When it comes to creating, brothers Dre and Sammy Lopez, have different approaches. Whereas Sammy is intrigued by subtleties, drawing from what lies beneath, Dre is more hostile.
He gets in your face, an aggression that couldn’t be more different from his always cool disposition.
“That kind of earthy and raw approach is what has set us apart from a lot of the other stuff that is more common or traditional to the area,” Dre said.
“We still connect on a level that we’re putting something across that we both agree with,” Sammy added.
The brothers, two thirds of PIENSA: Art Company, the multimedia art and design studio that includes writer R. Chambers LeHeup, have collaborated on “PIENSA: Blanco/Negro,” a show opening today at Frame of Mind.
The show is minimalist. Well, at least conceptually.
“We’ll talk about the concept and just throw it out there,” Dre said. “I like the idea of setting up shows with a congruent idea, but at the same time I don’t like to make it way too acute. We have an idea, but we leave it open enough so each creative process can breathe.”
The exhibition title “Blanco/Negro” — black and white — suggests the essentials and fundamentals of art: ink and paper and basic line structure. That at least initiates a discussion.
“After that, do whatever you want,” Sammy said. “If we keep going back and forth about the pieces, it’s more about technique.”
The brothers, who were born in Colombia but primarily raised here, grew up around art, as their mother painted. During a recent interview at Immaculate Consumption, Dre recalled the moment when art became a focal point of his life in middle school.
“I was in, uh, in-school suspension,” he said, causing he and Sammy to laugh.
“I started drawing something and it clicked on so many different levels,” he continued. “I always drew before that, but when I started doing that drawing, at that point it was like, ‘Whoa, this is better.’ Something connected in my brain. From that point on, this is what I was made to do.”
He started learning the art form, studying comic book artists he admired. Sammy, who also drew growing up, didn’t begin tapping into his talent until he was a student at USC. Dre, 34, pushed his younger brother to elevate from hobby to craft.
“I’ve always been kind of the coach as far as techniques and stuff like that,” Dre said. “I do remember a specific conversation, it was like, ‘If you want to do this seriously, I need to change my approach as to how we talk about examining a piece. Because if you are serious about getting better, I need to become a lot more objective.’ The approach became more objective, more instructional as opposed to encouraging.”
Dre acted like a teacher.
“And even if I didn’t like to hear it, it was one of those things that I needed to hear and need to still hear,” Sammy, a 28-year-old USC graduate, said.
“I’ve been able to pull back a bit because he’s gotten better and better,” Dre added.
They work the same hours together in the house that they share.
“As long as we’ve got music going, we’re working,” Sammy said.
If Dre directs the show concepts, then Sammy selects the music they work to. As of late, it’s been a lot of electronica and drum and bass, two textural club-music genres that would seem to be in opposition of a show conceptually based on the elements of drawing.
“As long as it fits whatever energy we need at the moment,” Sammy countered. “Based on where we are, if we’re dragging, we’ll need something to pick us up.”
“It has to fit a vibe,” said Dre, who prefers old school New York hip-hop, punk or hard electronica. “For the most part, for me, creating is all about movement. And I need energy.”
A lot of energy.
“If I’m not working at the day job, it’s been whatever free time I have, especially for this show, I’ll get on that,” Sammy said.
“It literally is seven days a week and try to make the schedule work with other responsibilities,” Dre said. “It’s pretty much wake up, do the breakfast thing and get going.”
PIENSA, as an art company, limberly moves between fine art and commercial designs. It has had a very visible profile on the local arts scene. Whether it’s exhibitions like the often stunning visual portrayal of war in “Bullets and Bandaids” or the graphic books such as “The Heroes of Santa Moreno” or “Heavy Feather Falls.” The latter was written by LeHeup, illustrated and inked by Sammy and colored by Dre.
LeHeup shares Dre’s artistic hostility.
“He’s very graphic, very in your face, but at the same time, look at all his stories, there is a very brutal, raw if not violent truth within it,” the bearded Dre, who catapults certain syllables when he talks, said about LeHeup’s work. “But at the same time, he also wants to keep that underlying emotional.”
“And poetic,” Sammy injected.
“Bigger, better picture sort of thing,” Dre picked back up. “It’s been a good marriage of our styles and his writing.”
For USC’s home football games, Dre creates images depicting the matchup for the Free Times, and he has been instrumental in creating the visual identity for Cola-Con, this weekend’s hip-hop and comic convention at the Columbia Museum of Art.
Dre and Sammy, both Irmo High School graduates, refuse to be pigeonholed. While sitting on a recent panel at the Richland County Public Library’s main branch, they were asked if being Hispanic informed their work.
“For me it doesn’t, and it brought up the idea that (their art influence) isn’t really grounded in anything,” said Sammy, who is slender and keeps his head shaved. “What we like visually is something that is going to pop, something that is going to make you think.”
“Our influences are from everywhere,” Dre added “Culturally, visually, musically, whatever.”
They are heavily influenced by a drive to improve.
“You have to put the amount of time in if you want the amount of quality,” Sammy said. “We look at a lot of other artists’ work here and all over the place, and you see the level of quality, it’s amazing. Knowing that people are better than you, that does fuel you. I know I have a long way to go. If I don’t put that time into it, I’m not going to get there.”
“We’re not where we want to be yet,” Dre said, expanding the thought. “If the amount of hustle that we do right now is not enough, then we have to do more to get there. We’re tying to establish ourselves, not just in Columbia, but across the region, across the country, across the world.
“I take pride in my skill. I’m confident in my skill, however, I love feeling humbled. It keeps me hungry.”
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.