Arts : The John Picacio experience

The former SA schoolboy talks about inspiration and dodging cliché — and tackles the hallucinogen question

Of the marriage between his art and his city, celebrated homegrown artist John Picacio says, smiling: “If you look at the work, you can kind of tell it doesn’t quite fit, you know. `I don’t think anybody` knows what the fuck to do with me.” Picacio, who grew up in San Antonio and went to Holmes High School, has won numerous awards and is well-known for his distinctly imaginative cover art, which has graced works by such fantasy, horror, and science-fiction giants as Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman (as well as a few back issues of this very paper). These images and more are collected in Monkeybrain Books’ new anthology, Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio. Seated at a white metal table outside his First Friday show at the Red Room, he spoke about his process:

The Current gets inside the mind of artist extraordinaire John Picacio.

So, do you usually read a story, have a first impression of how you want to illustrate it, then go “Wait, wait, that’s too obvious,” and try to go around it?

Um, I think I’m pretty intuitive about knowing where the climactic points are, and I intuitively try to avoid showing those, because those are usually the parts where your brain is most active in filling them in. I pay attention to them, but I tend to look for the evocative detail — mood, atmosphere. I do pay attention to key scenes, but I’m looking at the information on the periphery rather than that core visual information.

If you go peruse the “fantasy art” section of a bookstore, you’ll see a lot of metal-bikini-clad Viking chicks. Is that something that kind of bothers you, or ...

It doesn’t bother me, but I just know that there’s a lot more to that world than that. It’s just, it’s an easy answer and it’s cliché, I mean, honestly, it’s an old, tired riff, and there’s just a lot more out there that I’d rather explore.

Have you had anyone who submitted a manuscript and just wanted a representational image, and you sent them back something and they were like, “Aw, come onn ...”?

More and more, especially of late, it’s very rare when someone says, “I’ve got this great idea for a cover, and this is the way I want you to do it.” I think they know better, they know that I’m not the right guy for that.

Do you listen to music when you draw?

I’ll give you a current top `four`: Peter Gabriel ... the Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack; Gustav Holst, The Planets; Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?; and, for whatever reason, Achtung Baby, U2.

Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio
Intro by Michael Moorcock
Monkeybrain Books
$39.95, 200 pages

Current gallery party
featuring John Picacio
6-9pm Sat, Jul 15
Southwest School of Art & Craft
300 Augusta

Do you use dreams ever?

Dreams are big. Dreams are big ... When I wake up, usually there’s, if I’m stuck the previous night, there’s something there in the morning. For whatever reason, it’s there in the morning. That seems to be a pattern. And `laughs a little` I’m grateful for it, to be honest.

Not to be offensive in any way, but is there any ... was there at any point any sort of mind-expanding ... substance ...

Yeah, I’ve gotten that a few times; don’t worry about it. Unfortunately, I’ve never used it. And that’s the straight truth.


Hendrix, for instance — you look at the work he did, and you wonder sometimes: Would it have been as good without all the drugs he was using? And yeah, sometimes I’ve wondered if I would’ve had that history, what might’ve come out. But we’ll never know probably, because I think it’s too late at this point.

• • •

Take a little John Picacio home with you: The artist will be at the Current’s Southwest School of Art Gallery Party this Saturday, 6-9 p.m., to sign books. The Current will auction off photo prints of the original covers Picacio illustrated for the paper. Proceeds will benefit Southwest School of Art & Craft.

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