Patch Whisky spends a lot of time obsessing about a world of colorful little monsters.
“They’re super-mischievous,” the North Charleston artist said. “They get into some things and I don’t know what happens.”
So he thinks about them, dreams a little and then puts paint to canvas to portray the snapshot of a story. Or he uses spray paint to transform walls into vivid murals you’ve seen all over town. Peering at you from atop a building in Avondale or on the side of a wall in North Charleston are Whisky’s monsters, which he describes as “psychedelic candy-coated monsters.” (Pro tip: Don’t call them pastel M&Ms with big eyes.)
Whisky — a pen name the artist created when he was a 12-year-old growing up in the small town of Princeton, West Virginia (population 5,872) — classified his art as “pop surrealism.” It shows up on more than walls and canvases — you can also find it on keychains, pins, T-shirts, bottles, road signs and more.
The process of painting monsters on canvases or walls starts the same.
“I kind of let the painting speak to me and let me know what’s going to happen,” he said one Saturday in his Spruill Avenue studio. “It’s a very organic process that I undertake. I’ll take a picture [in my mind] and explore tomorrow’s future for it.”
On canvas, he’ll pick a bright palette of acrylic paints. “I’m not blending a bunch of paints,” he said. “My acrylics are super flat with layers and gradients.”
Compared to oil paint, acrylic paint on canvas dries relatively quickly — an hour or two, depending on the thickness of brush strokes. But spray-painting a wall with graffiti-like precision is quick because spray paints dry almost immediately.
“It’s instant gratification to spray,” Whisky said. “It’s going to dry in two minutes and if you don’t like it, you just spray right over it. It’s the most forgiving medium.” Painting a wall might take a few hours, while a larger canvas can take two to three weeks.
The artist works a lot — 50 to 60 hours a week.
“I try to do 12 hours a day at least five days a week,” he said. “When I hang out, I just hang out and paint. I put on a movie and watch scary movies and paint. It’s good to have the energy of the studio.”
The influence of video games and trains
Whisky remembers getting his first Nintendo game when he was 5. The characters — particularly those from Super Mario Bros. — made a huge impact.
“It’s stuff I had never seen and I fell in love with it,” he recalled.
Outside his family’s home, he also saw lots of trains, many of which were splattered with graffiti lettering. It didn’t hurt that his father, who painted watercolors as Whisky grew up, was a train engineer.
“We had train graffiti and this was a different art form that showed up,” Whisky said. “They rolled through there and I got to see it. It was a lot of lettering and writing,” which he noted made an impact on his nascent art.
After high school, Whisky opted for an extended plan to complete college. At one point between schools, he was a railroad conductor for a year. At the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, from which he graduated in 2004, graffiti continued to influence his work.
“I made a huge network of friends and got to dive into the graffiti culture,” he said. “Some of the best artists then were the graffiti artists.”
Also at the Art Institute, Whisky said he picked up computer illustration skills, which are important today when he sketches on an iPad to develop a mural or painting.
The beginning of the world of monsters
Whisky said his world of colorful monsters got started a couple of years after he finished the Art Institute.
On the walls of his studio are two early examples. “Old Crazy Eye” is a floating orange-tan cartoon shrimp with a wonky eye. You can feel grumpiness emanating from the creature. Another darker early piece shows a monster riding a skull as brown gook drips on a canvas.
Over the years, Whisky’s monster art has morphed into cuter characters that still have a little bit of an edge. He moved to the Charleston area in 2011 to learn from a mural master and has been painting murals and canvases since.
He planned to spend several weeks in Europe this year working on mural projects with other artists, but problems related to Covid-19 put those plans on hold.
“My stuff goes on gallery walls around the world,” he said.
He’s also resumed some traveling in the United States for mural painting, such as a recent weeklong competition in Atlanta.
And he continues to paint canvases, signs, bottles and more, in part boosting supplies or art for the holiday season.
“The only time I can really relax is when I have a can or brush in my hand,” Whisky said. “I try to do that as much as I can.”
The lowdown on Patch Whisky
Pen name: Patch Whisky.
Birthplace: Bluefield, West Virginia.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Current profession: Muralist, fine artist.
Past professions of interest: Railroad conductor, pizza delivery guy.
Pet: 12-year-old English bulldog, Dean.
Something people would be surprised to learn about
you: “I’m a huge professional wrestling fan.” Favorite:
Favorite thing to do outside of work: “I don’t ever feel this is work for me.”
Favorite artist: “Whoever designed the artwork for Super Mario Bros.,” he said, adding, “DaVinci was a visionary.”
Favorite museum: National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
Five best places in U.S. for murals: “New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit and Atlanta.”
If you had $50 million to spend on art, what would you buy? “Could I buy Pee Wee’s Playhouse for $50 million?”
Favorite food to eat: Pepperoni pizza.
Favorite cocktail or beverage: Tito’s and water,
Five foods you always need in your refrigerator: Pickles, chocolate milk, leftover pizza, chicken wings, beet-infused pickled eggs.
Three people (alive or dead) you’d like to dine with:
Jim Morrison, the first human on Earth and Frank Sinatra.
What meal would you want served to you for your last supper: Cheeseburger, pizza, mac-and-cheese, barbecue sandwich with coleslaw, banana pudding, Tito’s and vodka.
Something that you have too much of at home:
Guilty pleasure: “It used to be pickled sausage with ice cold Pepsi in a can.”
Favorite musicians: “I’m into ’80s synth pop.”
Pet peeve: “Cilantro on anything.”
Philosophy: “Keep your brush wet.”
Your advice for someone new to Charleston: “Put your feet in the sand and let the water trickle over you.”
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