INTERVIEW WITH GAGE LINDSTEN


The Dark Knight of Digital Art: A conversation about his expedition in the realm of "Phantasy Art"


 


AA00

Hi Gage, you've always been the dark knight of digital art to me. Where are you from?


G.L

Hi! I’m cool with that moniker lol. I am from the middle of nowhere Illinois, USA. I spent most of my childhood in a small town of about 1,300 people. It was a killer environment for an imaginative kid like me to grow up. My friends and I rode our bikes everywhere – we’d ride for miles on our lil knock-off BMXs exploring the forests and farmland that surrounded our town.

When I was around 13 my parents started an airbrushing business and we moved to a larger town of about 100,000. While I loved my small-town life I really longed to live in a big city, so I was stoked for the change. The town we moved to, Decatur, was this dying factory town. It looks like Midgar from Final Fantasy VII -- miles and miles of decaying factory buildings and industrial plants. And that’s where I spent my teen years.

I eventually moved to an actual big city, Chicago, for college, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.


A00

Can you tell us a story from your childhood?


G.L

Ok, so my childhood best friend’s house was out on the edge of town. If you walked across the street from his front door, you’d be in the forest. In those woods was this old, abandoned applesauce factory. There had been a fire or something, so all that remained was this labyrinth of cement walls, totally overgrown in the middle of a forest! The area had also served as a car junkyard or something a while back as well, so the abandoned factory was surrounded by all these cars that were covered in moss and weeds. And that’s where we would hang out a lot.

We were pretty young when we started going out there, like 9 or 10? We would play video games and then go out there and it felt like an extension of those fantasy worlds. At some point it became clear that some older kids started hanging out there at night – remnants of fires and the walls started getting tagged with all these weird seemingly Satanist symbols (teen shit lol). Over time the place was covered in graffiti. We never saw these other kids since we only went out there during the day, so this place that was already sort of magical in our eyes took on this mysterious vibe where we imagined all kinds of weird stuff went down at night.


A00

So it was a perfect environment for your imaginations to go wild. Did you draw and paint from a young age?


G.L

Yes. I was an only child, so drawing was my favorite way to pass the time ever since I could hold a pencil. My parents let me paint a fantasy mural in our living room when I was like 10. It was a pack of flying imps, like lil flying demons, attacking a castle tower. Wish I had pictures of it!



A00

Your work reminds me of 'Jinzo' (aka Psycho Socker) from Yu-gi-oh...Berserk by Kentaro Miura...and some other 70s to 80s Japanese anime like Akira


G.L

I feel like a lot of that aesthetic started when my uncle, my dad’s younger brother, came to live with us for a bit when I was 12. He was sort of a darker, more introspective person than I had encountered at the time, and he didn’t treat me like a kid. We went to the comic shop together, and I was all set and ready to buy whatever X-men issue I could grab, but he put one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman issues in my hand instead. I don’t think I even grasped what it was about, but the art, the mythology, and the world really switched something on in my brain. Shortly afterward I came across Horobi by Yoshihisa Tagami, this older horror manga, which blew my mind with its nightmarish bio-horror designs. At the time it didn’t even register to me that Japanese comics were this totally different animal to western stuff, I just really connected with the expressive art style.

From there, I was just one of those weird teens that were into dark stuff. I was obsessed with the 1980s/90s biopunk anime like Guyver and Akira. I was also really into Todd Mcfarlane’s Spawn and more traditional fantasy art, so naturally Berserk was a big fountain of inspiration for me as it tied it all together.



A00

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a bit heavy for a young kid (laughs). Your uncle has some awesome taste tho. Can you tell us more about the figures in your work? The neon fluorescent hair, largemouth, sharp teeth, dark humanoids...


G.L

A lot of my character design choices stem from my love of clowns. I’ve been obsessed with the Pierrot character for quite a while now. I think it started with just a light infatuation of the long history of art based around the character, but then I came across a collection of poems from 1902 called Pierrot Lunaire and my fascination deepened. They really paint this amazing world -- highly recommend! Those poems set the tone for my interest in creating work that’s dark, ugly, and beautiful all at once.

So, a lot of my work is variations on exploring the mix of clown, creature, and fantasy. Sounds kind of simple writing it out like that, but I think zeroing in on what I enjoy making has been personally rewarding.

The neon color stuff comes from being a 90s kid I think. The era of slime and brightly colored clothing. I grew up watching VHS’s of 80s movies on a CRT TV so everything had this glow to it.



A00

Can you tell us a bit about your work setup? What do you use?


G.L

I draw almost everything on an iPad with Procreate. I like the minimalism of that app. It doesn’t have the endless tweaking/editing capabilities that Photoshop has… it’s fairly limited to just drawing. I think that helps me keep a clear mind since I don’t have all those editing options buzzing around in my brain.



A00

The dreamy, blurry, hallucination-like mood in your work. Can you tell us the story behind it? What does it preach about?


G.L

I like to call my work “phantasy art.” A play on words of fantasy and phantasmagoria. I usually make it in kind of a daydream state. I try not to overthink it. I don’t plan a bunch or spend like months refining it. I usually have a collection of notes on my phone of concepts or words that inspire me, and then I just zone out and see what happens. Often the ideas that swim up aren’t super clear or complex – it’s more about trying to capture a mood or attitude…usually with a figure. Since I have a background in comics and animation, I first tried getting down these images or ideas with linework, but then things became too concrete. Yoshitaka Amano, a big inspiration for me, is a perfect example of an artist that perfectly renders in a way that looks and feels like a dream – watercolor is a great medium for that. It’s very elegant. But that’s not me. I am not elegant lol. Airbrush is more my vibe. I grew up around it from my parents’ business – my dad was constantly airbrushing cars in the garage. The smell, the sound of the compressor, my dad always covered in tiny specs of paint -- that’s my childhood. The difference is I live in a small apartment with no garage, so my airbrush is digital.



A00

Yoshitaka Amano...What a legend. I grew up on Final Fantasy so it was all around me...You lived through the golden era right in between the digital and the analog, which is a historic moment where things really shifted. You seem to appreciate the physical and the digital as something equally valuable. Do you think you'll ever work on something 3D? Like sculptures and installation works...spray paint it like how your dad used to on cars.


G.L

I’d love to do some physical 3D work. When I’m not working in my hazy airbrush style I dabble in 3D modeling, and it’s definitely crossed my mind that it would be interesting to convert some of my digital 3D work into physical objects. I made a 3D animated short film last year that should be dropping in the next month or so where I sculpted all the characters and environments, and I feel like that scratched that itch a bit for me. But yeah I would also love to design some installation pieces from scratch at some point. Maybe next year!



A00

There's that retro-ness in your work that drives people like me into deep nostalgia. People who played Final Fantasy...watched and read older Japanese comics, that strange mix of elegance and grotesqueness.


G.L

Well, when I moved to Chicago for college, I felt this need to adapt and start fresh. I was insecure about coming off like this trashy small-town weirdo to my fellow big city classmates (this was 2010 so a lot of the stuff I was into was very not in style lol), so I sort of tabled a lot of my interests and focused on my film /animation studies. I had instructors who would literally say “I don’t want to see any anime in this classroom.” Ultimately, I think this was a good thing, it made me expand my interests. I tried a bunch of stuff out. I got really into 1970s sci-fi and fantasy artists like Moebius & Roger Dean. I watched a lot of Jodorowsky. But ultimately I left college like “what the fuck do I actually want to do with my art?” I was into a wide variety of art, but none of it felt like me… felt like I was just trying on different clothing.

At some point after college, I went to go catch a screening of Belladonna of Sadness, and it totally melted my brain. Kind of like the first time reading Gaiman’s Sandman, I had an epiphany. I left the theater just totally fired up and inspired. I could see a path toward mixing my more delicate fantasy sensibilities with my darker teen inspirations. So, I just dove back into a lot of the stuff I loved prior to college with new eyes -- Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy), H.R. Giger, Leiji Matsumoto… and while diving back in I’ve found so much more amazing work from that era by artists like Yasushi Nirasawa, Keita Amemiya… it all still feels so fresh to me.

And on a totally different note, I really love lowbrow airbrush art like you’d find on a local carnival ride or on the side of a van in the 1970s. So, yeah I guess the nostalgia / retro thing is just sort of weaved into my work because I find a lot of inspiration in the past. Hopefully somewhere in there my own voice shines through as well.



A00

So your college days kind of opened up your perspective and in some ways, and it helped you to utilize your origin and early interests. If you didn't pursue art, what would you be doing right now? Would you have become a graphic designer? Animator? Comic writer?


G.L

Art drove me to escape my hometown and go to college. So, without that pursuit, I would probably be back there working in a factory right now. But even then I would probably still be making art on the side, even if just for my own personal outlet. I don’t think I could be a graphic designer… I don’t have the patience for the precision and technicality that comes with that kind of design work.



A00

I can see you going hard with technology-supported artworks like virtual reality...holographic art...what do you think?


G.L

I’ve just started messing around with VR. I don’t know how I feel about it. I think part of the beauty of fantasy art is that it’s clearly a fantasy. When immersion becomes so convincing that it becomes blurred with reality, I don’t know that I’m into it. That sort of ties in with my opinions on video games. I think they were better when they were more simplistic and skeletal and required some imagination on the part of the player. Kind of like reading a book.



A00

Your childhood interests, imaginations, wonders are all well sustained through your adulthood, which is something I see in many talented artists. This is obviously not the case for most people, growing up means saying goodbye to the fantasies and the unreal...Kids nowadays are exposed to technologies that were pretty much nonexistent in our times. What do you think might happen to their creative capacities? Sense of identity? Is it a curse? or a gift?


G.L

Ultimately I think exposure to new things is the key to mind expansion. I think kids growing up with the internet have amazing opportunities to soak in much more information at a younger age than generations before, so they’re just so much more ahead. On the other hand, being able to ingest unlimited amounts of art from all over the world can be overwhelming. Even as an adult social media can be intimidating and paralyzing because you realize just how many amazing artists are all out here vying for attention. It’s a very conflicting situation. In some ways social media has been an equalizer for artists -- you can reach a wide audience without any of the nepotism, agencies, or other bullshit that ruled the art world… but now you’re forced to play by the ever-changing rules of these corporate apps that are geared toward endless content creation which can be exhausting and soul-sucking.



A00

Say that you have unlimited resources: material, financial budget, skills, workers, etc etc...and you could do anything in the three-dimensional world...create whatever you want. What would it be?



G.L

I want to make an animated CGI fantasy TV series. That feels like the ultimate combination of everything that interests me. After working on my short film I really feel like this is the realm where I’m meant to be. Making art for me is all about immersion, expression, and exploration. So, the prospect of translating those urges into a long-form narrative is really exciting. Remember how rewarding the cutscenes in video games used to be? Especially RPGs. I used to play through subpar games just for the prospect of seeing another short peek into the full fleshed-out vision the artists had, but was just out of reach due to the technology at the time. I want to make a TV series that looks and feels like those cutscenes made me feel, but without getting bogged down with an accompanying video game.



A00

Besides art, is there anything you're really into? Like a secret obsession sort of thing?



G.L


I guess I would say fashion is something that I’m lowkey pretty into.



A00

Yep, the heart-shaped sunglasses if pretty iconic to you now. Last question! Throw us a movie recommendation!



G.L

Hard to be a God (2013). A Russian sci-fi masterpiece!

 
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