Known as the King of Pop Art, L.A.-based artist Nelson De La Nuez is one of the most sought-after pop artists working today. His work is regularly exhibited at prestigious art fairs, such as Art Basel Miami and Art Central Hong Kong, as well as promoted through partnerships and private collections, including a series of works for Warner Bros. to commemorate The Wizard of Oz’s 70th anniversary.
In an interview with De La Nuez, he discusses how the incorporation of images from American pop culture, today’s advertising, high-end branding and more have strongly influenced his artwork since the 1980s.
What kind of memories do you have from your childhood?
I was born in Havana and I came here to Southern California when I was seven years old, started first grade here. I still remember Havana, which I can remember back to when I was three years old. I took it all in. Fond memories of going to the beach, riding my bicycle around the neighborhood, doodling in the backyard.
How did your childhood affect you later on as a person, as an artist?
Well I’ve always been an artist, ever since I can remember. That kind of kept me entertained for hours, I would always get lost with [my art]. I love sports, but art has always been there for me. It was my escape. It was just a way to get away from everything.
Do you still use art to get away, now that it’s your career?
I’m always thinking 24/7 about what I am I gonna do, about ideas — so what I do is I jump on and go motorcycle riding and that kind of helps me come back again and revisit a piece or an idea, and look at something differently. What I was looking at a half hour ago looks different now, since I’m in a different state of consciousness, and I get to relax.
The Good Life
What kind of themes do you see from your childhood that are presented in your art now?
Most of what I do today is rooted in American themes from my childhood. I remember coming here [to America] and I remember seeing on TV the first Superman, TV commercials, the mascots — it all just spoke to me and I just absorbed it like a sponge.
How did these themes develop into your style?
The reason why I’m doing pop art is because of everything I observed early on when I came to this country. Living in
California is like living in a fantasy land when you come from a different country. There’s billboards, commercials, advertising, and you never know where the ideas come from. When I really think back, a lot of what I do today is really a reflection of what I was thinking and experienced when I was a kid.
Aside from your childhood, are there trends or present-day themes that inspire you?
I’m inspired by everything, literally. Every mundane object that you could think of I will look and see something there that I can maybe create into a piece of artwork. Whether it’s a billboard or a magazine ad, or an elusive train [of thought] I had the day before, I’ll ride it all the way down. I am really a byproduct of everything I’ve observed or experienced in my entire life. So I have this database in my subconscious where I can draw from.… Everything is art for me. It doesn’t necessarily need to be hanging on a wall, it could be fashion, it could be a song; everything is just an inspiration.
Corum Bubble Martini Watch
How does your art coincide with the clientele you usually work with?
Each partnership that I’ve done is
different, basically all with high-end brands. Each of them is unique and different; I just love working with high-end brands because it just puts my art on a different level and exposes me to a lot more people. Basically it provides a plateau to take my work to the next level and having the audience take a look at my work in a different way. That’s my audience, it’s always been a very well cultured, well traveled group that love high-end brands. It’s an audience that know what they want and how to express themselves, and they do that with my art.
What do you like most when people view your art in various forms?
I love when people react immediately. That kind of gives me a great deal of comfort. You put in all this energy and hard work and you don’t know what to expect. And they usually say “Yes, that’s the painting for me,” because it’s got legs, it speaks not just to them, but to a mass audience — it makes them happy, makes them smile, sometimes it makes them laugh. They know the perfect place that they want this for in their home. Some of them are drawn to a specific piece for no reason at all; they just relate to it.
Upper Left: First Class Girl – LA Art Show 2019
Bottom Left: High Maintenance (Left) and Yacht Life (Right)
Above: Chanel No. 5 (Black)
What’s a project you’d love to work on in the future?
I would love to design something like an entire hotel design, the colors, the furniture, the wallpaper. The other thing that I would really love to do is work with a cruise ship to design their rooms, or design the entire ship using my art. That’s kind of what I get excited about most, getting to do [art] on a large massive level, where it’s not just a small project, but a huge undertaking, to take it to another level.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
The number one piece of advice I can give is that you have to be committed to your craft. You need to find out who you are and what message you want to put out into the world, then you have to be good enough and clever enough and have something unique and different. You can’t just be a part-time artist, you have to do it full time and it takes a while.… Good art is subjective, but when you have people paying sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars for your art, you know that you’ve done something right.