Artist Sean Boyles would never admit it, but he’s an instrumental force in the San Jose art scene. Born in San Jose and raised and schooled in Oakland, Boyles has been an art fanatic since elementary school—he can remember always carrying and filling sketchbooks with early ideas. When it came time for high school, Boyles attended an art magnet school, which allowed him to take two or three art classes in a row. “I had a two- to three-hour block to draw and paint, Monday to Friday,” Boyles recalls fondly. He also credits one of his art teachers who, he says, “was the first professional artist I ever met,” with showing him how to get into art school as well as secure art scholarships.
In college, Boyles met a “group of savages who were all super talented.” They hit it off, and all moved into a tiny three-bedroom house on 38th Street in Oakland. It was a heady, exciting time for Boyles, and one that was foundational for his path as an artist. “To be that age, with all that energy, surrounded by that much talent all the time,” Boyles recalls, “I feel like that was a huge factor in influencing the type of artist I would become.”
Boyles’ art is a bold, intoxicating, expressionist trip through pop culture and society. Influenced by everything from Darth Vader to the culture around the Sega Genesis console, Boyles creates fascinating, if not garishly beautiful portraits of his mind at any given time. Working in a variety of mediums, including spray paint and oil paint—really anything that marks a surface, except pastels—Boyles can render a stunning piece in an incredibly short amount of time. His process is sporadic, with his paintings starting off as a big mess before being refined into something more concrete and fixed. “I try to let [my art] be what it wants to be,” Boyles says. “But I dedicate the time and effort to exploring processes and subjects.”
Boyles had dreamed of making a career out of art since high school, planning his dreams with romantic notions—but as Boyles says, “it was really just a constant grind, building up incrementally, meeting goals and setting up new ones.”
After college he struck out on his own—getting his work out there, moving up in the South Bay art scene while simultaneously refining his skills. Boyles began teaching art at Santa Clara University, but the pay wasn’t great, and he wanted an extra source of income and inspiration. Along with his wife, fellow artist Roan Victor, Boyles decided to open up a retail art supply store. Victor grew up with a sari-sari bodega store attached to her home, so she was game for the life transformation. “We just grabbed hands and jumped off that cliff together into the sea of selling art supplies, teaching art classes, curating art shows, printing shirts, and getting corporate jobs to destroy walls,” Boyles says.
And thus, the Arsenal was born. Truly a one-stop-shop for all things art, Boyles and Victor have been providing a unique service and fostering environment for South Bay artists. One can go buy art supplies, learn how to use them through classes and workshops, and eventually exhibit a show in their gallery space. These days, the retail part of the business has taken a backseat to their workshops and gallery shows, but the Arsenal is still going strong. Recently they moved to a bigger and brighter space in Japantown.
Another one of Boyles’s passions is the Cyclorilla. A series of works defined by the looming, if not frightening, figure of a cyclops gorilla, the Cyclorilla can be found peeking over fences and splayed against walls all over the South Bay. “I first started painting the Cyclorilla because I was trying to get away from painting strictly figurative pieces,” Boyles says. “I was painting monsters as a compromise to not paint people but still have a figurative element.” Since moving to Japantown, the subject has taken on the role of a guardian.
Boyles has seen the San Jose art scene transform over the years from a small group of artists to a full, vibrant community. Boyles himself has gone from an amateur artist to a professional artist, community leader, and tastemaker. But characteristically modest, Boyles plans on continuing what he’s been doing. “My main goal is just to keep making stuff and try to make work that is hard to do, work that I can be proud of.”
208 Jackson Street
San Jose, CA 95112
Written by Tad Malone
Photography by Arabela Espinoza
This article originally appeared in Issue 11.0 “Discover”
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