Hop on the rug with us – and get to know how artist Xavier Gallego lives life well.
Xavier Gallego’s somewhat unusual trademark style of drawing monsters began taking seed when he was a kid, around 5 or 6 years old. “I’ve always used illustration and characters to talk about things that are happening around me,” he says. “And I always loved drawing, right from the start.”
Growing up in Barcelona, Gallego – who also goes by Xevi – would try his hand at a trend that was happening with his friends. “In schools, back in the ‘80s, they were selling copies of drawings of Japanese cartoons, and I was really into that with my friends. We were trying to draw them; trying to do our own versions,” he says. As he got older, he started to draw more to express himself, but for fear that his drawing on tables would land him in trouble, began trying a more abstract technique so his work wouldn’t be as easily recognizable.
Doing the monster mash
The turning point for Gallego came with the release of a track by electronic musician Mr Oizo, ‘M Seq,’ which featured a yellow puppet named ‘Flat Eric,’ who was in both the track’s music video and also in an advertising campaign for Levi’s. Like many who saw the puppet, which the musician had found at a flea market, Gallego became enamored with Flat Eric, making sketches of the character that morphed into little monsters. “I started drawing them more and more, and adding messaging and giving [the drawings] to friends and family for their birthdays, and it became a thing,” he explains. It developed to the point where the character that emerged out of this playful experimentation became his enduring motif.
While this hobby took hold of Gallego’s spare time, his career as a creative director specializing in technology progressed. “I love playing with apps and new technology, and so when Facebook started to take off, around 2007, I got into it from Europe, because I had some American friends I wanted to stay in touch with,” he says. As the social media platform took to finding its feet, a number of apps became incorporated into the site. With his passion for tech, Gallego knew he wanted to make an app too.
“I came up with these versions of my monsters with messaging so folks could use them to express themselves on each other’s walls,” he says. “Remember how that worked back in the day? It was almost like a good representation of a street wall where you could tag the wall and leave a message for someone.”
He called them Eyesores – first learning of the word via The Shins’ ‘New Slang’ song from the Garden State soundtrack – and they became a hit, with users wanting to see new expressions and characters. “An eyesore could be disgusting, but still, it's something that when you see it, it might be ugly, but then it makes you stop. I like that part of it,” he says.
Gallego didn’t make any money off the Facebook endeavor, but he did start to become more and more recognized for the characters. It allowed him to start building a foundation as an artist and transition into other, less digital areas, like exhibitions and book-publishing. “It's a really fun side skill and I love it that way because it's not my profession,” he says.
Sometimes, he may collaborate with a brand or two, but for the most part, Gallego shares his monsters with the world for fun. He also teaches an Eventbrite class – encouraging others to make, and embrace, their own monsters. “I started doing it, and I realized that I'm not teaching how to draw monsters, I’m teaching how to be creative,” he says. The way he sees it, monsters, as an artform, are a way to let go and just be.
Creating monsters as a creative practice
For Gallego, monsters are not horrible and menacing; they contain within them messages of love and optimism, here to make your day a little more colorful and brighter. It reflects his overall way of looking at life and the optimism he holds.
“Something I do, that I think if everybody does they will be more creative, is I never see what's not working. I always look for what's working – in everything,” he says. “Even a really terrible mural on the street. I never look at what I don't like, I look at what I like. Of course, sometimes I don’t like anything, but most of the time, 90% of the time, I look for what’s right.”
It’s this approach that keeps him inspired, doodling at night, on weekends and during meetings for his day-job at a biotech startup. “Most of the time I have to apologize for it, but I always say, ‘Hey, if I'm drawing, I am listening. If I'm not drawing, I might not be listening!’” he chuckles.
It makes sense then that he describes being in the zone as a form of meditation. “I've done meditation and to me, it's better because it's a state where there’s no before, there's no after, it's only now. For me, it’s so close to meditation,” says Gallego.
Monsters and meditation – an inspired combination, for sure.
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