Meet Paul Madonna: Writer and artist. Dianna and I discovered his art in a San Francisco restaurant, which he created a mural and several drawings for. He’s run his strip, All Over Coffee, in the San Francisco Chronicle since 2003, which display his thought-provoking images and text, and creates his comic strip, Small Potatoes, in The Rumpus. We love Paul’s art so much, we felt it absolutely necessary to share it with YM&C.
Paul welcomed me into his studio in the Mission District of San Francisco for this interview. His tidy space had ideas, notes, and thoughts neatly tacked to the wall, along with prints and books he had collected over the years. I let my eyes sneakily wander around the room as we spoke to observe these things, only to come to the conclusion that this is a very bright and very driven artist with some stimulating things to say.
Ashley Arabian: Do you need to have a specific space to create? How does this space assist your process?
PAUL MADONNA: The deal with the studio is that it’s a workspace- a place of more control than creativity, I think, and creativity happens outside the studio. For me, I get inspired by the world. I get the stories from interacting with people. I have an imagination. But I think if we rely wholly on our imagination we can be limited, because our imagination is essentially fueled by every experience we’ve ever had. So the more experiences we have the more our imagination can flourish. So I get out of the studio and draw from life.
When I am here, I’m finishing work, I’m putting things together, I’m doing the business part of what I do. Being an artist, there is the idea of a creative lifestyle, but there is also a real practicality of getting up and going to work everyday, scheduling and organizing. And this studio is my place of organization. So when I draw, I leave here and I walk around the city or I go traveling.
A: Is there a method to your madness?
PAUL: There is definitely a method, but it’s a very organic method and it’s determined by whatever I’m working on at the moment.
A: What subjects or themes do you tend to tap into?
PAUL: If we are talking visual matter, it’s the urban environment. If we are talking written subject matter, I’m interested in the moments in stories when people figure something out. All Over Coffee is about anything that can happen while you are having a conversation with somebody in a coffee shop. That moment of being in a coffee shop is in between everything else: going to work, going to school, going home, or reading a book for yourself or meeting a friend. It’s those in between moments. Such as, you know if someone asks you what you did today, you say, “I got up, I went to work, I met a friend, and I went to bed.” Well what happened between those? Lots of little things happen between those events we list off. That’s the stuff I’m interested in in terms of storytelling.
A: Your apartment is on fire and you can only grab three things:
PAUL: Working on the assumption that my wife is okay, I would grab my computer and my external drives because they have everything that I’ve ever made. I don’t need to own my art; I sell my original works. It should be out there. If it’s in here it’s not doing its job. Everything else is replaceable.
A: What’s your favorite thing about living in this city?
PAUL: People come here to find something out about them, and I like that energy.
A: If you were to live in any city in the world, other than the one you are in now, which would it be?
PAUL: That changes every month. There are a lot of places Id love to live for a period of time, but I like San Francisco to be my home. I’ve lived here 18 years. I like to say San Francisco is not a jealous lover because you can leave for two years and it will welcome you back. I like Japan, and Rome, and Paris, and I want to be in these places because I want to get up everyday and be in that environment and draw and write and be influenced by it, but then I want to come back to the place that is my home.
PAUL: Here’s an instance where I’m putting words on the side of a building and infusing words into the image, but it’s a statement. It’s also a very strange statement. It’s authoritarian, also kind of creepy, but when you read that you have to ask yourself, what is it?
A: It’s self-reflective.
PAUL: And suddenly it sparks something in you. So it’s not about what I’ve written as much as what now happens inside your brain. These things are out there in the world when we are ready to hear them. Have you ever had that experience when someone asks you if you’ve ever heard of some movie or author, and you haven’t, but the next day you realize you’re seeing it everywhere? And the question is, was it everywhere the day before your friend told you about it? Yes it was. But we have to cut out so much information that is coming into us everyday, that we can’t be aware of everything. And until somebody sort of shoves it in your face, then you’re like, “Oh! Right, now I see it.” That’s what I’m doing here. The writing is on the wall. You just have to look for it.
I draw and I write. I’m not happy doing only one of those. What’s important to me is how those two interact.