Carly Ivan Garcia: The Gold Formed by the Bay

“Paint! Get your art out there, you gotta be in front of people, you gotta have a hard chin, you gotta believe in yourself, believe in your craft, and you got to keep improving your craft. You keep doing that no one can stop you.”

Now if we supplant the word “art” with a myriad of different words that speak more to what your life’s work is, bay-area artist Carly Ivan Garcia has given all of us advice from his interview with content studio Vimby that is as valuable as gold itself.

ivan1Garcia began to make waves on the mainstream art scene about five or six years ago through nothing but hard work and a feverous determination as a neo-expressionist artist. Neo-Expressionism is a style of art that began in the 1980s that focused on the portrayal of actual places and people in a non-conventional way with color scheme and oddly shaped forms; it came as a direct opposition to the overly intellectual and conceptualized art of the 1970s. In many ways, though it was Generation X who ushered in the era of neo-expressionist art, the generation that subsequently followed, the millennials, adopted the mindset and sentiments of artist like David Salle, Anselm Kiefer, and a while later of Jean-Michel Basquiat who said f*ck it, we’re doing this our way. Garcia has carried on that legacy, and his adoration for creating has taken him from a local talent in his town of Marin County, north of San Francisco to having his work being displayed at top art events like Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida. I knew that this art celebration was a big deal when I heard legendary rapper, and art connoisseur himself, Jay Z, name drop the show on his conveniently titled song “Picasso Baby.” I’m sure just as musicians have that moment when they feel like they have arrived, artists also share in the experience. Garcia spoke about when he felt like he made a major mark on the art scene in an interview with art documagazine Warholian almost two years ago: “I like the history, the fact that like some really famous artists like Matisse and Duchamp were actually in the building. I really think it’s an honor to have my work hanging up.” Never short on introspect, the humble artist stated on numerous occasions that art has “saved his life,”and because of this he seems to cherish his artwork with a tremendous amount of affection and grace.  


In many ways, visual art and music coincide. Especially when we are talking about evolutions occurring in one country, particularly America.  As previously mentioned, the artists of the 80s were doing things their way, and illustrating visions that really showed what was going on in their cities, communities, and neighborhoods. In places like Chicago, New York City, and Garcia’s home on the west coast there was an abundance of civil unrest as the country was fresh off the Vietnam War, a conflict that left many feeling uneasy about the state of America. At the exact same time we were being introduced to a new form of expression being cultivated in the inner city slums of New York City: hip-hop, embraced by minorities in America’s largest city to express a story that was untold up to that point. Soon thereafter the new form of cultural expression spread across the country, and this is the world Garcia grew up in. The artist had a prolific thought in his interview with Warholian: “As a young person I always thought that if you don’t do good in the spelling bee you’re not going to be successful. I just never really believed that…In school they were damn near ready to tie my mouth up just to stop talking then I found painting.” Tupac found writing. Both Carly Ivan Garcia and Tupac Amaru Shakur called Marin County home during their teen years, and begin to develop skills in the arts when it seemed like a bleak future for both. Tupac was born in the home of hip hop, NYC, but moved around alot with his mother, who was a member of the black radicalist group Black Panthers, and his half sister, but eventually settled in Marin. Garcia is originally from Pennsylvania, and moved to Marin when he was twelve. Both artist used their skills in the arts to escape the monotony of public school and adapted to the northern california subculture to make it their own in the path toward worldwide acclaim. The path wasn’t easy for either one of them, but Garcia particularly had to overcome obstacles from the beginning.  


Garcia was born with dyslexia, and also had A.D.D. as a kid and in many ways you can see elements of his early struggles with the disorder in his work. For instance, he has an oil painting simply titled “World,” and it is a beautiful painting in its richness in colors and uniqueness in shapes, but personally I see no remnants of any world in this painting. This is interesting to note, however, because I can infer that the same way I have a different explanation of this painting parallels a young Carly experiencing similar issues when trying to understand a math problem or read a passage while sitting in an elementary school classroom. Everyone doesn’t learn the same way or think along the same lines, but that doesn’t mean that one person’s interpretation is better than the other.

He does not see the world the same way any of us do. As a matter of fact, none of us see the world as the next person does, and that is essentially the genius of his work; it makes room for context and perspective to play an active role in the enjoyment of observation.

“My work is personal and I wish for the viewer to develop their own individual experience with each of my pieces. I create art exhibits, shows because I want to encourage discussion and dialog. Everyone has a different interpretation of my work. Some can find it incredibly personal and connect it to events going on in their lives. Provocative art should especially foster debate. The very nature of art is intertwined and inseparable from freedom of expression,” Garcia explains on his official website.

As I scrolled through the archives of Garcia’s paintings, I noticed he had a fixation to a couple things: bears, elephants, and hearts. Of course he has paintings of faces, towns, and different things like that, but there seems to be elements of those three items in the majority of his work, and he somewhat explained his fascination with bears in an interview with the Warholian: “I had a spinal cord injury and I had a bunch of shots down my neck and spine. I got all the shots and I was just really, really happy to not be in pain. When I got home I wanted to create something cheerful so I painted bears a lot so there’s a bear that’s super stoked and it’s hot pink.”So for Garcia, bears represent cheer, and so when we see them featured in his art we can assume that they are symbolically representing a happy place for him.  In his “Bears vs. Sharks” acrylic spray painting  from 2010. This painting was special to me because I stopped scrolling when I noticed it, and began to gaze. It gave me the impression that not only do bears represent happiness, but for Garcia I think it represents good people. My initial feeling when observing the painting was a chilling feeling; like the painting literally looked cold to me. I looked at the painting thoroughly, but I could not see the “sharks” at all, but the bears were clear and they looked as if they were being attacked. Some bears were painted at the bottom of the painting almost as if they were maimed by these indiscernible sharks in the painting. My interpretation of the painting is that Garcia is telling the story of the young and innocent  people of the inner city being underhandedly attacked by bad people which are represented by the sharks in a cold world. His painting “I have a Crush” includes paintings of hearts, but it intrigued me the most. Garcia chose a really dark hue of red that was oddly accurate to the color of an actual heart, but is not really common in art or any other form of entertainment in which we see hearts. The shape of the heart was more traditional to the love holiday and what we are accustomed to seeing, but it is a bit more rigid with sharp edges, instead of the usual rounded ones; the heart also could be mistaken for an arrow or a bird in flight if you turned it sideways. There are spots of light red and pink within the dark heart and also a blue line going across the lower end of the heart, and I feel like the different colors within the heart represents the pain and experiences of a heart that’s been through a lot. There is a nice brown background that contrasts with the heart very well and causes your eyes to become engrossed in the heart further. Carly Ivan Garcia’s artwork has a personal feel to it and every piece is seemingly connected to the other, as if it’s telling a continuous story. For the artist who has “painted everyday for 10 years.” he continues to progress and let’s hope he will strike the balance of highly touted artist and neo-expressionist humbly painting the sentiments of all the misfits across the country.


So what can we expect moving forward from the exceptional artist whose star seems to be only getting brighter as time goes on? “I’ve sold quite a bit of work in the thousand-dollar price range and lately I’ve just been wanting to evolve my work. Now I’m in a position where I can afford to get a lot more paints. I just want to be the kind of artist that is always evolving. The last thing I want to be is the guy that pains one thing, but I always try to create new and original work but at the same time stay in the parameters of what people expect of Carly Ivan Garcia.”

-Terrence D. Burruss