Art is the Truth
An Interview with Larkin
Larkin is a surreal
artist whose works are rich in symbolism and allegory. His compositions
are sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, and very often thought-provoking.
In this interview, Larkin shares his perspective, giving us a deeper
understanding of his art. — Editor
There are several recurring themes in your work: skeletons, snakes, insects,
dinosaurs, and of course human figures. Often they are combined into a
bizarre composition, such as a dinosaur interacting with a human. Could
you explain the significance of these subjects?
Sure, the insects and reptiles are often meant to emphasize
the animals that were here before humans—LONG before humans. A lot
of people seem to believe on some level that time began with humans. On
the scale that life has existed on this planet, we've been here for about
14 seconds. We're arrogant enough to think that we can just take over
the place and that we'll live forever. It's silly really. We are the infants
that have placed ourselves in the role of gods. I suppose that I use the
older animals (especially the ones that aren't extinct yet) as a reminder
For the dinosaurs, it's a little different. Dinos are a parallel to humans
for me. They were ephemeral. They came and they went. Usually if I put
a dinosaur into a painting with a human, it's meant to symbolize an old
man, sometimes wizened and kindly or sometimes wretched, depending on
the context. In the paintings I usually cast reptiles as male.
What is the significance of reptiles being male?
Actually I tend to think of lizards, turtles and
dinosaurs as male, not really snakes. I'm not exactly sure why. I guess
when I look at them something in my mind just registers them as "old
man" or "baby boy," depending on the individual animal.
It's hard to explain because it's been that way for so long. As far as
dinosaurs go, it's a little more complicated. They appear male to me in
the bones—which is all we've ever truly seen of them I suppose—and
in stillness, but to see one in motion in the movies or represented in
motion in still art (drawings, paintings and sculpture) the quick, graceful
gestures and flow are interpreted as female to me. I know, it doesn't
make too much sense. It's just how it is.
Now snakes are another matter. When I see "snake" I think "female."
I realize that's probably the opposite of most people, what with the whole
"Satan" image and all, but one must remember that they were
goddesses first. People argue that they appear so phallic and therefore
remind them of the male gender, and I guess I can't argue that, but I
just don't see it that way. Besides, their movements are so flowing and
graceful, it's like watching a woman dancing. To me it seems totally feminine.
Can you interpret some of the other common symbols that you use?
Sure. Some of it's traditional stuff, like a snake
representing fertility and wisdom, but I add my own stuff to it as well.
But because I live with snakes and deal with them on a daily basis, I
have a more personal meaning for them as well: to love while expecting
none in return, to appreciate the unique beauty at face value, and to
look beneath the surface of form to the common things that all living
beings share. I use centipedes to represent fear, flowers to represent
sex and transience, dogs to represent fidelity and subservience and sometimes
protection. Birds I usually use for a sort of elevation—nothing
new there. Of course you have to consider the context of it all. I guess
anything can mean anything in symbolism, which makes it sort of complicated,
but I try to use it with an emotional or intellectual temperance that
makes it easy to read. I'm not really trying to paint enigmas here. I
don't use a language that no one else can understand. I think that artists
that do that are psuedo-intellectual masturbators.
I find it very interesting that you have such a positive image of snakes.
I would expect that to most people they represent something negative,
like fear or even evil. Then again, most people probably couldn't fathom
having pet snakes.
I love having them as pets. I won't keep venomous
ones. I have nothing bad to say about people who do (as long as they're
very responsible) but I won't chance it. A snake isn't a cat or dog, they're
never really tame and they don't love humans, no matter how friendly they
seem. It is in their nature to bite. As long as there is that understanding,
they can be safely kept. Maybe it is that aspect of them that causes fear
and makes people perceive them as "evil". Or maybe it is that
they don't have facial expressions like some other animals, and appear
alien in form. Who can say for sure? There isn't any real need for unreasonable
fear here, but show some respect. Actually, that goes for all animals.
Some of your compositions seem so far fetched, and the characters are sometimes
very odd. Do you intend for your work to be humorous?
Oh yes, absolutely. I paint and draw with a great
deal of humor. Sure, there are times when things are dark, but even in
those pieces I try to add a dash of comedy or absurdity, and I try to
do so without using much irony, because that's whiny. One of my favorite
quotes is, “Those who shun the whimsy in things will feel rigor
mortis long before their death.” It’s a line from
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins.
Do your works have a message?
Usually there's a message there, one pretty much
anyone can read. Often I hide a few things beneath the surface to make
things fun, but there's always a way to get there on your own. Sometimes
people interpret my work and come up with something profoundly deeper
than what I had intended. I LOVE when that happens, and I tell them so.
What themes are you pursuing in your art?
Visually, human figure and animal figure compositions.
Conceptually I try to focus on the relationships between living things
and each other and the world around them.
Why are figures interesting subjects?
The human figure is a subject we can all relate to.
They are us. It speaks a language that all humans understand, whether
in cave paintings, religious text, or pornography.
What makes a compelling pose?
Good lighting, tastefulness, mechanics (what can
the body do?), environment, props (I often use them for symbols), expression
(facial and otherwise), and body language.
Tell me about your series of angel drawings.
Sure. My basic idea was to do a series of nude angels—male
and female—with only the following boundaries: same type of paper
and matboard, a different type of purple pencil for each one (with white
chalk) and that no two should be the same model or pose. That was pretty
much it. And the series has remained within those boundaries. I guess
to exit those rules for me would be to work outside the series.
In your artist’s statement you said that
art is “for, in, and because of everyone.” Could you elaborate?
Sure, I view art above human construction, but humanity
is a part of art, as is all life. I guess if there is a god, I would call
that art. The ability to create, perceive, and appreciate is all artistic.
All that exists, be it positive or negative, is art. Ghandi, Hitler, and
yes even Picasso were artists. I know this may sound like over-simplistic
bullshit, but it really is the way I see things.
artist’s statement concludes with “Art is the Truth.”
Could you explain?
Couldn’t an artist paint deception and lies?
Ho ho!! I said art is the truth, not that artists
are truth tellers! In fact, there is a whopping dichotomy at work here
because by definition artists are liars. With the exception of abstract
artists who create wholly nonrepresentational art, we all create two-dimensional
forms based on a three-dimensional world, be it a real one or not. That,
or three-dimensional objects based on separate idea or identity. It's
all artifice, this thing we do. Art itself is the truth. It is the muse,
the energy, the spirit. It's just that humans are limited in what we can
do with it. I don't think we mean to lie; it's just that we as a species
are limited by the boundaries of what we can create. I know I've contradicted
myself about a thousand times here in a thousand different ways. It's
the best I can do. I don't mean to be confusing. I just have trouble explaining
it. Bear in mind also that I'm not trying to present all of this as factual.
It’s just the way I feel about it.
Did you go to art school?
I went to community college for art, to learn rules
and techniques. They were very helpful and instructive.
When did you start your art career?
I'm not sure I did.
Why do you say that?
I don't think I really have a career. It's just
what I've always done. While "artist" is the word I chose to
describe myself, I look at it more as a necessary action than a career
How has your work evolved?
I hope it has! I try to grow with each new idea.
It doesn't always work, but I like to think it does sometimes.
What is your favorite medium?
There’s nothing I won't use, but my favorite
How long does it take you to plan a composition?
That varies so much from piece to piece. Sometimes
I have the whole composition/concept done before I even pick up a pencil
to sketch. Conversely, there are some ideas I have been kicking around
for a decade that I still haven't thought through to the end of even the
long does it take you to complete a finished work?
Anywhere from five minutes to two years.
When you say two years, do you mean from the first
brush stroke until the last?
Yes. Sometimes there are long pauses between stages,
just so I can be sure I'm doing exactly what I want to. Also, there are
lots of layers and stages in the technical aspect of the way I paint.
What is the greatest challenge you face when creating
To create often and well, and to try to move above
my current ability.
What reaction from a viewer makes you happiest?
They find some element that they can identify with.
That, and an appreciation for craftsmanship, the time and effort that
went into it.
What do you think separates good art from great
What do you think has been you biggest achievement
so far during your career as an artist?
To remain an artist. There are easier paths.
Have you any regrets in terms of taking your career?
(Laughs) I'm broke a lot.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Create as much and as often as you can, and try
to be honest. Don't rely on drugs to help creativity. They don't. And
it doesn't look as cool as drug users think it does.
How can one acquire your work?
Contact me at larkin.surrealgmail.com
Thanks for discussing your artwork today.