Mexican Artist CHema Skandal!’s career is dependant on the overlap of the music and art scenes. CHema is an illustration artist and graphic designer who produces gig posters and album artwork for reggae and ska bands in Chicago, Mexico, and around the world. His work and interest in music is derived from his own experience as an instrumental reggae musician himself. CHema also creates comic strips, one of which will be published through Blab-world.com, and teaches art to children at a school in the south side. I met with CHema at a café in Logan Square, and chatted with him about his influences, inspirations, and his career in art and music.
Lydia Shepard (LS): How long have you been doing art for? When did you get started?
CHema Skandal (CS): I studied graphic design and specialized in illustration at the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. I received my degree in 2006. I have since been working professionally with graphics and the arts, but I have been drawing and making doodles since I was a kid.
LS: What kind of graphic design do you do?
CS: I make gig posters and album art. I work for small, independent records labels from all around, such as Grover Records. I worked for a club when I was in Mexico City, and I would make their posters. It is one of the few places that still paints their own posters for gigs. They paint very large-scale posters for their events, and I use to work for them.
LS: Are you still doing graphic design in Chicago?
CS: Yes. Since I have been here in Chicago I have been painting a lot. I’ve also been doing some etching, and some more fine art. But I am always doing illustrations.
LS: What type of music do you do art for? Is there a specific genre that inspires you?
CS: I have been involved in music and graphics since I was a teenager. I am a musician too, mostly classic, instrumental reggae. One of my earliest outputs for my art was our own posters and flyers for shows. I do artwork for people from a lot of cities involved in reggae. I do album artwork for LP’s. I work with record labels from the UK and from Belgium. They just asked me to do the artwork for them. Reggae music and ska music is very connected. Last night I sent a sleeve for a 7-inch vinyl record for a Canadian record label.
LS: What kinds of things are you inspired by?
CS: I am very inspired by street signs. Pop culture in Mexico has a lot of food stands and small taquerías, and they promote themselves with a lot of big colorful signs. That is a big part of my inspiration. Also, [I am inspired by] muralists and Mexican fine art, and also American influences like He-Man and the ThunderCats. It relates a lot to the masks, which in Mexico are used for dances and folk art. They are very colorful; I call it “spicy graphic pop” because it’s hot and colorful.
LS: Would you say that your art had changed since you have come to the US?
CS: Yes, well actually I realized that I have been working more with Mexican elements. I have been asked for that by a lot of galleries. I never used to do painting about the Day of the Dead, which is a Mexican celebration. When I came here, the people from the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen asked me to do a big painting about the Day of the Dead.
LS: You are doing etchings, gig posters, album art… are you doing anything else?
CS: I am teaching art classes. I am working for the Museum in Pilsen. The have a collaborative project with CPS, so It’s an after-school program. I’m also doing comics. I’m starting a small comic strip.
LS: How long have you been teaching for?
CS: Since February.
How do you like it?
CS: Yes. It’s hard, but the kids are intelligent.
LS: What age group are you teaching?
CS: 8 and 9 year olds. They are crazy.
LS: What kinds of things are you teaching them to do?
CS: The final project was a comic strip and a comic book, because they have 18 students. So we made a compilation. I taught them how to create their characters and develop their stories.
LS: Is there a theme to the story lines in the comic strips that you make?
CS: Come to think about it, most of my work is related to music. All of my comic strips are music-related. They are based on some sounds, or they are talking about an artist or a band. So yes, music is my common theme. It is all about music. It is a big part of my life.
LS: You mostly do posters for Reggae/ska/instrumental reggae bands. Is this because this is the music that you are most familiar with, because you were in a reggae band?
CS: Actually, the musicians contact me. I’m not sure if I could do art for a heavy metal band. Last year, when I was in Toulouse, there was a very popular indie-pop band there. The band leader told me that he would be interested in having me do the artwork for that band. I was starting to wonder how I was going to do this, since it is not the type of music that I listen to. That project never saw the light.
LS: Do you have any future shows or future projects coming up?
CS: I am part of a group show in LA in September. Here in Chicago, I am part of an art opening at a tattoo gallery. They are also opening a gallery here in Logan Square called Gallery F. I will be showing some posters at that opening. It’s weird, the Chicago Reader had voted Galerie F as one of the best new galleries before they were even open. I am also doing a mural on 18th street in Pilsen. I was commissioned by the Chicago Urban Art Society’s Executive Director. This will be my third mural. The other ones are in Mexico and in Toulouse. The one in Toulouse was 300 square feet. I had an illustration show there. I am also having a show in September at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), which is the university that I studied at. Here in Chicago they have a small office, and they have a gallery.
LS: Do you still do shows in Mexico, or still make gig posters for bands in Mexico?
CS: Yes, I have actually been showing in Mexico more now than I did while I was living there. It’s weird. When I lived in Mexico City, I tried to get into this gallery and they kept telling me that I had to wait till next year. Now that I moved here, they contacted me and invited me to show.
LS: Are there any galleries in Chicago that you regularly show art at?
CS: Some of my posters are at Rotofugi Gallery. They used to be on Chicago and Damen, and now they are located on Lincoln Avenue. I also have work at OhNo!Doom in Logan Square. I have shown at Rotofugi twice since 2009, and I have shown at the Tattoo Factory on Broadway.
LS: Are you thinking about venturing into new mediums?
CS: I would like to make a toy, or a sculpture. Rotofugi are pioneers of art toys here in Chicago. They are very nice people there. They have artists from all over. They are made out of fine materials. Some of them are made of wood or metal. I would like to get into that, and make a toy monster.
All images in this article curtesy of CHema Skandal. To learn more about CHema Skandal!, visit his website here.