"It looks like this dude was on DMT," says a young hippie chick with dreadlocks as she gazes upon a painting by Travis White, aka Teddy Pancake, hanging at Space 4 Art. She has a point. The bright, psychedelic colors and kooky, misshapen monsters that regularly appear in his work could lead one to believe the North Park artist is riding high on a magic, hallucinogen-powered choo-choo train to Weirdsville.
However, White assures that his surreal, tripped-out art comes serendipitously.
"My paintings are definitely more interesting than I am, I think," the 34-year-old says with a laugh. "Honestly, I don't come up with ideas for my paintings. Most of them, for the last three or four years, have started out with me just splattering some paint on a canvas and staring at it, and seeing what comes of it. So, it kind of relieves me from the burden of having to come up with the idea of what Iím going to paint, and I just kind of let it flow. It's more subconscious, I think—like I'm channeling what the canvas wants to become."
White does cite as an influence author Terrence McKenna, who wrote extensively on hallucinogens, as well as the bizarre art of Christian Rex van Minnen. White also credits a renewed interest in spirituality and meditation as a force behind his work.
"My mom raised me with a very Christian foundation. I kind of rejected that for many years because I didn't agree with the church aspect of it," says White, who grew up in Poway and has a background in graphic design. He ditched that career for the freewheeling life of an artist.
How freewheeling? He spent some time living in a mouse-infested, 40-foot trailer in the desert, where he was able to focus on his art.
Since studying Eastern religions and other philosophies, White has created a theology all his own, taking bits from the religions he admires and molding them into something that suits him.
"I think all the worst pieces of [religion] came from people's horrible interpretations," he says. "The underlying messages tend to be the same. It's all about the golden rule, anyway. It seems simple. I heard someone say recently that they subscribe to 'golden rule-ism,' and I really liked that, because that's what it is, you know? It's just treating people well."
While he doesn't plan his art and allows each piece's meaning to come to him organically, White admits that the piece on the cover of CityBeat this week isn't all that complicated: "Savage Warrior" was painted on a vinyl record for a group art show he was part of last year. The fuzzy little guy at the center is simply "just a mutant holding a sword. It's cute and fun."
"It didn't have a back-story," he says. "With some of my pieces, I can talk for hours on what they mean. I've come to learn that what resonates with me for totally different reasons resonates with other people in a different way."
That piece allowed him to take a cheap canvas, in this case a 50-cent record from a thrift store, and use it to create art.
"I mean, no one is going to buy those Barbra Streisand records anyway," White jokes.