Skip to main content

Sir Alexander Fleming was hard at work in his lab when he noticed one of his petri dishes had developed some mold. Instead of tossing the sample in the garbage as many others would, he noticed the mold appeared to be killing the staphylococcus in the dish and gave it further inspection. And just like that, in one of the world’s greatest happy accidents, penicillin was born.

It was a similar happy accident that brought Jotham to the world of art. When he was a little kid he made a tremendous mess. But just like with Sir Fleming, where others would see something in need of being tossed into the rubbish, Jotham saw art. While Jotham’s work hasn’t won a Nobel Prize (yet), his ghastly creations have provided plenty of nightmare fuel. We spoke with the artist about his inspirations and more.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with art? 

When I was 4, I drizzled chocolate drink over a Manila folder containing my mom’s lesson plans. You know, kinda like a chicken’s butt when breezed with air. The drops formed to what seemed to be a bearded man. Happy with the result, I emptied its contents to do more, this time using my pudgy lil fingers. I had fallen in love... against all baby odds.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

My grandpa’s brother (the other gramps) was an airbrush portrait artist who allowed 4th grade me to observe him a few feet away from his zone. I was bragging that I could do better with pencils as I munched salted peanuts with school boy innocence and scrawny lil legs dangling alternately from the barstool where I was seated.I was unaffected by discouragements from my relatives not to follow this old and struggling Filipino-American WW2 vet-turned-artist’s footsteps. After all, I was 10 and I loved to draw.I took up nursing school for two years right after high school, going along with the in-thing with typical Filipinos trying to break free from mediocrity to a promising field assisting doctors. Yeah, I dropped out eventually to pursue fine arts with advertising as my major.After a series of odd jobs, I found myself heading a team of carpet designers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twenty years have passed and I’m still here. 2009 to 2010 was a good year to rediscover my real passion in digital manipulation and painting. Sadly, the gaming world swooped my free time away. So when did I decide to be a real artist? Five years ago when I turned 42.

What was the first medium you worked in?

Sharpies, Crayolas and gouache were the first ones I used after researching the public library for alternatives for oil, as it was totally out of my student’s lunch budget. I made bookmarks and greetings cards and sold them to my high school peers and teachers to buy my first set of oils.

How do you describe your signature style?

My heART is Gothic, Baroque, surreal-inspired with a bit of pop and social realism rendered in horror vacui style.

Who were/are some of your biggest influences?

I try to fill my art with a variety of inspirations, horror vacui-style, served in bottomless bottles. My biggest influences include: Picasso, for his prolificity, his adaptability and experimentation as he drifted from period to period, from style to style, all with flying colors. Dali, for his eccentricities and flamboyant surreal heART and (my)nd. HR Giger’s cold biomechanical love affairs with man and machines. Hieronymous Bosh’s fantastic narratives of religious and illustrative concepts. Baroque painters like Caravaggio, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Vermer and Reubens with their stories told in realistic fluidity dappled in chiaroscuro dramatizations.I can name a helluva lot more but I’m fresh out of mental powers... next question.

Looking at your work, we’re reminded of Dante’s “Inferno” and other literary depictions of the underworld. Have you drawn influence from classical literature?

Indeed. I have drawn inspirations consciously or in Freudian slips from literary sources as well. First from Virgil as stating the obvious. Then there’s the dark romantics like Edgar Allan Poe and even Robert E. Howard. HP Lovecraft’s cosmic horror and dark fiction has too a certain level of influence.

What are some of the themes you like to explore in your artwork? Where do your ideas come from?

I’m trying to incorporate pop culture as well as digital and social activism into my art. My ideas come from dreams, both from nightmares and daytime fantasies. But most vividly from an idea of an idea from an idea. From a mustard seed, from a trilobite, from a byte or bite. OK, so let’s pretend I’m doing a new piece, and these words are strokes of ink and pen... mindless, Freudian doodle... oh look, a nose. Bloody biomechanical boogers in acanthus patterns coming out from one of the holes. These curly cue patterns can be viewed multidimensionally nosing out from a Dali-ish melting phone. I can see cherubs dancing around the phone being held by a Sphinx cat with the torso of a nursing mom. I see half-bodied hairless mice adorning the picture, some have tongues of fire upon their heads. So just like that, a booger steamed out from a hot nose in this horrific inferno of an underworld...

Have you seen any tattoos of your artwork? Or possibly done a commission that would end up becoming a tattoo?

I have seen a couple tattoos of my artwork. The artist did not do me justice, I shrugged it off civilly out of respect. Got a couple of commissioned ones too, sadly the clients opted to go for cheaper tattoo artists. I was proud of my art, but not on their skin.