Down in Garnet Avenue, a stone’s throw away from the shore and away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown, sits Sideshow Tattoo and Piercing in Pacific Beach. I enter the shop, greeted by an amiable staff and a hybrid playlist of rap and classic rock that immediately harkens to the varied liveliness of San Diego, to find Wesley Fant seated in his workplace – meticulously toiling away over his umpteenth illustration of the day. Stepping into Wesley’s workplace is very much a physical representation of stepping into his headspace: skateboards, books, photos, a small collection of horror and sci-fi memorabilia, the artwork of others and personal sketches galore.
Originally hailing from North County’s own Oceanside, and after traversing the Golden State for a time (he spent some time working in Northern California before his return), Wesley has recently come to call this coastal setting home once again. “Everywhere’s different”, Wesley says of his occupational travels thus far, “the people, their lifestyles – even just the stuff [tattoos] that people want is different”. While the change in scenery may have been a subtle culture shock at first, adapting to contrasting markets and clientele have never been this artist’s dilemma – as evidenced by his equally varied body of work. “Tattoos are pretty dictated by what the customer wants, it depends. [Up North] I didn’t really get opportunities to do geometric patterning, or new-school tattoos that I like to do”. On the return to SoCal: “Down here in San Diego, all day clients walk through the door and want things done that I want to tattoo on them; they want the geometric patterning and the dotted mandalas – all that badass new-school stuff”. He attributes the thought commonality to the culture of the area at large. “I’ve got that down-home, San Diego skater – surfer – grunge vibe that I like; I still push that through my art”, (I’m redrawn to the skateboards and graffiti samples that adorn the walls of his space). “Bright poppy colors, skateboard art, hard lines, the ocean; a lot of things that would present themselves to the military, sailors – all these things. I like to take American, San Diego, tradition and twist it up, throw some grunge on it.” Here, it’s hard not to notice the ear to ear grin that spreads across Wesley’s face; it’s transparent that this is truly what he not only enjoys, but loves to do. “I just feel like my art feels like San Diego; How I feel walking around and what I see – all kinds of ‘California’ things”. Speaking on a specific area of his work, and praising his hometown once more: “Walking around, I’ll see somebody’s face; I’ll see the shape of their face and find something I really like – it’s hard to explain – so I’ll remember it and draw it out, paint it out, and make something out of it.”
As with many artists, after catching a glimpse of even just a small sampling of their work, you begin to notice the trends: “Girls. I paint lots of girls. I do a lot of anti-religion things; burning churches and things like people hanging, creatures – dark and creepy things. I do a lot of eyeballs; a lot of tattoo-y stuff like skulls and boats”.
He takes a deep breath before attempting to explain the origins of his madness, “I found a CD by The Used; Alex Pardee had been the illustrator for them for a few years: The art was just so dark and gruesome. That was my first real big art influence, and that’s what really got me drawing when I was younger, trying to create new things.” Rewinding the story back a tad further, “My mom always pushed the [art] influence very heavily in the household, I was always in art classes as a kid. I’ve been doing art my whole life. Walking around and painting my name on people’s walls, painting stupid characters up”, he laughs, “I did lots of graffiti as a child. Gutters, tunnels – stuff like that all over the place. Eventually I moved onto doing graffiti art shows, like the Carlsbad and Vista street fairs, and then just took it from there”. Expanding his passion for paints, Wesley channeled the energy into set and production art for theatre. This isn’t to say that this San Diegan is a victim of a one-track mind, “There was always illustrating; Things like cartoons, friends with graphic design projects, stuff like that. I looked at his [Alex Pardee’s] website every day. I just looked at it. I spent hours, hours, and hours just looking through it every day. I found out he was part of a collective called Upper Playground”. He enthusiastically cites artists that proved to him that art was more than just lines on paper, “Jeremy Fish, Sam Flores, all those guys from Upper Playground – they’re real big influences”.
They wanted to get it when they were eighteen and they wanted the idea down on paper and out of their heads – so I’d sketch things up for them”.
Wesley then names seemingly the largest artistic personality in his life thus far, Jon Clue. “He was the guy who started me in tattooing; an amazing artist from New York. He was doing these insane photorealistic skulls on people, and these amazing space scenes…they were just crazy, nuts; they were crazy and weird”. Here, Wesley pauses again, trying to articulate phrasing that does Clue’s genius justice. “They looked like cells, like nerve cells – and the backgrounds, they’re just nuts.” Eventually, Wesley and Clue crossed paths: “I met Jon Clue and he asked me why I wasn’t tattooing, yet I was designing tattoos for people. I told him it was because I didn’t have anyone to teach me how. He came out from New York, brought me my first tattoo machine and my first set of pigments. He sat me down, he and Nathan Kostechko, for like a week and showed me some basic stuff. He pretty much let me loose on the world after that. He told me to find some people to tattoo on, to tattoo on myself – I did a bunch of crummy tattoos and just learned from there”. Wesley endearing continues on about the evolution of his friendship with Clue. The pair would talk over the phone, and hold conversations over Skype. “I would set up my machines and he would tell me what to do with them; it was long distance for a while”. Clue would introduce the budding Wesley to other artists, eventually leading to an introduction that would land him his first apprenticeship.
He points out that it’s not the craft that defines an artist, not entirely at least. Wesley continues, stressing the fact that the arts are personal endeavors, where there really is no wrong answer – not as long as one’s true to themselves. “Developing a style first comes from influences you really like, then trying to replicate what those people did. Drawing, drawing, drawing, and more drawing – until you finally feel the urge somewhere deep inside yourself to create something new, something that nobody’s seen. And, if you like it, do it again – and again, and again, and again. If you don’t, then change it until you do – the only thing the can really do is draw every day, pushing yourself, to get anywhere”. Feeling and feeding off inspiration is his life force; “I just want to paint whatever I’m feeling that day – something I see that I like or am feeling inspired by, I’ll take an aspect of that and then do something completely new with it.”
“I’m passionate about life, honestly. Pursuing what you feel like pursuing in your life: If you want something, then push hard and get it; that’s really it.”
Seeing as Wesley’s starting delve into heavier territory, I hit him with the big questions:
Rafael Alvarez: Do you have a general life philosophy?
Wesley Fant: Do what you want as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anybody else.
RA: Does that come across in your art?
WF: I try to push that across in how I live, how I interact with people, in the things that I say to people every day. I really believe that if you want something in life bad enough, and it’s not endangering yourself, hurting yourself or anyone around you, then go for it. Get it done if that’s what you really want.
RA: What’s your favorite medium to work in?
WF: Skin. But, other than skin: watercolor, and illustration pen. The way watercolor flows across the paper, it’s really relative to tattooing, honestly. The color blending, and the ways you contrast and work color, it helps develop your tattooing a lot. They kinda go hand in hand.
RA: If art wasn’t in your life, or if you weren’t artistically inclined…?
WF: Oh, dude! I would be sleeping in a gutter somewhere. I’ve only held one job that wasn’t doing art my whole life, and it drove me literally insane – I couldn’t handle it. I’d have no life.
RA: What’s your favorite beer?
WF: You want the honest answer, or do you want me to make something up?
WF: Honestly, I like hard cider. If I’m drinking anything I really like to drink Longbow, Johnny Appleseed’s, that’s what you can get everywhere. Angry Orchard’s also the easiest thing to get. There’s some stuff from NorCal that I like called Sonoma Hard Cider, it was like 9% and tasted really deep; rich, almost like a wine. It was really good. I like dark beers. Up at Pacific Beach Cantina the other night I had this thing called Cali Creamin’, it was almost like a cream soda beer. Newcastle’s my go-to for beer if they don’t have hard cider, I’ll take a Newcastle or something like that any day.
RA: What’s your definition of ‘badass’?
WF: Haha, hold on – I gotta put that together real quick…somebody that’s not afraid to say or get what they want and speak their opinion, speak the truth. Somebody that cares about grinding and going far in doing what they want; but, still has humility and doesn’t really want to harm anybody, just wants to do good for everybody around them, too. That’s my definition of ‘badass’.
In closing, I ask Wesley if he has anything he’d like to add, a message he finds pertinent and personal. “I want to throw it in somewhere; Tattooing is, well, it isn’t a phase-type deal. If you’re going to get into it, if you want to be a tattoo artist, if you want this as a career, a living, then you have to be committed. I think of it as a wife, that’s how you have to treat it. You have to be there, every day, dedicated, committed. When she calls you late at night to work – you come running. If you’re not dedicated to it every single day, you not going to go far.
You can find Artist Wesley Fant on the internet at FaceBook.com/ArtByWesleyFant, and on Instagram at @Wes_Does_Stuff. He works out of Sideshow Tattoo and Piercing, “pretty much every day”, located in Pacific Beach at 1062 Garnet Avenue. Likewise, the shop can also be found on Instagram at @SideshowTattooAndPiercing.
If he’s not at the shop, you might just bump into him skating the streets of Pacific Beach or shooting archery in Balboa Park.