By Frank Flanagan
I met Tobar (Website) on Friday afternoon at the Black Bean Deli on Colonial after we both got out of work. His canvas-colored khaki pants were splattered with multiple colors of paint, having had just come from painting a mural at a Sushi restaurant out on Sand Lake Road.
It was an absolute pleasure.
The following is a transcribed interview between Flanagan and Tobar.
FF: So tell me a little bit about your backstory; how did you start painting?
CT: It’s always an interesting question. Every time I get asked that question like ‘about your backstory?’ [chuckles]
It’s tough putting people on the spot like that.
I think I should be used to it as many times as I been asked that question. I started painting a long time ago when I was a kid. Like drawing from comic books, and sketching, going to little art classes and stuff. I’m from Chicago originally, I moved here like ten-eleven years ago, and then I jumped into graphic design. Then from there the graphic design side taught me to see more of the murals and the art. Both sides of the fence.
Did you do any design work in Orlando?
I never worked for any agencies, I free-lanced a lot for a lot of little companies. My roommates are Solillaquists of Sound (Facebook), so I did like all the album work for their last two albums. With them, and then a video game company named Solar Games (Facebook).
Do you still do any design work?
Definitely do design work. All day, every day. As much as I can. The art side is kind of taking over a little bit more, which is nice because I can just be freely creative.
So you don’t have like a traditional 9-5 right now.
Not right now.
Do you like that?
Right now I do.
How do you deal with lack of structure?
Um, that’s tough sometimes. Sometimes it’s a little tough. I mean I gotta push myself, motivate myself, um…
It’s easy to roll over in the mornings I’m sure.
Yeah, sometimes I just want to sleep in, and not do anything, and some days I just want to sleep all day, and some days I just want to work. I want to be out the house. I don’t even want to be home. And as soon as I get home it’s too comfortable. I was working for a little scenic company. So I was doing some stuff at Disney and Universal and then we did a, with the same company I was working for, I designed Side Bar, which is downtown. So that’s like the last job I just had, that was kind of like 9-5.
Like a contractor?
Yeah, it was a little interesting. And then before that I worked at a place called Big Frog. They did t-shirts, I was a lead designer there. And then before that was Full Sail. I worked there for five years.
Graphic design. So like page layout, color theory. And then, school.
Where’d you go to school?
Oh, very nice.
I literally came from Chicago, went to Full Sail, started teaching at Full Sail for like five years, and then was like uhh I need a break.
What does that make you now? 31? 28?
29. I think I am? Yeah 29. [chuckles]
Had to guess? [laughs]
I’m old. [laughs]
So tell me about OCTOBAR?
Was this the first year of OCTOBAR?
Last year I started it, but it wasn’t as big. I didn’t push it as hard. This was like my trial run of actually pushing it as far as I can with the capability that I had and the resources that I had at my fingertips. So like OCTOBAR is really just like a play on my name. I just felt like ‘oh OCTOBAR, that’s just fun, why not?’ and a lot of people caught on and asked if it was my birthday or my month. So I was like I guess I’ll save all the work I’ve been doing all year long…
So stuff your releasing in October you’ve been working on since March or January or whatever.
Yeah I’ve been working on it for a while. The last series I did for it, which was Untold Stories by Mr. Rodriguez, which was at True Serenity, that show was like more work that I’ve been working on for the past two years. And then like there’s been a couple of other pieces that I may have shown like sneak peaks or incorporated them into other pieces. This was the first time of all brand new work. I don’t know if you got to see but I have like a couple different types of processes in the way that I approach my work…
No, I didn’t see. Tell me about that.
I got a digital side, that’s the first base. So everything digitally done. I do all my photography, illustrator, Photoshop. And then from there I’ll print it out, and put it in a frame. And then after that, I’ll take that same exact piece and transfer it to wood with this process called gel transfer. It basically takes the image and makes it a little bit rough, makes it truly one of a kind and unique. And after that would be the mural part. So like I can take that same image and project it on the wall and paint on the lines I want, and then there might be something I don’t want in there and I can just…
Leave it out.
Yeah, leave it out.
I mean it’s all unique, but what’s your favorite thing to do? You like being behind the computer screen, or do you like being in front of a wall?
I don’t know. I kind of like both. I definitely like both. While I’m painting a mural I’m dreaming about going home and working on the next several illustrations I’m going to work on.
So on you murals, who’s the girl with the green hair?
She’s a new girl actually. I have like five girls I work with on a regular basis. That girl, her name is Priscilla, she’s a friend of mine. I asked her if she would play a character. Basically all the girls I work with, I ask to play a role in a storyline that expands whatever I’ve been able to show so far. She’s new though, she’s similar to the girl I did on the trash can.
She does look similar.
Not the same girl.
Oh I thought it was.
That’s why when I met her, I chose her to be the character.
The girl on the trash can was like a reference image, in an image of a girl that I just saw and asked ‘Can I take a picture of you?’ And then everyone else…
Wait, let’s talk about that for a second. So you saw this girl and were like ‘I gotta photograph you so I can paint you’? [laughs]
Yeah [laughs] I asked ‘can I take a photo of you, I think you’re really pretty?’
How’d that go?
I mean I think it went fine.
Was she flattered?
She was flattered, but she knew. She had seen my work too a little bit.
Did you get her number after that?
Yeah I got her number. Of Course. [Laughs]
Oh nice dude, atta boy.
Yeah, but I mean like a lot of the time I ask these girls to be my models, my approach is like ‘you’re very beautiful, but I want to use you as art.’ That’s the main premise.
Both ways, it doesn’t suck to hear that if you’re the girl.
So what about Orlando in particular appeals to you as an artist?
All the other dope artists out here.
Alright, name a few of your friends or favorites.
Let’s see, I got a long list of favorites. I got Crummy Gummy, Peterson Guerrier, I got Swamburger, Andrew Spear, Boy Kong, Johanna O’Donnell, Peter Van Flores III, Julie, who goes by Lucy Fur, she has work right now at Lil Indies, and Skip.
Yeah Skip, he’s the guy that has the mural right next to me.
To the left?
Yeah to the left. It’s unfinished right now.
So out of that network of Orlando artists, do you guys collaborate, hang out, what’s the deal?
Most of those artists actually, we’re in a group called the B-Side artists.
Where does that name come from?
We started it like seven years ago, and it was me, Swam, Peter, ummm, Veer, ummm I’m trying to figure out who was in the room. I was literally sitting in the car, and they were in Ethos restaurant, and we like all came up with this thing, oh and German Lewis. We were like the artists on the other side, like the first urban art group. Everyone was painting pretty flowers and landscapes and portraits and stuff, but like we were like the opposite artists. We were the street artists that wanted to be in the gallery, that live in Orlando.
So, we would set up on the street downtown, but we knew a couple bartenders, and a couple bars, that would let us set up upfront. So for like two years straight, every weekend, we made it like a religious thing to do. And we all have friends and families that we would go to during the day, and full time jobs, but at night we would go there, and paint live and sell our work.
What year was this?
Does it still happen?
What happened? Burnt out? Tired?
Not burnt out, we just all kind of started actually doing things. Like it got a little hard for us on the weekends to go out and set up. Because there were weekends we wouldn’t sell shit, nothing. We’d just be sitting out there. And its not about the sales, its about us creating work. But sometimes I gotta be here, and work on something. I can’t be outside, bringing all my stuff and making a mess, and then I gotta clean up after myself at 3 o’clock in the morning, so I can get kicked out downtown.
Yeah, but we do have a yearly show that we do in June at City Arts Factory.
Oh yeah? I was there last night for the first time.
Yeah it’s a pretty cool gallery. They have done a lot for us.
So do you go to the different galleries pretty frequently?
Yeah. I try to as much as I can. Like last night, I got home from painting the mural, and I was just like drained. I literally forgot what the day was. Like today’s Wednesday, no it’s Thursday. [chuckles]
It’s easy to get lost like that when you’re busy. Tell me a little bit about your creative process. I know you are working on that mural for the Japanese restaurant of a girl kind of fighting off a squid. How did you come up with that concept?
So the client kind of gave me free range on this one, which is kind of nice. A lot of times clients will be like ‘hey I want this mural, and I wanted to look like this, like this style, like this artist.’ So for them they were like ‘hey these are a couple of things we want in there.’ They said ‘I want one of your girls like Native,’ because they saw my mural at Sam Flax, and they want an octopus. I was like ‘alright, cool.’ I’ve never really drawn an octopus, I don’t really draw more sea creatures. The only thing I do is a lot of mammals. So this is a little challenge for me, I’ll have to approach this a different way.
Do you like the challenge part?
Oh yeah. Looking at it every day I’m like I love it, but I want to change it. So basically what I did was ask two of my friends, two girls that I work with, ‘can I take photos of you? I got this new piece and were gonna do a bunch of different positions and basically you’re a warrior attacking a squid, or the squids grabbing you and your trying to like stab the other arm or slice it.’ I basically approached it like thinking like ‘oh well what if this girl was under water’ or ‘what if she’s on top of the water like on top of the squid’s head.”
You’re pretty happy with how it’s going so far?
Oh yeah, definitely.
Is this usual for you? You did the Sam Flax Mural like what, three weeks ago?
And now you’re already on another mural? Do you get work that regularly?
This is kind of recent for me. Really. Honestly.
Are you enjoying that success?
Definitely. Because like I had that mural at Side Bar, which was like two months ago, and then from there I got the Sam Flax mural, and then at the same time I got the Sam Flax mural, I got a food truck I had to paint. So I was painting the food truck at the same I was doing the mural, so like at night I’d go home and work on the food truck and then during the day I’ll go work on the mural at Sam Flax.
Let me ask you this, have you been down to Wynnwood, Miami?
What do you think about it?
It sucks… [laughs audibly] Look at your face!
(Writer’s Note: My jaw fell through the floor.)
[Laughs] Oh man. You got me.
Nah, I’m just joking, it’s amazing.
Do you think we can get something like that going in Orlando?
Yeah, it’s starting to right? I was having this conversation at work today, that’s why I ask.
Yeah, it’s coming but I mean, everyone wants to Wynnwood to be in Orlando but like…
I want Orlando to be in Orlando.
Right right. We’re definitely getting there. I say within like the next two years we’ll get a lot more murals, like bigger murals, like downtown.
Can you approach a company like ‘you have a beautiful wall space, can we talk about a mural?’ Have you ever done something like that?
In Miami I did. For Art Basel, three years ago, me and Crummy Gummy (Website) worked for a company called Art Whino (Website) that’s in Washington DC, and we went door to door just asking for walls. I think we got like eight to ten walls for all of these artists to paint.
The business owners are receptive to that approach down there?
Yeah, they’re a little bit different down there because they already have it. So our approach was if you don’t want the mural, then we’ll buff it right after. And some murals got buffed. If the owners didn’t like it, or they were like ‘I don’t like that content,’ we buffed it, which is fine.
So what do you think the next step is for Orlando to get more murals?
I think we need some kind of funding, whether it’s the city funding or sponsors, because really like there’s a lot of artists who would love to do murals. I love Orlando, and all the artists that I named, but what’s going to have to happen in order to make this a bigger project is you’re going to have to bring in another big artist.
It’s like when you go to concerts and you saw all the local guys all the time, sometimes you’re going to be like ‘I know your music, I know your sets,’ but when you bring in someone new and with a fan base and you do something with them it makes that experience that much better.
Who would you like to see come into Orlando to do a mural?
Let’s see. I’d like to see Alex Pardee (Website).
Not familiar with him. Where’s he from?
He’s from San Francisco. Super dope artist. Or DeFace. There’s a bunch of artists from Chicago I’d love to bring out here. It doesn’t even have to be like big, big, name artists. It could just be like other artists that are really big in their cities. Every city has their local heroes.
Maybe not your favorite artist, but historically who do you draw inspiration from?
A lot of times Shepard Fairey. You get to see the joke side like ‘I’m going to paint this because I like this,’ but you also get to see the serious side like ‘I painted this because I LOVE this.’ Shepard Fairey has always been my inspiration. I got to meet him like two years ago.
That’s awesome man.
Yeah it was.