As a teenager in 1993, Antonio Pelayo took a temp job at Disney Studios, in the Ink & Paint Department, and he is still there, steadily promoted until he became what was for a long time the only inker left in a shrinking segment of post-digital studio operations. Needless to say, he’s something of a legend. Now his son Isaac has taken up in his father’s footsteps, both learning from Antonio and keen to make his own unique mark on the art world.
As part of a very small team that hand-renders animation cels, replicating the original process by which films were once produced, Antonio and now Isaac create images in the same way they did generations ago, except they don’t make films out of them anymore. What the Pelayos do at Disney is a bit of an arcane confection, but is also based on a long and storied tradition combining craftsmanship, pop culture, and the wistful allure of memory.
Antonio’s son, Isaac Pelayo, already an accomplished artist himself a young age, creating commission work for hip-hop artists like Westside Gunn and collected by P. Diddy and Shepard Fairey, joined the department two years ago, and currently works alongside his father, hand-inking and painting just like they did it in the 20’s. “My father started working here when he was 19,” Isaac tells us, “and I started at 20.”
Like Antonio, who produces wildly popular event series like La Bulla and El Velorio celebrating the Latinx music, food, art, and wrestling and car cultures that make L.A. such a fabulous place, Isaac has also has other pursuits beyond the job. He’s been interested in music and acting since childhood, including releasing his original music on all streaming platforms. “All my music is produced, mixed, engineered, and mastered on my own, as well as the writing and performance,” he says. “My acting endeavors have been limited but I’ve done extra work for shows like Shameless, Ballers, and recently an ABC pilot. Hopefully I can land a lead role someday in a Disney film!”
Antonio’s visual art, while frequently inspired by pop culture icons, is more often very personal, based in large part on an archive of family photos and directly expressive of the beauty and breakage of his own upbringing split between Mexico and Los Angeles. Isaac is similarly motivated by the confluence of the personal and societal in his artwork. “The most important thing to me in regards to my personal art is the message and energy embedded in my work. I often paint what I’m going through and how I feel in that current moment so I do my best to share those emotions in a way the viewer can comprehend and soak in, hopefully relating in some way and feeling a little brighter,” he says. “Art for me is to be vulnerable not, closed off.”
But sometimes, it’s also political. As a commentary and protest on Trump’s wall, using his hand-painted interpretation of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (which he calls “Isaac’s Lisa”) and a wheatpaste of a drawing done by his father of his grandparents who were Mexican immigrants, he’s built a moveable art installation. The wall is titled “Isaac’s Wall” and was designed and built by Isaac with the help of his uncle who is a finish carpenter. “It mimics the exact wall that the Mona Lisa hangs on at The Louvre and backside represents Trump’s border wall,” he says. “So far people passing by my yard have been mistaking it for a Bansky (lmao).” Keep an eye out for its midnight confrontations in neighborhoods around the city.