Sebastian Gomez de la Torre, who was selected as OutSmart’s 2022 Zodiac artist, almost didn’t become an illustrator.
Originally from Peru, Gomez de la Torre’s family first settled in Miami, where he spent much of his childhood drawing. “My earliest memories are of drawing some birds, because they were pretty simple. Then I remember being obsessed with Pokémon, so I drew a lot of those.
But for a time in high school, he just stopped. “I don’t have a reason for it,” he admits. He attended a Miami magnet high school where he was pursuing agricultural science, with the intent of becoming a veterinarian. When his family moved to Texas, he saw an art class offered at his new high school in Conroe. “I remembered being so into it when I was younger, and those feelings came back.” Following graduation, Gomez de la Torre headed north to earn his bachelor’s degree at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, after which he moved back to Houston to start his career in design and illustration.
If you follow Gomez de la Torre on Instagram @illseabass, you’ll see a wide range of styles—from the bold, clean lines in his children’s book Pancho and the Inca Poncho (which he produced with the help of a grant from the Houston Arts Alliance) to the photorealism of his portrait work. “One thing I’m conscious of is that because I do things in so many different ways, it may be difficult for people to recognize my work,” he says. “The children’s book and the illustrations I’m doing for OutSmart are so completely different that [you wouldn’t think] it’s by the same person.”
For his twelve Zodiac illustrations that will be featured throughout 2022, Gomez de la Torre chose a range of queer literary, visual, and performing-arts figures from different eras. His illustrations meld traditional Zodiac elements with images of writer James Baldwin, artist Frida Kahlo, singer Freddie Mercury, and manga artist Gengoroh Tagame, among others.
In researching the iconic LGBTQ personalities he’s using, Gomez de la Torre noted the importance of the struggles they faced, such as Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment on sodomy charges. Almost all of these figures had to exercise some level of civil disobedience to live their lives. “It’s unfortunate, but also kind of triumphant, that they’ve all had some sort of tribulation because of their identity.”
Overcoming adversity is a thread that seems to run throughout Gomez de la Torre’s work. In Pancho and the Inca Poncho, Pancho is an immigrant child who struggles to fit in until he learns more about his heritage. “You have to be proud of your heritage,” the artist stresses. “Even after the conquistadors, the Inca people still exist today. They have endured.”
Visit Sebastian Gomez de la Torre’s website at illseabass.com.
This article appears in the January 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.