This Charming Man

“Self Portrait” – acrylic on wood

This Charming Man

by

Samuel Munoz

[Below is the article as it was published in Santanero Zine issue #3]

photo by Jaime Rubio

If you are walking down the 2nd street promenade in Downtown Santa Ana on the first Saturday night of the month, chances are you will see a tall, heavy set man, who goes by the name of Dino Perez, standing by his booth selling his art with a smile on his face. You may have spoken to him already or even bought one of his many original trinkets.

Dino has been setting up his booth for every Santa Ana Art Walk for the past two and half years. Born and raised in Santa Ana (a fellow Spartan and Centurion), Dino’s work has been steadily gaining in popularity—his work having also been exhibited and sold in Fullerton and Los Angeles. He is a toy maker, a painter, and a graphic designer. Despite the fact that his artistic media is not musical, Dino cites as his biggest influence the music of The Smiths—going so far as to include lyrics or song titles within his work.

I decided to pay a visit to Dino’s home and talk about his successes as an artist (which seem to be strangely correlated somehow with Elvis’ birthday). He took me into his studio, and with The Smiths playing in the background, the following conversation began:

“I want the one I can’t have and it’s driving me mad (it’s all over my face)” – acrylic on wood panel

Samuel Munoz:

I would like to start with getting a little background about you. Specifically, how did you become seriously interested in creating your own art?

Dino Perez:

Well, I’ve always enjoyed drawing and coloring. I can remember as a four year old, my mom sharpening my crayons, I always had my coloring book around. I enjoyed watching my dad draw and drawing with him. I remember drawing a lot of animals. [..] I decided to go to art school in January of 2007. I remember it was January because it was on Elvis’ birthday, January 8th. I went to the Art Institute of Orange County right here in Santa Ana. Growing up people would tell me that I should be a graphic designer. People would say that with my drawings I could make CD covers, and posters, but I had no idea how to start. Then someone told me about this school, and I liked the fact that I could get in without having any kind of prior training or portfolio of work. I could start from the ground up and learn all the basics. One of the fundamental things I learned was how to paint with acrylics. I took a painting class and I became friends with other people who were also painting. As a result, painting became a daily thing. I would hang out with my friends, and I would take my bag of paint with me. I started out with painting on canvas, but it wasn’t until I started painting on wood that things really got serious for me. I love the way that the wood soaks in the paint. Wood, on its own, already has a such a cool feel and texture. I feel like you can do so much more on wood. I haven’t really gone back to canvas. […] So yeah, because I went to this school, my world opened up to art, and here I am now, five years later.

Samuel Munoz:

Tell me, when did you start doing the Santa Ana Art Walk?

Dino Perez:

I started doing the Art Walk in January, 2010. It was the day after Elvis’ birthday, January 9th. At first, I was kind of hesitant. “Should I go out there and show my work? Try to sell my work?” You know, you second guess yourself a little, but at the same time you’re just like, “you know, it be nice to show your work!” It’s nice to have your friends see it and enjoy it, but to have someone who may never see your work, walk by, see it, and like it, that’s a special feeling.

Samuel Munoz:

Would you say you were successful right away?

“But We Cannot Cling to Old Dreams Anymore”

Dino Perez:

I think that all of 2010 was a big learning experience. The first art walk was very nerve racking. What made it really nice, however, was being in the heart of Santa Ana; it was like a homecoming. I saw a lot of old friends that helped me to feel at home and get some confidence. The first time, I did make some sales, but more than anything, people came and spoke to me personally and had nothing but good things to say to me. That is what made me say to myself, “OK, I’m coming back next month.”

Samuel Munoz:

And you’ve been coming back ever since right? Have you missed any?

Dino Perez:

Only one. It was my brother’s graduation from high school. I was going to miss it, but my parents would have killed me (laughs).

Samuel Munoz:

When was your first big break?

Dino Perez:

My first real art show was at GCS in Downtown Santa Ana. It was in April of 2010. That really changed everything because after that people would come to the art walk and tell me, “Oh, I saw that painting at GCS.” My art was now somewhere where everyone could see it. It had proper lighting and it was in a legitimate gallery. I was always very thankful to GCS for giving me that opportunity. Currently, I’m on the display window.

That’s How People Grow Up – Mixed media on wood panel (the $500 dollar painting)

Samuel Munoz:

Tell me about your first big sale?

Dino Perez:

I sold a painting at the Santa Ana art walk for 500 dollars. I had never sold anything for that kind of money before. And, of course, it was on Elvis’ birthday [laughs]. Art walk landed on January 8th that year I think. I remember listening to The King that morning. Anyway, the guy who bought it was visiting from Finland. He was eating dinner at Lola Gaspar. He came out and said to me that he saw my painting from the restaurant and he told me that he wanted to buy it. I gave him the price and he asked if I took checks. I had to tell him no, cash only. So, he ended up going to like three different ATMs and he came back with 500 dollars—all out of breath. I was shocked that he even came back.

Samuel Munoz:

And you also do the art walk in downtown LA right?

Dino Perez:

Yeah, I do the art walk there. It’s really nice because in LA you get people from out of the state and out of the country possibly looking at your art. I’ve also done downtown Fullerton and they have been really nice to me too. There is a store there called Adorned in an area called Carpe Diem that hosts a flea market, first Saturday of the month from 10am to 4pm. I show my work there and they sell my work there as well.

Samuel Munoz:

I notice that with a lot of your work you have a recurring theme. You have recurring characters. I see the bleeding heart a lot, the owl, the big dog looking guy. Is this just something of a signature that you want to have or what?

Early Oliver

Dino Perez:

It’s actually more about how I am feeling at the moment. If you notice, with my older paintings, I used “skeleton boy” a lot. He was everywhere. I mean everywhere. Right now, not so much. Now, its more of Fred [the owl] and Oliver [the big dog]…I once had a professor who told us that as artists we live in our heads. I never really thought of that. It made sense after that to me that it wasn’t a weird thing to constantly be in your own little world, and so I developed these characters that were in my head. Oliver came to me while I was doodling at home watching Friday [a 1995 film starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker] with my nephews. I was a bit stressed out because it was in, of course, January of 2011, and I was about to graduate from school in a few months, so I wanted to relieve my stress and stay lighthearted about things—cheer myself up. [Dino grabs his sketch book and begins to show me his first drawings of Oliver] So I was drawing some funky stuff, kind of cartoony, from that started coming this face [points to a drawn cartoon-like wolf face]. I started looking at my dog and adding the ears. I drew him as a girl at first, which I had not done to any of my characters in a while. […]

photo by Jeff Frost

Samuel Munoz:

What about Fred?

Fred is actually what I consider to be representative of myself. In a way, he is my self portrait. He started out as a toy, and then later, I decided to paint him in my work. I came up with him at night; usually, that is when I come up with most of my ideas. I was getting that “night owl” feel and from that came Fred [laughs].

Samuel Munoz:

So what does the future hold for Dino?

Dino Perez:

My plans for the future are simply to produce more paintings, more toys, and show my work on as much stuff as I can. I like to make stickers, paint on purses. One thing I would like to do is shirts. I haven’t made any shirts yet. I want to have my designs on everything. Who knows, maybe with all the characters that I have I can make a cartoon or even some stop motion animation. I don’t see any limitations.

Contact Dino via email at dino@dinoperez.com or go to his website www.dinoperez.com, or his blog www.dinoperez.tumblr.com.

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