‘An Epic Struggle of Truth, Love, and Everyday Life…’
A mainstay of the West Los Angeles street art scene for over a decade, Phobik is no stranger to the art world. Phobik’s artwork been a progressive journey traveling from the outside in. Moving from city walls to gallery walls, with growing introspection, constantly turning the page of his artistic career like a living graphic novel.
The few minutes I spent with Phobik on the street, he identified each piece of graffiti we passed. He knew what day each tag went up and predicted when it would be taken down. He explained how stickers are the first wave in street art, and depending on how long they stay up, this lets artist know how long they can expect a larger piece to ride. It’s also a primitive communication between street artists, letting them know who else is in the area and down to paint. Street art has given Phobik a connection to his city and community that the average person doesn’t have.
Outside of the abandoned Morton’s Camera on Sunset, Phobik pointed out the different footholds he would use to bomb a rooftop. Only a quarter of a mile away is where Phobik found himself at a perilous intersection in his own life. “I got hit by a car,” he said rather matter of factly, almost as if he was ordering coffee – exactly what were actually doing on the corner of Argyle and Sunset on a typical sunny day in Los Angeles. Over the next hour Phobik proceeded to unwind the ever-folding pattern of infinite origami that he’s come to know as his life and his art.
“It hurt after. It’s more like mental trauma.,” he said. The accident spiked Phobik’s adrenaline, numbing the pain. With no visible injuries Phobik was taken to a local hospital where he spent the night for observation. He received an MRI, CT scan, and was injected with a phosphorescent dye to check for internal bleeding, to see if anything was “leaking.”
“That’s how they do it. I had no fucking idea and the nurse was like, ‘you’re gonna feel like your body’s burning for like two minutes.’” Just moments after being run over in the street Phobik experienced a new trauma from the world of modern medicine. As the machine warmed up he could literally feel the blood in his veins begin to boil. “My insides, from head to toe, were on fire,” he said, recalling the exam.
Despite a short lived black-eye and the arm he still carried in a sling Phobik was in remarkably good spirits. He still attends physical therapy to help his spine and muscles ‘roll’ out. “They already told me, I’m gonna have like a little PTSD out of it, which I do. I’ll space out and I’m reliving it all over again,” Phobik explains. Noise and light are the main triggers. “The whole PTSD thing is just seeing that headlight and hearing the noise that it made of me hitting the car.” Yet the physical and mental emotional impact of the car has knocked Phobik onto a new creative trajectory.
“It shook me into creating more personal stuff,” he explained. “It’s just weird. Like, I appreciate the pain. I wish I wasn’t going through it, but it definitely helps.” This accident came at the end of a year fraught with difficulties for Phobik. From the death of his dog, to the ending of a long-term romantic relationship, to the impending mortality of his own parents, the past few years had been slowing wearing on Phobik. “I was dealing with that for a whole year. It really depressed me and I was actually in a in a funk enough that it affected my art. For a whole year, I wasn’t really creating.” Though in reality, Phobik was still doing shows and gigs, but somehow never truly feeling present. “I was creating art that I had no feeling towards,” he explained. The work was “cool imagery” that fit within the “standards of today’s pop art,” but the emotional connection was vacant. “I got the feeling that I died there and none of this is real.”
“Now that I’m drawing and really putting feeling into it and getting attached to these images, and I can’t let them go and I have to now. There’s like a different hunger that I haven’t felt in years.” The new sketches from the Phobik God saga, the comic series he created from which his name comes, are savagely raw. Even though the characters that inhabit most of Phobik’s stories are superhuman in stature, there is something profoundly personal that leaks through, not unlike the phosphorescent dye of an angiogram. In fact, much of the story is inspired by real life. “Through what I’m going through, I’ve put a lot of the story into Phobic God,” he said. “Every character in it is either people that I know or in a sense feelings and things that are metaphorical, that turned into characters.”
The main story follows the path of Phobik God, who in a sense is the alter ego of Phobik himself. “Phobik God’s story is just becoming. Becoming the all-knowing God that we all talk about. Because how do you become all-knowing without experiencing everything and learning how to cope with it through, I guess, immortality or eternal life? I think experience is definitely the key factor.” Yet even as the Phobik God character grows he is met with the doubts of others and being cursed with the fact that many people might not believe any of his experiences ever occurred. “Which is the hard part of like, let’s say religion, or even God Himself, the disbelief in an all-knowing. Which makes the story of him a little bit more interesting because he’s still gonna have to go through all these things that people might not even believe happened.”
His characters live in a timeless, eternal space, with epic superpowers and conspicuous names like Love and Truth, but their actions and storylines could be the lives of anyone you pass on the street. “It’s not special… anybody that feels love has gone through these things; chefs, writers, anybody who’s lived life has experienced these things. I’m just finding a way to make it interesting instead of hurtful.”
Many of the characters are based off of friends and people in his actual life. Some have a distinct physical likeness. While others have aspects of their personality or experiences magnified to otherworldly proportions. One new character, Memory, could possibly be spawned from the depths of PTSD. His superpower allows him to know everything about a person as soon as he touches them. Making him a potentially dangerous character. Memory is essentially an assassin created for the sole purpose of killing Phobik God. Because in Phobik’s experience, “memories can kill you.”
“The story of the comic is about the other side of love. I mean, even in art right now, street art and art, everything is love, love, love. The right kind of love, positive sides of love. I’m experiencing a whole other side of it. I just want to express the double-edged sword of love.”
Much of the Phobik God universe revolves around the concept of love, but not the love you see in traditional Hollywood movies. Phobik illustrates the multifaceted nature of love, in particular the dark and ugly. “The story of the comic is about the other side of love. I mean, even in art right now, street art and art, everything is love, love, love. The right kind of love, positive sides of love. I’m experiencing a whole other side of it. I just want to express the double-edged sword of love.” But the comic doesn’t dwell exclusively on the negative as Phobik pointed out, “sometimes you have to deal with the ugly to get to the positive.”
Phobik has found a strength through trauma. Now he’s facing the challenges of daily life. The elbow that absorbed most the impact happens to be Phobik’s drawing arm. “The first thing that the doctor told me is like, ‘you can’t lift fifteen pounds with your right arm right now.’ I was like, ‘all right, well, can I paint at least?’” Phobik works a day job at Grosh creating large-scale backdrops for musical and theatrical productions. “That’s really physically demanding. I’ll be lifting up gallons, buckets, the drops are 100 pounds each,” he told me. This is one of the ways the accident has led Phobik to refocus on comics. The small hand movements are something he can accomplish while his arm is in the sling but he has to take great care because it’s still extremely painful. The car also injured him where it struck his leg and face. “My knee’s kind of fucked up. You know those movements where you like, go sideways and your knee…” he made a twisting motion with his hand, “that hurts.”
This is one of the ways the accident has led Phobik to refocus on comics. The small hand movements are something he can accomplish while his arm is in the sling but he has to take great care because it’s still extremely painful.
Phobik’s day job has given him the opportunity to work with high profile musicians like Slayer and Katy Perry. He laughed, “She did pink walls everywhere, all these pink things. I was like picking out pink boogers for like a month.” Working in a commercial environment has influenced Phobik’s personal work as well. “I started having to mix colors and match colors to the image that was given to us,” he explained. The process of color mixing is a precise art, and it wasn’t long before color codes began to creep into his work. A prime example of this is ‘Colorblind Turtles’ recently exhibited at a TMNT themed show in Melbourne, Australia.
The piece features two Ninja Turtles drawn in the original black and white comic book style, fighting a color Shredder with four little color blocks overhead. These blocks represent the four ninja turtles. These color blocks can be found on several of his new canvas works as well. “I wanted to have it be sort of a dialogue, which I’m still working on. But the further step is to have each color assigned to a letter… and speak through color instead.” The color alphabet allows Phobik to work in a visual language and make statements that might not be easily understood by the public. “There’s more colors than there are letters, so it should it should work out.”
“I wanted to have it be sort of a dialogue, which I’m still working on. But the further step is to have each color assigned to a letter… and speak through color instead.”
Phobik does intend to go back to hitting the streets after he’s healed up. “Do I want to do walls? Of course. Will I do walls? Yes!” Though he does seem glad to take a break from murals. “It’s a different animal and I don’t mind tangling with that beast every now and then but not as often as I would like to anymore. I’d rather go back to doing little illegal hits.” One of his recent little hits is a Baby Yoda, which he posted without signing. “That’s the ego boost,” he says, “when people recognize your style, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you did that’. But I mean, I’m also describing the reason of why I don’t do it for people sometimes. And it’s very liberating for me to just express myself and that’s how I feel connected to like the masters like Van Gogh, Monet, and all that stuff. I don’t feel like they were doing it for the public. They were just expressing themselves, which is a lost art in itself.”
Even though Phobik has had an exacting year of obstacles, he’s come to some deep revelations about his own process, “I came to realize that I don’t do art for people.” he remarked letting his own conscious be the true judge of his work. He still reads modern comics like ‘Silver Surfer: Black” and finds characters he relates to on a personal level taking solace in their struggles. So far there is no definitive date for when Phobik’s project will be finished, “I hope it takes my whole entire life,” he said, but it’s clear there’s a therapeutic aspect to the process too. “It feels better to see it on paper. It almost makes me get done with that feeling. It’s almost like a picture of memory.” Phobik believes people should pursue their dreams no matter the odds, because “if you feel it in your gut, in your heart, don’t stop. You’ll find a way.” Phobik’s positivity toward life is completely uncanny, he seems to be a living testament to the old adage: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Okay, now I got my bad knee.” he said reflecting back on his injuries with a smile, “those are my superpowers.”
Brian Bloss is an artist, photographer, and writer currently residing in Los Angeles.