We recently sat down with San Jose native Nafis Etemadi to discuss his ILU commissioned artwork, the trials and tribulations behind his pursuit of a career in Art, and his Goals for 2017. So go grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy.
ILU: Happy NY Nafis bro! So first off where are you from? And where are you based now?
Nafis: Happy NY guys! I was born in San Jose, California. My dad is pretty religious so we moved out to South America when I was only a year old; he wanted to teach the religion out there. I lived there for seven years (Spanish being my first language, Farsi my second and English my third). After that my dad got a job offer in San Jose, so we moved back out to that area and settled down in a little city called Gilroy where I spent all my teen years. From there I transferred to UCLA and I've been in Los Angeles ever since. This place is amazing as far as connections go. Live and die in LA.
ILU: Looking back on 2016, reaching out to you was definitely one of our highlights. Take us through how the commissioned art came about?
Nafis: Man, the I Love Ugly collaboration was so cool. I was just scrolling through my Instagram late at night and in my mind I was like “wait, was that ILU that just followed me? I must be tripping…” Went back, and sure enough V (Valentin Ozich, Creative Director) DM’ed me like five minutes later telling me he wanted to do a collaboration. I was super hyped and got on board immediately; he told me exactly what he wanted and I got it done as fast as I could. I put in overtime and studied skeleton anatomy to make sure the commissioned piece came out just right. The ideas were amazing and he even wanted some of the work that I had previously done so it was great that they were fucking with my work that wasn’t even something they specifically wanted. I guess he found me on Reddit, a forum I post on occasionally. I guess you never know who’s looking at your work.
ILU: From memory a few of your Reddit post’s shed light on your struggle finding yourself as an Artist; pursuing your passion despite your family’s discontent and pressure to follow an alternative path. Is that accurate?
Nafis: Yeah something like that. I think my Persian background and being the black sheep in my family were the reasons why I was getting so frustrated with my artwork and this career path that I’ve chosen. There’s this constant nagging voice in the back of my head like, “Finish UCLA,” “you’re not going to make money if you don’t become a dentist or a doctor,” “focus on real matters and let art be a secondary hobby, something you can do on the side”. Being raised in a strict Persian background where everyone around me is pursuing a degree in medicine or law really got to my head. I was just so extremely overwhelmed with societal pressure that I felt like I needed to take a break from it all and clear my mind. I constantly replayed the worst possible situations in my mind until I crumbled in my own thoughts. I had no motivation to work on my art and I felt like an impostor. I kept telling myself that I can’t amount to anything, that luck will never be on my side, that I will never be one of the select few that “make it” in the art industry.
ILU: Incredibly powerful words, we appreciate the honesty. What was the first step to overcoming all these elements?
Nafis: I needed to prove to my parents and my family that I don’t need a doctorate degree to make money. I don’t have to take the cookie cutter method to have a salary and work a nine to five. I want to be more than that. And I want to inspire people to do the exact same. If I die tomorrow, I can say that I worked with one of my favourite clothing brands. If I die tomorrow, I can say that I picked up my first REAL skateboard when I was ten years old and now they have boards with my name on them.
What if I die tomorrow and all I had to my name was a degree from UCLA and four years of college under my belt? I feel like too many people are taking the same path; it’s so important to go out there and do what you love to do and try your hardest to make a name for yourself. It sounds so cliché but we really only have this one life and I can’t fathom sitting in a cubicle coding for a company or answering phone calls all day.
ILU: So how did you first get into illustration? And when did the thought of pursuing it professionally begin to materialise?
Nafis: I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. That love for drawing was taken over by my first skateboard - there I completely stopped drawing and focused all of my attention on skateboarding. When I was 20, a week before I transferred to UCLA, I tore my ACL skating and couldn’t skate for months. I was in a really shitty place because I couldn’t do the one thing I really wanted to do, and dealing with school was insanely difficult. One day in my dorm room I picked up a pen and drew a skull, and some people told me that it came out really well. I realized that, as a human being, all this knowledge and influence I’ve absorbed throughout the years have laid dormant in my mind but I wasn’t able to channel that through skateboarding, obviously. All these years I didn’t think to pick up a pen and draw what was on my mind. So when I started drawing it opened up this floodgate of ideas that I never even knew I could accomplish. It was an amazing feeling.
ILU: Incredibly inspiring story. Where do you draw your inspiration and approach to illustration from?
Nafis: I get inspiration from everything, but specifically from medieval artists like Albrecht Dürer. I think it’s very, very important to use your favourite artists as inspiration and not to give a fuck about what anyone says about you. At the end of the day, you’re doing this because you love it so don’t pay attention to the hate. It was very crucial for me to copy those artists because from there I grew into my own style and now people use what I do as inspiration, which I love.
ILU: Awesome man. Thanks for taking the time to put some refreshing, powerful words down. To finish on a motivating note, what are a couple of your goals for the rest of 2017?
Nafis: 2017 is really the year that I’m working on taking off with a lot of my creative endeavours. I want to push the boundaries of art; I feel like there are too many people that are stuck in their own little niche of art styles but I really want to expand my work and show people like “hey, you can do this too, you know?” If you're a tattoo artist, why can't you collaborate with your favourite company? Whether it be skateboarding, streetwear, your favourite coffee shop in town. You're leaving these little marks in the world and I want to leave a million of them before I die. I have a lot of crazy things in the works, but right now I'm mostly working on wrapping up Metro Boomin’s merchandise. Me, Metro, and his assistant Heze are talking about starting something, we have some crazy, crazy shit lined up for it. Hopefully six months down the line we can do another interview and I can talk about the progression with that project. Maybe even do another ILU collab, haha.
Keep up do date with Nafis and his journey below.