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Art & Life with Niko Pope

Today we’d like to introduce you to Niko Pope.

Niko, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born with a very powerful, potent, visual imagination. As a child, I was what one would classify as a “chronic daydreamer.” I often created stories, characters and even entire worlds in my mind and I’d watch everything play out as if I were watching and controlling a movie in my mind. I would move and run around living in my mind. I had friends who supported me, but I also had some bullies due to my unusual habits. Yes, it did hurt me as I didn’t understand why I was treated cruelly for just simply being myself, but I later learned to ignore people like this and pay attention to those who care for you and are always there for you. Drawing and painting were the only true way for me to show and express my worlds to everyone, which is why I started at a very early age. My Mom, the greatest supporter in my work, saw this in me and got me started on my Art path very early by getting me involved in various art programs, art classes, animation classes, and more as I grew. My Dad was also a great supporter of my work. My parents were very different from each other.

My Mom was once a manager at Blockbuster Video and would always bring home many animated movies for me to watch. Not just Disney or Hollywood animations, but various obscure and unheard of animations as well. Very light-hearted movies. She was also a very spiritual person into meditation. This influenced the Fantasy, surreal, and colorful aspect of my art and my personality. My Dad was very different and had a much darker sense of humor and personality. He would always rent Sci-fi, horror, and much darker anime movies to watch with him, stuff my mother definitely did not approve of. This influenced the Sci-fi/Horror and darker aspects of my art. Because of this, I have a very dualistic sense of mind and art style. I embrace both the light side and the darker side of art. I have quite an obsession with the symbol of the Yin & Yang.

I went to San Pedro High and had good friends and had a great AP Art program. After graduating in 2007, I moved to San Francisco to major in Illustration at the Academy of Art University. My time at the Academy of Art was some of the best times of my life. I was exposed to so much art I didn’t even know exist, I learned so much from some of the greatest teachers, and I made great artist friends, and experienced an extreme heartbreak which forever changed my art path. That is fine though because if it weren’t for that heartbreak, I would have never met some of the best people currently in my life, including my best friend and brilliant art partner in crime Emilia Larsen.

I graduated from the Academy of Art in 2012. Graduation day was one of the happiest days of my life. I moved back to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams in Illustration and Concept Art in the film industry. You’d think I’d live happily ever after, right? Well, unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse. A few months after graduation, my Father suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack while I was working out in the gym with him. This was my true first experience with the real death of a loved one, and it completely stunned me and my art for a long time as it sent my family and me through a deep and dark depression. It also sent my family into a financial crisis. I had to put my dreams on hold and had to seek a job in retail. Things only got worse. My grandmother had a sudden stroke about a year later. She survived, but only for the family to try and rehabilitate her in a convalescent home every single day for several months. She passed some months later. About a year after my uncle suddenly passed. My heart took a major beatdown.

One day, I get back in contact with my friend Emilia. She moved back to Los Angeles, and we decide to reunite at the Dia De Los Muertos festival with our sketchbooks. From there on out, I was slowly getting back to my art groove, and we started to hang out more. At some point in 2016, we heard of an event known as Wasteland Weekend. It is a post-apocalyptic Mad Max themed event in the middle of the Mojave desert, and some of our friends from the Academy of Art were going to be there as well. We were both very much into the apocalyptic art style, and we made plans, packed our stuff, made some costumes, and we took a trip out there. We expected to have fun, which we did, it was a blast! However, we didn’t expect our entire lives to be changed from that point on.

Wasteland Weekend wasn’t just a simple event, and it was a huge community of people dedicated to their craft. They were very accepting and loving, and many of them kept inviting us to their events even after Wasteland. They have been some of our greatest supporters and friends. There are many small “tribes” in Wasteland. Emilia and I realized there was not a single tribe dedicated to visual arts or painting. So we made a promise to each other we would start one. Two years later, we are now making that dream come true. We made our art tribe, and we decided to name it Da Vinci’s Flayers. It was an unexpected success. Not only do people in the wasteland community love it, but various people outside of the community are also heavily interested in post-apocalyptic art as well. Which is why we are heavily considering expanding DaVinci’s Flayers outside of the community and making it a gallery to host all post-apocalyptic art! We also plan on opening a small business for film pre-production. Until then, I still work freelance concept art and design! I am recently opening myself up to experience some opportunity in the hardcore game and film industry as well!

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
No matter what medium of art I choose, I am always an illustrator at heart. I love to tell stories through art. I am a freelance concept artist and designer for games and entertainment, but I also paint, sculpt and build costumes and props.

Many people will tell you their favorite movies, anime, games, books, the genre that they like that inspired them and this is true. Sci-Fi, Horror, and manga are great inspiration to me. However, deep down beneath all that, our experience in our lives is the true inspiration behind our work. As I mentioned previously, I had a very dualistic life. As a child, I was raised in the very industrial city of Carson and San Pedro. There was much grunge, rust, cracks, bizarre pipes, wires and infrastructure that surrounded me. This was a major influence to the darker half of my art and my apocalyptic art as I love to draw and paint the texture of decay. On the other hand, my spiritual mother always took me to beautiful adventures of magical trips to the forest, beach, Buddhist temples, crystal shops and more. This influences the more colorful, lighter, atmospheric and cleaner aspect of my work. Some people have even told me my work had a “beautiful creepiness” to it.

I will paint mostly digitally for my professional freelance work. For personal gallery work I will paint and draw in various mediums, but my preference is a Ballpoint pen, acrylic, marker, and oil paints. Regardless of the medium, I always draw and sketch before painting. It’s very key.

For my Illustration and Concept artwork, my goal is to help people bring their creations and stories to life, just as I do my own from my own mind. I want everyone who commissions me to experience that same joy I did as a kid in bringing their own world to life. As for my personal work, if there’s anything I want others to take from it, even if they don’t understand the story in my work, I want everyone to feel that there is beauty in all aspects in life. There is beauty in light and dark. There is beauty in life and death. There is beauty in happiness and sadness. There is even beauty in courage and fear. We cannot appreciate one without the other. One of the reasons I love the apocalyptic artwork and why we want Da Vinci’s Flayers to grow is that even if the world ends, even if civilization were to collapse, even in the worst of times, human creativity will always prevail. You don’t need fancy tools and material to create beautiful art. Our Da Vinci’s Flayers motto is “Create or Die.” We as humans are creators. We want people to understand that you can create with anything. With post-apocalyptic art, we prove that you can create a beautiful life and art even out of death and destruction. I believe through understanding and appreciating this in art, we can truly allow ourselves to be reborn. Life is an infinite process of living, dying and being reborn; physically and metaphorically.

Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities, and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
The greatest advice I could ever give to all artists… Throughout most of my life, I was very socially reserved. Yes, I had some good friends, but I didn’t go out of my way to communicate with other artists in the industry, and I ignored many of the industry social events at the Academy. I had extreme social anxiety. I was also afraid my work wasn’t good enough to share with others. My best advice does not let your fears get in the way of connecting with people. Something I had to learn the hard way is it is so important to network and to communicate with others. Sometimes you may feel your work isn’t good enough to show. Sometimes you may feel like you’re not worthy to be in the presence of other artists you feel is greater than you. When you get rejected for work, you may feel like you might want to give up. Never give up. Never let anyone get you down. GET OUT THERE! And connect with everyone you possibly can, even with people not in your industry. I’ve lost count of how many commissions I’ve gotten just from random people I once met in a Starbucks. You never know who’s going to support your work unless you share it with them. You are worth it. Do not be afraid of rejection. Even the best of the best will experience rejection. Keep pushing. There will always be someone who loves what you do and will be willing to pay you for it. It’s all about connecting.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My personal work and freelance work can be viewed and supported on my personal site! And my Instagram @nikojpopeart. I sometimes show my personal work at the Resin art gallery in Hermosa Beach, but I am looking for other ways to exhibit my work.

DaVinci’s Flayers will always be hosting our work at our own structured gallery at Wasteland Weekend! However, we understand that this is a once a year event in the middle of the Mojave Desert, so we are working hard to find ways to share our work closer or inside LA. Until then you can follow us on our Instagram @davincisflayers and our Facebook, and we will keep everyone up to date with our artwork and updates on how and when we plan to make our work accessible in LA! We will also be opening up an Etsy to share our craft. Including custom made painted patches. We also body paint and custom paint costumes and props!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Preston Yarger (Personal Photo Photographer), Emilia Larsen (Top half of Yin Yang painting) Ray Vera (Photographer of duo photo in our wasteland costumes)

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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