The people collector

Andy Steele

“‘Happy Sweet 16th Janet and Julie.’ Wildly Licking and Sniffing the Air, Julie Tasted Their New Car Keys Hidden in Their Mothers’ Pocket. Janet Heard the Tantalizing Jingling and Blinked the Word H.A.P.P.Y in Morse Code” by Andy Steele.

“‘Happy Sweet 16th Janet and Julie.’ Wildly Licking and Sniffing the Air, Julie Tasted Their New Car Keys Hidden in Their Mothers’ Pocket. Janet Heard the Tantalizing Jingling and Blinked the Word H.A.P.P.Y in Morse Code” by Andy Steele.

A Bitchin’ Space

2114 19th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 448-5090

Disgusting. Gruesome. Freakish. Whichever adjective you choose to describe the characters in Andy Steele’s illustrations, it’s easy to agree that he has created an unusual world. With imaginative narrative titles that are more like supershort stories, Steele’s self-published collection, Bubble Guts: Andy Steele’s Illustrated Guide to Assisted Dementia, features two dozen illustrations of gnarly yet lovable figures, including the cover illustration “Prince Phillip the Crow … .” The 27-year-old Sac State grad hopes to raise enough funds through book sales (available at both University Art stores, a.k.a. his day job: 2601 J Street and 2610 Marconi Avenue) to send off copies to publishers.

Why Bubble Guts?

Because it’s funny. It’s bubbly and sweet, but at the same time, it’s blood, guts. … You come up with body-part names; it’s just fun. … The truth is, if I giggle when I’m doing it, I know I’m on the right track.

How many books did you print?

Twenty. So, [after the first] three weeks, I barely have any left. It’s awesome. I’m putting an order in on Monday for more.

Why are you self-publishing?

I show at a lot of places. … But I feel [getting published is] not going to happen unless you do it. Also, in this economy, people need art to fulfill a function. So it’s a needs vs. wants thing. That money [from selling an original painting] is gone in a few weeks, and all I want is my piece back. It was an experiment. And it was the best one I’ve ever done.

Tell me about the medium you use.

I use gouache on raw Masonite. You can almost see the blood, the muscles and the veins underneath the skin, so I kinda like the transparency of it. And I really like the way gouache pools in such awkward directions. … I like to put raw Masonite in every piece. I just really like the graininess of it, too.

It looks like you have developed a technique that creates even more graininess, too. Is this splatter?

Mm-hmm. Toothbrush. It adds volume to things.

It’s like looking through a dirty filter. So what about your visual preoccupation with the grotesque?

To be honest, I’ve worked in retail for three years, and being exposed to such a wide variety of people—and their little idiosyncrasies and little physical traits that I find to be so bizarre or interesting or beautiful or grotesque—any of those different things seem to catch my eye and stop me in my tracks. To put it this way, I collect people. …

Certain personalities start to dictate what [my illustrations] look like, and what they look like starts to dictate certain people’s personalities, if that makes any sense.

What’s your productivity with these, then?

Probably 20, 30 hours a week outside of work. Which is interesting, because I’m married, so it’s a definite juggle. Some take me months, some, like the guy on the horse, a night. I have a hard time staying with some of the bigger pieces because they get so tedious. That level of creativity is what I’m after. After that, I’m kind of just coloring; I don’t get that scratch itched, or that itch scratched.

How does your wife feel about your works?

She thinks they’re funny. And actually, surprisingly, she can tell me if I’m on the right track with something or not. My dad’s a printer; he can help me with some of this and that, and he had some of his old printing buddies that came in and saw he was working on [my book], and the first question was “What’s Andy like to talk to?” They thought I’d be really weird. But again, I work in retail, so you have to know how to talk to people. You can’t be too weird. … This keeps me normal, I guess. If I let all of this stuff stew, what kind of person do you think I would I be if I didn’t let it out?

What kind of person would you be?

Committed. In an institution of some sort. … The thing I’m trying to get with these is yes, [the characters in the illustrations are] kind of grotesque and bizarre-looking, but they’re really sweet. They’re scary-looking, but by all rights, they’re really happy in their own environments.

This is one of my theories: Most artists look like their work. Do you see a resemblance with your work?

Everyone keeps saying that! Does that not look like the kid with the spider? (Points to a photo of himself freckled and smiling toothless as a child in the back of the book and the illustration of “Norni,” also freckled with a toothless grin.) [My friends] made that correlation later; I didn’t even know.

You are your best reference as an artist.

I’m all about the information of the face. … Being exposed to some of those people at [work at University Art on] Fulton and Marconi—halfway houses and just creepy people walking around—I can’t make that up, and I can’t get that out of my head half the time. It might seem like I’m making fun of them, but I hold them dear. You know, I collect people.