The Desktop Wallpaper featuring Garrett Vander Leun

I wanted to start the first wallpaper of 2009 off right, so I decided my roommate Garrett Vander Leun deserved the honor, since he’s an amazing illustrator and my BFF. Garrett was asked to do a piece by this college magazine called Algemeen Nijmeegs Studentenblad, the theme being about tall vs. small people, or something like that. So Garrett dug into his past and came up with some of his favorite characters from movies and TV, and pitted them in this epic battle.

I think my favorite parts are Jen cutting up Andre the Giant, who in turn doesn’t give a shit and continues to beat on the coroner from Wizard of Oz. My other part is Hagrid who is almost accidentally crushing the Mayor of Oz, that dude is getting straight up MANGLED!

ANS also did an interview with Garrett which, if you’re luck enough to be able to read Dutch, you can check out by clicking here. If you don’t read Dutch though, +KN reader Thomas Vanhuyse was awesome enough to translate it to English. It’s definitely an odd little interview, so be sure to check it out, it’s a good time.

Garret Vander Leun: “My head is an excellent match for a gorilla’s body”

He’s a nanny by day, but at night he transforms into a comic book genius. Garret Vander Leun originally went to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. His life decided to take a surprising turn: He became a full-time babysitter, and he’s currently a rising star in the illustration world. His work Talls vs. Smalls is presented on this months center page. “I’m finally starting to become successful with my art.”

Vander Leun is currently working on his exposition The Broken Heart Crew that will take place halfway 2009 in L.A. Movie characters, comic book figures, and the mascots from McDonald’s, form, just like in his previous work, the core of the exposition. They aren’t displayed in a conventional way, but in everyday situations with human emotions. “A normal man with a broken heart doesn’t have as big of an appeal to me as Robocop with a broken heart. It’s an absurd situation for an invincible man like Robocop. This contrast strengthens the emotion. I try to place superheroes in everyday situations.”

Are the movie characters in your art a refuge for your own emotions?

“They often are. I usually hide personal elements like small objects, notes or initials in my work, I also do this in Talls vs. Smalls. The initials of a girl I’m dating right now are hidden in it. I immortalize these elements by including them in my art. Yet, nothing is for ever. This way I can however look back at previous experiences.”
“I can often identify myself with the situations I place my characters in. An example is the anger that’s noticeable in Talls. Apparently there was a certain anger present in me at the time I was working on Talls vs. Smalls. I usually get inspired because of my emotions. I don’t know what other people feel when they look at my art, but I see a story.

Why do you have such a cartoony style?

I used to be a comic book junkie, that’s why I use a a lot of these typical characters. Comics challenge me, like how an artist knows how to include movement in a small frame that’s essentially standing still. Talls was the first time I included movement in my art. I never really manage to draw what I originally had in mind, but I am however very pleased with the result. My constant drive for perfection leads to progress.”

What does popular culture, like comics, movies and McDonald’s, stand for in your art?

“Art is all about nostalgia for me. There are a lot of characters from comic books or cartoons that I grew up with in my work. This way I’m able to maintain a connection with my youth. It’s also a lot of fun to use characters that I enjoyed so much during my childhood. I don’t often choose the obvious leading characters, I’d rather display the characters that come in second place because I identify myself with them in certain ways”
“Memories from my childhood are keeping me young. That’s why it’s important for me to research these characters from my past. They’re the inspirational pool I’m currently fishing in. The princess from Mario Brothers has a part in one of my next works. Everyone has memories from Super Mario.”
“I especially hope that people recognize themselves in my art. Or that they think “I know that character”, or “I’ve seen that movie”. There always has to be some kind of entertainment present. Simply copying some elements from pop culture wouldn’t have any value for me. My characters always have to be confronted with a story or an emotion.”

You decorate the bodies of insects with the heads of famous persons on some of your pieces. What’s the story behind that?

“I don’t know where it comes from. Seeing a documentary must have made me realize what curious creatures insects are. When for example the Church chose Benedict as their new pope I thought he had a weird face that would fit perfectly on a woodlouse. I’m not critiquing his personality, mind you.”
“The same counts for Grace Kelly. She’s without a doubt the most beautiful woman on earth. Displaying her head on top a grasshopper gives an entirely new perspective. Female grasshoppers are know for biting off the heads of their male counterparts. In my painting the ideal woman is joined with the violent nature of the female grasshopper. I love creating conflicts like this on a canvas.”

On what kind of insect would your head fit?

I think insects are too frightening for my own face, I wouldn’t want to see my head on them. Just like all men I like to see myself as a big, aggressive creation. A bear or a lion for example, as long as it’s very manly. A shark would also be an option, but I have no idea how I would fit a human head on the body of a shark. I’ve got it! A gigantic gorilla with big hands, that would look cool.”


January 7, 2009