieces of wood. After a month I had a show’s worth of drawings,” says Van Patten.
So at the end of the year, he put on a show.
“One of the farmers came up to me and said my work was really good. However ‘Why don’t you draw something meaningful, why don’t you do something that has a statement? And that was a turning point for me.” says Van Patten. “I have the power to say anything, I really try to have a statement because there is so much bullshit out there that says absolutely nothing.”
Since then Van Patten has become a staple of the Long Beach art community and says that whether it’s fun or political, he strives to put meaning in all of his pieces. Van Patten has also begun venturing into illustrations with large public art, painting a mural on a Bixby Knolls utility box and recently participated in Pow! Wow! Long Beach.
Van Patten says creating public art has really changed him, and that being in touch with the community around him and working with others “[feels] like part of my soul was given back to me, I just feel so much more like a whole person. I feel like I’m actually living again.”
Long Beach has been the perfect place for him. “You can really blow up here. It is a huge city but still has a hometown vibe,” he says.
After 16 years living in LB, Van Patten feels like a hometown celebrity.
“It’s been a little weird because […] I know everyone but now if I go to a bar or coffee shop with my girlfriend some person will approach me [about my art]. Obviously it feels great that people respond to my art.”
Hometown fame has certainly not gone to his head, and
his ability to stay down-to-earth has a lot to do with the struggle of getting to where he is today.
“It wasn’t always easy,” He says. “Starting in 2009 I was living a pretty minimalist life. I didn’t even have a car until two years ago. It was hard living really until this year. Five years of being totally broke and taking the bus everywhere. I had to be resourceful and get it done.”
He’s learned to deal with rejection too, saying that after the Art Director of VICE turned down his work that it has only gotten better. “I guess it’s the challenge,” He says. “I’m really grateful for that.”
Van Patten has since been published in VICE. No big deal.
The difficulty with his newfound success is having to reassess his goals and adjusting to the routine of it all.
“I think everyone dreams about getting to a place where you can just do art and not need a second job.” he says.
“Once you achieve that it’s a bit depressing to think everything is going to be the same for the rest of my life. You get so much value and so much fuel in the pursuit and once you get that it’s weird.”
He’s begun to strategize new goals, hoping to improve the quality of his work, do more collaborative pieces and write a graphic novel, and the future looks bright.
“I want to put that creative writing degree to use . . . and it would be a chance for me to express my specific voice,” he says. “If I do blow up I hope I’ll be ready for that.”