“When you buy art from an artist, you’re not just buying art, you’re buying a piece of the artist,” says Weaverville-based illustrator and painter Fian Arroyo. “That’s why sometimes it’s hard for me to part with certain originals of mine for a while because there’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears and cursing out loud that goes into the roller-coaster ride of my art process.”
So, when an art enthusiast purchases one of his prints at Eluvium Brewing, which is close to his house, “I’ll drive over there, meet the person, sign it and make it a special thing,” Arroyo says. For his exhibition Dreaming Between the Lines in the F.W. Gallery at Woolworth Walk — which runs throughout May, with an opening reception on Friday, May 3 — Arroyo will display about 11 new pieces.
“Normally, those would have been put out as I created them, on the online shop or in the galleries,” he says. “But I’ve held onto them, so it will be like opening the floodgates.”
Arroyo’s work is fantasy-based, executed in rich colors with storied titles and characters that practically beg for their own graphic novels or animated films. Though the artist is prolific, his back catalog remains relevant, and some of his earliest fine-art pieces still attract collectors.
Arroyo attributes some of his inspiration to personal stories, such as in the piece “Ring of Faith.” In it, a boy crouches inside a circle of leaves with a white dove on his shoulder. Just beyond that perimeter, a tiger lurks, more protective than menacing. The painting is about the artist’s grandfather who sometimes looked after Arroyo when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. “That was a personal piece,” he says. “I didn’t release it right away.”
The painting “Dark Rose of the Seven Mountains,” which will be in the Woolworth Walk show, takes its title from a conversation Arroyo had with the daughter of fellow local artist Julie Armbruster. “When she said that, I could envision that in my head,” he says. “I think I started drawing it the next day. Inspiration can come in many ways.” (Arroyo is in the collective Murmur Lodge with Armbruster and Rosie Kirby, and the three mount shows together.)
Another piece, “An Eye for an Eye,” in which three fanciful crows, heads bound in loose bandages, each hold a marblelike eyeball in their beaks, was selected this year for both the Infected by Art Vol. 7 book and the Spectrum art awards book.
A print of yet another work, “Keeping a Watchful Eye,” in which an elfin character perches on the back of a griffin-type creature with the head of a tiger, recently sold to a buyer in Hokkaido, Japan. “[The] cool thing is that I lived there as a kid for three years,” Arroyo posted on Facebook. He describes himself as a military brat who was also based in Panama and all over the U.S.
Arroyo’s work is popular at festivals such as Dragon Con and Illuxcon and appears on skateboards. “I’m a skateboarder, and it’s pretty cool to ride my own deck,” he says. “Back when I was a kid, [I wouldn’t have believed] I’d work with Danny Way or Bucky Lasek. … It’s fun to be in that industry.”
It’s not without its challenges, though — besides the deadlines that come with designing for companies, “You’re working with a very limited canvas,” Arrroyo says. And there’s the limitation of the skateboard itself: “Those dimensions — you’re trying to get an idea across and make it work.” Clearly, it does work: X Games champion Moto Shibata rode a deck designed by Arroyo.
The local artist has had a long career in commercial work, designing images for companies such as KFC, Taco Bell, Scholastic and “a lot of Raid bugs.”
“The stuff I do commercially is more humorous, whimsical, polished,” he explains. “The stuff I do for my art is more fantasy, pop, surreal. … It’s more me, it’s what I want to draw.”
And while he maintains his commercial clientele, the creative, personal pieces he sells through his Etsy store and displays at galleries such as Woolworth Walk keep him inspired. So does his Western North Carolina home: Arroyo and his family made the move from Miami a decade ago. Here, “Everyone supports each other,” he says. “I don’t feel any sense of competitiveness.”
WHO: Dreaming Between the Lines
WHERE: F.W. Gallery at Woolworth Walk, 25 Haywood St., woolworthwalk.com
WHERE: Opening reception Friday, May 3, 5-7 p.m.