Vincente and Vinit spend their days liberating Oakland’s junk, and turning it into a blank slate for their pen ink illustrations. Every piece by The Whiteout is an original, and comes with some hints about its former life. The pair get their inspirtation in the discount piles at Goodwill and Urban Ore, then repair, re-paint, and elevate local junk into an artform. We talked to them about East Bay junk and the terror of a blank canvas.
What’s your story? How did you end up in Oakland, and when did you start rescuing junk for a living?
Last year both of us were experimenting with painting objects on our own. Vinit painted one of his kid’s rocking horses and Vince brought an Ultraman back to life. When both of us realized we were doing the same thing, we thought we needed to team up and make more objects. Painting them white gave us a new canvas for illustrations. Nothing is more inspiring (and terrifying) than a white blank canvas. We’ve been doing this for almost a year now.
Vinit lives in Alameda and is a member of the East Bay Arts Collective, which is how we are close to the Oakland scene.
How do you decide what designs to draw on the pieces? Do you have some designs in mind, or do you let the surface of the junk determine what you draw?
We never have designs in mind. In fact, when we pick up objects we’re overcome by this dread that we will have no idea what to do with them and either send them back to the thrift store or cop out and put a bird on it. Luckily, the objects are quick to chastise us when we get sloppy.
We can hear them say stuff like “You’re going to draw a freaking flower…Seriously? I’m an old 8 track cassette. Wouldn’t a portrait of Jerry Garcia make more sense? Geez!”
Are there any materials or surfaces that you just can’t paint on, no matter how hard you try?
We tried painting on an oil funnel and the paint just wouldn’t stick. It was coated with years of grime. Two hours of scrubbing didn’t do any good.
How does the “white-out” process actually work? Do you dip or spray the pieces, or just paint them by hand?
We paint everything by hand. It’s all spray painted. And it doesn’t matter how much we practice, each piece is like starting over. Each piece requires different combinations of paint and primer. Each piece has a different texture. They’re also sensitive to the weather. On a humid day paint starts to crack easily. On a really dry day it drips. On a windy day it catches dirt and bugs. Just like a photographer waits for the golden hour, we wait for the right conditions, then we are on a tear.
What are your favorite places to scout for materials? Is there any particular type of junk you’re looking for?
Thrift stores, free stuff on craigslist, flea markets. We also try and go local. For example, most of the stuff we made for Oaklandish was made from stuff picked up in Oakland.
The kind of junk we’re looking is the bottom of the bin kind. The more broken and decrepit, the better. Chipped vase, good. Old headless action figure? Woohoo!
Do you ever come across junk so cool, you just can’t bear to paint over it?
To make things easier, we look for stuff that’s broken and needs some patching up. But there are times when we buy something and never end up using it. Vinit’s kid will see some old toy picked from the flea market and claim it. He worries we’re going to paint all his toys.
All of your pieces come with a tag that describes where you found the original artefact. Why did you choose to include the back story?
These objects are a lot like people. They’ve been through some tough times. Some were poor and artless to begin with. Or some were popular at some point, then hit a low and landed up at the back shelf of a thrift store. People can empathize with that. We’ve all had our share of hard luck. Knowing the origin is a reminder that no matter how hard you fall, you can reinvent yourself.
For custom-made art, your stuff is really affordable. Did you want it to be accessible for people who don’t normally consider themselves “art collectors”?
Yes, that’s correct. For Oaklandish, we picked up stuff found in Oakland and turned it into art. We can tell a better story if goes back and becomes part of Oakland’s culture. If it’s unaffordable, it’ll defeat the whole purpose. We have other ideas to charge the art collectors. Don’t think we’re going to let them off the hook.
What other artists are doing great work in Oakland these days? Anyone who deserves a shout-out?
Lots of cool artists in Oakland. Skeletal Dropkick is always doing interesting stuff with stoneware, Scarlett Tentacle makes some audacious adult art, Girl on Bike makes some great bike tube earrings. We could go on. Oakland is a well of talent.