Compelling light, visual rapture and an expressive and insightful look at an intimate moment, any one of Ray Vargas’ paintings are inspiring and hypnotic—each telling a story with subtle cues and fascinating details—and it is up to the viewer to figure out that story. Vargas infuses snapshots of everyday life with dark humor and surrealist fantasies—a compelling slant on how his subjects live their lives. His skill in representation is masterful, but he goes far beyond the mundane reality of our world and brings details and vantage points that mimic the heart’s desires and the mind’s quiet thoughts.
His playful subversions can be ironic, humorous, witty, attractive and emotive. He grew up infatuated with comic book artwork, popular culture, movies and media and his bustling hometown of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles as his main education, until he attended college at Laguna College Art & Design where he honed his skillset to mastery.
“There’s so much for society to gain from cannabis in so many ways, if we could just get over our antiquated and ill-informed views. It’s long overdue.”
CULTURE has been enamored with Vargas’ work for years, and was finally able to catch up with him to dive deep into his subconscious, his practice, his inspiration and how antiquated America’s views on cannabis are as a whole.
Tell me about your art. How would you describe it?
I like to think my art tells a story. Other than that it’s very influenced by the aforementioned comics and films, as well as the culture I grew up in; my family, Los Angeles, etc.
How do feel about cannabis legalization—medical or recreational?
I’m all for it! There’s so much for society to gain from cannabis in so many ways, if we could just get over our antiquated and ill-informed views. It’s long overdue. Now if only we could do something about all those people who have been incarcerated over the unfair criminalization of recreational drugs.
How did you come to the current style you are in? How did that evolve?
Thanks to learning how to draw from comic books, I think my artwork started out being inherently dynamic, dramatic, sort of in your face. And as it’s evolved over time, I’ve tried to develop a more understated approach; subtler, more nuanced and hopefully communicating more layers that sneak up on you gradually, beyond that initial punch. I hope.
What inspires you?
Definitely watching other artists at work, and just great work in general. I get my ideas from everywhere, so sometimes very random events or interactions will start a concept in my head, and a piece will grow from there.
What’s the typical setting in which you create a piece?
When I’m thinking through a concept, it usually involves a lot of research in a quiet setting. Once I have the idea and image almost nailed down, I like to paint in my studio, usually at night, with a movie or some music playing in the background. It’s almost always a movie that I’m already familiar with, so I can just listen to the dialogue and “watch” the footage in my head from memory.
Tell us about your current projects or anything else you’d like to promote.
I’m all set to start on a new body of work, heavily into the research phase right now. It’s more ambitious than anything I’ve done before, and that feels intimidating in the best way possible. I love a challenge.
If you want to see some past work, I have a few pieces on view at Guisados Tacos in Boyle Heights; right down the street from where I grew up. It’s a great place to see my paintings in the very environment that inspires me.
Are there some current themes you’ve been working with in your recent work?
This is a hard question to answer, because things tend to change during the research phase. Overall, I’m trying to challenge my views on various subjects, and trying to remain open to other people’s experiences. I know that sounds very vague, but I’m interested to see where a subject will lead me if I do my best to remain open minded and resist my very real urge to nail things down all the time. It’s definitely going to be my most personal work yet.