Gregg Visintainer, aka Viz, is a self taught artist. At age 18, after a pretty severe car accident that required 2 back surgerys, Viz moved from the Bay area to San Diego to be near his family. Following the accident, Visintainer stopped creating art for nearly six years as he struggled to overcome his own personal demons, which included drug and alcohol abuse, and getting kicked out of community college. Around age 24, a sequence of unfortunate events occurred that inspired him to turn his life around and really focus on his passion, drawing.
Viz’s artwork is hand drawn, using only pen and ink. His style is incredibly unique and meticulously detailed. Every drawing is made up of various hidden pictures, words, and messages – giving each piece their own distinctive meaning. Viz is inspired by his own personal life experiences, and by individuals who make a difference and are willing to take risks.
After going through some difficult times, you created your piece, “Lonely World.” There are far too many individual objects within the piece to identify them all, but as a whole, what does this particular work of art mean to you?
“Lonely World” was sort of my “enough is enough” moment. I was on this downward spiral and my girlfriend (at the time), and I had recently broken up. Amidst the break up she kind of pointed out my flaws and was like, ‘you never finish anything you start!’ That’s when my art really took off. I cooped myself up for 3 months after we broke up and just drew. I finally realized what I wanted to do all my life was always right in front of me.
Which of your artwork pieces is your favorite?
Well, “Lonely World” will always have the most meaning to me because it’s the one that got me back into my art, but Yosemite Falls is my most current one and my newest ones are always my favorite.
How do you feel when people interpret your artwork differently? Do you want people to interpret it in their own way, even though your vision/creation for it may have been founded on something completely different?
The frustrating thing about my art is that people don’t always understand all of the details. Everyone interprets things differently, if they want to see something in one of my drawings that isn’t really there I will never tell someone it’s not there. I let everyone interpret things their own way. The people that I dislike are the art critics who will come in and try and say what (I) or another artist was thinking or try to create a meaning that isn’t the real meaning.
One of your artworks that Skinit has available as a skin, is “Angela’s Bouquet.” In comparison to a lot of
your other work, Angela’s Bouquet has a much ‘softer’ vibe, and in addition, isn’t as abstract as some of your other pieces. It is clearly a bouquet of flowers. What inspired this piece and what is the meaning behind it?
Angela is my grandmother. The sweetest, most amazing, loving woman you will ever meet in your entire life. Angela’s Bouquet is actually the first greeting card I ever drew. She (Angela), is the reason why I even have greeting cards. She cut out a bouquet of flowers from the newspaper and gave it to me and said she wanted a picture like that drawn by me. She gave me a list of colors she wanted and everything, and she would always ask about how I was doing on it. So finally I made it for her for Christmas and turned them into greeting cards, because she also loves writing. Alex Gerard is the ‘original’ artist who drew a similar bouquet. All of the hidden items within the drawing are things about her – love, friendship, watering vase, a dove- which represents her spirituality, various animals and birds- because she loves animals, a cross – to represent her religious faith, and so on.
Do you think you will ever step outside of using gel pens to do your art? Are there any other mediums you use to create your art?
I will never switch from gel pens because then it wouldn’t be true to me. I literally do it all with pens because it’s therapeutic. It’s my way to get things out and clear my mind. Getting on a computer doesn’t excite me, and painting isn’t the same. With pens I have full line control… but the only place I mess up is with the spelling, and I will have to turn it into a design or something else so that it becomes undetectable. I just wouldn’t be doing it for me if I had to switch mediums.
What has been your favorite project to date?
DC shoes was my favorite project. They were my favorite company growing up – my shoes growing up were always DC, my first snowboard was DC. I just love their company, what they stand for, the look of the company, and how they sort of ‘took me in.’ I feel really blessed to have gotten that opportunity.
“Lonely World” – It represents getting past that stage of my life and getting past the bullshit and moving on. It was a time that was really made up of licking my own wounds, recognizing my own faults and flaws, and wanting to change that aspect of my life, find my passion, and just go after it.
(*The image to the left is only a small portion of Viz’s, “Lonely World.” To view the full sized image, and all of its details, please click on the image to the left.)
Growing up, drawing and doodling started out as a hobby for you. Beyond just being something to distract you and fill your spare time, were you ever inspired or influenced by any artists or movements in particular?
No. I wasn’t interested in any of that as a child. Now, I’m obviously more aware. Shepherd Ferry is an artist who I admire and who inspires me. He changed the game in the art industry and didn’t have anyone point him in a certain direction, he just did it all on his own. I have a lot of respect for him because he did everything in his own way and on his own terms and not because he was handed everything with a golden spoon. He is making a living off of what he loves and what is natural to him. He’s who made me realize that I could do this as a living.
What is your biggest challenge personally as it pertains to making your work?
Time is always the biggest obstacle. I’ve lost a lot of projects because I haven’t gotten to do everything that I’ve wanted to do with it because there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. An artists lifestyle is hard. You don’t get regular paychecks, you’ve gotta keep working harder and hustle to make sure you can eat next week. Don’t get me wrong, they are good challenges, they are things that keep me going.
As an artist what do you feel the internet has done for you, both in a positive and negative sense?
Well, I only travel on the west coast, so the internet has opened up a much wider audience for me. Being able to have an online shopping cart as well as being able to connect with people directly through the use of social media and other forums, has allowed me to do a lot of stuff online that I would’ve otherwise had to drive around or run around for.
The negative thing about the internet is the fact that because my work is so detailed, it’s hard to see online. Sometimes people don’t really know what’s going on or understand what it’s all about because they can’t really see every single detail that goes into it. Seeing my work in person has a totally different impact than seeing it online, especially for the first time.
What are some of the most memorable responses have you had to your work?
The most memorable responses I’ve received were for “American Heroes.” People tear up when I go in to explain it. Mostly people who have lost people in war, etc. At the Carlsbad show a year ago, a dad told me it was the first military related piece that he and his wife had gotten to commemorate their son who had died 6 months prior in Iraq. Another guy bought a custom matted piece and told me that piece was going to hang in his office in the Pentagon. It made my year. It honestly gave me chills, I’m very patriotic. If I didn’t have my 2 back surgery’s I would’ve gone into the military…my brother is in the military.
What question do you hate being constantly asked about your work?
Everyone wants to put a label on my art, like it’s street art or fine art, etc. I don’t want to be categorized. I just look at it as my work, that’s it. I don’t care about the names, or labels, or genres, I just draw. I couldn’t spend 60-80 hours on something that I didn’t want to do, or something that everyone else is telling me to do. I have to do it the way that I want to.
Describe an insecurity you deal with in making art.
I won’t do journals or life stories about myself in my art work anymore. I don’t want everyone to know everything still. It’s kind of like, been there done that. I guess I am a little insecure about the way I think, because I feel like I view things differently than other people. But for the most part I don’t really have anything that is going to stop me or hold me back. I’m pretty much an open book.
Looking ahead, what are some things you hope to accomplish?
Well, professionally, I want to create my own pen line one day to make more colors. There isn’t a huge selection of pen and ink colors out there, and sometimes I need a particular color but it doesn’t exist. For instance, I can never use yellow because yellow pens do not turn out “yellow” on paper. I also really want to do an underwater piece, but I just have to wait until I find something that really inspires me to sit down and do it. I want to do all of the major cities too, but again, I just have to wait until I visit them and get inspired by them. It’ll happen.. one day..
Visintainer is not only a successful artist but also a motivational speaker. Every week he lectures for two classes at San Diego State University (SDSU) where he motivates youth to pursue their dreams, goals and artistic capabilities.
If you live in the San Diego area you can meet Viz, and check out some of his amazing work, in person, on Wednesdays at the Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market, and Thursdays at the Oceanside Sunset Market. You can also find him at the Huntington Beach Art-A-Faire.