Navigating the 19th Annual Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention was comparable to how I believe Jennifer Connelly must have felt wandering through Bowie’s labyrinth, searching desperately for her baby brother at the center of the giant, clusterfuck of a maze. There were obstacles round every corner, weird little trolls trying to sell you shit upon eye contact and indescribable smells wafting through the air.
The thousands of booths packed into endless aisles seemed, well, endless. The only way to maintain any sense of direction was by designating key landmarks for yourself — The giant inflated Pabst Blue Ribbon can marked the center aisle on the north side of the convention center, the Circus Rejects’ murder van indicated that you were nearly to the back wall by the least busy bar (this was very important), and Gustavo Rimada’s vibrant, art-covered booth marked not only the center aisle, but arguably the most beautiful little slice of the entire convention center.
The Mexican-born, California-raised artist started by describing his on-again-off again, long term relationship with art. “As far as I can remember I've been into [art.]. But I painted in middle school and in high school, then took a big eight year break, went into the military, and finally got back into it in ‘08,” explains Rimada. “At the beginning, it was probably just cause, you know I was good at it, I liked it, but in ‘08 it was more of a, my wife was pregnant… So I kinda had to either go or not go — go the regular 9-5 job or get into art and it sort of pushed me into it. It was sort've a ‘do or die’ for me in ‘08. And, it worked out."
With a baby on the way and a fire under his ass to pursue art full-force, 2008 was coincidentally also the year he professionally entered the tattoo industry. "I was going to be an apprentice at a shop in Alaska, it didn't work out, I ended up just being the shop guy there," he recalls. “That’s where I started painting because the guy that I worked with had a lot of magazines like High Fructose and Juxtapoz and I started seeing the artwork and was like, ‘woah this is crazy, people make a living doing stuff like that’ you know?”
Finding both solace and inspiration in the realization that there were other artists out there doing things not necessarily by the book, Rimada began churning out tons of work, and eventually melded this new archive of work with his experience in the tattoo industry when a friend suggested he sell his work at tattoo conventions. “Somebody had told me, ‘Hey you should do a show called Ink & Iron, and that’s the first show I ever did in ‘08, and then again in ‘09. I painted a bunch of paintings, for like six months, printed them, went to Ink & Iron and did really good — lightbulb moment you know.” He’s continued to attend conventions ever since, and has gained quite the following along the way.
Consistently creating work that reflects his background in the tattoo industry, cultural references, and his love of fine art, Rimada has a very clear picture of where he draws inspiration from. “I’ve always been a fan of artists like Frida, Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali, a lot of artists like that. I feel like I can clash both worlds — tattoo industry and fine art.”
His meticulous process of rendering the tiniest details (seriously, watch some of his process videos), smoothest textures and symbolic imagery in the annoyingly fast-drying medium that is acrylic paint work with each other in perfect unison to create truly mesmerizing results. From stylized portraits of powerful, well-known women (Frida and Lana, anyone?) to ornate symbolism and surreal mashups, Rimada’s got his technique down to a science — the rest is just pulling from his endless repository of inspiration and using it to make masterpieces.
Unable to properly classify Rimada’s artistic style, we did what made the most sense — we asked him how he would. “In the fine art world they categorize it as like, the ‘New Contemporary’ art, which, ‘contemporary’ means ‘new’ so, ‘new new art’?” Rimada laughs. “But I was really into Lowbrow art as well, that’s what it was known as before that, so I’ll stick with Lowbrow. I like that. It’s kind of a bad word in the fine art world, it’s not ‘cool,’ but I like that.”
As for Rimada’s future plans, that’s a no brainer. He’ll continue to remain a devoted father, loving husband, and dedicated artist. Keep up with his fascinating process documentation and latest works on Instagram and grab some prints for yourself here — and definitely don’t forget to keep an eye out for him at the next tattoo convention you attend.