Everything can be made out of pizza in Cahill Wessel‘s trippy world. The illustrations of the Oakland-based artist will take you down a hallucinogenic and multicolored journey filled with unusual juxtapositions, where skulls and giant burger coexist creating a humorous and strange vision of heaven and hell. We spoke to Cahill about his first drawings, his day to day life in Oakland (California), as well as his early influences and love for Renaissance art.
Lola Who: What is a day in the life of Cahill Wessel like?
Cahill: It varies day to day. I bartend part time, so my days off serve as marathon drawing sessions. My most productive days always begin with an active outing, whether it be a surf or skate shred session, a long walk, or a nude bike ride. I’m most productive after a bout of exertion, and surfing is my favorite motivational activity.
A PERFECT day begins with 5 cups of coffee and a drive to the coast for surf board riding. After battling San Francisco traffic, I’ll search for the tastiest sandbar between Ocean Beach and Half Moon Bay. I shred some gnar, I battle some sharks, I make tons of new friends. The ocean always provides the purest, most refreshing inspiration and I wouldn’t be able to art without it. Many, if not most, of my pieces have been conceptualized while bobbing around in the water.
After enjoying the splendor of one of our many glorious beaches, I’ll head home, ready to sit for hours at my desk. Many of my pieces take hundreds of hours to complete, and fun outings allow me to sit at my desk for the majority of the day. I’ll break for a burrito when I’m hungry, then continue working through the night, listening to a spectrum of music between
Dean Martin and Les Claypool.
A perfect day begins with 5 cups of coffee and a drive to the coast for surf board riding… I shred some gnar, I battle some sharks, I make tons of new friends. The ocean always provides the purest, most refreshing inspiration and I wouldn’t be able to art without it.
Lola Who: How did you start drawing and has it always been sexual images?
Cahill: I’ve been drawing my entire life. It has been an integral part of my being for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my drawings documented my passions and environment. I would draw power rangers, action figures, my neighborhood, snowboarders, characters from “Brink” and “Johnny Tsunami”. I created imagery that paralleled my interests in order to develop my skills.
I first started drawing sexual imagery in middle school. The internet wasn’t mainstream yet and kids my age had no access to pornographic magazines. I ran a fairly successful business drawing custom sex scenes. Classmates would describe a scene or fantasy and I would create an image based on their preferences. I traded lunchables, cigarettes, and cash for these drawings, but as the internet became more accessible, I quickly became unnecessary.
In college, my work became hyper-sexualized. I mainly worked with ink, gouache, and watercolor. I began exploring a space between psychedelia, culture, and sex. I was experimenting with a variety of mediums, yet the overarching trend was creating overtly sexual imagery presented in a lighthearted, humorous fashion. I incorporated genitalia into most of my work. My work was much more loose and cartoony than it is now, and its purpose was based on content over quality.
I discovered colored pencils and fell in love. It allowed me to refine my imagery and explore realism. Sexual imagery has always been a theme throughout my work. Sex drives us as a species and everyone can relate to sex on some level, so it will always be an inspiring influence in my work. Working with colored pencil helped me develop a method in which I could subtlety merge sex, humor, surrealism, and pop culture into a cohesive piece. Sex in clearly a prevalent theme, yet I strive to casually sneak it into imagery that is masterfully executed.
I first started drawing sexual imagery in middle school… Classmates would describe a scene or fantasy and I would create an image based on their preferences. I traded lunchables, cigarettes, and cash for these drawings, but as the internet became more accessible, I quickly became unnecessary.
Lola Who: Can you tell us about some of your favourite artists and early influences?
Cahill: I’ve always been inspired by the Renaissance masters. Their ability to create near-photographic depictions of idealized versions of reality has always baffled me. The manner in which they organize narrative and imagery through composition, all while maintaining realistic rendering, has always inspired me.
The surrealist artists of the 20th century, my favorite being Rene Magritte, have also been a huge source of inspiration. Nowadays, psychedelic work is common and mainstream, but it’s amazing to view work that invented a genre that explored the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind.
I strive to create work that borrows from both camps, while using humor and sarcasm as the bridge. I strive to utilize the beauty of the renaissance artistry while exploring the discomfort of unusual arrangements. I want to create spaces in which perfection harmonizes with peculiar realities.
I’ve always been inspired by the Renaissance masters. Their ability to create near-photographic depictions of idealized versions of reality has always baffled me.
Lola Who: How is it like to live in Oakland and how does it translate in your work?
Cahill: Living in Oakland has been great. It’s a super vibrant community with many thriving artists, musicians, and makers. There’s always a ton of fun events throughout the area, whether its art openings, shows, craft fairs, etc, so there’s no shortage of things to do. Living in a larger city has its advantages, but Oakland’s central location within the greater Bay Area allows one access to countless natural beauties, like the redwood forests of Marin and Sonoma Counties, or the many beaches of the coast.
Living in Oakland doesn’t directly influence my work. Most of my pieces aim to depict surreal tropical dreamscapes that don’t generally exist in reality. However, even though Oakland is great, it does have many unfortunate flaws, so I guess I could say my balance of positive and negative elements is a slight manifestation of Oakland’s environment.
Lola Who: What’s the influence of pop culture and how do you try “making the ordinary, extraordinary”?
Cahill: Pop Culture was referenced in my work in earlier years, and I’ve been slightly moving away from including it in my work recently. Though it’s not as prominent currently, I’ve found that one can change the narrative of certain imagery by altering the context we normally view it in. Pairing peculiar or unrelated items alongside icons or symbols we interact with regularly can offer insights into how we perceive cultural zeitgeists.
Lola Who: Where do you draw all your inspiration from to create such dark but at the same time playful, elicit and colorful images?
Cahill: Lately, my work has been geared towards creating spaces in which the good and bad coexist in harmony. Often life itself is a balancing act between positive and negative experiences, and I try to make work that parallels this reality. I try to make work that utilizes a lighthearted palette and playful compositions to seamlessly merge these opposing forces.
Often times a piece will effortlessly pop into my head, but I also keep a long list of various creatures, plants, objects, food items, cultural symbols, etc, to reference when I’m trying to develop a new piece. They often range from “dark” to “playful”, and deciding how to pair this imagery is part of the joy of a new drawing.
Lola Who: Is a peach, a pineapple or a watermelon a modern update of a pinup girl, and can everything be sexualised?
Cahill: I definitely think anything can be sexualized, depending on the context. The “Bad Fruit” series explores the manner in which things as innocent as a fruit can be utilized to explore sexual ideas. That series strives to humanize inanimate objects, like a fruit, so I guess in some ways they could be seen as modern pin up girls.
Lola Who: Do you have an illustration that you would never be able to sell and why?
Cahill: Well, I’m not exactly rich, and I love the fact that some people enjoy my work enough that they’d like to live with it forever, so there isn’t any piece I wouldn’t sell.
Lola Who: What music do you listen to in your studio to get your creative juices flowing?
Cahill: I usually find it very hard to work while listening to music. I find myself getting distracted by the music itself as I tend to get caught up in the various layers and lyrics. I usually play mindless tv shows in the background. Lately, I’ve been watching a ton of Frasier, Star Trek DS9, Trailer Park Boys, and Seinfeld. However when I do listen to music, I gravitate towards the Rat Pack era, my favorite artist being Dean Martin.
Lola Who: What are your current tools, and is there a new technique that you would like to try?
Cahill: Most of my work is all made with colored pencils. I do often doodle with pen and ink. I really want to start making murals, and spray paint would be the best medium to translate my work to a bigger scale, so I’m hoping to start experimenting with that soon.