MEET THE MAN BEHIND A WHOLE NEW ARTFORM, PEANUT PORTRAITS, STEVE CASINO

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“Shellvis Presley” - Peanut shells, Acrylics, Polymer Clay, Steel Wire, Wood, 2015

 

It feels wrong to start with anything but; where on earth did the concept of painting impossibly tiny portraits on peanuts come from?

It occurred to me while eating peanuts one day that many of the shells look like the heads and torsos of people.  I found with the right shape and made a quick caricature of myself on it with a marker.  My coworkers thought it was hilarious so I made some of them.  They found that far less funny but it felt like I was onto something.  So I bought a bunch of art supplies and set out to make ones of famous people. I didn’t really know how to paint or sculpt so there was that stumbling block.  Eventually I made a dozen or so that actually looked like the people they were supposed to be.

 

You single handedly created a new art form; you’ve even been given an award for it from Ripleys! Talk us through how you create these tiny peanut works?

The first thing I do is tons of photo research of the subject. I try to compile 4-10 good images that really capture the essence of the person. After that I sift through a massive bin of raw peanuts for one that will best serve the piece.  I look for shape, head-to-torso proportions, and pose/body language.  When the perfect peanut is found, I prep it.  An X-acto knife is used to carefully slice it open.  The nuts are removed and the inside is coated with clear acrylic.  When that dries, the shell halves are glued back together. Wire and bamboo limbs are added and the whole thing is given coat of clear gesso.  When that’s dry, I add polymer clay in whatever quantity it needs to totally assume the shape of the person.  I bake it in the oven to harden the clay, coat it with gesso again and now it’s ready to paint.  Painting takes 5-10 hours depending on the intricacy of the piece.  When it is done being painted, a coat of clear matte acrylic is the final touch.


“Nuts About Nothing” - Peanut shells, Acrylics, Polymer Clay, Steel Wire, Wood, 2015 

 

The range of famous faces you recreate is quite diverse. What’s the selection critera for being immortalised in peanut form? And whose been your favourite so far?

At first I just made people I admired for whatever reason. The Ramones and Salvador Dali are examples. But once the artwork got popular in the media I started taking commissions.  Now the commissions dictate most of what I make.  I like it because it gets me out of my comfort zone.  I never really was into Jimmy Hendrix or Breaking Bad before I got hired to make their peanut likenesses.  But as I did research and worked on them, I discovered the greatness in both.  Plus they turned out to be two of my best pieces and attracted members of their fan bases to my work.  My favorite so far has been Robin Williams, another commission.  Everything just clicked and it really succeeded in capturing him. 


“Robin Williams” - Peanut shells, Acrylics, Polymer Clay, Steel Wire, Wood, 2016 

 

Who has their peanut immortalisation thus far and if you could give one peanut to someone who would it be?

It would be fun to travel back in time to when Van Gogh was painting “Starry Night” and hand him the miniature I made of him painting it.  That would really mess with his head.  But seriously, I’ve been fortunate to have several of my famous subjects either own my work or share it online to their followers.  Norman Reedus (Daryl from the Walking Dead) recently shared the video of me making him to his millions of followers.  Things went crazy for a day or two after that. People seemed to think I have a stockpile of Walking Dead peanuts on hand to sell.  Donald Trump also owns my peanut art of him. It was a commission from before he was running for office.  My favorite musician Trent Reznor owns two pieces.  Lee Unkrich, the Oscar-winning director of Toy Story 3 owns a special Shining piece that I made.


“Absolutely Nuts” - Peanut shells, Acrylics, Polymer Clay, 2016 

 

Putting aside the novelty aspect there is incredible detail in your works, who or what has been the biggest inspiration in your painting techniques?

It’s weird because I never took any kind of painting class and use acrylics like watercolors, building up transparent layers.  That was self-taught through what is now thousands of hours of trial-and-error.  I didn’t even know I could paint until 4 years ago, let alone tiny things. But a big inspiration to me really wanting to make art in the first place is the documentary about Wayne White called “Beauty Is Embarrassing.”   It really lit the fire in me after seeing it.


“Game Of Thrones” - Peanut shells, Acrylics, Polymer Clay, Steel Wire, Wood, 2015

 

What are you hoping to create in 2017 and where should we be looking out to see your peanuts on show?  

I’ve developed another art platform while still making several peanut pieces a week.  Animated, hand-painted wooden pull toys like the ones that were popular for children in the mid-20th century.  But the subject matter is grown-up, sometimes even demented. Like The Evil Dead, The Shining, The Exorcist, Bruce Lee, and some original designs.  I was commissioned to make one of them by the AMC network based on The Walking Dead TV show.  It’s currently in one of their commercials along with some of my peanut art.  Now the toys are in higher demand than I can currently supply.  When I get a chance between commissions I do group shows like the one for Tim Burton going on right now at The Joy Factory in LA.  My favorite place to show at is Gallery 1988 on Melrose. I’ll have art in several of their shows this year.  But it’s only February so much more can happen.

 

TO CHECK OUT HIS IMPRESSIVE PEANUT GALLERY VISIT stevecasino.com

INTERVIEW by HANNAH SMITH

 

 

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