Felipe Pantone, “OPTICHROMIE FNLBRD” (2019, enamel and UV paint on aluminum composite panel), 59 inches by 59 inches PHOTO BY FBSTUDIO
Drips is a series that examines a new generation of modern artists breaking out of the museum mold. From the streets to the gallery, crossing over into pop culture at large, these are the artists elevating today's scene.
Felipe Pantone's journey from 12-year-old graffiti punk to renown urban/kinetic art star is not unlike his paintings: vibrant, dynamic and full of edge. Bold palettes and graphic lines roar in retro-futurist movements like a jet printer screaming. Whether they cover a 17-story building or wrap around a 570 S Spider McLaren, his work quite literally jumps in your face.
“The vivid colors are a way for me to say on the streets, 'hey, I'm here. I'm somebody,'” he says. “I want you to look at my graffiti more than the McDonald's ad next door. I wanted to get loud, and I think graffiti in that sense is very contemporary. That's how the Internet works. All the images are really loud and everybody wants to have the best picture. The streets are like the Internet; over information, super overwhelming. You want to have a style that really captures people's attention.”
He's turned heads from champion racer Ken Block to three-time Grammy nominee J. Balvin, filling galleries and urban centers with his unmissable and instantly-recognizable designs. Street art has taken Pantone around the globe. Even a pandemic couldn't slow his momentum, and to think it all started with a marker.
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Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pantone was raised in Torrevieja in the south of Spain. His neighborhood was full of graffiti name tags in the classic New York sense.
“I used to draw all the time, and I would see drawings on the walls and be like 'I can do that, too,'” he remembers. “I started meeting breakdancers, rappers and graffiti guys, skateboarders. I started becoming friends with these people, and that's how it all started.
He moved from markers to spray cans, earning a reputation with an experimental style. By the time he was 18, he had a fledgling career traveling the world on graffiti invitationals and taking mural commissions for bars and other businesses. Street art star in the making though he was, he still had a mom, and she demanded he go to university to get some kind of degree.
Naturally, he enrolled in an art school in Valencia, Spain.
“I picked whatever was the easiest, I thought,” Pantone says. “All my life was graffiti, and then it was like, 'oh my God.' I understood what art really meant other than writing your name on people's property.”
“CHROMADYNAMICA FOR LISBON” (2017, UV paint on aluminum composite mounted on plywood structure with metal guides), 66 inches by 47 inches by 2 inches PHOTO BY FBSTUDIO
He devoured art history, closely studying the masters of the past and the movements they heralded. The investigative aspect of high art was liberating and inspiring. One day, he attended a lecture about the Kinetic art and Op art movements of the '60s. Victor Vasarely's high-contrast shapes, Carlos Cruz-Diez' swelling illusions, and Otto Piene's explosive textures struck Pantone like lightning.
“It was immediate,” he says. “I realized that I could do that as well; that I could tell stories with my work and not just write my name.”
As a child of the late '80s and early '90s, the 34-year-old Pantone tells a story of technological revolution and commercial excess. His work taps into the frenetic and ephemeral pace of life in a post-Internet age.
“As an artist, I want to represent my times, and when I look at it … I see speed, transformation, dynamism,” he says. “Graffiti artists paint something immediately for free. Nobody's paying them. Nobody's buying it. The work doesn't last long, it gets repainted, it gets buffed - and that's how the Internet works. You write something on Twitter and it's immediate. Anybody can do it, it gets buried in the feed and nobody gives a shit. That's a very temporary feeling. Understanding this shaped my style, my discourse – everything.”
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Equally comfortable in a gallery setting as in the streets, Pantone thrives in the realm of the unconventional. His speedy style found its match in 2015 when U.S. World Rally Champion Ken Block commissioned the artist to design his 2016 season Focus RS RX. In eight days, Pantone created eight original works which were translated from canvas to digital form, wrapping Block and his partner's cars as well as their race apparel.
Cars have become a bit of a calling card for him ever since, like the 1994 Chevrolet Corvette he hand painted in three days, or the Ford Mustang RTR Hoonicorn V2 he painted, once again for Block, which was displayed at the Palms Las Vegas.
In 2018, he crafted a large-scale, immersive installation in Bangkok's Siam Center. Titled W3-Dimensional, the space allowed viewers to walk inside his cybernetic dreams. His “chromodynamica” manipulable series comes to life in movable pieces. He's painted bikes and skateboards, designed Hennessy bottles and furniture. He even painted a carbon Piper Cub plane, fashioned after the lightweight crafts of the late '30s, for a project he called INTR3PID.
A details shot of “The Stranger” McLaren 570s Spider’s side door. MCLAREN PHOTO BY SUPER FUERTE STUDIO
When COVID-19 forced the world to a sudden stop, the downtime gave him whiplash, but it also inspired a new conversation.
“I never spent more than a week without painting ever since I started,” he says. “I was sitting at home anxious about the whole world going to shit. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to paint, and I was like, 'how about VR?'”
Having spent a lifetime mirroring the digital in physical dimensions, the chance to work in a virtual space is a surreal full circle. He mastered the KingSpray Graffiti app on Oculus, grabbing headlines with his large-scale “wall” tags.
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For Miami Art Week in December, he presented a number of physical pieces for Beyond The Street's Virtual Art Fair, including a 100 percent silk loungewear set designed in collaboration with J. Balvin. He's got an upcoming collaboration with Zenith watches. He also made time to work on another car, a McClaren, which he chose himself. Without a hectic travel schedule, he spent a month and a half painting the car by hand, putting care and intention into every detail.
The experience was meditative, and it may have changed him as confinement taught Pantone the value in taking one's time.
“A goal of mine in the future is to be a little bit more thoughtful about things,” he says. “I want to spend more time on things … come up with less things but better.”
Not that he's thinking any less grand.
“I'm willing to train for two years straight to be an astronaut and paint something on a space station,” he laughs. “I wanna put my flag. I know I'm going to, for sure. Just give it time.”