We spoke to Phillip Lietz, an aspiring master in Brasilian Jiu-Jitsu -slash- illustrator who earns his living thinking up visual concepts and sketching out creatures so wondrous you wish that he had seen them in real life. He illustrates the human form is as if it were channeled from the creating hand of humanity itself. And most excitingly, he creates and draws up society’s most enamored and responsible members, who are in actuality figments of our hopeful imagining… superheroes… Inevitably all of his passions morph into demanding lifestyles somewhere along the road; both requiring crazy amounts of practice and devotion. We inquired about how he manages to find a balance between martial arts and drawing and where they merge in mirthful unison. Furthermore, we wanted to know how his art brings spiritual balance in his life, and how superheroes balance out the problems of the world.
Technique. Movement. Balance. I sit here regaining my breath in the dojo after finishing a long and rather rewarding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. As my mind gradually reels itself back in, I think of how much more there is to my practice than just joint locks, chokes, and getting the opponent to the mat. These ideals and principles remain an aftertaste in my mind: technique, movement and balance. Martial arts gives me a framework to approach the world, understand it and kind of engage with my day to day life. There are certainly times when I’m drawing or painting and some of the same principals or ideals that I might learn from martial arts apply absolutely to painting. When I’m thinking about the way I practice Jiu-Jitsu, about when I’m just floor rolling, about how technical I want to be, or how my body mechanics work, it comes across in my mind when I’m drawing… How can I make this more like my Jiu-Jitsu? The more I notice it, the more it happens too. I constantly see the point where my passion for drawing and my passion for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu merge. Most of the time it becomes clear when it parallels a stressful situation, when I have a deadline for something … when a whole bunch of shits hittin’ the fan, that’s when martial arts training kicks in and I’m like, ”Ok, I just gotta go with the flow.” You know, all the ideals I might learn from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will hit the page.
I’m not really a religious dude or anything, so I feel like drawing is one thing that kind of connects me to all these guys who experienced the world before me and who did really cool shit with their art. I don’t really have any other way of relating to people. When I draw, when I get to just doodle in the sketchbook or whatever, it’s not religious, but it makes me feel connected to those illustrators of the past, all these people who put this imagery out in the world that I really love and that hit me in an emotional way. It helps me understand the whole feeling of community and tradition within a given field. When my pen is on paper, I think I am experiencing the same things that Dean Corwell might have experienced or any of those old school, bad-ass illustrators. I feel like religion does that for some people, you know, you see super faithful people, they have this belief system that ties them into a conglomeration and I feel like art does that for me in a lot of ways. I get it. I remember when it turned from being a hobby into a fulfilling thing… I remember I just had this snap, this weird realization like ”Woah, what I’m doing is really rewarding.” When drawing solely from my imagination, it can happen in a multitude of ways. I can sit down to draw just for myself, and I feel like I’ve already got it. There’s something in my mind. No literal image, but like a map, and sometimes I sit down and my map is clear as day and I’m almost just tracing. It’s totally transcendent and I’m not even conscious of what I’m doing, it just flows… and some days the map is more difficult to navigate. Sometimes I get stuck and I will think of some weird thing I saw at the samurai exhibit or something. It could be anything at any given time… but there are other times when it’s like a stutter and harder to come to a complete drawing, but eventually that point is reached and I get through it and become a better person and a better artist because of it. I do also draw when I don’t want to draw.
The whole year after having to leave Berlin, having to leave SIX MORE VODKA Studio, where we were working with peeps like MARVEL and Disney, I didn’t want to draw whatsoever. Out of this sense of failure. I felt terrible. I felt I had let everybody down. I felt like, damn, I let down my parents who thought I had a career now and a legit job finally. I let down the dudes who got me the job in the first place, as well as myself in that I couldn’t maintain the job. I let everyone down, and felt like a total tool. I’ve never felt like that before. Several years before that I never ever, ever wanted to do anything else but draw and this was the first time in like five to six years when I didn’t draw at all. I never ever took a day off before that. There are days I don’t wanna draw, but I have to. Just like a superhero. Gotta keep the lights on, you know.
When I have to dream up a superhero from the expanse of my mind…I start with the superpower or the problem… like suppose there’s a bedbug epidemic… the superhero would evolve and he would then be created to solve the problem. I always get something a lot more entertaining when I start with the problem. It gives my hero an instant purpose. I’m inclined to make superheroes super-fuckin’-corny, the cheesier the problem the better. As a superhero, he (or she) is aware that his (or her) place in society will be great. He won’t, no, he can’t let anyone down because cities, countries, damsels, helpless children, the whole massive world will rely on him to be there at just exactly the right time. His responsibility will be immense and he shall face it like the darkness no one has ever faced. He will possess an unstoppable power great and of such caliber the world will be called to reckon with itself. Surely he will be granted an arch nemesis whose soul he shall live to avenge with his every move. The villains loathing of my superhero’s existence shall be his driving force and, oh, to meet face to face with the wretched and immoral degenerate himself. To duel out the very bloody essence of justice to defeat his evil scheme…He will be better than your dad, he will be better than every dad. He will be immortal… Once he is drawn. One fine day some unthinkable problem will arise in my mind. It will form like a cloud over the darkest of still deep seas, and the superhero shall be my solution.
I don’t have a message. I don’t sit down and make work and think, ”Uhm, here’s the message I am sending to you”. Every single piece you make sends a broadcast. It’s kind of like a beacon that just says here’s what I was thinking or here’s what I was feeling. Some people make work which sends a potent message whereas my work is more subtle and more subjective. But if you make a body of work, it still relays the narrative of your life’s work. There’s really nothing you can do about it.