Isaac Pelayo was destined to be an artist. The signs were there even during his youngest days. When other kids were playing football and pretending to be the next great NFL star, Pelayo was constantly drawing and dreaming about 15th century Florence. “I remember exactly how I felt the first time I came face-to-face with a master painting,” Pelayo recalls. “I was stunned and left with a burning obsession.”
That obsession was turned into a thriving career. Pelayo took the time to speak with us about his start, the influence of his father and his adoration for Tupac.
What was your first experience with art?
I first showed interest in art as early as 2. My dad actually has a tattoo of my first drawing on his forearm. Art came to be the one thing that truly spoke to me, even as a kid. I never got the chance to get involved in any sports or other activities due to circumstances. I grew up extremely solitary, alone, quiet and to myself in a house full of adults. I didn’t mind barricading in some corner of the house with a few sheets of paper and pencils. Allowing my mind and creativity take control, I just tagged along for the ride.
I was completely enamored by 14th-17th century art—the likes of Da Vinci, Rubens, Velazquez, Caravaggio and Rembrandt stood as mentors right from the start. I wanted to be in that time. The Renaissance seemed like the perfect place for my screaming desire to educate and carve my eager mind. When I was a kid I didn’t go to sports events or amusement parks. I was taken to museums, galleries and art fairs. The gallery space served not as my second home, but my first. That alone propelled me onto the path I walk on still to this day, nearly 24 years later.
Your father, Antonio, is also an artist. How did this influence your path?
My dad has been an artist before I was even born. His work is highly realistic with the use of pencil. His drawings are some of the best I have ever seen, period. As a kid, prior to painting, my goal was to reach that level of realism with pencil. I used to re-depict his drawings as closely as possible over and over. Now that I’m decent enough in oil painting, our work has come together in collaboration. Mixing our mediums and styles together as father and son in ways that have never been executed before. Working with him can be both rewarding and frustrating at times. But I guess that comes with the territory…
Tell us a little about how you came to work at Disney and what you do there.
Well, my dad has also worked at Disney since before I was born. He began working there around the time he was 19, landing himself a position in Disney's legendary Ink & Paint Department creating original, limited edition animated cels as done in the early production days of Disney in the 1920s, eventually serving as the last remaining inker and painter after nearly the entire department disappeared. Growing up I would frequently go to work with him and play with the materials and tools used to create the artwork. He taught me how to ink and paint cels. The first time I tried I must have been around 7. Over time, I got a little better, even more so after I started tattooing when I was 15. Being a tattoo artist gave me a steady hand, especially when creating lines both thick and thin. About three years ago his department was in search of another inker and painter, they really wanted someone who had potential longevity in the company. Most people who know how to ink and paint are either retired or close to it. There I was waiting at the forefront, ready to test my skill. I was hired quite quickly but remained in training for six months. My office is currently across from my dad, the perfect distance for shooting rubber bands during lunch hours.
Do you feel like something is lost in digital art when compared to working with paints?
I’ve dabbled with Photoshop and Illustrator and know people who are definitely Rembrandts of the craft, but I think there is an element of love and passion missing. When you have the tools physically in the palms of your hands you gain this sense of power. Almost as if carving breathing life with a few strokes here and a few strokes there. Digital art doesn’t exactly contain the mess and fleshy thickness that an oil painting does.
Tell us about "Isaac's Lisa.”
“Isaac’s Lisa” was solely an act of education. I never thought to myself, “I’m gonna repaint Mona Lisa and call myself the new DaVinci.” Leonardo stands as the almighty in the name of polymaths in my eyes. I simply wanted to understand and explore his technique when painting portraits. His ability to capture life with such power and mystique is almost indescribable. I cried for that knowledge. I asked myself if I wanted to be included in the realm of the great masters what could I do to achieve that? So I decided to challenge myself and take on the role as a 14th century student in the workshop of Leonardo DaVinci painting La Gioconda. Like a method actor, I jumped in head first. I came home to a low lit studio, the smell of linseed oil, open windows and even the sounds of medieval music and towns people working found on YouTube. I needed to go back in time and actually be there. I painted Mona Lisa as if I were alongside the maestro himself. Doing so I picked up the technique, Sfumato. DaVinci was most prominent in this.
What inspired you to paint portraits of hip hop legends, like Tupac, in the style of the Renaissance?
Throughout this interview I realized I’ve dropped some Easter eggs on my many points of interests including being a tattoo artist however, I’m also an aspiring musician, writer, rapper and producer. With that being said, my idol has and always will be Tupac Shakur. Pac was not only a brilliant lyricist, but he had a brilliant mind, period. His perspective and philosophy on life is poetically thug and real. I also grew up with a single struggling mom trying to raise a man, so that shit hit me from the jump. I come at a painting with that thug mentality, always. If I didn’t that energy could’ve been projected elsewhere. For me, Pac is a master and deserves the position to be seen amongst them. Maybe 500 years after my death someone will think the same of me...