On February 1, local artist Arlyn Pillay, 35, and his mother, Gloria “Lulu” Pillay, 58, died in their Irvine home. According to reports by the Weekly‘s Matt Coker, Arlyn and Lulu were the victims in a double homicide by Arlyn’s brother Nolan, for reasons still unknown. The investigation is still pending, but one tragic fact remains: OC’s art scene is mourning one of their own.
Arlyn was born October 12, 1981 in Durban, South Africa to Indian parents and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was nine. His passion for art was obvious early on; Lulu—also an artist—would give him crayons to draw and color. Arlyn went on to attend Cal State Fullerton, then the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena on a full scholarship, where he focused mainly on illustration. His talent strengthened, but according to friend Alberto Renderos, he never stopped learning. “His art was amazing. It was one of a kind. He did everything, he didn’t want to stick to just one style, he wanted to try it all.”
The Irvine-based artist was a well established painter, illustrator, printmaker, sculptor, ceramicist, musician, animator, writer, sock puppeteer, comic artist, and much more. His favorite movies were Beetlejuice and Back to the Future. He loved music, cartoons, and ogres, and drew them heavily in his youth, eventually naming his art store OGREshop. He could bust out a realistic, incredibly detailed nude in a ten-minute figure drawing session; or a cutesy, whimsical cartoon character, or a mystical monster on par with masters Bernie Wrightson or Frank Frazetta.
Arlyn continuously hustled his work at various comic cons, art walks, the Orange County Marketplace, juried art shows and other art vendor markets, never blending in or going unnoticed. The first time I met him was at the Copper Door’s monthly Big Draw event, an art and bar mixer where patrons can draw on a lengthy sheet of paper together while other local artists showcase their work. I was there mainly to shoot a video for the Weekly and panned my eyes over Arlyn’s whimsical prints and paintings for sale. In an endearing way, they matched his appearance: a tall, lanky young man with a handlebar mustache, small fedora with pins all over it, and a vest and tie.
“Super nice and talented dude,” says Abel Stearns, organizer and DJ for the Big Draw. “He was a genuinely nice and talented guy with a ton of ambition. I wasn’t close to [him], but his presence in the local art community was always felt.”
Indeed, to know Arlyn was to instantly like him, as his openness and positivity was immediately felt, especially among other artists. Konsept founder Tyson Pruong remembers him mainly as a mentor figure in his life, who he worked for at the Orange County Marketplace. “I’ve known him since I was 17 years old,” Pruong says. “I even remember he offered me to make my prom suit when I worked for him.”
Muralist, painter and community artist Dino Perez remembers Arlyn fondly as well: “Arlyn printed out my first moon shirts. He was always very supportive of my art and he encouraged me to keep creating.
“The morning I went to pickup my shirts it was raining and that morning I had found out that Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground had died. His big smile cheered me up and he was very excited to show me the shirts he had printed. He gave me the biggest, warmest hug.”
Painter and illustrator Beverly Salas also knew Arlyn as a big supporter of other artists, who never shied from the opportunity to offer encouragement to someone else. “The memory of him that impacted me the most was when he came to the first or second art walk I ever did in Santa Ana and stopped by my booth! I was super nervous but he said such kind and uplifting things about everything I had at my table and even bought a few things from me. He was also super humble, like you wouldn’t think he had this crazy art gallery and was practically famous because he made you feel like you were the important one during the conversation.”
The Arlyn Pillay Gallery at 13544 Newport Avenue in Tustin, was opened to showcase other artists, friends, musicians and create community among established, up-and-coming and novice creatives of every medium. The walls are completely occupied with work from paintings, photographs and prints for sale while space for figure drawing classes and bands to play are allocated in the back and front of the venue, respectively. Zines, comics, candy, jewelry and artwork sits for sale. “His dream was to always open this place, the shop, and he got around to do it,” says Renderos. “It’s a shame that he didn’t get to do it for as long as he wanted.”
“Arlyn was one of my best friends, I’ve known him for ten years,” said Evan Daniele. “We worked at a shop called Frank & Sons in the City of Industry, and from there we started looking for a shop, found this one and built it with our own two hands. It’s a real tragedy what happened.”
The future of the gallery looks unclear, as friends of Arlyn are currently ensuring that it stays open for figure drawing classes and to pay respects. The upcoming “My Bloody Valentine” art show that was to take place this weekend, Friday and Saturday Night from 7 p.m.-10 p.m., has now been turned into a tribute show for Arlyn, called “The Legend of Arlyn.” For now, says Daniele, it’s certain that the gallery will remain open until February 8 (closed on Sunday), while they figure out the next step from here. People are encouraged to stay up to date on Arlyn’s Facebook page and contribute to the GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.
The light of Arlyn’s fire will keep burning in others he inspired around him. Perhaps its best to end with Arlyn’s own words, in a 2010 interview with Thirteen Minutes magazine. “My [art] is a little bit of me living on,” he said. “[Being] an artist and creating art is my way to communicate with people in the future about my character… when I’m gone and I’m not here to tell you the fine details of my work. That’s the challenge— to make that apparent and have people discover that on their own.”
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.