Lupo John Avanti

John Lupo Avanti [illustrator-tattooist]

Following his heart, John Lupo Avanti recently moved to Brisbane from Oakland, San Francisco Bay Area, California. His partner’s studying here and luckily enough, his multi-faceted creative career has allowed him to move and adapt.

John is both an experienced illustrator and tattooist. Two careers that fuel each other, but as John describes, they compliment each other in a bizarre feast and famine way. When one’s busy, the other is quiet, and vice versa.

Last year John completed his first full-length graphic novel Monster Myths which has been published by Com.X. He began his working life on the building site, and as John describes in his interview below, he really struggled to believe in a creative career. But many years later, he has so many amazing projects and experiences to his name which have allowed him to find his style.

John has tattooed in San Fran and Australia now, more recently at Crush City in Brisbane. On the art and design front, he’s painted murals, designed ski’s for Atomic to be used in the X-Games and been profiled for the second time in Juxtapoz.

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Tell me about your creative journey. Your passion for your craft and how you discovered or nurtured it…

It is possible that I have been drawing longer than I have been walking. I am your stereotypical only-child, so art was how I entertained myself. I grew up wanting to be an animator. I abandoned the dream of becoming an animator after I went to animation school. I decided a life dedicated to the illustrated arts was frivolous and selfish and that I should do something that gives more than it takes. I decided that construction was an honest job. I wasn’t sure what type of ‘artist’ I was trying to be, but still wanted to continue to develop my skills.

The turning point came when I fell 25 feet (almost 7 meters) in a church I was helping to retrofit in Oakland.

I was out of work with a broken right hand (fortunately I’m a lefty). A few months later the US economy caved and my construction company went with it. Circumstance provided me with the opportunity to materialize all the images and projects I had been storing for years. I essentially went through my own mini-renaissance. Within a matter of months I had signed a contract to make my comic Monster Myths, learned to paint with acrylics, and within the year began a tattoo apprenticeship at Ocean Avenue Tattoo in San Francisco.

Honestly, I find my artistic journey to be long, and a bit troubling. I am proud of my blue-collar roots, and I know many other artists share this sentiment, but it manifests in what I make immensely. I use limited color pallets, flat 2-D perspectives, distorted proportions, lots of gradients and subjects with a strong narrative. My art is not polished, it’s a bit unorthodox, which reflects the community I grew up in. I admired the carpenter that moonlighted as a painter and the barber that used talk about tattooing. Art school wasn’t right for me, neither was construction. On one extreme I am loyal to being working class, on the other, I am obsessed with creating images. That is probably why I am drawn to tattooing, it is a good middle ground.

I don’t think I was ever much of a carpenter, which is probably why I fell off that ladder in the first place.

On the other hand, I feel that if I had gone to a true art school I may have ended up painting American heritage murals or rendering video game environments. Instead, I discovered my own set of styles without being pigeon-holed into any particular medium. I feel like I should be able to make art however, whenever or wherever I please.

In a few words, describe yourself…

I am too negative to answer this question.

What are you spending your time on at the moment?

I am working on some small commercial projects. Keeping up on my tattoo flash skills and trying to build up a clientele so I can tattoo more here. My most exciting illustration projects are the next two graphic novels I am making. One is rather weird and too confusing for most people’s tastes, and the other speaks to more of a Kurt Vonnegut-like dystopia.

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Tell me about your creative process. How does your creative process differ in your role as an illustrator, compared to your work in tattooing?

I believe creativity is the tool we use when forced to adapt to uncomfortable situations. Part of my process is to never get too comfortable. Sometimes I will change my daily routines whether it be diet, sleep, medium, environment or even move to another country if I get the chance.

For illustration and tattooing I follow completely different processes. For Illustration, I sometimes make a list of words that I am trying to articulate in the image. The early stages of an illustration are blotchy sketches cut and pasted together on Photoshop. I do all tattoo sketching by hand. It is important for me to retain the traditions of tattooing. Illustrations are fleeting concepts but a tattoo should span the test of time. Having different processes helps me separate them in my mind. However, it seems like tattooing is becoming more and more like illustration. Oddly enough, I have found people are more willing to let you experiment on their bodies than on their company’s product image.

Tools of the trade.

Coffee and country music. For some reason I just can’t get enough of Lefty Frizzell, Moe Bandy, Johnny Paycheck, Gary Stewart, “The Possum,” or Waylon. Lots of tracing paper. Micron pens size (1). A 1.3mm mechanical pencil. A cluttered space to work in. Detachment. PBS documentaries and Radiolab podcasts. Anything that will keep me at my desk for a long time.

What or who inspires you?

Antique Wild West calendars, folk art murals, triangles, Chinese embroidery, electron microscope photos, LiDAR imaging, extremophiles, Matt Bievetto, Henri Rousseau, George Caitlin, Bukowski, 36 Views of Mt. Fuji, dogs, Byzantine icons, Death Valley, the Barbary Coast, it’s endless really.

What are you most proud of?

I take pride in my friends and family back home. I’m proud that I can apply my artistic skills to so many different mediums.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be the first artist in space. Still do.

Written by Jenica Smith


Passionate about storytelling, design and creativity, Jenica is a Brisbane-based digital designer and founder of Design Montage. Follow on twitter.


2 Responses to “John Lupo Avanti [illustrator-tattooist]”

  1. John Steele

    We are fortunate here to have a talented artist like this visit our country. Would love a tattoo from him. Good Luck Mr Lupo Avanti. You must have great parents. !!!