Last week, I gave Tony Camaro a call over FaceTime, after watching my computer bug out and distort my voice to sound like Zordon from Power Rangers. Although the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching on COVID, Tony has found this last year full of time to focus up on his work and re-engage with his art. Tony is multidisciplinary, multifaceted, and living on the border of the sublime. His face is light, calm, and alert; the room behind him: bright and airy.
Tony's art bounces from moments of sharp, clever cinematography to advertise incense sticks, to distinct pop-art that blends the mindfulness of Warhol and the familiarity of a coke jingle. The imagery he creates ranges from recreations of stills from his favorite foreign films to cartoons to still shots to minimal re-imaginings of his daily mood board he keeps up religiously on his Instagram. As we discussed the musings of the reality of art and creators, I rapidly became aware that while art obviously has much more tangible aspects, the intertwining of success and the ego is something we come to accept with the flaunting on the Gram.
There's a distinct class of thought that goes into every angle of the work, most of which isn't caught properly in a photo. In a mutual friend's back house there's a Mickey Mouse recreation that looks drab at a glance, stacked behind some old canvas and a giant teddy bear, but once uncovered, has a brilliance of depth and fluorescent color that is, at the very least, pleasantly surprising. This same theme applies to a majority of the art. The works are spattered on wooden boards, some arriving in friends and other artists homes, others Tony has decided to place out into the street for anyone to grab. The pieces are shown on Instagram and left to the whims of the city.
For Tony, this act of nonchalance combining with democratizing access to his work is nothing new. In his moves from LA to San Francisco to New York, he's carefully tucked his paintings against rails, construction sites, and commercial advertising. There's a congruency with his anti-establishment mantra and communal energy he's keen to project.
“I love the idea of putting art in the streets. That’s real life. All that graffiti in the 90’s and early 2000’s, Basquiat, Keith Haring, all those guys put their art out into the world and got a reception. I’m still just starting out, so I want to follow their footsteps. I can’t wait to have people see art and be excited again."
Do you feel that art’s competitive?
“No, and I know a lot of people do. I don’t have an ego, and I feel that’s a really great quality about myself. I feel that art is for everyone and I really only care about creating and working with other people. It’s not a competition. If it was, or if I thought that I was competing, I would drive myself crazy.
Do you think that there’s an end goal?
“I am looking for the day that I can achieve everything I set out to achieve. I would love for the whole world to know about my art. But there’s a funny bubble with art that covers everything, like nepotism gets involved, and then it gets competitive. Like maybe I’ll see a brand that I really wanted to work with, and someone else will get that job, and then I feel like “Man, I couldv’e fuckin done that”, but I can’t think like that. The situation is that they got the gig and I didn’t. I do worry about my future though, and whether or not I’ll make money, which isn’t the end end goal, but-”
But you’ve gotta eat.
“But you gotta eat right? And so there’s an aspect of that, but I really work on not letting that affect my perspective.”
Tony’s art focuses on simple lines and block colors. And at a glance the pieces are similar to the Campbell's soup can reiterations, though the amount of thought that goes into them is much deeper than the non-expert might witness at a glance. And with pop-art, the criticism is often the same. How could a cartoon hold the same merits as a piece from a classical master? With angles, lighting, shading, detail, perspective, oils, acrylics, what makes art legit?
What do you say to people who look at your work, and say, “Yeah, I could do that.”?
“That’s on them. Just do it then. If they can do it. I’ve always known that just because someone says they can do it doesn’t mean- Do you want to hear a story?"
“So this guy is interviewing Picasso, right? And they get along really well, and they’re wrapping up at a cafe, and Picasso just doodles onto a napkin like nothing. And since they’ve been homies all day, the interviewer asks if they can have the doodle. Picasso says “Sure, for forty-thousand dollars.” and the interviewer goes, “But you just did that” and Picasso replies “No, it took me my whole life to be able to just do that.” And so for me, that’s the confidence I have in me.”
Tony’s got the chops in every other aspect to throw down properly. His photography with a variety of artists, from Baby Keem and Ed Templeton of Toy Machine to Junior Varsity (what’s good with those guys anyways?), and directorial credits for niche fashion brands, a deeply-affecting internship with Union LA, and a residency in New York. His bull rugs proclaiming “MARIJUANA” have sold out several times over, and more recently, Camaro built out a trailer for a film supported by the Nag Champa incense brand, except, the movie doesn’t exist. It’s a perfect ad. His current super secret project is a bag. That’s all we’ll say for now.
With the frequency of all of his new works, and the sheer span of mediums, not only would it be wrong to put Tony into a box, but it would also be ignoring just how far he can go. The artist has fewer limits than ever, and isn't afraid to recognize his own accomplishments.
Do you think that being proud of yourself is a big part of having an ego?
“Fuck no, you should be proud of yourself if you accomplish something hard. The difference is whether or not you decide to be boastful about it. But you can feel pride in something you do and know that you did a good job, or even your best and that’s okay. I think we’re allowed that.”
It's hard enough to get the appreciation from fans and Peers, but artists often walk the fine line between narcissism and crushing self-doubt. tony Camaro may well be the first creative who's exterior seems to have transcended the pitfalls on the way to self-actualization. I'm feeling that the exercises in mediating the world's desire for pomp and fervor with not getting lost in the sauce is something we can all examine with a little more clarity.
You can find Tony's art through his Instagram, linked at the bottom, or if you're careful enough, out in the street, maybe next to a garbage can or stuck onto a wall littered with Gucci ads.