Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was born in Buffalo New York, spent the first chunk of my childhood there, and then my family moved to Virginia. But when people ask me where I’m from I say Virginia because that’s where I spent most of my formative years. Then I moved to Tokyo by myself after high school, lived and went to school there for a bit until art school, specifically ArtCenter, brought me out to Los Angeles. Living in Tokyo was so exciting. I was in school with all these people from different countries in a different country and ultimately it made me think about myself more critically as an American. Then LA really broadened my perspective of the art world, which was small before moving here. I was a teenager who loved anime and tumblr and wanted to work in animation, but art school introduced me to everything else I could do as an artist and slowly I began to figure myself out as a painter, an American painter. I live and work in Burbank now.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Well, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My Mom was a tour guide at Niagara Falls and my Dad, fresh out of the Soviet Union, was doing odd jobs under the table. Now I’m the same age my parents when I was born, which is a trip… but my earliest memories are of doing arts and crafts with my Mom at our kitchen table with whatever cheap art supplies and household scrap we had. I always liked making art and got attention in school for being “good” at it so I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t my main motivation or source of fulfillment. Turning nothing into something is still magical to me.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I’ve been exploring idea of an interior landscape for a few years, isolating objects that inhabit those spaces or contemplating the corners of rooms or cropping of walls I’ve memorized. It’s all been a little autobiographical, or at least the paintings I make are in direct reference to my personal experience living in domestic spaces. I was thinking about domestic collections for a while too, building paintings as if I were assembling my own collection. This all started when my studio and home became the same happy place and life/work lines blurred. I became a homebody and my work followed… or vice versa.
What is your process like?
My process is more of a collage/building approach to painting. I think of what I can paint, what I can collage with paint, and how and why I’d incorporate different materials in relation to subject matter. Sometimes I feel like I’m building or assembling my paintings. I don’t ever really draw, which feels shocking to me. All of my friends draw and draw and draw and have amazing sketchbooks, but I just feel really disconnected from drawing tools and the line. So the only time I draw as part of my process is when I plan a painting, making thumbnails of compositions that have been brewing in my head for a long time.
What is your favorite material to work with, and why?
Acrylic paint, though I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, because material is so exciting to me. I like to consider different kinds of material depending on how it relates to the object I’m making, but acrylic paint is present in all of my paintings so I think it unifies my practice. It can be thin, it can be plastic, it can be mixed with drier lint, it can be painted over cement, it can be everything. I have a reverence towards it.
How do you spend your time when you’re not making work?
Worrying! I feel a low- to mid-level of anxiety when I’m not spending my free time in my studio, but I am trying to have hobbies. I do see A LOT of comedy around LA, it’s what gets me out of my house/studio the most. I think that laughing expels my anxiety so I’m fully able to enjoy that experience guilt free. I see more comedy than I see art for sure. Besides that I like ice skating and going to the zoo to keep my body active. I’m quite good at skating and the zoo is such a nice place to walk and think.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Esther Pearl Watson for sure has been my mentor for at least the last five years. I took a fun class she was teaching at ArtCenter early on and became her little disciple, taking all her classes, an independent study, working as her TA and eventually her and her husband’s studio assistant. I think having an example of how artists truly live their lives and make it happen is extremely valuable for young artists and I’m so grateful for them to have let me hang around.
Allison Miller too. I took her painting class my last term at ArtCenter and she’s been a really challenging and supportive mentor for me since.
What do you do when you’re find yourself in a creative rut, or feeling unsure about what direction to go?
I clean, rearrange and organize my studio. Deciding on what material to keep and what to toss helps tremendously because I’ll be getting rid of stuff thats bogging me down and become reacquainted with material I forgot I had. I’ll think, “oh yeah! I wanted to do something with that…” and then I get excited to make again. I also clean and rearrange my living space and cook a lot too. It helps me to feel grounded and I’m sure cooking is related to my painting practice but I’m still figuring out how.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I have to have something warm to drink, either tea or coffee. Caffeine at first and then decaf or herbal tea. The warmth helps me feel cozy which is the preferred state for me to be in when working. I’m less motivated to work in the summer when it’s hot and I don’t feel cozy. I also don’t like to have my phone in my studio, even for music or podcasts. It’s a huge distraction for me. So I have an old TV and VHS player. I like to hear cartoons in the background so just put on tapes I’ve seen a million times. They make my studio feel upbeat, fun and familiar. My favorite tapes are Potato Head Kids, Care Bears and a live Backstreet Boys Concert.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Straight up, not having money is the biggest obstacle, because it’s not having security, and without security it’s hard to commit to your practice. To prioritize painting in an expensive art capital is really hard for those of us who haven’t “made it” yet. It means finding a day job that isn’t too much of a commitment but still pays the bills. The trade off for security is precious painting time and relegating studio time to days off also only means I can’t work as fast or much as I want to and there’s so much I want to make. Scraping by every month is rough and any emergency is financially devastating.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I just had my first solo show in January at Monte Vista Projects. The exhibition was titled “Everyone and Their Mother” and it was fulfilling to bring a body of work I had spent years on to a dedicated space and to see it all together. Having a show also solidified how I felt about that work. My mom came to the opening 🙂
What are you working on right now?
I’m building panels for some new work about the holidays and seasonality within, my muse, the interior landscape.
Find more at billyfrolov.com and on Instagram @billyfrolov!
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