Tigre Bailando’s Oakland loft sits in a fenced-in row of live/work studios near the Fruitvale neighborhood. His impeccable style could be described as “tribal hip-hop,” and he wears it well. After he welcomed me into his home, we took off our shoes and sat across from each other on couches beneath several of his pieces. His beautiful Maine Coon sauntered around, and sun poured through the windows while we talked.
A visual artist and performer, Tigre recently returned from Burning Man, where he created an interactive sculpture that doubled as a sacred space in the form of a 20-foot mysterious being called The Solacii. Tigre has developed his large-scale, sacred — there’s really no better word for them — sculptures over many years, ensuring that each fosters a relationship between the viewer and the work. His pieces, which have been shown at events and festivals since 2012, always evoke a powerful emotional response. His full body of work can be found here.
When did you start creating art?
As soon as I could hold a pencil.
Who have been some of your major influences?
Basquiat, Shrine (aka Brent Allen Spears), Joshua Mays, Anastazia Aranaga, Alfons Mucha, Hung Liu, Keith Haring, my mom… Carl Gustav Jung, Hayao Miyazaki, Brian Froud, Jim Henson. Also George Barrick, my pre-school teacher, my first art teacher, and an amazing artist.
How has your personal history informed your journey and progression as an artist?
I was raised in an incredibly artistic environment. I was always immersed in and surround by the arts — galleries, museums — and raised in a city, Philadelphia, that was covered by murals and [full of] people breakdancing and exploring hip-hop. My family was very supportive of my being an artist. That foundation was key. Building on that, my world travels and the people I’ve met have really led me on this path.
There’s a clear thematic thread throughout your work. How did this come about?
I was always interested in mythology and folktales, and from a young age, I was exposed not just to contemporary or to Western historical art, but to folk art and art from around the world. The ideas of these old stories, these archetypes, mythologies, and spiritualities of non-Western cultures were always really present, and they definitely infuse my work. My work comes from the intersection of contemporary art — in terms of street art — and these ancient, indigenous folk themes from around the world.
You are both a performer and a visual artist. How do these forms of expression work together?
The most obvious way is through my mask work, but I would also say that the sensitivities I’ve developed as a performer and the relationship to improvisation are definitely tools I bring into my creative process. On the flip side, my sense of visual composition, especially with sculpture, comes to play into my performances. I think of myself as a living sculpture.
What memorable interactions have you had as a result of your work?
The most gratifying thing about making installation work, especially in the context of festivals, is that I get to witness people engaging with my work. It’s hard to talk about… To watch somebody in a space that you built crying — literally brought to tears. Seeing that enlivened…