Born and raised in California and now living in Ventura County, artist Brian Calvin’s work has become synonymous with the sun-drenched sands and relaxed attitude taken up by the SoCal youth.

His surreal portraits of bleary-eyed, contemplative young people feature backgrounds the artist describes as “generalised glimpses of the Californian coast.”

Calvin recently collaborated with his longtime friend, Raf Simons, lending the Californian ease of his works to the Belgian designer’s Spring/Summer 13 collection. Prints of his awkward and alluring portraits featured on everything from silk pocket squares to knee length vests and collared sweatshirts.

We caught up with the artist to talk self-expression and his current Corvi-Mora Gallery exhibit in London.

Thomas Davis: When did you start to paint? Has painting always been your preferred form of self expression? 
Brian Calvin: I started painting right around 1990. I enjoy playing music just as much, if not more so, but I think my temperament is better suited for painting.

TD: You’ve previously described your work as portraying ‘generalised glimpses of Californian youth’. Is that still true now?
BC: I try to avoid describing my work. I prefer to to let the paintings describe themselves!

TD: Your portraits seem to have a deceptively simple, post-impressionist feel to them, usually with a subject who is looking contemplatively out of the canvas. How do your new exhibition pieces differ from previous works?
BC: I think that description is somewhat apt for a lot of the work I’ve been making for the last several years. The portraits are all invented and I was focussed on how much information I could strip away and still have a visual and an emotional potency. I think this exhibition may be a bit more eclectic as it includes more stray thoughts and singular inclinations.

TD: What about the characters you paint – are they based on people you meet or do you paint them without having a specific person in mind?
BC: Although the figures I paint are entirely invented, I pay close attention to to how people construct their own identity and that certainly comes to bear on the paintings as they progress.

TD: I read that you paint in acrylic – that must be be pretty fast-drying and unforgiving, it’s impressive that your paintings are so flawless.
BC: Actually I work in both acrylic and oil and, from my perspective, my paintings are full of flaws. I tend to work in quick layers and am constantly tweaking things. But you are right that acrylic can be unforgiving. Finishing a painting can be like making a soufflé, although I can’t say I’ve ever attempted making a soufflé.

TD: Do you have a particular favourite from your exhibition at Corvi-Mora this month?
BC: I have been working with Corvi-Mora for almost fifteen years and I adore them. They are, and have always been, absolutely supportive in a crucial way. Sentimentally, my favourite work in the show is Init. It has a certain something something and I already miss living with it.

Brian Calvin: Corvi-Mora Gallery
October 10th to December 21st , 2013
1A Kempsford Road, SE11 4NU, London
Open Daily 11:00–18:00