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Beyond the Frame: Tyler Cala's Journey from Anime Enthusiast to Master of Shameless Sadness
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N: Hi Tyler, I'm excited to have this interview with you, as you've quickly become one of my favorite artists. You've mentioned that your initial interest in art and drawing came from anime as a child. What was your favorite anime, and do you still watch any today?

T: Thanks for the love! I'm always shocked to know that my work has traveled as it has. And YES! I'm still an anime nerd to this day. I honestly don't see it within my art anymore, but it did heavily influence me to try out art-making in grade school.

I used to always trace characters from manga my dad would buy for me and tell my classmates I drew it by hand alone. Kids used to think tracing was cheating. If anything, that deceptive nature is still present in my work lol.

Currently, I'm rewatching Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's such a powerful piece of art and sci-fi in itself.

N: In your work, the exploration of the African-American experience is a recurring theme, and I find it intriguing that, while your art is rooted in race dynamics, your characters often appear as alien-like figures with skin of different colors. Is this simply a stylistic choice or is there a message behind employing the notion of alienness? It seems too significant to be just a coincidence.

T: The variations of skin color started when I was in my photography undergrad. I was bad at post-production work (in a commercial photography context). I always struggled with skin tones and making the subjects in the photos look...real? So I just started to roll with the idea that they didn't have to look "real" or so close to what it is representing. You could consider the idea of the subjects being "non-humans," but that was not my initial intention.

N: One aspect of your work that certainly stands out is your talent as a stylist! Your characters are always impeccably dressed. How does fashion influence your life as a creative artist?

T: Style is such an important aspect of who I am. When I used to focus more on photography, I would style all my shoots to ensure what I wanted the image to communicate was being received.

Fashion, in my opinion, is a mode of communication that we all can't escape from.

When I put an outfit together for a subject in my paintings, I'm considering what they are trying to communicate within an allegory. Almost like characters in a play. Going back to your last question, I do consider each colored subject as having their own personality and egos.

N: You've mentioned that painting serves as a form of therapy and introspection for you. Have you observed any evolution in your work as you gain a deeper understanding of yourself? Alternatively, how do you envision or hope your work will evolve in the future as you continue to explore your inner world?

T: Honestly, I see my work becoming something more cerebral. I really want to be able to step back a bit and shift towards a more sociopolitical framework... but knowing me, I'm still going to end up examining my mental and emotional state in the end. We will see.

N: What do you think draws people to your work? Very few people make it as artists, so what do you think resonates with people about your art?

T: It's funny to think this, especially after what I just said before this, but I believe it is my vulnerability.

I do intend on making less personal work soon, but I really believe people connect to me openly expressing my insecurities, desires, violent thoughts in a shameless way while simultaneously pointing out how shame is still present.

Being someone who is on the spectrum, I see it as my way of connecting with other humans and our humanity as a whole. Then there are others who I think just see it as like public masturbation in a kind of sadomasochistic way. But regardless, I like to entertain the idea people see themselves in these self-portraits.

All images courtesy of Tyler Cala.

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