Artist Q & A: Ryan Beserra

     Expression manifests itself in many forms.  For some its as simple as splatters on a canvas, or subtle ambiance through the hi-fi.  No matter what that form the expression takes, its usually most relatable when its raw and honest.  When an artist can bring forth new vibes from familiar subject matter the art becomes that much more relatable.
     This brings me to the artist we’re talking with in this volume of our artist q & a series Ryan Beserra.  An up and coming artist with a unique approach to familiar subject matter.  His dark comic approach to pop culture is a style I’ve seldom seen captured in the style he uses.  Some of his pieces borderline silly, but maintain a dark ¡aesthetic!™  There are few artists that haven’t come from humble beginnings, and Ryan Beserra is no exception to the rule.  What makes a humble artist advance is the drive to succeed and the potential to thrive in an ever changing art scene.  He has both qualities and I’d like to see him go far, but enough of me talking.  Lets see what he has to say….
Q: How long have you been painting?
A: ‘’painting’’? LOL, about 3 weeks now

Q: What first got you into art?
A: I think it was just a natural thing I picked up as a kid…perhaps a divine gift? I spent the last 10 years devoting myself but recently went back to art. It’s a natural gift so it wasn’t that hard to pick it back up again and develop it further.

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Hmmm…that’s a tough one LOL. I’m not familiar with ‘’art lingo’’ but if I had to put a name on it I would say POP art with a dash of abstract. I pretty much just draw what’s in my head with some sort of comedic message…whatever that style is.

Q: Aside from the obvious who were your biggest influences?
A: John K, Stephen Hillenberg, Christy Karacas, Rob Zombie…yeah, I know LOL. I’m a real big fan of anything gross and wild…it’s what I grew up on as a kid. I was staying up late watching beavis and butthead and ren and stimpy before I was a teenager. At the moment though my biggest influence is Jim Mahfood…dude is a master of the controlled chaos.

Q: Is there a particular method to your style or do you just go with a mood or emotion?
A: Mood has a lot to do with it, oddly enough. I usually almost always (if I can help it) try to draw without a pencil or some kind of foundation. I like to let my mind run wild. I feel like that’s the best way I can get a piece of art that is not only genuine but intimate.

Q: Aside from paints I saw that you also sell a lot of prints.  This is an aspect of the art world that a lot of artists are taking advantage of as a source of income.  Do you think that this takes away from the artists original work?
A: Unfortunately, yes. There are some pieces I purposely do not make prints of because, again, it’s too intimate to share with everyone. If someone is interested in that piece then it’s the only one in existence, thus giving it more meaning…not sure if that makes sense. I feel sometimes that prints create a ‘cookie-cutter’ effect on the art scene. You lose originality when all you’re thinking about is appealing to the masses to make a buck.

Q; I honestly think there is, but is there a place in the fine art community for your art?
A: LOL thanks. I hope there is. I think that sometimes I may be too original with my art and the cookie-cutter scene of today’s art buyers isn’t interested or may not get the references in my art. If it isn’t something adventure time related or dead pool related then why buy it? I would like to think that somewhere out there, there are fans of classic 80s & 90s films and cartoons LOL. That isn’t ALL my art but that is mainly what I enjoy doing.

Q: Whats the biggest challenge for an artist in general?  And whats the biggest challenge for you in particular?
A: well I would think that the biggest challenge for any artist is perfecting their craft and their style…plain and simple. I think if you truly love what you do and appreciate your gift you never stop improving…like a body builder. People can always tell where you’re at and how serious you are about something by how much you improve at it. The biggest challenge for me personally at the moment is finding that threshold where I’m taken seriously in the art community. The ultimate goal is to be able to do what you love and get paid for it so…

Q: How did you become an artist? (Question from my daughter…lol)
A: Ha – ummm…I’m not sure LOL. I guess when I sold my first original piece of art. The money aspect, although good, didn’t make me an artist. I think I considered myself one when someone really appreciated a piece of work that I did and was willing to give up something of value to them for it…or maybe when I made my first business cards LOL. No, honestly I think I became an artist when I took it seriously, when I invested time and energy into it.

Q: Where do your inspirations come from?
A: The thought of wasting a gift is a huge inspiration to me…as cheesy as that sounds. The older I get the more I realize how precious life is and you just gotta do whatever it is you’re good at. I think the thought of failure pushes me to improve…failure really isn’t an option. That mixed with struggles I’ve gone through…the same thing that pushed me to be a song writer LOL. Weird those situations in my life are the reason for most of my tapped potential.

Q: The struggle to reach the right audience is ever present no matter what area of artistic expression you present.  What are your experiences in trying this?
I think you have to start very broad. Eventually you’ll find those areas that are appealing to your audience and you focus on those. It is a gamble sometimes but that’s part of being an artist I guess.

Q: Is there a comradery amongst artist in your genre or is it every man for themselves?
A: Oh man, that’s a tough one. I think for the most part there is a general foundation of respect. Respect doesn’t mean you’re NOT competing, it just means you have a mutual understanding and you’re striving for one general goal. No one is sabotaging each other LOL.

Q: In my opinion art is art, but do you think that your subject matter limits your exposure?  Is that even something that you are concerned with?
A: Yes and No. I think it limits the audience that I can reach at this moment, but after I reach my audience goal I can start to branch out…it works both ways.

Q: You use a lot of comic book and/or pop culture images, but you add a darker aspect to the images that I rather enjoy.  Is that intentional or is it something that just happens in the creation process?

A: Mos Def intentional LOL. I’ve lived a very dysfunctional life so I think my troubled soul seeps out into the art. Again though, this is the avenue I’ve been gifted with. Where most people with a troubled background stew in their problems, I’ve learned to turn them into something positive. Sometimes you just can’t keep a good man down.

Q:Name a few artist that you look up to.
A: Todd Mcfarlane/Sam Keith…hands down they’ve been my idols since I was like 9 LOL.

Q: Comic book based artist usually use computers and ink pen these days.  What made you decide to do your pictures in acrylic paint?
A: I’m a very genuine person…I like to say it like it is. My life is an open book and anyone who knows me knows I speak the truth no matter the consequences. I think my art is a reflection of that. I like to present something that is personal and honest.

Q:Technology is definitely a vital part of an artist tool to gain exposure.  How much reliability do you think people should put in that?
A: Unfortunately a lot…our society is built on social media. It’s a tool…use it. Still though, nothing beats a face to face with a smile and a handshake…don’t take that for granted.
Q: Most artists have a goal to get their art on display in galleries.  Is this something you want to eventually get into or are you content pursuing exposure in other ways?
A: I’m not sure LOL…I think a part of me prefers a display in someone’s house for all to admire, but a gallery would still be very cool. I’d be content with wherever the wind takes me…exposure is good no matter what.

Q: Do you think familiar subject matter helps the artist more than more untraditional forms of expression?
A: Sometimes…but Karl Albrecht once said ‘’there are only 2 ways to establish a competitive advantage – do things better or do them different’’

Q:Any advice for other artist.
A: Be yourself. It’s simple. I think it’s harder to keep up with the joneses instead of just doing you. Art is hard no matter how you look at it, but nothing worth having was ever easy.

His take on Super Mario


Alot of hands were chopped off in the Star Wars series...




– $oCity

Artist Q & A – Shawn Callahan


Valvo Crop - Portrait of Shawn c

In these times of rehashed ideas and formulaic expression, its hard for an artist to have their own voice.  To unapologetically be ones self as an artist much less a person. Even your most respected artists tends to compromise for their audience.  Today in our Q&A series we are going to be talking with Shawn Callahan an artist that brakes that mold.  Who reimagines the art aesthetic in a style that I can only described as some sort of abstract pop art hybrid.  The work is familiar yet strange, tangible yet hard to grasp.  I think all of these things and more make his work such an important contribution to the art world.  So we got a hold of him and got to ask him some questions.  His perspective is humble yet inspiring, but don’t take my word for it…

Check it out:

$ocity: How long have you been painting?

Shawn C: Painting came late for me.  I was always drawing as a kid, but never thought of myself as a painter.  I did this acrylic painting of a kitchen sink juxtaposed over some vintage block-pattern background when I was in high school and people really reacted to it.  That was my first painting and I was probably 15 or something.

$ocity: What got you into art?

Shawn C: I don’t know if it’s like that – you know, something getting me into art.  I just always was.  Maybe it’s inherent in my personality, or maybe it’s a coping mechanism of sorts.  There’s a lot of bullshit in the world that can’t be improved with speech & logic, and I was never a great talker or the most rational – so art became the thing.  Growing up in a large city with great museums and galleries definitely helped to aid my interests later in life though.

$ocity: Your style is very distinctive.  How would you describe it?

Shawn C: It’s always funny describing art.  I would like to think it’s got a pinch of everything I love:  saturday morning cartoons, underground comics, surrealist paintings, pop art, anime, record covers, skateboard graphics, commercial design.  The elements that those genres have in common are typically heavy use of line, flat color fields or linear gradients, and lack of texture/removal of artist’s hand.  That’s my shit.

$ocity: Who were your biggest influences?

Shawn C: Were?  Like in the past?  – Unknowingly Art Spiegelman with his participation in the creation of Garbage Pail Kids.  Charles Sellier with the horror movie ‘Silent Night Deadly Night’,  Bruce Lee, the Beastie Boys, Mad Magazine.  But really, I think it was skateboard graphics that held my interest – gave credibility to nonsense still-frames.  Gold.

$ocity: Is there a particular method to your style?

Shawn C: Yes.  It’s kind of painful to talk about really.  My paintings take an extremely long time to execute.  It’s mainly because I apply multiple layers of thinned paint to create an ‘untouched’ or textureless opaque color field.  My paintings are extremely economical in a material sense, using the least amount of paint to cover the surface, however, the amount of time taken for application is costly.  Each color field is at least 20 layers of paint.  The end result is ultimately what I crave – so the final product is always worth it.

$ocity: You’re from Houston TX but moved to Portland OR.  Which one do you like better?  Which one would you say had the bigger influence on your style?

Shawn C: Oof.  It’s all so subjective.  I used to have real concrete views about what’s this and what’s that, and where is this better and this better.  I’ve kind of given up on that.  I love Houston, and yes Houston owns my influences.  Everything I love came out of that city.  What’s cool is that my experience growing up in the South will always be there for me, but I don’t know if there’s anything for me to go back to now.  As far as Portland, It’s an easy place for me to live, and I was drawn to it for that reason – creative folks living unconventionally to make things happen.  I can’t say that I’m influenced culturally by Portland though.  It’s a little small & tame for my tastes, but it’s opened other doors for me.

$ocity: Any new artists that you’re digging?

Shawn C: New…hmm.  Like 10 years new?  I don’t really f with cutting edge anything these days.  I’m always looking at tons of new art via the web/books/mags, but no-one in particular.  I really had time to be a head like that years ago when I was checking out Inka Essenhigh, David Ellis, Chris Ofili, Brad Tucker, Neo Rauch, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Tal R, Cheik Ledy, Takashi Murakami, Henry Darger, William Pope L., Madame Chao, Marcel Dzama…just to name a few.  Tripper Dungan, Julia Stoops, Mona Superhero, & Eat Cho are some Portland locals that are doing it.

$ocity: What’s the biggest challenge for an artist in general?  And what’s the biggest challenge for you in particular?

Shawn C: I think the biggest challenge is the time/money factor.  Not only is it hard to find a job that pays for the space you need without killing yourself working overtime, it’s hard to find employers that are tolerant of artistic personalities.  I seriously feel like I’ve been discriminated against for being creative like it’s some sort of defect or childish obsession.  You’re way more likely to get time off of work & raises if you have a family & talk sports.  Related to that — is the challenge of finding the right people to collaborate with.  I am still struggling to find creative peers/roommates/lovers.

$ocity: How did you become an artist?

Shawn C: That’s a hard one.  I guess it takes thinking of yourself as an artist even when no one else perceives you that way.  Eventually people catch on, and say – ‘oh you have a knack for that’, or ‘you excel at that.’  I remember walking down the street with this painting of a fire escape I just finished in downtown Austin.  This passerby on the street examined my painting and said “Ah – so you’re an artist”.  I thought that meant something.  I wouldn’t necessarily define myself as an artist if the definition relies on how much money I’ve pulled – but I’ve invested a lot of time into my craft, I love doing it, & I will do it as long as I can no matter the circumstance.  I guess ultimately I became an artist through lifestyle choices – placing importance on some things over others.

$ocity: Where does your inspiration come from?

Shawn C: Too many places.  From an emotional standpoint, I think there are some dark moments in my childhood that have played a huge part in my artistic drive – events that force me to see beauty in heinous circumstances.  Visually speaking — there’s nothing cooler than a Bombstick wrapper, a Garbage Pail Kid card, psychedelic street debris, southern rap album covers, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, etc.  I still acquire obscure VHS movies/publications and things for visual stimulation, and have my go to’s like ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Urotsukidoji’.  I believe you hipped me to Richard Kern’s video work long ago, being fans of Sonic Youth and whatnot.  All in the mix.  Females play a huge part as well, mainly from personal relations.

$ocity: I’ve heard of some artists complaining of experiences trying to get into galleries?  Is that something you’ve had?  

Shawn: Not really.  Mainly because I never went for galleries.  I think I flirted with that whole dynamic in my school days, & after graduating I made my rounds in Houston.  A lot of folks where nice to me, but treated me like a dumb kid which may have been accurate.  So- if that was a first date, I’d be like ‘fuck that’ and move on.  I’d rather slum with a cafe than marry a cold box of windows.  Plus- I feel I saw so many galleries close in the late 2000’s.  I think galleries are still struggling, and saying that, you have to have SELLING power more than ever.  I don’t think any folks with tons of cash are betting on me yet.

$ocity: I bet there’s a lot of competition amongst artists in Portland.  Is there more of a community or a competition there?

Shawn C: I have no idea.  I moved up here to be a more serious member of a music collective.  I’m still riding the backslide of that venture & have been fairly isolated artistically.  I do feel there is a heavy price to pay for not having roots in the NW though – it’s a tiny cliqued-out bread  shell.  I also take full responsibility for my aloofness at the same time.

$ocity: Any other classic artists that inspired you?

Shawn C: Classic?  I’m guessing you mean older?  I’m always impressed by renaissance paintings although I can’t necessarily relate to them.  There is a certain integrity to that period that I don’t think will ever surface again on this planet.  I thought Carravagio was crazy when I was in school i guess.  I’ve spent time with impressionism, minimalism, surrealism, pop art, dada – that’s classic to me.  Isn’t Coca-Cola classic these days???  (bad joke)

$ocity: As much as I hate categorizing artists amongst genres, I have to ask…how would you categorize yourself?

Shawn C: Contemporary.  I think that really embodies what I do.

$ocity: Any medium you enjoy using most?

Shawn C: I enjoy acrylic paint.  It dries fast, no odor, mixes/cleans with water, dries matte – love it.  My favorite instrument is by far the Bic pen though.  The way you can control the heaviness of line with the pressure of your hand is gold.  I can use the same tool to make the most consistent thin line as I can to make a bold line.

$ocity: I read a lot of Juxtapoz magazine & High Fructose magazine.  I know there are countless more.  Any in particular that you enjoy?

Shawn C: I was into Flash Art for a while & had a subscription to Art News.  I dip into magazines like top forty radio.  I don’t want the jams stuck in my head, but I want to keep some kind of gauge on that world.

$ocity: Do you think these magazines are a good resource for artists or do you think they focus on a small spectrum of art?

Shawn C: I think it’s kind of up to the individual.  I’m sure some artists are very inspired after looking at such publications & some feel poisoned.  I’m probably somewhere in between.  I take what I can from them and chuck the rest.  It’s an extremely subjective zone out there unless you’re talking about money.

$ocity: Do you think the political side of the galleries, publications, etc. make it harder for an up and comer to really expand audiences?

Shawn C: Maybe, but creativity doesn’t stop with the physical artwork itself.  Being creative with how/where it’s seen is just as important.  If gallery owners aren’t catering to your preferences, then it’s ultimately up to the artist to do some weird shit to bypass that nonsense.

$ocity: Like any other art forms, there are usually trends.  Do these trends leave other important artists out of the circle?

Shawn C: I think there is authenticity and there is trickle down, but that’s just speculation – and maybe I’m a little old school to think like that.  The way information travels today – everything is derivative of everything.  Tracing the source of something makes less and less sense in contemporary society.  It’s easy to look back at certain schools of painting defined throughout history, who was included & who wasn’t.  I’m not so sure it’s like that anymore.  A lot of artists are successful in their own right without owing anything to a particular school or movement.

$ocity: Any advice for other artists???

Shawn C: Sometimes the best advice is no advice.


Pap Snot By Shawn Callahan


Playful Portraits...  (muse unknown)
Playful Portraits… (muse unknown)
Styalized and abstract.
Styalized and abstract.
Shawn C always takes a fresh approach to traditional subject matter...
Shawn C always takes a fresh approach to traditional subject matter…
I'm a big fan of Shawn's use of pastel colors...
I’m a big fan of Shawn’s use of pastel colors…
He flexes his versatilty in details, yet still hits you with those signature pastel colors...
He flexes his versatilty in details, yet still hits you with those signature pastel colors…
A simple portrait with subtle details...
A simple portrait with subtle details…







Art: Street Art vs. Traditional Art

In my mind art is art, no matter the medium, genre, or status quo.  Thats not to say that within those specifications there aren’t distinct differences in the styles and presetation of said art.  I just think one does not hold a higher value than the other, but that doesn’t also say that I don’t have me personal favorites either.  To most critics & fans of specific types there is a distinct difference.  I won’t go into too many sub genres of visiual art, because they are flipping infinite.  Although I might have to mention a few in this article to make my point, but I’m not getting that deep in all of that(lol).
In the last 20 or 30 years the opinion of what makes an artist get taken seriously as an artist has changed, there are still those “purist” who don’t take some genres serious.  Its really absurd that in the era where an artist basically has rotting hotdogs on display in a gallery (which is actually pretty dope social commentary), but street art is still struggling to be taken serious.  Specifically in area of “bombing (quick throw up tags usually a signature or a sticker).”  There’s defenitely an abundance of what you might consider a neusance, but there’s also some brilliant style out there.  Part of the value of this medium lies in the chosen spot and the risk involved.  If there’s one thing that should be respected over just the pure talent is the effort put into it.  Not to downplay the efforts of more tradional artists, but these artists have heart.
The biggest and most obvious difference I can see in the two styles is location.  Street art is usually…  Well everywhere.  Whereas traditional art has it’s designated areas, but don’t worry street art is gaining momentum and value in art galleries in a big way and have been for years.  Very few traditional artists are able to market themselves as well as street artists either.  Street artists have an adaptability that seems to occur naturally.  Now I know this seems like I’m favoring one over the other….  Ok so I relate to the street artist more but the point of this article isn’t my identification with one sub-class vs another.  It’s to bridge the gap in an attempt to put them in the same class as contemporaries rather than two seperate groups. From Andy Warhol or Basquiat to Justin Bua or Ron English art is everpresent.  Art is art to be appreciated, studied, and experienced in every form and genre.


– SoCity