Elmer Calata was born in the Philippines, and moved to Maryland when he was still in elementary school. After growing up in The DMV and many years working for (and growing) established and restaurants in the area, he decided to change his course.
Elmer began traveling throughout the world and went on to join The Peace Corps, which lead him to a life of even more travel. After many years out of the states, Elmer is currently residing back in The DMV. Since his return, he’s entered the workforce as a nine to five government employee, and spends the remainder of his time working as a commissioned artist. Recently, Elmer’s work has become particularly celebrated by District locals and beyond.
In 2011, he entered into the professional art world by beginning to work with clay, as well as discarded and found objects he found in rural Paraguay. Upon his return to the US, he started working in visual media using ink, paint, paper, panel and canvas. The most unique and identifying qualities of Calata’s most recent work are found in the meticulous details of his line drawings. Elmer's art often has a vibrant streak, reminiscent of busy city life. Elmer's work aims to express his experiences adapting to the western world and his time abroad. His inspiration is often rooted in human nature, the environment, and the cultures he’s adopted throughout his own personal journey.
As a longtime DC resident and someone who spent many years of his adolescence in the DMV, Elmer has has a very interesting relationship with DC and the surrounding neighborhoods. We recently sat down with him to learn more about his background as an artist, and to get a local’s take on how he personally feels Washington D.C. and surrounding areas has evolved. Keep reading for the full interview…
TWG: When did you first start identifying as an artist?
EC: I’ve always known I was an artist. I knew my talent was drawing; since I was little, since I could hold a pen...But growing up I wasn’t able to really refine those skills or give it much focus. It wasn’t until I joined the Peace Corps that I finally had time and space to figure out what I am really capable of.
TWG: When and how did you make that shift and start living a more creatively driven life?
EC: I was always drawing as a kid, but I wasn’t able to pursue that for various reasons. When I was stationed In Paraguay I finally got the time and space to connect with myself and my creativity. It was there that I was surrounded by national and international artists. I become a part of a community of vagabonds; It was a very artistic scene (in Paraguay) and that’s when it just started to come out of me again. That was really the first time in my life I felt so supported; the people I was around were not just encouraging and supporting me, but they started to promote what I was doing. After that period of my life I realized that whatever Im going to do in life, art needs to be a part of it.
TWG: What was it like for you once you came back in Washington D.C.?
EC: I grew up in the DMV from the time I was in elementary school. So I had seen it change so much, but when I came back, the city was completely built up and very different than what I was used to. Being back in the states also changed how I was able to make art. Because the environment and resources are so different here than in Paraguay, the supplies and tools I had to work with drastically changed over night...My artwork went a bit through a bit of silent mode as I was transitioning back into life in the states.
TWG: How did you transcend that challenge with your work?
EC: It came down to people just really supporting me and offering me opportunities. A friend randomly asked me to design a tattoo for him. Soon after making tattoo, I started drawing more for other friends in DC. Without really trying to promote myself, people started reaching out to commission pieces from me, that’s when I really started to feel more confident in where everything was going. That’s when I started incorporating maps and mandals into my work and decided it was time for a different phase.
TWG: What is the thing you love most about creating art?
EC: It’s just something I feel I need to do; Making art makes me feel alive and gives me a reason to get up out of bed every morning. You can have me completely present the rest of the day if you give me two hours to draw first. On days I get to draw, I am able to give more of myself to other people. If I get that time each day, I’m just a happier more peaceful person. I also believe that anytime someone creates anything it’s adding to the world, and its the closest to playing God that we can get. I really love that.
TWG: As a longtime local, what have you noticed is one of the biggest recent changes in The DMV?
EC: When I came back to the US, Washington DC was a totally different; It was more artist friendly. If you’re really paying attention, it’s moving fast; there’s a creative heart to the city now. DC has its own pulse, and is much more welcoming to artists than it ever has been. The District has historically been a very square city, but the artist community here is growing fast.
TWG: What is your favorite thing about living in Washington DC?
EC: This city is so rich with art and culture. Not only is there more street art being added to each neighborhood which I love, Im also a huge classical art fan. You can see a Monet for free, any day of the week which just blows my mind! The museums are my safe place in the city-- I don’t care if I’ve seen everything in them ten times; Going makes me pay attention, and brings me back into the moment. Aside from that, I feel more connected to myself when I’m connected to the other creatives in DC, and living here as connected me to such amazing like minded people.
TWG: What neighborhood do you currently live in and what do you like most about it?
EC: Right now I’m near The 16th Street (Columbia) Heights. My favorite thing about living in that area is that it’s so quiet compared to the rest of the city. I love that I have a patio with a little garden where I can peacefully work on my artwork.
TWG: When someone is commissioning a piece from you, do you follow their request exactly or is the process more of a collaboration between the two of you?
EC: Its important to protect the integrity of the artist’s work, and to remain true to yourself as an artist; I really believe that. So typically, the client will give me the idea they have, show me some images or colors for reference, and I’ll put my own personal style into it.
TWG: Where can viewers find your work on display?
EC: One of the pieces I have hanging in DC that I’m very proud of resides at the Embassy of Paraguay. So far this year my work as also been displayed at Gallery O on H street, at Himitsu and at RAWDC.
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