Spanish artist Xoan Baltar is an accomplished illustrator and painter and one of the leading talents in the world of iPhone art. That Xoan creates his masterpieces with his fingers on a medium with only a 3.5″ diagonal display is almost unbelievable. A native of the region of Galicia, Xoan follows in the footsteps of a long tradition of Spanish masters, and his work is as revolutionary and socially relevant as that of any who have come before him. Mostly self-taught, this Converse-wearing star is helping turn the art world upside down. No longer relegated to the confines of art galleries and museums, this new breed of artist connects with the public through channels like Flickr and YouTube and reinvigorates the essential nature of art.
Self-portrait on iPhone by Xoan Baltar
Xoan Baltar doing iPhone painting
You work by hand and with digital tools such as the computer and Wacom tablet and the iPhone. It is your iPhone art that really blew me away, but first tell me about your background as an artist and how you came to achieve such a painterly effect in these digital media.
I’ve been drawing since I was a child because my father taught me. He is a professional illustrator known in my city. When I was 15 years old, I attended painting classes, but they bored me because I was learning faster than the teacher was teaching. Therefore, I consider myself self-taught in the world of art. Later, I enrolled in an art school, Anton Failde, to study graphic design and advertising illustration. Actually, I do creative work in television and do illustrations in some local newspapers and magazines.
I like to work with all kinds of materials, but digital art is more versatile when it comes to finishes or color proofs — and is much faster!
Revolution is neat, everything else is rubbish, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
When did you first start playing with art on the iPhone, and what applications are you using?
The story of the iPhone was surprising. This year, in January, I bought an application on iTunes called Brushes. It’s a very fun application. All of the work is done with your fingers. You can choose the color, expand or reduce the size of the brush, etc. I began to hang the pictures on a Flickr Gallery. And then I started to receive compliments from very important people in the world of illustration, from a director at Disney, and from the creator of the Brushes application. They did interviews with me in newspapers, including Le Figaro (France) and Daily Telegraph (London). They also interviewed me for some other Spanish magazines, but “no one is a prophet in his own land” ;). Steve [Sprang], the designer of the Brushes app, offered me a job with him in the next Brushes application, and I happily accepted. Now my name appears as an illustrator on iTunes inside the app store.
If you allow me a reflection about the iPhone theme… It’s incredible that millions of years ago, man painted in caves with their fingers — and many years later, although the technology is better, we continue doing the same, painting with our fingers on a glass screen. It’s interesting.
Playa América Beach, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
My Converse, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Your iPhone images have such depth and detail that at first I couldn’t tell if you were painting on top of a photo. But then I saw the YouTube demonstration videos showing each step of your work. How quickly are you creating these little masterpieces, and are you doing them on the spot while looking at your subject?
Yes. I decided to put them on YouTube because people thought that they are retouched pictures, and that really offended me. Some can be done in 20 minutes and others in 4 hours. When you reach a point of reality, the time is faster, because you have to capture the moment and express the moment that you’re observing. Other illustrations are more relaxed and can take hours and hours, inventing characters and landscapes.
Rúa Street, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Here is a YouTube demonstration of how Xoan achieved this iPhone painting. Music is Ready Steady Go by Paul Oakenfold.
It’s amazing that you can achieve this quality of work on such a small device. Can you tell me about how this constraint works in your favor, and how constraint in general can open an artist creatively?
The Brushes application allows you to expand up to 800% and to work with the pixel face to face. This allows a surprising level of detail, although it’s more laborious.
Island, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Bosque 1, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
You’ve set the YouTube demonstrations of your iPhone painting to music, which makes me wonder: how much does music influence your art?
I don’t understand a life without music. Music is the first thing you hear in the belly of a mother, and it’s the beating of your heart. Lively music influences us. I am a musician and composer in my spare time, though I have very little free time!
Calle Progreso Rúa da Concordia, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Lluvia en el Paseo, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
What can you tell me about the potential of the iPhone or other small digital devices as a medium for art? Does it offer something that work by hand or on the computer does not? Where do you see this going?
Digital tools allow you to work faster, because there’s no washing of brushes to change color, nor worry about the sizes of the canvases. Digital paint is much faster, and it has more possibilities to retouch the color, etc. The future of this type of creation is already here. It uses digital paints and matte paints or computer graphics, which are used in the world of cinema. The tools will continue evolving, but this type of painting will continue.
1954 Buick Skylark, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Taxi District Non Aparcar, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Are you getting some recognition for your iPhone art, or is this mostly under the radar for the time being?
My success on the iPhone does not go unnoticed, because this phone is fashionable today, but we have to continue experimenting with other formats.
Ocean, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
I love your series called Candidatos. How did you create them, and were they for a particular project?
The series Candidatos was part of my job as an illustrator in a local newspaper where I live. It’s a totally different process — the work is done on paper and is drawn with ink, and later I scanned and I finished it in Photoshop. They belong to the coverage of the candidates to the presidency of the Xunta de Galicia, during the election campaign in Spain and were accompanied by an interview with each candidate. In Flickr the interview does not appear because it is not part of my job — only the drawings are mine.
José Manuel in Candidatos series by Xoan Baltar
Your iPhone portrait of Barack Obama is really masterful! What inspired you to do this piece?
It is already my second or third work that I completed of the President of the United States, due to the social impact on the world level that is Barack Obama. It is a very important change for his country and politics in general worldwide. It is an example of how the arts affect social events. He’s a great president.
Barack Obama, portrait on iPhone by Xoan Baltar
Who are some of your favorite artists, on the iPhone or otherwise?
I like all kinds of art. I have studied art from prehistory to contemporary art, and I think every artist has to go through this process, to create something to achieve. I admire all the great artists, from the Greeks to the Renaissance, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso…all the greats. It’s a difficult question to answer, because my likes are endless.
Spain is hot, hot, hot right now. Tell me about the art scene there.
The Spanish art scene is growing by leaps and bounds, though not in the case of drawing or painting — that was probably more so in the time of Dali, Picasso, Goya, etc. And the world of music and cinema is not so well recognized right now.
Taglo, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
Another Corrubedo Scene, iPhone painting by Xoan Baltar
What are some of your favorite things, whether they directly impact your work or just make you happy?
I look at life with happiness… The simple fact of being alive and of being able to read, smell, run, or breathe does make me happy. Sometimes I sit down with strangers, not knowing the human beings who surround me and not understanding the things they do or the way they act. I understand neither war nor hunger. I do not understand any type of politics, but that is for another interview.
Xoan Baltar at work
Xoan Baltar with iPhone
Check out Xoan Baltar’s new game for the iPad called Katana Jack, featuring his beautiful hand-painted illustrations that were also done on the iPad. (Available Nov. 17, 2011)