We had the good fortune of connecting with Sullivan Giles and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sullivan, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. My mother was a ceramicist and glass artist, and I was heavily influenced by her and other artists that were around while I was growing up. I got into punk rock around the time I was 14, the music and mohawks and studded jackets, and got into stencil graffiti and spray paint. I dropped out of high school at 17 and got my GED and started waitressing at a 24 hour diner, then started bartending shortly after turning 21. When I was 25 I met my biological father, a glass artist named Richard “Dick” Marquis. I felt incredibly lost in my life at that time – I’d been a bartender for a few years and art had always been on the side, but I was lacking direction and felt I’d hit a dead end in my arts practice at the time. My biological father encouraged me to pursue a fine arts education and arts career. He was a mentor to me – he’d made his career by being an artist, teaching, grants and residencies – it was very eye-opening to see that art was actually a career choice that I could make for myself, even knowing how difficult it can be at times. I spent 4 years in a contemporary atelier program (Kang-O’Higgins Atelier at Gage Academy) in Seattle, bartending my way through school to pay my tuition, and then went on to receive my MFA at the New York Academy of Art in 2019. I stayed in Brooklyn until the COVID-19 pandemic ended my work contracts and I moved back to Seattle. I’m able to paint nearly every day and have a part time bartending job that ensures my rent is paid. I would say these life events, amongst many others, have majorly impacted who I am today – my family’s encouragement, life’s plot twists, mental health struggles, an unusual education path, and my life experiences, the good and the difficult.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’ve mostly focused on contemporary figurative work and portraiture, with a heavy focus on punk/goth/alt subculture and tattoos/body modification. My work is mainly of tattooed people, family members, friends, and self portraits. Marks on flesh (scars, tattoos, wrinkles, stretch marks) can often reflect an individual’s psychology (confident, defiant, unsure, shielded) and mirror the language of visual art (delicate, violent, corrective, transparent). I am fascinated by the ways we represent and express bodily autonomy, and how our experiences can inform our visual and emotional identity. It’s something I feel is worth capturing in visual art, and as a generally antisocial person, it’s a way for me to spend time with those I hold most dear, or in the case of my self-portraiture – intimate confrontation with my own body dysmorphia, mental state and inner workings.
My path as a professional artist has been rather unusual, long, certainly difficult at times, but very rewarding. I’m very excited to be showing with La Luz de Jesus Gallery later this year in November and am pleased that they are taking a new large painting of mine with them to Art Market San Francisco later this month (April 21-24, 2022).
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I haven’t spent much time in Los Angeles in recent years but hope to change that soon. I would hit up all the art museums & galleries I could, go see Shawn Barber at Memoir Tattoo, check out the graffiti at Venice beach, and eat as many tacos and burritos as I could manage.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mother and father, for putting up with all my teenage antics and late night disappearances to do street art. My biological father, Richard Marquis, for his encouragement to pursue a fine arts career. Mark Kang-O’Higgins, for advocating for my work and encouraging my application to graduate school. Alyssa Monks, Monica Cook, Hilary Harkness, and Zane York, for being my mentors during my time in New York. Many thanks!