Interview: Shredding and brush strokes with Juan Montoya

Artist Juan Montoya Courtesy of The Artist

Artist Juan Montoya
Courtesy of the artist

If you grew up going to shows in the Miami and South Florida music scene in the ’90s, then you have heard Juan Montoya, even if you don’t know him. Serving lengthy stints in many bands, including Ed Matus’ Struggle, CAVITY, and Torche, Juan’s guitar playing has fallen loudly on numerous eager and welcoming ears. Outside of Miami, he has shredded with the likes of MonstrO and Stallone. But it was while living in Atlanta that Juan turned a life-long love and talent for drawing and painting into a second career–a career that has given him over 40 thousand followers on Instagram and a certifiable legion of folks asking for commissions.

I recently had the chance to chat with Juan on the phone about old Miami bands, Frank Frazetta, Ken Kelly, the power of art in social media, KISS, Bob Ross, and of course Montoya’s own art as well.

TuffGnarl.com: First off,  I’ve been a fan of your art for a couple of years now.
Juan Montoya: Thanks man.

That being said, growing up in Miami, I really knew you mostly from your many bands. I was aware of you as a musician, going back to as far as the Space Cadet show space days. Where you even doing art then?
Yeah definitely, and back then Rafael and Alfredo, the brothers that ran Space Cadet, were artists. But I do think being in bands that have had a kind of cult following helped. What really kicked it off was doing the art for the Torche album, Meanderthal.

Torche - Meanderhtal

Torche – Meanderhtal

Yeah, that was the first time I actually became aware of you as a visual artist. And now that you mention it, I always did associate Space Cadet with a more artsy lean. Kind of unique for Miami at the time.
Yeah, Art Basel was in one building then. Before it starting taking over the whole city. [Laughs.]

Was the Torche album your first music related piece then?
No, I actually did a record cover for LOAD.

Oh shit!
[Laughs.] Yeah I did it with a Sharpie. Funny story. I did it in all black, but when they pressed it, Bob Slade, their manager, he printed in reverse. You know, like a negative.

Right.
[Laughing.] And it didn’t look good at all to me.

There’s a documentary about LOAD in the works. It’s called Whiskey on Beer
Yeah, I’m actually doing some art that will be animated for that.

No shit!

Load - Drunken Warrior Chief

Load – Drunken Warrior Chief

Yeah they also released a rarities collection that I did the album cover for. It’s called Drunken Warrior Chief.

How did you get started doing so many commissions? I’m always seeing people post what you have done for them.
Well, I was working at an instrument store in between band tours, but the more I started touring, the harder it got to hold a steady job. So I said let me just do some art to amuse myself, see what could happen. So I did a piece for my friend. I drew a portrait of her cat in outer space. [Laughs.] And so I posted it. And right away people started hitting me up, asking me how much I charged. And this was on Facebook; I wasn’t even on Instagram yet. So I started doing pets. Man I did so many pets. Pets in space, pets fishing. [Laughs.] I started getting silly. But then a few people who had lost their pets contacted me too, and I started doing a few more serious pieces. I actually started getting more attached to animals because of all this. It felt good. It felt humane. It was soothing and it was BETTER than a job.

And when did you start expanding to color?
I was so worried about trying color. I don’t even know the color wheel that well. I guess I’m kind of like the musician that doesn’t know how to read music. [Laughs.] For the Torche album I did sketches on, like, regular computer paper and then I sent them to Arron Turner [of Hydra Head Records–Ed]. I wasn’t comfortable doing color yet. After that I slowly started doing it on my own.

Copyright Juan Montoya

Copyright Juan Montoya

So you recently exhibited some art?
Yeah it was at this event, The Miami Flea. It was really cool–a bunch of different artists and live music. There was this one girl who was showing a bunch of her grandfather’s artwork, and he painted on this weird, thick paper–almost like drywall paper. He painted these really cool nudes of women, but they were in this beautiful scenery, in nature. It reminded me of like when Bettie Page would pose for photos with a cheetah in the wild. [Laughs.] But it was tasteful and had that look of older art, which appeals a lot to me. I love finding stuff like that–people who weren’t “working artists” or did it more like a hobby. It’s the same with music I think.

Oh yeah, good analogy!
Like that band Death. Not the Florida metal band, but the one from Detroit.

From the documentary?
Yeah. They sounded like Bad Brains to me. It’s where that sound had to come from.

Copyright Juan Montoya

Copyright Juan Montoya

Yeah they had to have heard that at one point back then.
Right, but we only find out about it recently. Like what, maybe five years ago? Whenever that documentary came out. So now I find myself trying to look for stuff like that, artists that are more obscure.

Copyright Juan Montoya

Copyright Juan Montoya

I think without a doubt KISS has been a big influence for you as well though.
Yeah, when I was a kid it was the best. Maybe they’ve gotten a little cheesy now [Laughs] but they had really cool art and concepts at the beginning. Like Ken Kelly, who did Love Gun and Destroyer. Oh, and Ken Kelly is also related to Frank Frazetta, another big influence on me. Frazetta of course did a lot of old Conan the Barbarian paperback covers.

[Laughing] I totally have one of those framed on my wall here! An old Conan

Montoya holding a piece from one his influences, Frank Frazzeta.

Montoya shows off a piece from one his influences, Frank Frazzeta.

paperback cover. I love the look of that old pulpy stuff.
Yeah! That’s so sick! Fantastic! So I think what happened was Kelly married Frazetta’s sister, and helped him out–helped developing his specific style. What I liked about Frazetta is that he wasn’t exactly showing you something violent… Not really. For example he never painted like a head getting cut off–just the moment right BEFORE, the intensity of what is ABOUT to happen. That’s thing and I love it. But at the same time I’ve gotten into Bob Ross. [Laughs.] I’ve been watching him on Netflix.

Montoya holding recently completed piece "Stargasm"

Montoya holding recently completed piece “Stargasm”

Oh man I watch it when I’m going to sleep. It’s so soothing. “Happy Little Clouds” [Laughing].
He’s kind of phenomenal too, though. Those landscapes. But I kind of wish he would incorporate humans in it. [Laughs.] I do love his voice, though. It’s hypnotic.

Copyright Juan Montoya

Copyright Juan Montoya

How often are you doing art these days?
I do it every day, all the time. I treat it like a full-time job now. I’m doing stuff for a band out of Atlanta called Star Benders and I did a t-shirt for Skrillex. He found me on my Instagram and then later, on his blog, he posted one of my pieces. I mean I’ve never met the guy; of course, I’m aware of who he is, though. So then one day his management contacted me about doing a shirt for him. It was for a limited run. I did this image of a woman on a tiger flying through a prism, and then he wanted me to add his head on the woman’s body–kind of like the Window Licker from Aphex Twin. So I ended up doing that and that got me a lot of work–all this from an Instagram. It’s blown up so many people.

Copyright Juan Montoya

Copyright Juan Montoya

Social media man, it’s a great a tool if you use it right.
Yeah, it’s been phenomenal for some business. I have like 40 thousand followers [Laughs.]. And I’m like, “Where did these people even come from!?” It’s crazy. I’ve even used it for music. Like, they see some short clip of me playing. I actually just wrote a solo for this band here in Atlanta called Order of the Owl, who are friends of mine.

 So you’re still doing a lot of music too.
Yeah I actually also just did a guitar track for Damien Done, the solo project from Damien Moyal who was the singer in Culture and As Friends Rust. I’m also working on music with the guys from Mastadon and Max Cavalera [From Soulfly and Sepultura–Ed]; it’s called Killer Be Killed. And, because of the Order of the Owl video, I started getting stuff sent to me from Lace Guitar Pickups too, so I got some sponsorship.  I  can credit this to little videos on Instagram. [Laughs.] Also, Wayne Coyne, from Flaming Lips, he follows my art and somehow another musician, a friend of his, this woman named Grace Potter, she found me through him and contacted me to do a tour poster for her and her band. They’re pretty cool. She wanted something in the style of Barbarella [Laughs.] which of course is just my cup of tea!

Copyright Juan Montoya

Copyright Juan Montoya

You can check out more of Juan Montoya’s work on both his Facebook page, his Instagram feed, montoyablackmagic. Purchase pieces (including some of the ones featured in this interview) on his store, Montoya Black Magic.

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Manny Gomez

Creative at Wizard Army
Manny Gomez is a freelance writer based out of Florida's west coast. He obsessively reads interviews, binge watches TV shows, loves comics, movies, punk rock, hip-hop, stand-up comedy, detective novels and the mythology of baseball. His best friend is a dog.

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