Interview Series: Tristan Eaton


This weekend in Los Angeles, Detroit-based gallery Library Street Collective Presents “Legacy,” a solo exhibition by Tristan Eaton that unveils the artist’s most personal body of work to date.

“A common challenge we all share is adequately describing a loved one to people that never knew them,” Eaton says on his first solo show in the United States in nearly a decade. “It’s so important to pass on the legacy of those you love to your children and grand children but also to the whole world. The sharing of human stories is an ancient tradition that bonds us closer together as people. As a result, we understand each other more deeply and become stronger better people when the context of our legacy is clear. The people that came before me made me who I am, and I intend to pass along their stories and strengths by creating this ‘time-capsule’ of an exhibition that honors their legacy and preserves their stories for generations to come.” 

We couldn’t think of a more fitting time to share with our online readers this introspective interview with Tristan from his cover story in Live FAST Issue 1, with questions focusing on his upbringing, family and growth as a man and as an artist.



LF: Your childhood was disrupted by a big hasty family move from Hollywood to London. What’s your most vivid memory of this time of your life?

TE: I have so many great memories from my childhood in LA. I was born in a birthing clinic on Sunset Boulevard (above the old Hamburger Hamlet) across from what is now Soho House. My mom was an actress and my dad was a movie producer at the time. We lived in a lot of houses around Hollywood, Los Feliz and Silverlake, but my favorite was at Wilton and Franklin Ave. It was a great house with a big porch and my brother and I were really able to be kids there. I (kind of ) ran away from home one day and ended up at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre, throwing stolen Snap Caps at people when I was 6 years old! Another time, my brother traded his boom box for a ninja suit and crawled around our rooftop until our neighbors freaked out. My neighbor across the street was actress Ione Skye, who babysat me for a while (I was crazy in love with her). Her step-dad saw my brother on the roof doing rolly-pollies and called my dad saying “Randy, there’s a fucking ninja on your roof man! Get the fuck home!” My brother hasn’t changed much since then.

My parents had a pretty serious relationship with the Church of Scientology back then. I was going to a Scientology-affiliated school called Apple School along with all the other Hollywood Scientology kids and my father was producing movies for L. Ron Hubbard. Pretty soon things went very sour. We ended up packing up our lives and moving to my Aunt’s farm in Wales to lay low for a while and start over.


LF: As a young skater, you got into a ton of mischief — tagging along with your older brother and bombing for the thrill of it. How long was it before you realized that you were actually really good at art?

TE: Skateboarding gave me my first love affair with art. The visual graphics of Vision, Santa Cruz and Powell Peralta set my imagination on fire. After living in Wales for a year or so, we moved to West London and I got serious about skating. Actually, my first memory of using spray paint was helping my friend paint a giant RoboCop on Harrow

skatepark in 1989. My entire life was soon skateboarding and comic books.There might’ve been a little bit of Dungeons & Dragons thrown in there too. Nerdy, underground art was where it was at!

I first learned that I could draw at an after-school program run by my first art teacher, Ed Warren. I was 8 years old and he had me drawing detailed still life work that I still have to this day. I look at them and think that I should be way better by now! He had me doing very advanced work for that age. From then on, I knew that I had a very lucky gift and I never took it for granted.

LF: How did your style develop from these early days?

TE: When I was 10, I would literally copy comic book art. Anything Jack Kirby or Simon Bisley turned me on. But I remember vividly forcing myself to draw my own characters from scratch, hoping I could find my own aesthetic. Over a long period of time my drawing style became a combination of Graffiti, Japanese Anime and American comics. When I was a teenager, I knew that you could make a living off illustration work, so I set my sights on that with my own style that developed. Over the past 18 years I’ve had to reinvent myself so many times that I now have a few styles that I call my own. I’ve never been one of those artists that does one style for ever and ever. I like to evolve and adapt to what feels right at the time.


LF: Do you think you’d be in a very different place as both an artist and as a man, if you just stayed in LA all along? What do you imagine when you think back at it?

TE: I have thought about that before and I’m not sure. I know I’d be an artist still, but I really value the life view I have from living in cities like Detroit, London and NYC. If I stayed in LA I’m guessing I would be more of a local person without so much wanderlust. Moving a lot taught me that you can pick up and go anywhere at anytime.

After living in the UK, the whole family moved to Detroit — a city known to be rough and somewhat apocalyptic and one of your favorite places. Did it make you more or less eager to break the law and stir shit — to be in a city with no rules?

Detroit was a sight for sore eyes. Between London & Detroit I lived in northern Michigan for a year and a half where there was nothing there but bonfires and hunting. When I got to Detroit, I was exposed to low-brow art via C Pop Gallery and got to meet amazing artists like Glenn Barr, Tom Thewes, Mark Dancey and Niagara. I started showing at that gallery when I was 18 while silk-screening rock posters with Highway Press and illustrating for Orbit Magazine. The whole underground art world of Detroit really embraced me and helped me out when I was still a teenager. It changed my life and set me on my path. Living in downtown Detroit, you can’t help but explore the abandoned landscape. That’s kind of how I got into doing street work. No rules, no oversight, anything goes.

LF: Now your public artwork is entirely commissioned and mostly commercially driven, and you’re making great money off the rise of street art… But do you still sometimes kind of wish it was an underground thing?

TE: It is what it is. But I’m not rich by any means. Most of the money I’ve made is from the toy business and design work, not street art or paintings even.

To be honest, I’m not concerned about how street art is perceived. I’m on my own mission, my own path. My illegal work goes in cycles. I’ll never stop doing illegal street work, but I normally only do it with purpose. When I feel the need or I have a concept that needs to get out, then I get back into it. Right now, I’m focusing on my paintings and murals which aren’t about illegality, they’re bringing art to the public sphere on a large level. Different outcome for a different agenda, but it’s all outdoors and public, illegal or not.


LF: What’s your biggest hustle?

TE: Ha! My biggest hustle has been using my art to keep me out of trouble. As a teenager there was more than a couple judges that gave me lenience because of my dedication to art. My friends parents always thought I was a good kid because of my art too – little did they know I was the biggest trouble maker. Haha.

LF: What do you think is your biggest flaw / challenge / something you’re insecure about and that you always want to work on?

TE: Too many to list here but I wish I was better with money. Smarter people would’ve probably built a better life from the opportunities I’ve had. I do my best to be smart about my life and it’s annoying, but the game of life, bills, taxes and credit is fucking annoying and stupid. I’m finally starting to get better at it. I also worry about hurting people’s feelings. I try really hard to make the people I work with and my family happy, but am I an asshole? I’ll always wonder. I try my best to be good to people. It means a lot to me, so I worry about that.

LF: How would your mother describe you?

TE: She would say I’m a very hard worker and generous, but I need to save money and plan better!

LF: You once told me you never painted your girlfriends. They don’t become your muse? Have you ever been heartbroken?

TE: I think it’s dangerous to paint the people close to you sometimes. Maybe they will get jealous when you paint someone else, maybe they’ll assume everyone you paint has a sensual connection to you. I’ve tried to maintain walls around my creative process. If you let someone in too far, they can have an effect on it or try to manipulate it. I guess it’s easier if it’s my world completely and no one is allowed in.

I’ve only been heartbroken once. I fell in love once with a girl who went crazy. It was very hard. I’d never seen real mental illness up close, but I loved this girl and we broke up when I checked her into the Brooklyn Psych Ward (which by the way, has a beautiful Keith Haring mural in the lobby).


LF: What turns you on in a woman? What do you find completely irresistible? If you could give my female readers one piece of dating advice from an alpha male’s standpoint, what would it be?

TE: Humor! Most of the time it’s guys who are found attractive for their humor, but when a woman has a great personality, can make you laugh and make fun of you, it’s the best. I find it very hard to be around a beautiful woman who can’t carry on a conversation, let alone crack a joke. If you keep a man on his toes intellectually, he’ll respect you more.

LF: Through your travels and projects, you meet thousands and thousands of people every year. Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014?

TE: Big Jon Calvo from Guam. This guy helped start the Mixed Martial Art craze out there and took care of me while I was painting murals in Guam. He’s about 6’5”, 350 pounds and the sweetest guy I’ve ever met. He trains Jiujitsu fighters and owns a Popsicle company! In the past, he was a bare knuckle brawler and an enforcer for the Yakuza in Japan, but now he’s a family man making Popsicles in paradise! Crazy life story.

LF: How fast do you live?

TE: 25 murals in 15 cities across the globe in 1 year! Pretty fast!

On View: November 7 – November 14th, 2015 at Subliminal Projects 1331 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 7th, 2015 at 7 p.m.

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